Forum Politics

Have you ever been on a forum that was an absolute madhouse? I think you know what I mean. Either the moderators are absolute conversation Nazis or the place is stuffed to the gills with spamming and flame wars. Well, since I am a veteran of many, many forums, I decided to put together an essay on how best to handle the leadership of one.

General Thoughts on Forums

A forum is a place meant for one thing only: dialogue. Thought meeting thought. How and what it is about is entirely up to you.

Design

This encompasses the colors, backgrounds, fonts, and images you choose for the forum skins. It also deals with avatars and signatures.

Organization

How do you organize all of the topics for discussion?

Moderation

These are the people other than the creator of the forum who work a bit like the police force or guardian angels… which ever you prefer.

Censorship

Since forums are composed almost solely out of conversation, censoring is the rule enforcement on forums.

Language

What sort of restrictions on language should you have? How should you behave in regards to spelling and grammar?

Membership

How do you choose members?

Rules

How strict should they be, and how many should there be?

Help Forums

These are places to go get help at.

Design

Make the design as simple and easy to read as possible. People aren’t there to enjoy themselves; they’re there to get help. Keep it with the fewest frills possible while still looking professional. (That means, no tiny fonts and don’t make the colors clash!)

Organization

Keep the boards very well organized. Put up a separate forum/section for only Moderators to give them a sense of community, and keep them around the site to help people more often.

Moderation

Have experts on hand 24/7! People want help, and they want it right now.

Censorship

Keep the threads on topic. This isn’t a conversation board; remember that. No discussions unless they are about something that someone needs help with.

Language

Have multi-lingual people on hand, and use the best spelling and grammar possible. You want people to be able to understand the help you give them clearly.

Membership

Don’t require people to become a member to ask a question. It’s a waste of space to have someone sign up for a forum that they’re only going to visit once.

Discussion and Fandom Forums

The vast majority of forums.

Design

Be artful, but don’t make the text hard to read! If it’s too hard to read, you’ll lose all of your members to eyesight problems. Also, limit signatures to text and small pictures only. There’s nothing more annoying that scrolling through pages of huge banners in peoples’ signatures. Come on, are we there to look at signatures or to discuss something? Also, pictures slow down the download time for those of us with poor Internet connections.

Organization

Have one section for the FAQ/Forum Help, Introductions, and Announcements, one devoted to different parts of the fandom or discussion topic, and one devoted to real life. Don’t make too many sections, or else it will feel like a space vacuum, and everyone will be intimidated by it. DO NOT make a separate forum/section for the Moderators. Keeping them a part of the general community will make them looked up to as someone to go to for help, not a dictator.

Moderation

Have one Moderator per a section. Moderators should be chosen by their knowledge of the section, their maturity, ability to handle conflicts gracefully, and availability. Most of all choose people who have already taken up leadership roles in the community. Don’t share ownership of the board. Design should be left to one person only. If a Moderator gets power happy, get rid of him or her quickly.

Censorship

Keep it at a minimum. Arguments and discussions are good things. They draw people to your forum and keep them there. When the argument gets hot, let it boil, no matter how tempted you are to throw water on it and close the thread. When it reaches 20 pages of “Yes it is! No it isn’t!” or “You suck! No you suck!” then step in and say, “You guys are being really boring and redundant. Take it to e-mail and Private Messaging.” Then you can lock the thread down and start it anew with a greater variety of ideas to encompass more angles of discussion.

Most importantly: listen to the forum users’ complaints. Let them suggest things for the forums; they use the forums every day! They know what they’re talking about!

And finally: NEVER BAN SOMEONE FOR DISAGREEING WITH YOU! Who are you, Hitler? You’ll drive people away if you don’t allow there to be differences in opinion.

The only thing I’d say it’s all right to delete is spamming. How will people make a discussion out of an ad for enlarging body parts they don’t have?

Language

It’s easiest to have a discussion when you can understand everyone. Keep the forums in one language only, and use the best possible grammar and spelling at all times. It sets a good example for the other members and invites free exchange of ideas.

Rules

Either have no rules at all, leaving it to common sense, or don’t make the rules very strict. These are the rules I use, if you feel you absolutely need them.

  1. This is a family forum, so keep discussions PG-13!
  2. No spamming!
  3. Have fun!

Commiserating Forums

These are forums that you go to whine or make fun of something. Yes, I’m looking at you MSTers and PPC!

Design

Make it sparse, and limit signatures to text. This is about the commissary, not the graphics.

Organization

No introductions needed, but a section for FAQ/Forum Help and general discussions is a good idea. For the rest, make sections of things for people to whine about.

Moderation

These forums are great because they need no moderation. If someone tries to disrupt things, they get made fun of. You only need one omnipotent admin who can delete spamming and double posts.

Censorship

Delete spamming. That’s it. Oh, and a troll cage is a good idea too.

Language

People with poor language skills will be laughed at.

Rules

Rules? What rules?

Role-play Forums

These are places where people have adventures through words, telling stories with their characters in them in a fandom of some sort.

Design

Be artful, but please make it easy to read! Allow modest signatures (big ones clutter the stories too much), but let people have big avatars with pictures of their characters.

Organization

Make one section for Introduction, FAQ/Forum Help, Announcements, and Out Of Character (OOC) topics to build a sense of community. Make another section for the Role-playing, separating it out into the different settings that the stories can take place. Finally, have a section devoted to character profiles and summaries of the plot.

Moderation

Choose people who are there all of the time and know a LOT about the fandom. They must be actively involved in the stories.

Membership

Be very picky choosy about members. Nothing’s worse in a RP than a newbie who bashes in with a couple Mary Sues and no knowledge of the fandom.

Censorship

Keep as much OOC stuff out of the Role-play as possible. The main attraction should be the stories you are creating, not what happened today at the mall.

Language

Stories are easier to read when you can understand them. Make certain the members know this too.

Rules

Keep them strict and In Canon! Games are best when everyone plays by the rules. Make certain that the rules are easy to find and easy to understand. Include rules about combat, marriages, and births especially to keep track of all of the characters and make it a little harder for Mary Sues and killing sprees to take place.

In Conclusion

After many a year browsing the web and taking part in forums and moderating forums, I’ve learned many of the ins and outs of making forums. They are good things; they make communities and attract people to your website. However, a poorly put together forum is a headache. I can only hope that webmasters find this somewhat useful, and in some cases… take the hint.

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