Posted on March 21, 2009

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This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series How to Start a Polyamory Group

The use of web and email forums allows for a group to connect during the time between face to face meetings. It also allows for information (articles, news, etc.) to be passed on relatively quickly.  The ease of simply forwarding on messages verbatim or responding to them directly also eliminates the troubles that come with the “telephone game” method of communication.

The next thing that you need to determine is:

  • What type of online communication tool will fit your group’s needs?
  • How do you go about implementing it?
  • What do you do to ensure that it’s a safe place for people to share their thoughts and information?

Email lists

My first experience with a group communication system was through the use of Yahoogroups. It’s a fairly straightforward system: You choose whether you want emails sent to you individually or in digest mode(a batch that’s sent daily, or as soon as 25 messages have accumulated at some point in that day).  You could engage in conversation on a topic by responding to a specific message.  The archives are accessible online, with the ability to sort by conversational threads.   Yahoogroups also allows for group members to post files or create polls, at the discretion of the group’s owners and moderators.   Google Groups is another service that shares the same functionality.


Online Forums

While some email listservs also allow users to read and comment through a web browser, an online forum is built so that the website is the main way (or only way) for users to read or post messages.  In addition to being a message board, online forums can allow for users to provide additional information about themselves through their profile (which can have photos, a short biography, and other personal information at the user’s discretion).   Depending on what software platform or hosted site you use, you may be able to provide some level of email functionality (the ability to start a new topic or receive posts via. email).

The choice of whether to go with an email list or a web forum is up to you. From my experience, the ability for users to provide additional information (or avatars and signatures) on an online forum helps on the community-building side.


Hosted vs. Self-Hosted

Most email and online forum sites that are hosted (meaning that you sign up to use their list/forum programs) are free.  Depending on your group’s budget, this can be a big plus. In addition, they are easy to set up and maintain from a user standpoint. There’s nothing that you need to install and there’s no coding that you need to tweak to make it work.

The downside is that customization of the appearance and functionality is limited to what the hosting company allows.  Also, you need to be concerned about the Terms of Use for the particular hosting service (their house, their rules).  If you feel that the type of material that will be discussed by the group may violate those rules, it may be best to find another provider. The worst thing you want to have happen is to have the group’s communication system suddenly shut down,  which also means that you lose the informational resources that you’ve accumulated through your group’s archive.

The other option is to self-host.  The first step is to find a hosting service, which costs money (unless you go with a free hosting service that bombards the site with advertising). The second step is to find the email/forum software that best meets your needs (there’s a couple of options out there).  Once that’s done, you then need to install and tweak the software to your group’s specifications.   Needless to say, there’s a bit of elbow grease that comes with this option ;)


The Other Dirty Details

Here’s a few more tips on running a group communication system. I learned these through life experience:

  • Set up your group’s etiquette rules, in writing.  Give your members a clear expectation of what type of behavior is appropriate in online communication, and what isn’t.   Also, if there’s a concern about privacy, make sure that it’s explicitly stated that members can’t forward on conversations from the list (or ‘out’ members) without prior consent.
  • Assign moderators ASAP.  You will need to have one or more people that are able to review emails/posts on a semi-frequent basis, and jump in if a conversation is getting too heated or is otherwise breaking the group’s communication rules.
  • If possible, have more than one person set up with ‘Administrative’ rights for the list/site.  There’s the possibility of losing a list’s owner through death or drama.  If that person was the sole owner/administrator of the group, and you don’t know their user name and password, then you’re SOL on being able to switch owners or otherwise regain control of the communication system.
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