Community Rules

One of the most crucial aspects of web community development are the rules and how they are enforced. Too few rules can lead to chaos but too many always lead to oppression and a dead community results. I have seen this over and over again.
I don't think I have ever seen a community with too few rules. This doesn't mean that they don't exist: I simply have never seen one.
If I were to give any community developer a piece of advice, I would give them this, taken from Machiavelli's The Prince: that "...the people ask nothing but not to be oppressed..." As a community leader, one must ensure that no oppression occurs be it from within or from without. Excessive moderation can be as bad as a troll and often causes as much, if not more unrest within the community. If God could limit His commandments to 10, why do you require 10 thousand? Remember that most of the rules you create for your community have no basis in law: you are simply creating them to govern how you wish people to interact with each other. Do you set up such rules among your friends? If you had a large list of rules for all of your friends to follow would they or would your circle of friends stick together? In the workplace, would a large list of rules governing how you may or may not interact during coffee break be useful?
In their offline relationships, people are governed by their common sense. While it is certainly arguable that some have significantly less common sense than others, it is just as arguable that a long list of rules can never "fix" those who are lacking in this area. Why then is it generally expected that online life would be any different?
In her book The Psychology of the Internet, Patricia Wallace looks at the behavioural practices of individuals online. She argues that anonymity allows people to do things and express opinions that they otherwise would not. There is a certain amount of truth to this. But does that necessitate excessive government?
I am convinced that it does not.
As yet, I have no argument on which to base this, other than my own experience.


Anonymous said...

We do have rules for how we interact at coffee breaks, but they're implicit. In an online community, it's much harder--if not impossible to develop such an implicit set of practices & modes of conduct.

It makes sense to have certain rules in some communities, and it makes sense to spell them out, although it's also important to limit how many rules there are to prevent them from being obtrusive.

For example, many online communities exist based around television shows. Different communities are going to have different senses of what constitutes spoilers: some groups believe that even casting information qualifies as being "spoiler-y", some feel that references to any posted information about a show from the network are spoilers, and some limit the concept of spoilers to very specific details about plot/character details. While it'd be nice for the community to agree on what constitutes spoilers, it generally falls to the moderator to act as an arbitrator.

While that is a special case of a certain type of rules, I think that there are any number of similar cases that are applicable to wider types of internet-based communities. Accordingly, a situation that one person considers to be an example of excessive governence may even seem wild & lawless to others. The result is that individuals form different communities based on a range of standards & practices, and others let themselves be members of those communities that are most worthwhile to themselves.

Ruth said...

While I agree that what constitutes a spoiler may vary from community to community, how spoilers are dealt with in a community is often very specific and very member-driven.

Example 1: Smallville.
I have a sister who is a huge fan. She knows exactly what will be in an episode before she watches it. She collects a lot of her information from The Smallville Torch, a fan website. It's entirely devoted to speculation about the show. If you don't want to accidentally find news on what the next Smallville episode will be about, don't visit their site. If you like to be "in the know," then this is the place for you.

Example 2: TORn, TORc and other LoTR websites.
While the movies were in production, The One Ring.Net (TORn) would collect information from their "Ringer Spies" on who was and wasn't going to be cast, what scenes would and wouldn't be cut, etc. The information was then posted in "Spy Reports," and visitors had the option of viewing or not viewing the reports. This fits your idea of a moderators decision. However, on various discussion forums, members typically put the words **POTENTIAL SPOILERS** in the title. This typically did not arise from a moderator's decision, but was decided on by various groups, depending on the interest in spoiler information. This was certainly the case at the former Billy Boyd (Pippin) web community.

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