The issue of what is and is not considered to be 'off-topic' is a tricky one, although initially it can seem like it shouldn't be. Two common issues that arise are:
- A thread moves strictly off-topic, but in a way that might be useful for building positive relationships between community members.
- A thread becomes a meta-discussion about the way the community is run - is this off-topic?
In the former case, the costs and benefits need to be weighed up. A short, friendly, five-post exchange between three community members might be beneficial in a way that a long, still friendly, but 50-post exchange between those same three members might not, since the former doesn't overwhelm people's inboxes, and create a poor Signal to noise ratio in the same way that the latter does. That is, one should consider how all members of the community might feel about the exchange, not just those who are directly participating.
In the latter case, such meta-discussions should not be considered off-topic. If a community does not feel it has any real input regarding how the community is run, members might well be less likely to think of it as 'their' community and more as someone else's. It is possible to say that a particular aspect of how a community is run is non-negotiable without at the same time implying that all discussion on community administration is out of bounds. For example:
"Although constructive feedback regarding how this community is maintained and run is always welcome, in this particular instance the administrators feel that to allow discussion of topic X is more likely than not to lead to unproductive flamewars which would detract from the primary purpose of this community, which is to discuss topic Y."