Where’s it hanging?

Internet Masonry is not new; in fact, even seven years ago when I first started researching the fraternity, it was easy to find websites with papers, articles, and reprints on subjects ranging from rules and regulations to the esoteric. More importantly for me, however, were the various discussion groups. Yahoo had several groups, as did MSN. I also discovered that some of the hard-core BBS guys had taken the old Compuserv/Prodigy board and opened up a Usenet group. According to legend, within an hour after the group’s initial posting, a troll posted an Anti-Masonic message to the group.

I learned quite a bit about Masonry from hanging out at those various discussion groups. It’s one thing to read about the Craft and it’s workings; it’s quite another to discuss it with experienced Masons from various jurisdictions. Before I joined, I learned about things that most members of the fraternity rarely even hear about. I learned about recognition and regularity, about Prince Hall, that there are women Masons, and most importantly, that the impression that you have of Masonry from your lodge is only an impression – that rituals, ceremonies, even signs and tokens are not the same around the world, yet the essence of brotherhood somehow manages to shine through from everywhere you find a square and compasses.

Blogging is a great pastime for those of us who are egomaniacs inclined to write, but the medium does not lend itself well to discussion. Yes, one can leave comments on an article, but the narrow column format of web logs makes following a discussion difficult, especially lengthy ones. Even worse are side discussions that inevitably grow out of lengthy discussions – it often seems “rude” to hijack a comment discussion on a blog belonging to someone else. So, as much as I enjoy popping in on my new blogging friends, I often prefer to hang out at several of the various web-based Masonic discussion forums.

But before I mention those forums, I should first give a nod to the Usenet groups – the grandfathers of Internet Masonry. Although Outlook Express, Mozilla Thunderbird, and Forte Agent are probably the most common clients for accessing Usenet groups, I suspect that most people only stumble across newsgroups using Google Groups now. Usenet groups – a widely propagated text-only medium (think: message board) – are devoid of the flash, graphics, Java, and even HTML. Text-only messages are sent out and distributed by various news servers where they are picked up by the various Usenet service providers. Several years ago, AOL dropped their own coverage of Usenet groups, and most people simply found web-based groups. Many Usenet groups have been overrun with spammers and trolls. However, a few die-hards still frequent news://alt.freemasonry (the oldest Masonic Usenet group, now caught in a flaming cross-posting war between trolls on other groups) and news://soc.org.freemasonry ( a “Moderated” group which relies on human moderators to keep the spammers and trolls out, and to make sure that members don’t allow their passions on certain subjects to go out of bounds). Both can be accessed via Google groups: http://groups.google.com/group/alt.freemasonry/topic and http://groups.google.com/group/soc.org.freemasonry/topics

Yahoo members have a lot of choices: a quick search turned up well over 300 groups having something to do with Freemasonry, many of which are moderated and some of which will only allow verified Freemasons to join the group. I subscribe to about a dozen Masonic Yahoo groups; I find it convenient because I can read the messages at the website, or have them delivered via email. Admittedly, though, I rarely frequent any of them since I began blogging. But anyone with a yen for Masonic discussion should register for a Yahoo ID and join some of the very good groups that have been active for years. I even set up my own group a few years ago, just to test the email capabilities for Friendship Lodge.

I have long lost count of the various web-based groups, sometimes called “bulletin boards.” Several hosting companies now offer up great group discussion software, making a discussion board fairly easy to set up and maintain, even for newbies, which is probably why there are any number of small web forums, and a growing number of larger ones. The better forums have several moderators who generally try to maintain order, keep out spammers and trolls, and encourage harmony when brothers begin to get a bit heated over certain subjects. At times, some moderators will “lock” the discussion threads, which prevents any more people from posting to them while tempers cool. A Google search for Masonic web forums turns up several hundred potential hits, and thousands of references to them. I subscribe to about a dozen of them, although – as with the Yahoo groups – I haven’t been active in any since I started blogging.

But lately I’ve been in the mood to have some discussion, so I’ve been looking at the some of the more well-known forums. My new favorite hangout has been The Three Pillars; I find the groups to be fairly young-minded and the regulars seem open to discussing controversial subjects. The forum also has men and women Masons from jurisdictions that are unrecognized by the mainstream GLs, and I find that my own understanding of Masonry is enhanced by their perspectives. Having run across a number of forums that do not allow members of non-mainstream Masonry, I find their inclusion to be an asset.

A few other forums of note are The Masonic Forum of Light, The Trestleboard, and The Lodgeroom International, (with a separate forum for our British brethren) and a newer forum, Novus Ordo Saeculorum which was just started last year. All forums are active with plenty of side discussions on a wide enough range of subjects to keep any Mason informed and entertained.

Sometimes I want to have a discussion with people from Connecticut, and instead of getting my butt off the chair and going to lodge, I can surf over to www.friendshiplodge33.org, where the l33t web team at Friendship Lodge set up a great website while the GL sites were under construction. They put up a forum page, although the only people who use it are Friendship members. Similarly, I sometimes head to my own Grand Lodge website and log into the GL-CT forums. They really aren’t active (I suspect that I’m the most active member aside from the moderator), but I’m hoping that more people will discover them.

On a different scale are the Social Networking sites. These are sites in which members can participate in forum discussions, post simple blog articles, and more importantly, form groups based upon common interests. You can search a database of interests and when you find someone who matches up with your own, you can “friend” them, or add them to your group. LiveJournal is one of the oldest of these, and I’ve had my own LJ account for a while, although I don’t really use it. LJ has a small Masonic community, which does not attract the kind of traffic that a web forum would do.

Last year I started a MySpace account because I had a number of family members who had them and we thought it would be great to communicate that way. It turns out that MySpace is a great way to waste a lot of time, look at ads for things you don’t want, and to be flooded with emails from people you don’t know, most of whom want you to subscribe to a porn site, a dating site, or to buy what can euphemistically be termed “male enhancement drugs.” MySpace has a number of Masons, though, and the list keeps growing.

Recently, I joined a social networking site developed strictly for Freemasons: The Working Tools, hosted on the site of the online magazine of the same name. While similar to MySpace and LiveJournal, TWT was started by Cory Sigler, a moderator at The Three Pillars. In his words,

I started it to give Masons a place to meet each other in a fun comfortable manner without the hassle of having anti’s bother us with nonsense.

I noticed a huge gathering of Brothers on Myspace & Facebook so I figured [I would] give them a place to go for just us.

I rather liked the idea of having a Social Network that was already composed of Masons; presumably it would be ideal for discussions and questions. I joined right before Christmas and copied my favorite blog posts from the past year over to the TWT blogging area. There is a forum area, however it’s a bit sparse at the moment; I’m sure it’s because TWT is only a few weeks old and despite having over 400 members, not everyone has discovered all of the features yet. The Working Tools magazine is an excellent read itself, and because January issue picked one of my articles as the Blog Post of the Month simply enhances my opinion, in addition to making me ever so much more humble and modest than I already am. Here’s hoping for the success of this venture.

I can’t imagine anything now replacing the fascination I had for the Usenet groups seven years ago, but I still enjoy finding new Masonic web groups. Even when I don’t participate, I find that I learn something new about the Craft just from reading the discussions. I recommend these and other groups to new Masons as a way to increase your knowledge, and to more seasoned brothers who might be interested in learning how things are done elsewhere.

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