Running an online forum requires a delicate balance. Because online forums originiated out of the notion of people speaking their minds about a certain topic without fear of retribution, it's important for online communities to be open, uncensored (for the most part) and accommodating of anonymity. But on the other hand, online messageboards can also turn into poisonous, negative environments, where people waste time arguing and provide little value, instead attacking each other and scaring away new and current members. This is why most forums have moderators who police the site and have the right to edit and delete posts.
Striking the balance between open speech and rule enforcement is my biggest challenge as the community manager for Self-Storage Talk, the largest online forum in the industry. It's no surprise that with more than 4,400 members, every so often someone starts asking questions (or flat-out giving criticisms) about the way we moderate the site. I'm not at all offended by these criticisms, and I'm happy to answer them when they come up. So, here's my defense for the SST philosophy on moderation:
We moderate according to the Site Rules , which everyone should read and re-read. Though some parts of the Site Rules may seem like they fall in the "gray area," it's still important that they all be enforced.
The SST leadership invites moderators based on their amounts of participation and the quality of their posts. Moderators are instructed to edit/delete a post or thread only when they're certain the post constitutes a violation. "Err on the side of not editing" is the mantra. If they're not sure, they should ask the other moderators or the administrative team for input, and they always do this. Moderators also work for no pay because they're passionate about self-storage and want to see the site succeed.
Posts are not edited on the mere principle of disagreement, nor are they edited because they express a certain religious, political, or otherwise unique opinion. Moderators do not edit according to personal agendas, and the administrative team makes certain of it.
The first and primary goal of SST is to provide a consortium of information attractive enough that the site will grow. This means that the site must be a truly open and inviting place.
SST protects the anonymity of its members, if they choose to be anonymous. However, be aware that in most areas of the site, the content is available to the entire Internet and searchable on Google. It's important to know this before posting sensitive information.
As always, I encourage people to take all of their questions about the site, its policies, its usefulness and its functionality to yours truly. You can reach me through the forum via private message, you can e-mail me at [email protected] or you can call me at 480.990.1101, x1214. If you already know Self-Storage Talk is a community you want to join, we'd love to have you. Register for free at www.selfstoragetalk.com/register.php.