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So, you're a new user, finally ready to jump into the world of competitive battling and make a name for yourself. That's great! However, navigating the ins and outs of forum culture can sometimes be every bit as challenging as battling itself, and it's all too easy early on in your forum career to become "that guy", the one who completely embarrasses himself when he's first starting out and has to spend his time fighting against a bad reputation. Fortunately, I'm here to provide you with a few useful tips that, if remembered, will help you get through this treacherous terrain while having your reputation made all the better for it.
Simply put, a lot of new users really don't know what effective lurking looks like. One might think, "Yeah, I don't post very much and I've being coming online every other day for some months now, I'm done lurking", or think that lurking means they should just vanish entirely for a period of time, as though they're being given a time-out from the site. In reality, both are usually very flawed assertions. An example of how this plays out from my own experiences on this site is a story of a newer user who first came on an IRC channel I frequented. While they've since improved, at the time, they would routinely violate some of the unwritten social norms of IRC. Instead of just making fun of them or alienating them, I thought that a better idea would be simply to point out some of their mistakes to them in a way that would help them improve. However, instead of the user absorbing the advice, they responded by saying how they had lurked for several months already and thus knew how these things worked, despite having never been in said IRC channel before and clearly not understanding the culture of an IRC channel.
This story serves to highlight a fundamental flaw with the idea of "lurking more", which is that you can't hope to gain a working knowledge of Smogon culture by sitting on the outskirts all of the time. Just as someone wouldn't expect to become fluent in a language through picking up tidbits of conversation a couple times a week, simply seeing interactions on Smogon a few times isn't something that will help you improve. What you should be doing is immersing yourself more, not simply lurking. Through actually being in IRC channels regularly, engaging with the Smogon community, and seeking mentorship from more experienced users, you'll have a much easier time making the transition from unknown user to all-star contributor.
At the same time, new users need to know that, like in the real world, first impressions are everything. Thus, there's no reason to immediately start off on the wrong foot by showing that you don't know what you're talking about. While contributing to the site is the best way to become more integrated in the community, it's also important to remember to contribute in areas you're actually knowledgeable in. No one wants to be the person who looks stupid when it's shown that they clearly lack experience in the area they're commenting on. Fortunately, there are some good ways to avoid this. If you're inexperienced in an area that you'd like to contribute in, try signing up for Battling 101 or seeking out a mentor through Smogon's Mentorship Program to help you learn the ropes. In addition, when arguing, be sure to use logic and reason when backing up your ideas, and be willing to cede an argument when it's clear your idea isn't correct. The only thing that can ruin your credibility more than not having sound backing of the ideas in your posts is when you continue arguing a point that you've lost despite there being overwhelming evidence by more knowledgeable users as to why your point isn't correct.
In a similar vein, don't be afraid to learn from others. While it might seem like masking uncertainty makes you look more credible, in reality, people will have more respect for you and be more willing to aid you when you're able to admit when you don't know something and ask for help. A user who seems clueless but is learning will still be spoken favorably of by other users. On the other side of the coin, nothing looks worse than someone who acts like they're the authority on a subject that they clearly know nothing about. So, yeah, ask questions. There are probably other people with the same questions you have, and it's not like people will start making fun of you for asking (and if they do they're jerks who have their own problems). It's always better to ask and increase your knowledge than post without knowing and expose your lack thereof.
Smogon has been around for a long time, and like most sites that have a lot of history, it has its own culture that needs to be navigated. Being a newer user, one would likely be unaware of these sorts of things; the truth is a lot of faux pas can be avoided through the use of basic common sense. Some people seem to think that just because you're interacting in an online setting, basic rules of social interaction go out the window. However, for the most part, if you wouldn't do something in the real world, doing it here is probably a bad idea too. For example, one might think that when they see a user making fun of another user on IRC or in the forums, it then makes it OK for them to do so, or will help them fit in more or something. However, you don't know the whole story. For all you know, the user could be friends with the person they're mocking, or they could've known the person for a long time, making it more appropriate for them to trade insults as jokes. But then when you emulate it, the act comes of as being overly presumptuous or just needlessly abrasive because you don't actually know the person, and are thus not in a position to act with that level of familiarity. A good way to think of it would be by looking at it through the lens of real-world interaction. If your friend makes fun of you in a light sort of way, it's OK because you know that they're just joking around with you. However, if some random person then took it as a cue for them to tease you in a similar manner, it'd seem bizarre and uncalled for. Just as you wouldn't want someone to act like this in the real world, don't do it here, either.
Other examples of what would be inappropriate is saying generally stupid-sounding things, making jokes that just aren't funny, or saying things that make people uncomfortable. The third one is probably the one that gets ignored the most, as everyone figures it's okay to say whatever offensive or controversial thing you want because you're on the Internet. However, there are real-world people behind every account, and there's no reason to needlessly offend someone or hurt their feelings. Even without that in mind, it's simply a bad time to start alienating people when you're newer and trying to fit in on-site. In many cases, the opinions of others who don't know you very well can and will be shaped by the opinions of those they know that do know you, so it's better to not tarnish your reputation with dumb or insensitive comments. So, yeah, tl;dr: use some sense when interacting with others. If you wouldn't do it in the real wold, please, please don't do it here.
While it's wise to consider what you're doing on-site, you also shouldn't feel like you have to always walk a tightrope. For the most part, the community is very welcoming to new users, more so than it has ever been. By keeping these basic tips in mind as you go about the site, you'll have a much better reputation on-site, which will make your site-wide experience better in a number of ways. People will be friendlier toward you, you'll have an easier time getting badges, you could become a respected figure in the community, and many more things. Best of luck on your journey!
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