Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Managing (and coping with) user generated content

Two interesting and related posts about managing user generated content which I've picked up on today. One is about forums, the other about moderating comments on articles. It's the same thing really, of course. Anyway...
First off, a piece from Online Journalism Review entitled Take a fresh look at your site's posting rules which, ummm, entreats you to take a fresh look at your site's posting rules .

If you last modified your content-submission rules 10 years ago, they might not address all the conflicts that could arise today on your discussion board or in your comments sections. I'd like to offer a few suggestions for rules that you might want to consider adding to your interactive website.
And there's an interesting story about what amounts to anonymous election rigging to back it up.

There are some good suggestions for things to include and I can't agree more with the author's view that:

I've long believed that websites which accept content from users, from comments to discussion boards to wikis, ought to tell those users, in the plainest possible language, the rules that the site expects those readers to follow when they post. (The eye-glazing, mind-numbing legalese of a site's terms of service or privacy policy isn't enough.)
And I would add that it's also good practice with a genuine community such as in a discussion forum, to occasionally ask users which rules they agree and disagree with because:

  • On the whole, they will agree with sensible rules anyway
  • They will be pleased and engaged to be asked for their opinion
  • They might actually read them
  • If they've agreed with them, they're more likely to observe them

The second article is from The Guardian. In Open door the "readers' editor" Siobhain Butterworth explains the difficulty in moderating user-generated content responding to pieces abotu the McCann case.

At least 20 pieces involving the McCanns have appeared on [Comment is Free] since Madeleine McCann went missing in May. Not all were blogs commissioned by Cif, some were comment pieces published in the paper and automatically transported to Cif. Hundreds of comments were posted to a few articles in September, after the Portuguese police named the McCanns as formal suspects, with headache-inducing consequences for the moderators. Discussion threads on four pieces were closed, or closed early. The Guardian's talk policy does not allow defamatory postings and the problem was that many of the deleted comments were no more than strong opinions weakly held - they had no basis in fact.

The moderators are not lawyers, or fact-checkers. They cannot give reasons to every user whose comments are deleted, though they try to do so when time permits. To put their task in perspective, on one Friday in September, more than 3,800 comments were posted on the Guardian website. The volume means that the moderators' approach to enforcing the talk policy has to be broad brush. The McCann postings stretched the moderating resources too far, the moderators told me. They were concerned about the number of postings they were deleting and they were aware that people were frustrated. All things considered, a decision was made to close threads down.

All sensible stuff. Interestingly, the biggest complaints came from the way the deletions and suspensions were communicated:

a short note explained that this was for "legal reasons". Some readers felt this was not so much an explanation as a lofty way of saying either "we're not going to tell you why" or "it's too complicated for you to understand".

It's easy to forget that people want to be treated as adults, and they want detail even if they aren't going to understand it. A lesson that is easy to forget.

And that - on the whole - moderators are not sub-editors; they are not steeped in media law and if in doubt, they will (or should) err wildly on the side of safety.

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