Framing community rules - a guide

hari

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Jan 2, 2006
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hari submitted a new Article:

Framing community rules - a guide

A lot of forums I encounter on the web have a set of generic rules. Mostly these rules have the usual "no spamming - no trolling - no flaming" clauses along with a few more clauses on posting guidelines, signature guidelines and such technical stuff. A lot of admins tend to frame rules which have an innate aggressive tone which tends to repel members rather than get them to understand the nature or culture of the community they are a part of.

Here are my tips on how to frame rules which are fine-tuned to your own community and how to actually use rules as a method to guide your staff on how to deal with community issues rather than come across as a stern, unbending dictatorial boss to your members who read them. Based on my own experience, stock rules are nearly always useless and sometimes have a negative impact on communities.

Tip 1: Don't have rules (initially at least)

It might surprise a lot of admins to know that they don't need rules when they start out a forum with just 1 member - themselves. It's astonishing to see how many newly started out forums have a rules page that incorporates dozens of clauses with a list of things that can get members banned. This is one of the worst things to drive away members. First it's hard enough getting registrations on a new forum with 5 members and 20 odd posts. To make people read this stuff before or after joining is a sure community killer. Most people won't even bother. The typical attitude you project is that you're a admin more for the sake of being a dictator and enjoying power rather than building a community.

New admins who build communities should work on a "mission statement" instead of a rules page. They should try and project what their vision is for the site and what kind of a community they want to build rather than copy-paste a set of generic rules from another well-established community.

Tip 2: Perceive your community culture

The biggest reason for conflict on communities is more based on the real difference between the staff's perception of how to enforce rules and the community culture which might be completely different. Your rules might incorporate a lot of things which are completely different from ground realities and if your staff uses that guide to deal with situations that arise on your forum, you're going to find a lot of conflicts occurring and a resulting confusion about what...

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miraga715

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May 28, 2006
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Thanks. I've been looking for this kind of articles for forum rules. This will definately help me out.
 

hari

Tazmanian
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I think I'll have to rewrite my own rules based on this. :p Anyway thanks for the appreciation.
 

dojo

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Apr 27, 2005
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I agree with many thingsm but I think rules need to be set from the first time. I already had some VERY BAD experience because I didn't have well stated rules from the first. Changing rules as the forums grow is not a good idea (as I have found myself). When I register in a forum I need to know what I am allowed and not. Afterwards I could even get mad when the admin would change some of the rules. I had received threats of being sued by some disgruntled members in a forum of mine and I didn't have the rules to cover me. Now I have them set. When I have an issue I just lead them to the rules that are from the start and they agreed with them at the registration. saved a lot of problems,

I have also started some rules on a forum I am taking care if. It was rule-less for 1 year. I had a riot break because of this and managed to calm them in few days, but after a lot of sleepless nights.

Members can be sometimes jerks. Better be covered FROM THE START
 

hari

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dojo, I think an admin shouldn't need rules to enforce discipline in a small community and you don't need to justify every action of yours. Having generic rules can be worse than having none, because they can convey the wrong intention to people and sometimes you admin policy will directly contradict your rule enforcement, particularly in a small community where you will need to be far more lenient at times. That can lead to wrong notions.

My only suggestion is that you write rules when your forum starts getting decent levels of activity and you're able to get a "feel" of what kinds of problems are likely to occur in your community. I am sure you could handle situations without having to use rules when you have a small community with four or five active members and fewer than 20-30 posts a day. Nothing could be so serious in a small, newly started out forum that you need to keep justifying all your decisions by pointing at rules.

All I say is that be in tune with your forum ground realities (which are unique to your forum) before you frame rules.
 

dojo

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Apr 27, 2005
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hari, let me tell you how I got to this nice idea.

I started an MA forum 4 years ago in Romanian. As you guess, I had no rules, I thought people are nice and all members are angels. In few months I have started getting more people. The problem is that some started bashing each others (they were instructors and had a lot of things to comment on, not to mention they were all in business and tried to make the others look bad). My forum was once a place to exchange ideas and training tips, it had turned into a battlefield in few months.

I have started putting some rules. the result? WAR. They didn't have rules before, they joined a forum with no rules and so they didn't like being then restricted. In this matter I think it's about a contract new members sign when joinining. They have to know the rules (few or many) and AGREE with them. I will take administrative measures BASED on those rules. If I sign a contract to live in your house for instance, be certain I'd hate to have some restrictions just when I was gettin more confortable. I check the rules before joining a forum (I'm in more than 100 forums right now). I read them CAREFULLY and then decide if I join or not. having the rules change after I joined would make me think the admin is not serious enough.

OK .. back to my story.

After getting some more wars because of the new restrictions I got a member who asked to have the account deleted. I replied that it's my forum and his posts are mine, but I was threatened with a lawsuit and even beating :cookoo:

Since I was sick of this jerk I deleted his account and his posts. He had more then 3000 posts in my forums. Had more problems and 2-3 more people wanted to leave in the next 3 years. After 4 years and another one asking to not be linked to the forums anymore I deleted the board and started fresh.

Now I HAVE RULES !!!

First think I did in my new place was to put some info about things I think are important and I need to have them written down for them to see in order to avoid problems.

I don't delete posts and accounts (I can edit the account, but the posts stay). I don't allow images in signatures, links to similar projects, stuff like that. Not a lot of rules, but they need to exist. I don't want members to question administrative measures (would take 2 more pages to tell you another horror story when you're too nice and let members commment on your measures).

I was very happy to have these rules in 2 months time after I recreated my second MA forum (after having to delete the previous one). After some weeks (2 months) I had one VERY active member get mad on another instructor and ask for me to delete his posts (since they're his and he has copyright). I immediatelly sent him to the rules that were placed BEFORE the forum opening, the rules I talked about in a welcome message that they need to be read and by creating an account we consider he agreed on. He immediately realised he cannot threaten me again with this since he AGREED on that and in a twisted way i defend my cause by saying "this was the contract, you signed it."

He agreed on having the account renamed and I can now enjoy a quiet moment.

I agree with your idea that a new community shouldn't have rules, but we're talking about an IDEAL community. Our members are NOT ideal. Most think they're the owners and we are their slaves, they think thay have the right of life and death in our forums. I have had my hard times. I don't trust people anymore. I have my rules to cover me and I keep a very nice and relaxed atmosphere in my communities. I am not believing in good and nice members, I love those who are in this category and controll the others through rules.

I wish you NOT to need rules and have a great community and not lose tens of nights worrying about your projects and trying to controll the situation. Admining is sometimes HARD and UGLY, I just wish you don't have to face such problems I have faced (and others admins, I'm not the only one)
 

hari

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dojo, I see your point but fail to understand why an admin is bound to stick to one set of rules. Every admin has the right to release rule updates and change the membership agreement clauses. There's nothing unusual about it and doesn't require justification. If you're a strong admin in other areas and generally command respect, it's unnecessary to use rules as a crutch. A big community needs to have comprehensive rules - not one with ten or fifteen active members.

You've stated an exceptional case to justify your way of doing things. Which is fine, but my article is targetted at how to write rules in general - not for covering exceptional cases...

As to my philosophy itself,

How else will you write good rules? I don't say keep changing rules every saturday, but a good admin can never stay in the past. Change is constant and rule updates will definitely be necessary once every six or eight months or at least once a year.

I think you're adopting a defensive stance as an admin by having the rules to justify your actions. Rather I think admins should be strong enough to let their own values guide them in handling situations and use the rules as a way to communicate values. I believe in rules as a way to guide staff members based on past experience - not as a way to cover oneself when encountering difficult situations.

Of course, my advise, as such, is generic, because this is more of a philosophical discussion and maybe, as you said, some situations require different handling. I agree entirely and ultimately it's the admin who has to make decisions based on their own communities. This article is just a general guide.

Regards. :)
 

Jagannath

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Joined
Aug 7, 2006
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22
aah Thanks harishankar!! I was just going to frame rules for my new community. and I already compiled exhaustive rules for a community of jus 5 ppl to begin with.... i think after reading this article i will go easy in the beginning... its a gr8 advice for me....
 

SoulRiser

Participant
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Sep 7, 2007
Messages
51
It's refreshing to read a guide about rules that contains the sentence "Don't have rules (initially at least)" :)

My forum has never had any rules, and at over 77k posts and 1100 members, I still don't need any. We just have some very general guidelines about when and where posts will get moved or split, but that's about it. We don't even ban trolls... in fact, the members find them quite amusing to argue with. :)
 

CFOtoGo

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Oct 7, 2007
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Great discussion!

I wish I didn't agree with both of you! :shifty:
I am very new, and still setting up my first forum.
I like the no rules idea, but I don't want to have mutiny on my hands if I need to implement rules in the future.

Maybe something like "general guidelines" instead of "RULES" would work?

Anybody have a short set of forum guidelines they would like to share?

Kathleen
~Be Wonderful~
 

blebs

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Dec 13, 2007
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16
The new guy on the block is facing this dilemna now. Our membership has grown to the point that the rules that we do have in place need revision. As is, the members run the forum, the rules have never really been applied and it's out of control. The only way I see getting any control back whatsoever is to start applying and enforcing the existing rules. It's not going over well with the rule breakers, but seems to be great for those on the sidelines. I'm sure I'm going to lose some members, but hopefully, only the ones causing problems. Just too much nonsense and flamming going on that the actual goal of the site isn't to be found anymore.

Rules are needed.
 

gogoblender

shiny happy pantless
Joined
Feb 20, 2006
Messages
15,308
Tip two is brilliant.
Our rules were up only about a year after we were running. You're right, listening and waiting to see what kind of community pans out is a great idea.

Good post

:)

gogo
 

spark911

Enthusiast
Joined
Apr 11, 2006
Messages
126
I wish I didn't agree with both of you! :shifty:
I am very new, and still setting up my first forum.
I like the no rules idea, but I don't want to have mutiny on my hands if I need to implement rules in the future.

Maybe something like "general guidelines" instead of "RULES" would work?

Anybody have a short set of forum guidelines they would like to share?

Kathleen
~Be Wonderful~

Having read this, I'll probably go down the general guidelines route at first.

e.g: "Be aware that everyone can read your messages, therefore please think before using offensive language or terms".

instead of:

-No racism
-Don't use "gay" to mean rubbish
-No swearing

Of course, I wouldn't play to have a community of racists, and such messages can be deleted, and a swear filter activity if people complain and it's used a lot.

I guess I will just see how it goes and maybe carry out an interview with a few members and a general questionaire to see what they want!

Consultation is always good before change, where possible.
 
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