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Forum Moderators: lawman
That knowledge and $2.85USD will still get you a cup of coffee and a wireless connection at most Starbucks in the US today ;-)
In alot of ways, we have become a victim of our success. There just wasn't time to get through all of the postings. After update Dominic last month -- where over 5000 messages were left -- we had to do something to increase the quality.
The problem is that the update threads were gateway threads for new members. That was their only experience of webmasterworld. Those threads were in the chat or irc style chit-chat format. The quality was simply not up to par with WebmasterWorld history. That style of low quality posting has invaded WebmasterWorld top-to-bottom.
Members were not pleased with the lowered quality standards here in the Google forum, or elsewhere on the site. Critical comment after critical comment streamed in about the Google forum for several months. It was clear that something had to be done that didn't require a mass army of moderators to handle. All that happened in the foreground, while in the background management stress escalated. Time spent dealing with problems in the Google forum went from a few a week in 2002, to several dozen per day by May 03.
Pre-Moderating the Google Forum
So, last month we took the radical step of testing premoderation in the Google Forum. Under premoderation, all new discussions will have to be moderator approved.
So far, most feedback has been very positive. There are occasional problems with the new system, but far less than the old one. Lets go through some of the reasons for the new system that point out problems with the old system:
1) Duplicate Content.
One of the hot Google Webmaster topics for the last six months has been duplicate content. We have a form of the same here, in that we get so many duplicate topic postings. It was not uncommon to see the same topic posted 5-10 times in a few days. By moving to premoderation, we are able to weed those duplicates out at the front door before they become a problem.
2) Privacy issues, promotional issues, and posts against the forum charter.
The most repetitive issue here is the dropping of promotional urls and/or keyword searches.
3) Raves, Rants, Flames, Trolls, JuJu Beans.
4) Bad thread titles.
As a optimizer, potential optimizer, or weekend webmaster, it is your mission to learn how to write a quality thread/page titles [useit.com].
We've discussed it and harped about quality titles for three years. No longer. There is a ton of quality info on the site and out on the net related to titles. Use Google to find those pages.
We are all adults here and responsible for our own learning. I've told the moderators to not even read a post if it has a poor title.
Titles must reflect the content of the post.
The biggest problem with thread titles is that people tend to feel the need to comment
Recent examples (last 4 hours):
"Puzzle me this"
"What am I doing wrong?"
Both were not approved because of low quality titles. (you expect us to do better and hold us to a higher standard - catch-22 - we expect you to do better too).
5) Personal issues with Google.
Those that fall here are the large numbers of "I've been banned" or "I got a #1 ranking" type posts that include very specific info about a site.
6) Off topic.
Messages that go off topic to the original post will be deleted. It is up to each posters to see that they stay within the confines of the original message.
We strive to have all new submissions dealt with in a timely manner. Don't be surprised if it takes a few hours for your post to show up.
In a perfect world where we had 36 hours in every day and 20 moderators for this forum, each post that was not approved would receive a email about it. Replying to everyone is not always easy to do.
I don't see this as a discussion forum, but a knowledge sift, a place of learning and accrual. The generosity here is incomparable and priceless.
Titles are the brilliant perfect answer. Starting a thread should be a serious venture, you're asking for everyone's attention.
Diminishing resources spread among increasing consumers - sounds like the Web to me, I would be proud to write a good title that succeeded in asking for people's time and help.
Make it even tighter if you want - better to feel slightly rejected here than seriously for real out there.
Put another way, once the freaking green bar starts showing pagerank for every pre-june 1 site, a lot of the noise will cease. Not all of it, but it can't be emphasized enough that a ton of the repetitive newbie comments here are simply "google's fault" and wouldn't be occuring if not for the peculiar weirdness of the past few months.
Yes, the noise was a real pain in the ar$e, but at least there was freedom of expression - and - freedom of information exchange. Big word that... freedom.
The new scheme has certainly made me feel a little uncomfortable - sort of under threat I guess.
I would certainly have developed the analysis of the so called Esmeralda effect (which actually I don't think is much to do with dancing frankly, and I don't think is over), chipping in here and there with hopefully valuable input courtesy of the data I have accumulated. Along with a pinch of opinion and hopefully insight (from years of SEO) I suppose.
I didn't. I stopped. Why?
Discomfort. I knew these threads were very unpopular with the powers that be. I knew they were under scrutiny. I read the thinly veiled threats in other threads about so called superfluous postings, with reference as well to "senior members".
I also know that quality is a somewhat subjective measure. Are my posts superfluous? Who knows. A lot of people don't think so (I read my name on a number of lists in the thread that discussed whose posts they follow). However... the mods might think that mine are superflous. Brett might. How do I know otherwise?
I also sensed clear hostility from at least one mod/admin guy in one of the mega threads.
I can do without it frankly. Easiest route is just to restrain my fingers at the keyboard.... not difficult when you think you may be being frowned upon.
By the way, I may be called Napoleon but I'm not totally paranoid. There is definitely that feel of disapproval in the air for these Google threads. It's not just me that feels that. Being such a softy I like to feel that my words are welcome when I write them.
Don't take this is a big deal by the way - I'm just pointing out that there are two sides to every coin. Yes, the threads were overrun by pointless and ridiculous 'me to', 'the other guy is spamming' and similar garbage. But by chopping heavily, or maybe the manner of the chopping or its extent, some of the babies toes have gone down the plug hole with the bathwater, IMHO.
One other thing... we also lose a sense of perspective via this route. For example, I know from Brett that there have been hundreds of 'my index file is missing' posts. How would I know that normally if they are all chopped before I see them? How would I know that this was, and still is, a MASSIVE scale problem? I wouldn't. Consequence: more valuable info goes walkies.
Well.... that's what I think anyhow. You did ask.
How would you feel if we did a "voting" style of moderation?
I am completely opposed to this idea.
One of the hallmarks of this site is the civility expected of, and for the most part practiced by, all members.
Insulting other members intentionally or otherwise is, as far as I can tell, not tolerated by the admins or mods, and is fairly quickly and quitely handled, at least on the few occasions I've actually seen it happen.
Behind the scenes systematic voting of any kind allows for the coruption of this concept.
Voting is simply a way to hide the insult by making the person issuing the judgement anonymous.
In my mind voting could well deminish the value and integrity of the site.
You are asking people to tell you how they feel and then when they do you ridicule and point out they were wrong.
Why ask the qestion if what you really want is agreement for a decision you have already made? If you honestly want to know how people feel, you have to realize that telling them they are wrong for feeling the way they do is YOUR loss. If they tell you there is a problem and you tell them they are wrong, whether you believe it or not or whether you see it or not, THERE IS A PROBLEM.
There are a lot of sharks in the water you swim in. Convince yourself the problem lies with THEM and not YOU and you will find your food being eaten by someone else.
I am completely opposed to this idea.
Many people will be opposed, no doubt, but you have to be realistic.
If WebmasterWorld has ambitions to replace to the comp.* hierarchy within Usenet (as Brett aspired to within a recent thread (ok maybe it was tongue-in-cheek, but no smoke without fire)), then something has to be done before WebmasterWorld caves in on itself.
You could cap the membership numbers and only allow new members into "dead members shoes", but where's the fun (and revenue growth) in that?
If community moderation (i.e. Slashdot style) is not the answer, then what are the alternatives?
Doing nothing is not an option.
I think community moderation is a great idea and would no doubt see WebmasterWorld rise to great heights. I can't off the top of my head think of any other way.
not my intention at all - as pmac said it is merely a gentle reminder that WebmasterWorld!= Forum3. Forum 3 currently equates to roughly 30% of all posts. That's not even a full third. I was merely pointing out there is lots of other good stuff to read here. Sometimes WebmasterWorld is perceived as just being all about Google. You can even see it in all the articles that mention WebmasterWorld - they are usually articles about Google.
I'm also not saying that I necessarily agree that premoderation is the solution but something had to be done and there will be more changes in the future. As dmorrison put it "Doing nothing is not an option."
Brett asked about /. style voting moderation. IMO that is mob rule by another name. /. style populism is, and should be, beneath us here.
Perhaps not. But I remain convinced voting may not be the best option either.
No doubt the admins and mods have debated this extensively among themselves. If that's the case they may have a perspective formed from those conversations that the rest of us simply cannot have.
I just cannot believe that a new user, perhaps even an old member will be comfortable with the possibilty of having their posts rated poorly.
This can definitely reduce the noise. If reducing the noise were the only result of such a system, perhaps it would merit consideration.
But I believe it is likely to also reduce the general sharing of ideas and knowledge. That's certainly a negative effect, and one that I think outweighs the positive effect.
I get the feeling that voting is being considered as the least offensive of all choices. But not knowing what those choices are, who can say.
The voting concept has been kicked around here for at least as long as I have been a member, so the idea isn't exactly new.
And how does voting tie in with premoderation?
I have said before that, to me, this whole issue that resulted in premoderation revolves around the desires of those who prefer not to have to scan past repeditive threads/posts and those who prefer to not have to consider whether their thread/post has already been addressed before posting a new thread or comment.
I suspect that the former group have won this debate.
But, if that is the case, I submit that it is but one battle won in what may well become a continuing string of such encounters.
Premoderation may have resulted in less noise in forum 3, but at least some of that noise has simply moved to other WW forums. Will premoderation follow the noise to those forums?
If voting must happen, then at the very least the "scores" should remain unseen by the members.
As I undestand the voting theory being considered, according to Bretts posts, then members could choose what level of minimum score needed before a post would apear in the member default screen. Ther may be a reason to publish the score publicly to accomplish that, but I don't know what it is, but I would hope it could done without publicly publishing the score.
those who prefer to not have to consider whether their thread/post has already been addressed before posting a new thread or comment.
Any moderation system, in my opinion, must not punish for new threads on old topics, otherwise you can just throw the concept of a "community" out of the window and be a hostile place to newcomers if you want.
Responses like "If you'd searched you'd have found that..." is not a friendly way to welcome someone to the Internet.
Note of course that Slashdot does not have that particular problem. Community moderation will deal with trolls and promotional drops quite effectively, but not, as you point out, the "emotional" features of a community. Interesting stuff.
However some form of voting system is a likely winner. I strongly prefer user-based voting to thread-based voting but believe thread-based voting will also improve the research efficiency of this forum significantly. There is an inherent contradiction in the stances of those who object to a voting system. They are not willing to subject themselves to the scrutiny of other experienced webmasters, yet they do care about their opinions. Personally, I rarely care about the opinions of other webmasters aimed at me while the checks are still floating in. ;) But as a busy reader of this forum, I think collective webmaster experience will be an effective sieve of the 95% of webmasters either clogging up the threads with idle chatter or selfishly fishing for free information without having either the intelligence or persistence to synthesise the tons of knowledge already publicly available to answer their questions.
Got the time to read through the chatter and newbie questions? Good luck to you. Noone's asking you to stop. But don't force busy webmasters to read through what is "noise" to them. Can't handle criticism? Then close your mouth, sit down, and do some genuine learning for a while.
I don't know how much this is implemented right now, but some ideas, that come to my mind right now would be:
- before allowing a new user to open his first thread, have him confirm the different parts of the ToS and give him a short introduction about webmasterworld, its 'philosophy' and all its useful components. Give links to threads, that answer most common questions.
- have users to introduce their thread title first, on a seperate page. then, on the second page using some searchengineworld code, display a list of related threads, and only show the message-type-in-box when they click the confirm button that their question was not asked before in one of the threads, shown in the search. (Inaccurate thread titles would not yield related results, so users should change the thread title.)
- this would be more difficult to implement, but may be some filters could be applied, calculating the probability of bad posts (UPPER CASE, links, short text, etc.).
just my 2 cents
ADDED: the separate title page should only be for members with less than a certain number of posts , or member for a period inferior than 4 months for example.
Google Chat could have a post limit cap so that after a certain post limit is reached, older posts get deleted. After all, it's all throwaway ranting and whinging. Whinging has it's place, but it doesn't need to be re-read does it?
A serious google discussion forum could be pre-modded for clarity and relevance, and the admins job would be less time-consuming.
Also, numbers are a big factor. A redundant post or two aren't bad, but fifty or a hundred redundant posts in a day will shove the meaningful ones into oblivion. Ditto for bad titles - one or two are no big deal. But nobody has the time to look at dozens of "Need Help" or "I Can't Do This" to figure out if the topic is of interest or is something they can contribute to.
One of the great aspects of WebmasterWorld is the effort that many members put into their posts. In response to a question from one member, another may write a detailed reply, perhaps even doing some research or testig a few lines of code. If there's too much noise, we may lose the atmosphere that is conducive to this kind of serious exchange. Just my opinion as a member, BTW... :)
Let me state now that I am absolutely positive there will be some very interesting posts that get "yawn" ratings simply because they offend somebody, sound too whacky, discuss spamming techniques or just aren't politically correct. I, for one, will be spending my time looking through the 1s and 5s rather than the 2-4s. Yes I am serious.
The above scheme leaves a lot of space for what functionality you could provide exclusively for the paying members as well, and very little excuses left for those who believe voting will degrade "community".
As for the pre-moderation, I mostly like it, but perhaps that's because I haven't had any posts disappear. I might feel differently if I worked hard on a new post and it never showed up. I think maybe a Google Chat forum would be a better solution. Important posts could be moved to the Google News forum and whoo-hoo and boo-hoo posts could stay in chat. I admit to occasionally enjoying the happiness of people who've achieved their Google goals, even if their yippee post doesn't contribute anything to my Google knowledge.
So, my vote is - start a new forum for general Google stuff and keep the "serious discussion" threads in the Google News forum.
With a cap on amount of flags per member that could autoregulate itself quite well IMO and by the power of numbers, it would naturally be versed towards what newbies find important. (one could play around with counting the flags as of 25 postings)
It would be a different type of threads, most likely the more resource reference based rather than newsworthy type threads would make it in.
Actually, it's not a bad idea. :)
A good FAQ section might answer many questions (e.g., can Google read frames?), but due to the lack of rock-solid certainty about many issues (e.g., how much cross-linking is OK?) a thread with some debate in it is probably more appropriate for most situations.
Ie they are posting dup content, review my site, me too, etc type posts.
The solution suggested and tested - pre moderation - effectively stops users after they have made a decision based on the information they have.
Could this not have a negative impact on the community in terms of injecting new blood into it?
I mean, if I found a forum and posted for the first time and that post did not appear, then I would most likely not go back. I would assume the whole forum was like that.
As we know, post count is pretty irrelevant, so a new user could have as much to contribute as a senior member.
A better solution (IMO) that has been suggested above (cant remember by who - overflow posts cut off) was a process to educate users on posting etiquette as they make their first post. Ie, they are directed through the TOS (which they most likely wont read) and charters, and an auto search for similar posts, before their post goes live.
The difference in this is instead of "stopping" someone doing something, you are saying, "well hey, how about trying it this way".
Consumer education is of course, a much more difficult thing to do, but surely it would be better for encouraging new members than pre-moderation which may put off repeat visits?
I dont know, this is just my guess. :)