Communities and Self-Policing
JP had a great follow up to yesterday’s bit on Community Participation. He quite presciently notes that roles within communities are not stagnant, they in fact evolve.
My experience with the Reel-Time.com community demonstrates this in spades. I saw a three-four year cycle in our users in that niche community for saltwater fly fisherfolk.
- New user arrives, needs information on gear, hungry for any tips he/she can get to get started out, looking for spots to fish, meeting other users.
- Starts posting indepth trip reports, inevitably draws flack for posting too much information about particular “secret” locations.
- Starts replying to posts telling users, including professionals, industry luminaries, etc., that they are doing things the wrong way. Develops a new fly pattern which he/she names after himself.
Stops posting, except for the occassional griping post about how the Internet has ruined the sport, starts writing long winded technical pieces for obscuring sporting journals on arcane nuances of the sport.
Okay, that’s a bit tongue in cheek, but I’ve got enough instances to make a case for just that progression. The truth of the matter is that Internet communities act as levelers. Base rookies can often appear to have the same credibility as gristled veterans and the true innovators of the space. That is why it is important in *some* instances to recognize the true experts within the community, on a semi-official basis. Personally, I use a mentor badge which is bestowed on the very few who have truly demonstrated their intelligence and willingness to be forum leaders.
JP also makes note that the only true way to block problem offenders is by peer pressure. Again, I agree – banned users simply get new accounts to keep on reading. They are like moths before the flame, and I have no doubt that some of my banned users have reappeared in alternate guise and may very well be productive community members now. Or more probably they have become members of the silent majority, the lurkers. The point is that by showing a willingness to stand by your forum rules, you create an environment where the users have a clear understanding of what is and what is not acceptible. They’ll most generally put an offender in his place well before I or one of my moderators needs to get involved.