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Community Building and User Generated Content Forum

Declining quality of posts
How can I deal with it and not offend my members?

 9:19 pm on Sep 27, 2004 (gmt 0)

I've been noticing a steady decline in the quality of messages posted on one of my websites. Members are using slang, non-standard abbreviations, and avoiding simple things like capitalization and even punctuation. The last straw was a message nearly 3,000 characters long with no capitalization or punctuation.

Since I have members from all over the world, some of whom need translation services to read the forums I want to introduce a new item into my TOS that deals with this issue.

Basically I want to let my members know that such messages are subject to editing or deletion. At the same time I don't want to make it look like I'm being picky to the point of expecting perfect messages.

I'd appreciate some advice on how to word this new policy, or perhaps a sticky pointing me to a website that has a similar policy in place.




 12:13 am on Sep 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

I think a multi-step approach is needed. First, in your TOS or posting guidelines, make a clear statement as to what is or isn't allowable. Proper case (not all upper or lower), reasonable punctuation, and no excessive abbreviation (like text message-speak) would be a start.

If it's a prevalent issue, then you might post an announcement or sticky-thread as well. Or, put a note next to the post editing box.

Some oblivious posters will still miss all the cautions, of course. You and your mods should either edit these (if simple) or return them to the poster for editing. While I've seen some forums that embarrass members publicly, I recommend handling most of this by private message. I'm guessing the problem will clear up quickly.


 12:20 am on Sep 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

Hello GaryK:

I'm just glad that you are put off by this, and are trying to do something about it. Some juveniles purposely delete upper case for example, as a way of joining the crowd. Something like wearing one's baseball cap backwards I take it. Others are bone ignorant.

I find both offensive, but the real danger is driving away the more thoughtful and valued contributors. I also recommend a gentle yet firm touch.

Best -Larryhat


 3:25 am on Sep 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the feedback so far guys.

Embarrassing members in public is something I don't think I'd ever do. Part of our TOS states such things are to be done privately. The most I ever do in terms of potential embarrassment is the same thing that happens here all the time; a small note from the moderator who did something to a message such as removing a URL that doesn't point to an authoritative website.

rogerd, I like the wording in your first paragraph. I'll probably work from that. I do intend to post a sticky thread about this issue but I want the new TOS to be in place so the sticky can refer members to it.

Larryhat, I'm glad you understand and appreciate my dilemma. I'm prone to using what I call IM-speak when using IM, but in my forum messages I prefer a style that's more like writing someone a letter. I'll be gentle with my members. It's taken me a lot of years to build up the great community I have on the website in question and I'm loathe to do anything that will offend anyone.

Well, now I'm off to continue learning how to manage a Windows 2003 Server at ServerBeach. I'm finally making the leap to a dedicated server and I'm definitely doing it the hard way; self-managed. Oy! I got the firewall, IDS and IPS working tonight. Next up is the mail server and then the beast, SQL Server.

Thanks again guys. If anyone else wants to comment I'd appreciate some more feedback.


 1:41 pm on Sep 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

Use the 3000 character post with no caps or punctuation as a real example of the problems you are trying to correct. NOBODY likes to read something like that, and you'll have 100% of the membership behind you.


 9:25 pm on Sep 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

I'll also have several thousand members asking me for migraine medication, LOL.

I'll post again when I have a policy you all can comment on.

It's not often I get replies to my questions here so I really appreciate the help. Thanks.


 1:31 am on Sep 29, 2004 (gmt 0)

Hmmmm, I didn't mean you should publish the whole thing - just describing it should be graphic enough, and avoid the crossed eyes and headaches! ;)


 4:25 am on Sep 30, 2004 (gmt 0)

Here's what I wound up posting:

13. Out of consideration for our many members who do not speak English as their native language posts shall include proper sentence structure. That means using capitalization, reasonable punctuation, and no excessive abbreviations. Please try to structure your posts as if you were writing a letter to someone instead of sending a text message. Perfectly written messages are not the goal here. Writing so members who don't speak English well, or who have to use translation services is the goal.


 12:25 pm on Sep 30, 2004 (gmt 0)

One of the things that I immediately liked about ww was the lack of smilies in postings. I think smilies tend to lend to trivial postings, and as you put it, IMspeak. Strangely enough, I see there's still the option to 'Disable graphic smile faces for this post', and I don't remember smilies being a part of this board since I first started lurking in 2001. Anyways, if your board smilies, maybe consider a desmilization. Or replace all the smilies with dour, serious-looking jpegs of historians and librarians.


 1:33 pm on Sep 30, 2004 (gmt 0)

GaryK, don't get me wrong, but your TOS text is rather unclear itself, especially the last sentence. How about this:

13. Posts shall include proper sentence structure out of consideration for our many members who do not speak English as their native language. That means using capitalization, reasonable punctuation and no excessive abbreviations. Posts should be structured as if you were writing a letter to someone instead of sending a text message. The goal is not to have perfectly written messages, rather to encourage a writing style accessible to members who don't speak English well, or who have to use translation services.


 1:50 pm on Sep 30, 2004 (gmt 0)

Nicely put, GaryK. Now you just have to get people to read it. At least now if you nuke their post you have something specific in your TOS to refer them to.

I actually like smilies (when not used to excess) - in short text messages, they can convey nuance and help avoid misunderstandings. I'm prone to wisecracks, and a smiley helps the reader understand when I'm kidding. :)


 4:38 pm on Sep 30, 2004 (gmt 0)

mincklerstraat: I dislike smileys as well except in cases such as rogerd cited. The way I wrote my software no more than 25% of the message can consist of smileys, and your message must be at least twice as long as your signature before your signature will show up. The site in question is for plastic model car builders and the members do like to brag about their latest projects via their signature.

encyclo: I have always admired your writing style. May I use your version instead of mine?

rogerd: After adding the new rule I also posted a sticky message letting everyone know the TOS had been updated. This morning I awoke to over two dozen messages thanking me. Almost needless to say I was quite pleased with myself.


 7:03 pm on Sep 30, 2004 (gmt 0)

May I use your version instead of mine?

Go a head, it's all yours. The reaction from your members just goes to show that people generally appreciate rules which enforce clarity - especially when it comes to simple things like capitalization.


 7:32 pm on Sep 30, 2004 (gmt 0)

Thank you. I am in your debt.

By the way, the messages of approval continue to pile up. So far not a single person has complained about the website being too tough. In all our years of existence I've never seen such a positive reaction to a new rule!


 7:54 pm on Sep 30, 2004 (gmt 0)

>>no more than 25% of the message can consist of smileys

LOL - even 20% would be quite high on the smiley density scale! Your forum must have some interesting error messages... "ALERT! Smiley density limit exceeded! Please add text or remove smilies to eliminate this hazardous condition!"

>>This morning I awoke to over two dozen messages thanking me.

That's great! 99.9% of your members will be appreciative of your reining in those who originate unreadable posts. (The other .1% will call you names for violating their First Amendment rights, which they interpret to mean they can post whatever they want, however they want, and wherever they want. :))


 8:32 pm on Sep 30, 2004 (gmt 0)

Your reference to exceeding smiley density made me snort coffee through my nose from laughing so hard. Doesn't that conjure up a disgusting mental image?

I have two levels of error handling.

For form entry errors I normally either have the software correct the error or return the member to the form and display a bold red sentence explaining rather cryptically what went wrong. In the case of excessive smileys it's: You have too many smileys for the size of your message!

If the error is so severe that I can't continue to use .asp pages I have a number of HTML pages set up with appropriate error messages and use IIS to display the correct page.

Anyway, it's a hobby site so a high smiley density (;)) is acceptable. I even let each member set up his/her own smiley toolbar with their preferred smileys on it. On most of my forums I don't allow signatures at all and smileys are limited to textual shortcuts like we have here so we can easily let someone know that a potentially sarcastic comment was made in jest.

EDIT: I forgot to mention I've been at this long enough that the .1% you mentioned usually don't bother me. The freedom of speech thing usually spawns a thread in the moderator's forum where we all laugh at the member in private before we politely direct them to the section of our TOS that tells them freedom of speech doesn't exist in a private forum.


 4:07 pm on Oct 1, 2004 (gmt 0)

encyclo: I thought you might be interested to know the members who don't speak English as their native language have been especially impressed with your version of my new rule. They all say it's much clearer than what I wrote. Perhaps I should contract with you to review my TOS and clean it up.


 4:27 pm on Oct 1, 2004 (gmt 0)

As well as putting up a rule, you could put common text message speak in your filters, perhaps automatically replacing it with the correct version.
" gr8 " becomes " great " (note spaces on either side of the word). Be careful how you do this, to avoid some ridiculous sentences.

I think it's also possible to automatically capitalise anything that follows a full stop and a space, you could look into that. If you have a busy forum that should cut down on moderation a bit.


 5:31 pm on Oct 1, 2004 (gmt 0)

Good idea, Rosalind, although I kind of prefer to train the members - you might actually encourage the use of abbreviations by fixing some of them.

I've found most of the problem posts come from new members. Members tend to adapt to environment (or, they find it uncomfortable and leave). People do adapt their manner of expression to their environs. In the same way one might express oneself differently, say, in a sports bar at the halftime of Monday Night Football vs. intermission at the ballet, one usually adapts to the tone of written conversation. In a thread composed of articulate posts, a member with any social skills at all is unlikely to reply with "u r gr8".


 7:39 pm on Oct 1, 2004 (gmt 0)

Rosalind, I like your ideas and will probably incorporate some of them into the next update of my message board software. It should be fairly trivial to use a flat-file translation matrix where certain known abbreviations are converted to real words.

I tend to agree with rogerd that I'd rather train the members to do things the right way. People tend to learn quickly what sort of behavior is appropriate in any given setting. I hoot and holler during football games, but that's hardly appropriate when I'm at a cultural event like the philharmonic or stage plays. You're right rogerd that most of the problems are from new members. Sadly most of the message boards in my hobby let members get away with shoddy language skills, all sorts of flaming, and ignoring the moderators. It's a tough transition when they finally discover my website. It takes awhile, and occasionally some time in read-only mode, for some of the newer members to realize my site is different because we enforce the rules so that it's generally a pleasant place to hang out and learn a lot. Sort of like here at WW.


 12:38 pm on Oct 6, 2004 (gmt 0)

Good point Roger, although it does assume that users actually reread what they have written, which isn't always the case.

Another automatic solution is to count the number of errors caught in your filters. If it exceeds a certain amount, it's a fair bet that the rest of the post is illegible.

"Your language is shoddy, please go back and review your post before resubmitting."

That should show them, he he!


 4:26 pm on Oct 6, 2004 (gmt 0)

Using regular expressions should make it easy to check for sentences that don't begin with capital letters. Then again, if there aren't any periods it will be hard to detect sentences. But if a message doesn't have any punctuation at all that's reason enough to kick it back to the member for further editing. I appreciate your comments Rosalind as they're giving me some good ideas for the next re-write of my software.

As an aside, I had my first run-in with a member over this issue yesterday.

The member was sent an e-mail asking him to "clean-up" his message and he chose to argue with the moderator in the thread instead of via e-mail. He's been a member long enough to know you don't argue with mods in public so he's in read-only mode for a week.

In case it's of interest to anyone, that's how we handle members who violate the rules. First offense usually gets a stern but polite e-mail from me. Second offense earns the member one week in read-only mode. Third offense results in a month of read-only mode. After that their account is deleted and if possible they're banned from joining again.

I do not want to burden the moderators with pre-approving messages as happens in some of the forums here. I figure if a member can't abide by a few simple, common-sense rules they don't deserve to be part of our community.

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