Building online communities is no easy task. The first big challenge is actually
getting people to care enough to register and contribute to the community. This
then leads to a second problem: community moderation.
This has been a hot topic in the blogosphere this week as bloggers discuss their
community moderation policies. For example,
Winer both think moderating comments isn’t worth the effort, so they’ve
gotten out of the game entire. It’s an extreme move, and potentially cuts down
on interesting discussions since some of their readers probably have some
interesting perspectives to share but may not have blogs of their own. Or, they
may have an opinion they would be willing to share anonymously, but no longer
have a good way to do so.
Personally, I think
Therapy’s strategy is on solid ground. Their experience has shown that a
very small handful of community members have the power to destroy the goals of a
community site by picking fights and wrecking constructive conversations. Based
on experience I have moderating forums it is virtually impossible to turn around
the bad eggs, so simply blocking them is often a better choice.
It’s usually at this point where someone starts making a First Amendment
argument, claiming that community member’s free speech rights are being
violated. That’s when you know someone doesn’t realize they’re souring the
community or doesn’t care. Either way, they’re beyond help.
So, how to deal with them?
Apartment Therapy uses an
consensus approach to decide who needs to be dealt with and blocks users who
are behaving badly. As they stated in a recent post, they’ve given up on
coaching bad eggs:
behavior that it has come to the attention of our editors and readers (via
concerned emails) we reserver the right to ban the commenters IP WITHOUT
NOTICE. In the past we used to do a good deal of emailing and communicating
with “challenging” commenters to see if we could get them back on track. It
did not prove to be very successful and, quite frankly, we don’t have the time
to do this anymore.
Moderating comments is a problem not just for large community sites, but for
personal bloggers as well. Luckily, there are quite a few tools in place that
help make the job tolerable. For example, WordPress blogs have a variety of
moderation tools, including the ability to moderate comments from all first-time
commenters. While it may be frustrating for first-time commenters to see their
comment go into a queue rather than immediately live on the site, the overall
quality of the conversation is vastly improved by using this policy.
In the end, it’s up to the site owner to create a community that fits their
personality. Assuming they’re shooting for a civil discussion on a topic, using
strategies such as first comment moderation and blocking bad eggs based on
moderator voting gives communities a healthy and welcoming feel that avoids degrading into a cesspool of spam and hate.