Forums Need More Moderators? Maybe Not

As your community grows, it becomes harder and harder to moderate. So, what do you do to combat this? The first thing that usually comes to mind (rightly so) is to bring in more moderators. But, you should never promote to promote. Promote good people. As many as you can find. You can never have enough good people.

But, beyond that, think about the way you work and how the community software can help minimize the moderation time required. Think of ways to innovate inside of your system. One thing that has become more or less a constant is a sort of report system on communities where users can report potential violations to staff members. Those are good because not only do they help moderators spot violations, but they help you establish that responding to violations is not OK.

But, what else? On the phpBBHacks.com Support Forums, we have guidelines relating to the bumping of topics. The bumping of topics is really a big problem for large support communities because there are so many topics posted that topics can go down the line pretty fast and then, what do you know, the topic starter wants to bring it back to the top. Basically, on our forums, you are allowed one, non informative (not adding new info, valid info, etc.) bump on your thread and it must come after 48 hours since the time stamp on the last post that was made on the thread. Well, I had an idea on how we could enforce that while minimizing moderation time. And my buddy Jeremy delivered a hack. When a user adds a post onto the thread, it checks 4 things (from the hack page):

1. Did this user start the thread?
2. Did this user make the last post in this thread?
3. Was that post made less than 48 hours ago?
4. Is this user not a guest user, an administrator or a moderator of this specific forum?

And if all of those things are a yes, then the post is not made. The member is shown a message informing them of our guidelines, asking them to edit their last post. It’s not a perfect solution, but it works well and it has trimmed moderation time down quite a bit.

I had another idea yesterday. On my communities, we remove a lot of posts as vulgar. I have very strict rules those sorts of things. Often times, the post tripped our word censor. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner and I imagine it has been thought of before, but how about, if it trips the censor, the post is not made. Instead the user is shown a message, basically telling them that their post tripped the censor, to please adjust it and try again. And if they are unsure as to why it triggered the censor or believe the censor is working in error, to please contact us (link to the contact page). Their post is not lost (in phpBB, it is similar to what happens if you forget to give your post a subject title – it tells you that you forgot and your post data is still in the text box below). Below the message, if possible, a copy of the post they tried to make would be displayed with the area that triggered the censor highlighted.

Now, it is strange, I admit, but when I thought of the possibilities of this, of the time it would save… I was a little excited to see if it would be possible. It would also be incentive to keep a solid list of censored words (while minimizing accidentally censored words). Instead of a moderator or myself having to remove the post, the user can adjust their post before they post it – this saves all of us time.

If you know me, you know I’m not a fan of automation, if the quality of what you are offering is degraded. This is why the phpBBHacks.com database is not automated. I approve everything by hand. But, automation does not simply equal bad. Well thought out automation can be brilliant and the type of innovation that I have described can be very helpful and can save you and your moderators a lot of time while not at all affecting the quality of your community. So, if you are finding yourself overwhelmed on your community, try to find more good people. But, also try to think of ways for the system to help you and your staff to do your job better.

Patrick O'Keefe

Managing online communities since 2000, I publish a collective of websites known as the iFroggy Network. I wrote the book Managing Online Forums and, as a public speaker, have presented for organizations like CNN, institutions like Australian National University and conferences like SXSW. More about me.

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