April 2nd, 2009


Sample Online Community Parameters

I have helped establish parameters for well over a dozen different email lists, blog communities, forums, and other online venues, including both private and public ones on a variety of topics. Below I have copied a set of suggested guidelines that I have developed over the years. These are not carved in stone and you can discuss which ones to adapt for use in a given context. Please feel free to offer comments or suggestions.

The exact nature of any given community is not wholly established by its creator(s). It just starts with a general idea of what it is to become; the rest will be largely up to the membership, as it is the conversations that really give a community its character. So here are my guidelines:

1) Remember that you are dealing with real live people in this online community, not cyber-ghosts. Speak the truth gently if possible, firmly if necessary. Please treat other members with respect, and otherwise conduct yourself as a mature, responsible, civilized person.

2) Try to remain focused on the topic at hand. General discussions and socializing should move to private e-mail or to another venue dedicated to that purpose. Likewise, keep an eye on headers to make sure they keep up with the thread's actual content in email, forums, posts, etc.

3) Disrespectful, intimidating, or otherwise inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated here. The moderator(s) may issue up to three warnings, in private or public, and if this does not produce the necessary changes then disruptive members may be removed.

4) Free speech is a right, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be abused. It also does not entitle anyone to a captive audience. Thus, comments detrimental to the positive exchange of ideas may be disemvowelled or deleted.

5) It's not necessary to agree with everything said in this venue. For best results, however, avoid logical fallacies when making counter-arguments. Congenial discussion or rational debate is preferred to name-calling, vulgarity, or other verbal litter.

6) Try to be sensitive and sensible about politics, class issues, sexism, racism, religion, etc. Those can be touchy issues. Never talking about them won't solve anything, but they require careful handling in order to do more good than harm.

7) Do not post any spam here. Persistent spammers will be removed and, if relevant, reported to Internet authorities. Also, please do not copy a single message to more than three venues including this one.

8) Do not post attachments, enriched message formats, etc. to an email list; or large image, sound, or video files to web venues; as some members cannot read these and they clog up the system. For further clarity, please write normally. TYPING IN ALL CAPITALS LIKE THIS IS SHOUTING and it is hard to read, so don't do it. typing without capitals or punctuation is also a nuisance please dont do that either

9) When responding to a previous post, quote only the relevant sections. Do not repost the entire message, or worse, an entire digest! When replying to a long segment, break it down to individual points and respond to each in turn.

10) Unless otherwise specified, opinions expressed here are those of the authors and not their organizations. Please identify official positions as opposed to personal positions. If quoting another source, please include a citation or link.

11) Respect other peoples' privacy and intellectual property. Do not forward or copy any post from this venue to any other, except with the author's permission. The only exception is for material intended for the public domain, such as letters or press releases; these should be clearly labeled "NEWS," "PLEASE FORWARD WIDELY," or suchlike.

12) Do not "out" someone as belonging to a particular subculture, belief system, etc. Such information should generally not be shared outside the venue where it originates, unless the person has already made it known in general public. If in doubt, be discreet.

13) Accept that upsets, misunderstandings, and other unpleasantness will sometimes occur in any venue full of lively people discussing important topics. If someone does something that makes you uncomfortable, or that violates the community's parameters, don't just ignore it; point out the problem and ask them to stop. A community where multiple people quickly respond to quash flames will have few or no troll problems, compared to a community that leaves such chores to the moderator(s). If you hurt someone's feelings, it is appropriate to apologize. If someone apologizes to you, try to accept gracefully. Most problems can be worked out if people are willing to exert some effort.

14) Encourage a sense of community. Ask open-ended questions; invite people to introduce themselves and talk about their lives or interests. Share links. Post about members' news and accomplishments. Get people talking with each other. Create traditions. Mark milestones. Aim to create a community that develops its own flavor and characteristics, so that it's not just another cyberjoint, but a unique and beloved place full of good friends.

These are among the most widespread and useful techniques for establishing an online venue that's fun, safe, informative, and otherwise useful. Some items are more useful for email lists, others for blogs or group forums. Use what seems relevant to your venue and goals. Feel free to try different things and adapt options as necessary.