Monday, October 13, 2008

The Rules: Writing a Constitution

Yesterday I walked into a shop and was greeted by a sign thanking me for not urinating in the produce. Wait, no I wasn't. You know why? Because there are certain codes of behavior that are implicitly expected of all members of a society. Yet somehow sites feel the need to inform me that I could be banned if I start stirring up hell in the forum. Great, thanks for that.

Quite simply, there are some things that just don't need saying. Sure, you're going to get trolls in your forum, but making a rule telling them to go away is going to do nothing for you. Rules are for the people that genuinely care about their standing with the site. The people that are just around to make trouble aren't going to be reading your rules, and certainly won't make a point of abiding by them. You can't legislate common sense.

So what are your rules for? They're for people like me. I'm a member of a bunch of different trackers, and whenever I sign up, I always take a peek at the rules before I get down to business. I know what a BitTorrent tracker is, I know the usual etiquette, but I just want to find out if there's anything special about how your site does business. Do I have to post in rhyme? Have a cute, fuzzy avatar? Download only certain torrents? I don't want to dig through a bunch of bullshit about obeying "the moderators [sic] expressed wishes! [sic]" in order to find out what really matters.

Conversely, a lot of sites that have automatic ratio bans (which I've ranted about in previous posts) won't detail these bans in their rules. The hardest and fastest (and most variable) rule of all is somehow overlooked. The staff don't have to touch it as the banbot does all the work, but it's the rule with the most impact on new users, good and bad alike. Whether or not I agree with the concept is a moot point, at least tell me.

You're writing a constitution here, not a criminal code. If you've never read your country's constitution, go do it. It's probably available online. In general, they're pretty succinct and accessible for all their importance, and you'd be surprised what rights are being violated. Your criminal code, by contrast, is probably a few thousand pages long. The constitution is basically a vague statement of purpose, while a criminal code gets into the nitty gritties. Since your moderators are not police officers bound by the letter of the law, you don't need a criminal code. You simply need to give guidelines by which your site should operate.

A lot of sites have 15-20 rules, mostly the stuff that came preset with TBdev or whatever they're using. In my mind, you should be able to get everything you need in less than 10, preferably 5 general rules and 5 upload rules, in addition to the behavior that one normally expects of a generic good member elsewhere on the internet. The fewer rules you have, the better.

That's not to say you should have people responding to your moderation actions complaining that they didn't know something was against the rules. If it's the sort of rule a person can't be normally expected to know, then by all means throw it in there. Otherwise, forget about it. You're entrusting your moderators with plenty of discretionary powers, so you don't need to spell everything out.

I'd finish up with some examples from TorrentFries, but quite simply, it's stuff that applies only to that site and to none other. That's kinda the point.

1 comment:

Innomen said...

I agree completely. But your advice will fall on deaf ears.

These people aren't interested in the same goal you clearly are.

Which is deeply sad.

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