Saturday, July 14, 2012

Fraser Lewry, the digital Jeeves

Closing a magazine is one thing. Closing its accompanying web site is another, particularly one as dependent on its users as The Word blog. It would have been rude to have abruptly unplugged the jukebox, flicked on the strip lighting and ushered people towards the car park. Instead we gave the hard-core site users a couple of weeks to make alternative arrangements to move the community to a new site.

Many and tearful were the tributes to the oasis of civility which had been built here over the last few years. That garden has been tended 365 days a year, sometimes from distant tyrannies with indifferent internet access, by Fraser Lewry.

If you thought this job called for technical competence you'd be right. If you guessed that it would also suit somebody whose sense of duty didn't stop at normal office hours, you wouldn't be far off either.

What you probably underestimate is the saint-like reserves of patience it takes to run a web community, even one as generally polite as this. You only have to look at the comments on the Guardian site to see how the ownership of an internet connection has turned us into a nation of preening know-alls dispensing redundant advice at the scene of traffic accidents. There wasn't much of this on the Word site but there was some.

Every so often in the nether regions of some thread about Manic Street Preachers B-sides it would kick off. My natural instinct would be to charge in there shouting "you're barred", after the style of Al Murray. Not Fraser. Like Jeeves he was never far away. Like Jeeves he never did anything as vulgar as entering a room. Instead he would shimmer in, materialise or, when the occasion called for it, ooze.

He would keep an eye on each succeeding post - as he did every single word that was ever posted on the site - and then, judiciously picking his moment, intervene with a pithy post usually combining practical advice with, for those who had ears to hear, the distant whisper of consequences.

He rarely had to banish anyone because most regular visitors to the site had learned, as the rest of us in the office had learned, that you shouldn't get on the wrong side of Fraser. That's because the very few people who are on the wrong side of Fraser have one important thing in common. They're wrong.