Leaving your Mark
I got an interesting email a year or so ago about an individual who wanted to say thanks. This individual reminded me of a website I ran a decade+ ago during the boom of online forum communities. This site specialized in discussions around the original Xbox and Halo 2 - like the plenty of forums also in that field around that time.
My forum had a very small active community - we may have had 25,000 registered members, but only a handful checked in daily. Though, it was a community at the end of the day. Folks knew each other and communicated with each other.
This individual explained about how his life wasn't in the best place a decade ago and my site was his little escape zone to learn and chat. He explained it was the first time he felt like he belonged somewhere and how glad he was that the site existed. He wanted to pass along a thanks as he just had graduated from school and attributed a lot of his positive memories to my community.
This meant a lot as silly as it sounds. Something organized and watched over by myself helped someone's life in a positive way.
You don't even have to look far and you can find this same pattern in everything. I remember a site called Casual Collective (now dead) that was a mini forum and community for all these flash games.
Folks were friendly and messages flew the instant your status went online. Its a shame that site monetary model could not compete with just moving everything to Facebook games, but it was a fun time while it lasted.
I could list another example with random IRC chats on Freenode, which once again has fallen in time (I wouldn't support Freenode anymore and instead use Libera.Chat). These chats and communities had folks from all walks of life. The more you stayed and took part - the more you learned about everyone.
The specific point I'm trying to draw here is you don't know the personal background or history of everyone at all times. Yet a few positive comments or including folks might change the life of someone unknowingly. This of course can happen in the opposite direction for just pure toxicity which is sadly easy enough to witness.
Some communities were so intent on the power and knowledge they had they forgot what being a newbie felt like. They drove them away with toxic behavior and mocked their questions or inability to connect the dots. There is a tough line to walk though between spoon feeding information to someone or giving them a hint to the path forward.
Stack Overflow had this to the extreme. Folks would post questions and instantly members would respond - "what have you tried?". It became a toxic culture that unless you proved you went to hell and back folks would gate-keep the answer to simple questions. It got so bad that Stack had to release entire company blog about culture changing and blocking specific phrases.
I used StackOverflow occasionally and I put forth the effort to show a challenge I encountered with what I expected and what I tried. Within a few hours an individual responded with the why and the answer. A perfect exchange of sharing knowledge from one to another. Not a single part of this answer was insulting my knowledge or degrading the style of my query/code.
Where are the communities that bled toxicity? Do they even exist even more?
No one is going to remember the asshole that told you to pound sand when asking for help. It takes a bit to remember that everyone was learning at one point. One supportful encounter in life or online may positively affect someone forever.