Thursday, April 19, 2007

Read the rules

It's really a shame that I have to rant about something that should have been planned by forums, chat rooms, and social networks everywhere but often isn't explained well enough.

When you register for any of these types of sites, you have to read and agree to a set of terms. Often you're presented with a little blurb describing the forum and what is expected before you register. On boards built on vBulletin, Invision Power, or whatever more, they write the terms of service for you. Of course, everyone knows that you have to read such terms in order to be a member, but not enough effort is made to make sure everyone goes by them. This is due to three reasons:

  • no-one is quizzed about it;
  • such terms of service don't often constitute the rules referred to when moderation is carried out; and
  • in normal cases you just have to click a little checkbox or button to get past the TOS screen.

In these cases, it's easy for any of four things to happen: A law-abiding member registers and posts, and eventually things get sour, a person joins to spam the hell out of the board, a person joins and assumes that the rules are probably the same for the board as any others they may be members of, or a bot registers (which is beyond the scope of this entry).

In the first case, either the person is hiding it really well, or something develops from something insignificant into a major glitch. This could result from repeated harsh experiences with the moderators or lack of agreement with much of the community on certain domestic or moderation issues. In half of such cases the administration is just full of miserable people; in others the member develops his or her own ideas that either misconstrue the objective of the administration or certain rules. The trigger either is a case of mini-modding (which obviously suggests superiority on the part of the person doing the modding) or an intramural event such as a relationship breaking up or a change of blood. In cases in which the member errs, it is usually resolved after the member is subject to peer mediation or insight therapy; in cases of the administration just being sour, you don't have a chance.

Then we have people who join, assuming that rules across the board are the same. This is a risky interpretation, seeing as, for example, PC has a whole section dedicated to emulation whilst PKMN.NET and SPPf don't want a word said of it.* A sub-problem can also be the lack of explicit regulation, leaving members to discern for themselves what the rules of posting are and potentially make posts bound to offend others. As a former PC member, I can tell you that implicit regulation made what the staff is today: While behaviour on the forums is average, some of the staff really wish they could have implicit regulation again. Here's the problem, though: You really have to trust all of the members who sign up, and bots and career spammers still are liable to join. Andy, in particular, isn't giving in so easily to this fact from what I can tell; I personally believe he's as much a piner for the old days as Paul or Ty, given his ramblings about how his perfect environment of unwritten rules was tragically spoilt by an influx of n00bs:

I'm sure if you read all this then you'd know by now you'd know I can't stand n00bs (and most if not all of this is about n00bs). I wasn't always like this, there was a time where I wouldn't put anyone down. Times change and n00bs came in, over the past few months it's like PC has had a rush of n00bs. It's like setting out food on a table outside and watch all the flys come in after it. And sadly n00bs has gotten to most if not all of the Staff of PC. I know all of us had last 1 run in with a stupid n00b on PC. And I know tons of members had run ins with them too. So everyone knows how I feel about them (at least a little). Lately I've been getting too many n00b PMs and threads for my own good. And if given the chance I'd ban every single one of them, just so I don't have to see their stupid posts. I get PMs from members crying about their thread not showing up, or about a friend that's banned. n00bs don't read the rules unless told, they also don't try to do better on PC. They just go on with their stupid ways and know it all attitude. I hate it when they think they know more about PC then the Staff. They think they know what should be changed better then the Staff. I'm open to ideas, but when you walk into PC a week after joining and wanting to make a major change to PC for your own good, then that's a little stuck up and self centered. Even more so when Staff say it's a bad idea and that n00b keeps going on about it. I tell you, if I didn't have a bad feeling about telling someone off then I would. I'd tell them off so bad (not flaming) that it'd make them cry and leave. But I know if I did it then it'd come back and bite me in the butt one day. But it still doesn't change the fact I HATE them. And I wish all of them would just leave PC. We'd be soooo much better off without the stupid n00bs that bugs the living day lights out of me and all the other Staff and members around PC. To me if I happen to end up leaving PC (or at least the Staff) one day then it's going to be the stupidness of stupid dumb butt hole n00bs. Members are members, newbies are newbies, and n00bs are n00bs. Incase you didn't know, there's a difference in newbies and n00bs. Newbies are new members on PC that tries to learn the rules and to get around with other members and so on. Every good member on PC was a newbie at one time (no one joined PC and knew the rules and how everything worked right off the bat). But n00bs on the other hand will not learn and won't listen to anything Staff says. There's a big difference in the two and so I hate n00bs. I am not going to cover it up with some nice word or try to make them happy. I hate n00bs, did you get that? I HATE n00bs! Let me say that one more time I HATE THE F-ING n00bs ON PC!!!

While this excerpt does the term 'n00b' justice, defining the boundary between the sort and the law-abiding newcomers, it simply dismisses the fact that that's what you get for running a forum with no written rules. The fact of life that they are, spammers and flamers are actually technically protected by unwritten rules — meaning that there's no excerpt of code or TOS that can be used to cite their offence and keep them banned. As the tone of this blog section is conveyed, he must have been reeling (and he probably still is) from the shock. In fact, what he said about me in response to another accusation from Paul in the April DCC buffered by my 'predictions' suggests that he expected others to take his rants seriously:

Oh, CW. You mean that stuck up ex-Mod that thought he knew everything on PC and thought so and so should have done things differently only because he had a Mod/Member prospective about things? Said I should listen to n00bs, respect them, I should change my ways because he thinks he's the ruler of the world? That said he got paired to a Staff member** so he could get Modded? That said we should have a smaller Staff only because [PKMN.NET] has a smaller one? You mean that CW?

This rant arose mainly from my complaint about staff redundancy and a complaint about the Simple Questions scheme going on in the gaming forums. I'll explain the latter here to make better sense of the rant: If you look at all of the gaming forums on PC, they're usually brimming with locked threads under an ordinance requiring that 'simple' questions go in a designated sticky thread. The issue I raised was that the word 'sticky' was rather vague and, judging by the amount of locked threads, the scheme obviously wasn't working. As a admin, I can tell you that as soon as someone gets into a game talk forum there's potential for help requests, and someone's going to make a thread asking for help on a certain subject. To resolve the situation, I offered three suggestions: clarify 'simple', shift the 'simple questions' to a subforum, or retire the scheme. Nope, Andy simply delivered his hollow 'n00bs' argument and it was over.

In order to keep this from turning into a full-out anti-PC rant (you can't hate a forum, you only hate the members or the staff for the way rules are executed — perhaps this is an anti-Arcanine rant?), I'll just move on to the third case: career spammers. They can take the form of mental patients, thugs, and bored schmoes. Whatever the case, a career violator is a career violator to the name, posting derogatory rants, deliberately flouting decency rules or making topics filled with 'SPAMSPAMSPAMSPAM' just to get a reaction. In that case, you have to do something, and fast. Of course, this would require explicit regulation, as I said before; otherwise, not everyone will stand idly by.

The fourth case I won't elaborate on. Okay, maybe a little. A lack of security precautions — image verification or remote activation, to name a few — can mean your site is prone to hijacked computers through which people send bots (and also HTTP requests, which contributed to a lot of the crashing that went on prior to the big hacking) to advertise services or trick members into contracting a virus.

For admins, the message is clear: You can't trust your members. Also, moderation is subject to trial and error; if one thing proves cumbersome, it's likely to all fall down. For members: Read the rules.

* The argument for PC is that they are not distributing ROMs, and their rules prohibit members for requesting or distributing; also, most of the ROM discussion is over the creation of spin-off games using the dump files. For PKMN.NET, such information is bound to be useful for real pirates as well as hackers who have downloaded dumps whilst they had the actual game in their possession.

** This is a fallacy; I paired with Lily two months after my promotion.

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