By GWEN OREL
Has the watercooler gone dry?
No. But Montclair Watercooler is leaving Facebook. Its posts will be archived, meaning that its more than 17,000 users will be able to see the page and all the posts on it, but they will no longer be able to contribute to it. All of the information will be there, and it will be searchable, but no new information can be added.
That’s because the group is moving to a new platform: groups.io.
“The admins looked at a picture of how we want the Watercooler to move forward,” said
group owner Jon Bonesteel.“The underlying problem is our issues with Facebook. It makes money off of us. It’s gotten us traffic, but we don’t like that aspect of why it exists. It’s making money for its shareholders because of what we do.” Teri Gato, Cary Africk, Robin Kulwin and Mary Krugman are the other group admins.
The appearance on Capitol Hill of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and the company’s decision to allow misleading political advertising, was a tipping point for the Watercooler admins, Bonesteel said.
One moderator, Marc Slutzky, recently left Facebook and the Cooler without warning. When asked why he said it was because of Zuckerberg’s comments.
This is not the first location shift for the popular Montclair discussion board, founded in 2000 by Krugman and the late Jean Kidd. For years, Montclair Watercooler was a yahoogroup, which people could read on Yahoo or via their email.
It became a Facebook group in 2009. Bonesteel became an admin in 2003, and group owner in 2005.
Not that Watercooler has always been pleasant. “We get criticized for our moderation policies,” Bonesteel said. Posts are shut down or not allowed if they don’t meet Cooler standards. The three basic tenets are:
- Discussion must be about issues, not people. It cannot go back and forth, and attack someone.
- Discussion must be about Montclair, not, for example, national politics.
- Commercialization is limited. Nonprofit organizations may post, but others can only promote their businesses once a month.
The strict curation rubs some people the wrong way, Bonesteel admitted. But it’s important for the Cooler to be a safe environment, he said. “We think the group’s site will encourage people to discuss things, without the downsides of Facebook.”
The new platform will be better for Montclair residents, Bonesteel said. “It doesn’t track you. There is no advertising. It has a clean interface. It excels at what the Watercooler was meant to be: an online forum where neighbors can discuss things about Montclair in a civil fashion.” He hopes the new group will encourage a more measured tone. Because there is no embedded advertising in the site, users will not find that whatever they’ve been discussing pops up in their Instagram feeds.
Even so, Bonesteel is prepared for some grumbles. “Change doesn’t make everybody happy,” he said.