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Should I try running a forum on a serious issue?

My site is DYING for one, but I'm afraid of what might happen...



3:59 pm on May 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I was just inspired to post by richard's similar thread here: [webmasterworld.com...]

So I have a high traffic site that is on a sensitive topic, for example sake let's say it is Child Abuse. That is NOT the real topic, but that should give you an appropriate frame of reference.

This site couldn't be more perfect for a full blown community, but I've kept it static content for years since I'm afraid of all legal issues a topic like Child Abuse brings up.

What do you all think? Would you go there? If I was to pull it off well, would that just mean a ton of moderation work?

Any input here would be greatly appreciated. TIA!

Marketing Guy

4:08 pm on May 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Opening discussions on that particular topic could move into the realms of counciling rather than moderating and given the general subtlty of people on the Internet, it could potentially be a minefield.

If you have industry professionals available as moderators and you can assure their credibility, then you should be ok.

I would avoid any specifics being discussed on the forums (back to the Child Abuse analogy, it could be a very "name and shame" area which will lead to hell on earth for everyone involved, including yourself).

Presumably it's a subject area where users would / could receive a lot of support from each other (I guess from sharing similar experiences), in which case it could be a very good thing. Just need to keep the positive vibe feel going and avoid the revenge scenarios, which is where you and your mods will step in.

Is there any other forums in this subject area that you could check out beforehand?


4:13 pm on May 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

"...would that just mean a ton of moderation work?"


Is it worth it?


Try it, if you find it gets out of control then you can change your mind.

Personally I would encourage you to give it a go. The benefit for some people, such as victims of child abuse, is immeasurable.


Marketing Guy

4:23 pm on May 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Sorry but I don't agree with the "give it a go" strategy. This isn't messing around with doorway pages to see if Google burns you or not - it's dealing with a sensitive topic, presumably which a lot of people have a lot of strong feelings about.

Do some research - weight up as many of the potential dangers as you can - ask your visitors - find similar sites - check out legislation - ask professionals in the industry (support groups?) - do it properly.

If you decide to go ahead, plan it well - lay out clear boundaries about what users can and cannot discuss - define to the letter what your forums is there to achieve (eg, mechanism for discussion, not a profressional support group). Get some industry professionals on board as experts and get some experienced moderators who can help spot spammers and possible problems.

I run an advice forum (professional topic, not too serious) and it's essential to have a good mix of industry knowledge and moderating experience.

6 months down the line you don't want (example) an abuser coming to your forums to harass their former victim via PMs because they Googled their own name and found a thread about themselves. Extreme example, but you need to prepare for most possibilities.



5:16 pm on May 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

thanks for the input so far. I haven't looked yet for similar sites, I don't think there are many if any at all, but that's a great idea.

> Sorry but I don't agree with the "give it a go" strategy

Yeah, I'm with you there. I have thought of just giving it a go, but I need a real plan in place before I make the jump. I'm in no rush though so some planning is no big deal.

I'm really worried about peoples real names and locations of home and other related places getting into the forums. Seems like all but the smartest posters would likely drop a name, place or something not so good pretty often.

Sounds like I'm going to need some good people in place to make sure things go smoothly. Any other tips more tahn welcome!


7:19 pm on May 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I wasn't actually being as flippant as it has been taken.

What I intended was to encourage the effort.



BTW another thread.. [webmasterworld.com...]


7:22 pm on May 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member


The link is the one in the first post.

Some people eh?



1:45 am on May 7, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member encyclo is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Craig, I have some experience of this: my biggest forum, although not covering a delicate subject specifically, has had its fair share of highly personal threads covering some quite distressing situations. As you have said, you do need a clear plan and a clear terms of service, as well as experienced moderators who can handle difficult situations.

The first thing I need to ask is: are you wanting to get traffic from search engines directly on to the forum? I made a very conscious decision to make my forum completely unindexable: a full robots.txt ban and rewrite rules to block all spidering. Even to a human visitor, there is very little showing unless registered (which requires email confirmation). This may well be a very tough decision to make, and it obviously makes it harder to generate traffic. However in my case, it was the only solution which would bring the right atmosphere to discuss openly: you can't just ban the mention of any personal details, because they may well be vital and anyway you'll alienate your audience with heavy-handed editing.

The second question is about follow-up and responsibility. I'm lucky in that many of my members are geographically concentrated, so a direct intervention is possible in case of emergency. If your audience is more widely-spread, you need to work out your options in terms of how you will act if any "off-site" intervention is required. That includes, for example, referrals to local specialists.

It can be hard work, and not something which is readily monetizeable, but I wouldn't change the choices I made, and I would recommend trying to build your community, slowly and carefully. You will feel the advantages for the rest of your site, but just not in a direct way. Good luck!


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