For the most part, though, what hassles do come up are the result of well-meaning people not knowing how the system is supposed to work, and what the goals are.
That's the purpose of this thread. To discuss a bit about what moderation is, what it's supposed to accomplish, and what the standards are for posts. The more people who understand what moderation is and how it works, the better off we all are.
It's also useful to have a place specifically for the discussion, rather than 27 different threads that bury posts on other topics.
Note: These are my opinions only, and are not to be considered official statements of any kind.
That said, I've been moderating electronic forums of various types since 1987, so I have some amount of (hopefully useful) clue on the topic.
The definition I use for moderation is: To keep discussion within topical limits that allow for optimal benefit to all participants.
Every word of that definition is important. For starters, the last one: Participation is a requirement to be considered part of the community. Lurkers are welcome, but if you never add anything to the conversation, you have no say about how it's run.
If the only time you ever post is to complain about how someone else does things, don't bother. You have every right to your opinion, but it doesn't carry much weight. You shouldn't expect it to.
Topics are limited to make it possible for people to better use their time. If the board was open to everything and anything anyone wanted to discuss, it would be useless for anything practical. Hence the "Where we talk about making money."
That does not mean that casual asides and humorous twists are bad. Those things let you see more than one side of a person's character, and add to the strength of the community. That means that people work together, have more success, and become invested in the community. So, they stay around longer and do more to make it a better place to be.
Now, for the most commonly misunderstood concept: Self-promotional posts.
The prohibition on spam is not an arbitrary one. If ads are allowed unchecked, they'll choke out useful communication. We've all seen what that can do to email, and it can happen even more quickly with a forum.
People do pretty well with reporting the obvious spam. Drive-by ads, articles posted just to get attention to a link and the like go away quickly. No need to explain that.
For the edge cases, a quote from a post I made in another thread:
This is something most folks here never quite get their heads around. People create products on the subjects they know the most about. That also happens to be the area in which they can offer the most help to others. No coincidence there, and no conspiracy. Just plain logic.
One of the guidelines I always used when I was moderating was a question: Is the information in this post useful on its own, without needing to buy a product? If so, it's a valid post. If not, it's not.
The decision was based solely on the content of the post. I deliberately ignored sig files for purposes of answering that question, unless the poster made a reference that seemed to point to theirs. That provided a balance of interests that worked. People got to promote their knowledge and their products, in ways that were helpful whether someone purchased anything from them or not.
People pay waaay too much attention to the correlation of sig files and post content these days, and way too little to the value of the content itself.
Self-promotion, if that's your motivation for posting, should be driven by adding value, not blatantly (or sneakily) shoving ads in people's faces.
Put another way: If the post would be useful without the sig file, the poster has earned the sig file.
There are people who think the forum should be devoid of anything that looks like self-promotion. The common call is:
"Ban sig files, and see how long they stick around!"
My question is: Would that really help? Or would it hurt?
If someone contributes, and their expertise actually helps others, those are the people we want to know about when we need products or services on that topic. They're not just posting articles or one-offs. They're putting personal time and experience into helping the group.
Should we make them invisible?
That's not really in the group's best interest, is it?
Look at it another way. If it passes the test above, it's adding value. If they happen to make sales through their sig file, that just offsets a little of the time they put into the post.
The people who are only here for that never last, though. Either they leave, or they escalate their tactics, getting to the point where they start going over the line. They get called on it and they either back off or they leave.
Balance is maintained.
The people who are naturally social types and enjoy teaching will stay around for the other benefits. Learning, conversation, networking, WSOs,the satisfaction of seeing someone gain from what they've posted, and the fun they have.
It all sorts itself out nicely, as long as you go by the answer to that one question: Ignoring the sig file completely, is the information in this post useful on its own, without needing to buy a product?
The best part?
You don't have to even care what someone's intention was in making the post. If the information is useful as-is, it's useful. Period. The person who needed it doesn't care why it's there. It's what they needed.
Are there people who push this? Absolutely. As a rule, those should be left to folks who've got more experience. This has nothing to do with intelligence, mind you. It has to do with experience, and knowing where things lead when left alone.
The problem: If you don't know what to look for, you're likely to cast too wide a net, resulting in damage to innocent parties. Once accusations start flying, people tend to read things in ways that create further suspicion. They repeat their interpretations, and smoke starts to imply fire.
Sometimes there really is nothing there but the smoke machine.
I recommend being very cautious about what you listen to. Accusations need to be backed up with evidence, or they should be heavily discounted.
Never forget that forum politics - in any forum - can be a nasty and messy business. Like nuclear fuel, it can be used for good, but you don't want to get any on you.
That leads us straight to Rule #1.
As I understand it, Rule #1 is not intended to keep out all conflict. People who try to use it that way are going to fail, as that's not only impossible, it's not always desirable.
The original motivation for Rule #1 was, I believe, to stop the "XYZ company sucks" and "Joe Schlabotnik is a scamming thief" threads that would pop up all the time here. People were creating these threads just about every day, pursuing vendettas, trying to use the forum to blackmail merchants, cutting down their competition, etc.
Yes, it is also supposed to apply to WSO issues. Exceptions are made occasionally in cases where it's provable that the WSO is a fraud, but that's far less common than some people make it out to be. Problems with downloads, refunds and the like are not supposed to be handled in the main forum.
The most common argument against Rule #1 is that "people should be allowed to alert the other members to crappy products and frauds, so they don't get sucked in."
Doesn't work that way. Far too many of these "warnings" are just expressing gripes or grudges. Some are trying to blackmail a merchant to get something they don't deserve. Others are outright lies. The majority are people who simply don't understand how something is supposed to work and who are angry because they're confused.
Except for the outright lies, every one of those people believe they've got a legitimate case. None of them do.
Without a lot more information than is usually available, there's no way to know which are the few that really are sound, and which are the mistakes or malicious postings. So, they all stay out.
The same dynamic applies here as with malicious gossip: Once the accusation is made, some people will always wonder. And some will swallow it whole, without any evidence at all, much less actual proof. Then someone will mention the allegations on another board, and they (or someone else in the thread) will link back to the thread here, presenting the allegations as evidence.
It gets real ugly, real quick. And there's usually nothing there but a smoke machine.
That just ain't right.
As far as members duking it out... That can be a good thing. It is very often a better idea to let them sort their problems out on their own than for anyone else to jump in and try to fix things by suppressing them.
It's not just good for them. It's good for the group. Grown-ups sometimes have to hash things out, and that's not always pretty. If the end result is that folks get a better look at the characters of other members, that helps. And quite often, if they handle it right, the people beating each other up end up being better friends because they stayed in it and worked through the conflict.
That's the real world, folks. It has sharp corners and hard edges.
If things get to a point where they're a problem for the group, believe it: There are people watching who can deal with it. And they will.
Being a moderator does not mean you're suddenly a parent to the whole world. That way lies madness, guaranteed frustration, and various other forms of insanity.
There is a lot more to what is being called "official moderation" than most people ever see. There are often things going on that we, as members, don't know about. There are tendencies that have to be taken into account, like, "This is okay by itself, but it tends to lead to this other thing that isn't so good."
That's why some things are left to continue that you think should be cut off, and why some things are cut off that you think should be left to continue.
That's a function of experience.
I see a lot of people arguing for "official moderators" to be brought back. They have all sorts of ideas about how that's somehow better than member moderation. Most of those people have never been moderators here. (Yes, this place is, in some very important ways, different from most forums.)
I've been a member here for 10 years. The current system works as well as any other we've had. The same problems and complaints that come up now came up when we had one moderator, three moderators, and something like thirty moderators.
The current system is a hybrid. We have "official" moderators to handle the edge cases that require experience. We have members to take the majority of the load of handling spam posts off their backs. It's working just fine, as far as I can see.
It will work even better when more of us understand that the role of moderation is to keep things within limits, not to try and make them perfect, or force them to conform to one person's social standards or personal preferences.
The trick is the balance. If you make the limits too broad, you lose all focus. If you make them too narrow, you lose the interplay that generates much of the value and interest of the place.
Look for the balance, and you'll do a much better job as a member moderator.
You'll also find yourself sweating a lot less of the small stuff.
Enough for now, eh?
Well, don't just sit there looking silly. You know you have a question or opinion. Out with it!