Forum Questions

I’ve received some good questions from people interested in moderating the upcoming discussion forums. About two dozen people have already expressed interest in becoming moderators — I’m really happy to see that, since it means we should have plenty of good moderation.

Here are the answers to some common questions.

How much effort will it take to be a moderator?

That’s hard to say because until the forums go live, I don’t know how popular they’ll be. My expectation is that they’ll start out with moderate traffic, maybe several hundred visitors who sign up the first day or two, and gradually build into a strong community of thousands. Every forum is different, so this is little more than an educated guess.

Ideally I’d like to see the moderation duties require no more than a few minutes per day on average.

Usually moderation duties go in spurts. For a few weeks there may be little or nothing that requires your attention. You login and see that everything is fine. But every once in a while, you might see a controversial topic break out, and it kicks off a holy war where people get a bit too emotionally invested in being right and proving everyone else is wrong, and the moderator needs to poor some cold water on the situation to let everyone cool off. So then you might have 10-20 minutes of moderation effort in a single day.

The forum software includes a “Report this post to a moderator” feature for all members, so if you encourage members to report problems to you promptly, you shouldn’t have to personally scan every post in your forum unless you want to.

Is this a paid or volunteer position?

It’s an unpaid volunteer position. That’s simply because I expect the rewards of being a community moderator will greatly outweigh the effort. If it gets to be too much effort, I’ll either offer the moderators a monthly stipend or simply add more moderators. There are pros and cons to both approaches. If you’re spending an hour a day moderating the forums and not getting paid for it, I think that would be unfair. Of course you’re free to actively participate and post all you want like any other community member, but you shouldn’t have to show up each day to find dozens of moderation problems.

Will the forums have ads?

Most likely they will, but I’ll try to keep them moderate so they don’t become a distraction from having great discussions. Ads tend not to be great income generators for forums that attract a lot of repeat visitors, since people just tune them out. I’ll probably err on the side of making the forums more donation-based. I don’t expect the forums to be a big income generator — that’s not why I’m doing this — but I’ll likely need a new server to host them, and if they grow large enough, I’ll probably hire an administrator/webmaster to manage the whole community. So there will be some costs involved, and I would like the see the forums become financially self-sufficient.

Will new posts be approved immediately by default, or will moderators have to approve every post?

New posts will always appear immediately, so moderators need only react to any problems that arise. I wouldn’t even consider asking moderators to approve every post.

What if a moderator isn’t sure how to handle a certain situation?

There will be a private moderators-only forum where moderators can request help/advice from each other. I’ll be monitoring that forum too, so if any tricky situations arise where the moderators can’t agree on how to handle it in a timely manner, I can always step in to break the deadlock. I doubt that situation will arise too often though.

The moderators forum will also allow moderators to share moderation tips and to coordinate site-wide actions. For example, if a spammer starts trying to post gambling ads across the whole site, the moderators can quickly identify this person and request that his/her account be disabled. At least initially the moderators won’t be able to ban anyone — that privilege will rest with the administrator, a job that Erin and I will share in the beginning.

There are other popular forums that already cover many of the topics you’ll have in your forums? Why create a whole new community?

It isn’t the topics that will make this community unique — it’s the people. Erin and I have both been delighted to connect with so many intelligent, self-aware, highly conscious people through our sites. It’s absolutely true that you can discuss these same topics elsewhere, but I doubt you’ll find a community quite like the one that evolves here.

I’ve participated in online communities since 1994, and every one is different. When a forum lacks maturity and a general air of helpfulness though, it can become an addictive time drain. That sort of thing is what motivated me to write the article Effective Online Forum Usage. I’ll do my best to build a community that offers the benefits listed in that article while avoiding the drawbacks.

Update 11/7/06: The forums have already launched and are a huge success.