Writing Community Guidelines

As I’ve mentioned, I’m in the process of developing, building, and soon to be nurturing an online community.

This week I’m thinking about who our users are (personas), privacy issues, and writing community guidelines.

I’m a generally positive person, and I like to believe that all will be sunshine and butterflies. And it won’t, but I don’t want the fear or worry to prevents us from building the community, or worse (?) creating one that is so rigid and fierce with rules that it sucks all the fun out of it. Since you know, the goal is a community, not enforced participation like in the prison yard at lunch (er, for example).

Question #1: is it pessimistic that I’m thinking about this before someone even posts?
Question #2: I’d love to have the community collaborate on these guidelines, but the members will come and go, and besides, as above, it’s not open yet!

So do some research
I’ve started by looking at some examples. One was short and sweet:
“We love hearing from ya. We try to keep it light & fun (it’s only decorating), so we’ll nix comments that are snarky/spammy (our moms are reading). If you don’t see your comment it’s because they’re manually approved (it should pop up soon-ish). Occasionally our spam filter eats one. Boo spam filter.” from <a href="www.younghouselove.com"Young House Love, a recommendation from a colleague.

Another colleague suggested that I look at the Guardian Newspapers standards and participation guidelines. I particularly love the last entry, that reminds us that the conversation belongs to everyone (I may steal this for mine). Overall however, it was a bit strident perhaps (and given that their commenters by nature have strong opinions about divisive topics such as politics, perhaps necessary). Do like their inclusion of a section on Moderator Approach (will steal this, too), and their final summary “In Short:”

Then I asked Twitter, and boom, received two suggestions to look at Flickrs Community Guidelines. And I like these ones. They start with the Do’s, not the Don’ts, and they’re knowing in their admonitions: “Don’t be creepy. You know that guy. Don’t be that guy.”

So after this day, my conclusions are:
I’m going to have a Please Do, Please Don’t and Moderator responsibility sections. Start with the good! Tell people where to do with concerns! I’m going to talk about copyright and linking (don’t cut and paste), and I’ll have to bring up how to disagree responsibly. I hadn’t considered that people may try to sell or solicit on the forums. I’ll have to consider how people looking for contractors or people looking for contracts might be able to connect. It’s not our responsibility, and we can’t vet contractors, but….

I think that this is a good thing to do. What I learned in post-secondary was that it was when you didn’t have the classroom guidelines that things went bad. It gives other community members something to point to (“hey, read this”), and shows the community members that we are committed to respectful and productive conversation.

So now I guess it’s time to start drafting something up.

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