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Edward Tufte - Our experiences in moderating a forum Answered

Here's an interesting point of view for moderating a web forum. Our "be nice" policy is similar, but doesn't reach this level. I have spent long periods of time thinking about and debating how to value the contributions of essentially anonymous authors. Anyone can contribute an Instructable, forum topic, or comment, and their value varies wildly.

Would Instructables be better if we aggressively pruned contributions deemed to be low value? How would we do so in a scalable way? Catching swear words is a good first step, and maybe misspellings are next, but reviewing content is really best done by humans. Should each Instructable author be able to moderate the comments on their Instructables? We've been loathe to do this because the potential for abuse seems to outweigh any benefit. Democratic systems are good in theory, but in practice a vocal minority tends to dominate the conversation.

Moderating a forum is fairly straightforward: knowing what you want, deleting entire threads that aren't going anywhere, correcting the spelling of the word "it's," fixing URLs, deleting individual contributions that fail to advance the thread. It helps to have experience writing and editing (and reading student papers, refereeing journal articles, reviewing manuscripts and grant proposals).

As clearly indicated to potential contributors, we do a lot of deleting--only about half of all submitted contributions survive for more than a month. This doubtless hurts a few feelings but substantially raises the quality of the board. Very few published contributions are edited at all, other than silently to correct spelling, update an URL, or to delete a sour note in an otherwise good answer. Our view is that every contribution to Ask E.T. should advance the analytical quality of the thread. We particularly seek to avoid the chronic internet disease of "All Opinions, All the Time." The idea is to have an interesting and excellent board on analytical design that serves the content and the readers, not a board logging every attempt at publication. We also are ruthless in deleting contributions with incivilities, rants, taunts, and personal commentary on other contributors.


For some boards, a bozo filter may prove useful by automatically deflecting certain trigger words. My friend Philip Greenspun constructed a filter at photo.net which bounced all those who misspelled the word "aperture," on the grounds that they did not know much about photography.

Our experiences in moderating a forum: What's best, not what's new
Thanks to Nivi for the find.



12 years ago

I would have the rating system be more active, encouraging users to rate threads, ibles, and even posts. If an entry receives a few negative ratings, a moderator comes and reads it over, if it's found to be a bad apple, it's deleted.


12 years ago

If I had to moderate instructables, which is much more unique than a forum, I'd go with a point system. For instance, no pictures may not cause a instructable to be removed, neither could spelling errors, but maybe together, it would be removed until fixed. Now that I think about it, its almost whats already being done. Just a suggestion: maybe there should be random tips in the sidebars when you're writing an instructable? Showing how to use photonotes and such.