Uncategorized / Web 2.0

Online Forum Policies

Today’s Byte is pretty specific but I hope a few folks will it useful. For a more general tip…After my last Byte John in Hibbing had a good suggestion for a fax to email tool: Faxaway: http://www.faxaway.com/

A couple of people lately have asked me about policies for online forums. You want the flexibility to allow for free flow of conversation but you also want to ensure productive and respectful exchanges. I looked at a bunch of policies over the weekend and found that they usually hit on the following key topics. 

  1. Respect and tone
    1. Set the tone. Is this a family-friendly list? Does the list focus on a singular topic or is it designed for a particular group? Spell out such expectations.
    2. Inappropriate material
      1. No copyright material
      2. Don’t post private emails
      3. Nothing you wouldn’t want your grandma to see
      4. Nothing abusive, especially to other list members
      5. Tech details
        1. Do you need to be over 18?
        2. Is there a limit to the number of posts in a day?
        3. Do you allow attachments?
        4. Spam and ads
          1. Does the post genuinely add value to the conversation or is it an ad?
          2. Moderation and consequences
            1. Having a moderation plan in place before you need it will make life easier if you need to enforce it

Examples of good policies:

Family friendly: http://www.cardsclubhouse.com/forums/policies.php
Very simple: http://ezinearticles.com/?Sample-Online-Forum-Guidelines-and-Rules&id=437521
The Full Monty: http://pages.e-democracy.org/Rules – extensive and thorough

Wikipedia also has a nice article on forum policies: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_forum#Rules_and_policies_on_forums

I have been moderating email and web-based lists for more than 10 years. I find that most people are happy to comply with policies. A few folks will accidentally break the rules – usually by posting too often or posting to the list when they intended to post a private email – leading to their own embarrassment more than anything else. There are a few spammers out there who you can usually catch immediately and ban. Their spam talks about medical cures or hot dates. There are a few cantankerous people who stay on topic and are borderline abusive or too focused on their opinions, which often only related tangentially to the list. They are the reason that it’s good to have moderation policies in place.

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