Also for the guys who were asking for material on moderating their own forums or chat rooms. I have attached an article that we used for new moderators at my old site.

What Exactly Does a Moderator (Forum Staff Member) Do?

Being a moderator gives you some extra privileges. You may be able to create or modify items your guests cannot change, or even to exclude or censor your visitors, depending on your job function on the forums.

While you will probably be taking care of some of the technical aspects of your forum, the most important aspects of moderatoring have to do with stimulating participation and dealing with people.

What is your primary goal as a moderator? No matter what the theme, a good moderator wants his or her forum to be worth a return visit and committed interaction. Whether that can best be achieved by active participation in the conversation or by simply staying out of the way is a decision only the moderator can make. In most cases, shifting between active participation, and backing off to let the guests run with a conversation or provide support to one another, is the best ongoing strategy. It's not about you; the whole point is to find a way to help the participants share the spotlight.

Moderators should post "fresh" material on a regular basis as well as reply to other posts. Moderators may vary greatly in their approaches. Some moderators prefer to post resource material (articles) while others like to post original thought-provoking items for participants to discuss. Both approaches are important but the most success is found when there is a balance of both. (Keeping good resources handy is a simple technique for finding material, and current events can help as well.)

Recycling can be helpful over the long haul. Many topics are timeless, and can be discussed again and again by newcomers who'd like to have a chance to describe their experiences. Others are seasonal, and come back around for you to reinvent every year. The nature of a forum will determine the duties of its moderator. Some forums are fairly self-sustaining while others need quite a few infusions of a moderators enthusiasm, expertise or control.

Bear in mind that it's not merely interest in a particular subject or the opportunity to interact that draws people to a forum, but the quality of that interaction, the scope and setting of it, what kinds of topics are available, how they are introduced, and the tone which is set for the forum by its moderator.

The final broad category concerned with moderatoring is dealing with people, from the shy to the contentious. Over the years, a number of general rules of thumb have been noted which moderators may wish to consider when dealing with the marvelous, and sometimes troublesome, human species online. We'll take a look at some of them now.

Welcoming New Participants

Many moderators like to help people feel more at home in their forums by welcoming them after their first arrival, either in PM or by responding to one of their first posts.

One thing a moderator can be fairly sure of, however, is that nobody likes to go into a new place for the first time, compose a response, then have it sit there without ever being acknowledged. (I can't stress this enough.)

At the very least, as moderator, you will want to keep an eye out for responses by folks who have never responded in your forum before, and acknowledge their participation. Even a simple "Hello! I'd love to hear more about your experiences with ..." or "Nice to see you here!" can mean the difference between someone feeling snubbed, and feeling like a welcomed participant in the forum. If a newcomer posts, "Hi, I'm a published expert on Foo arrangement," he or she may be waiting to be invited to open a new topic about arranging Foo, or about how to publish a book, feeling it is presumptuous to barge in. New users are frequently shy, or polite, and may be waiting for suggestions and cues on how to best participate in your forum.

Over time, you will begin to build a group of regulars who have a rapport with one another. If you can inspire this group to take on some of the moderatorlís spirit, greet newcomers, recap and summarize what's gone before and start new topics or suggest new events, you'll have the seeds of a self-sustaining and durable forum.

Creating Special Rules (Our approach to guidelines in general)

Whatever rule you make, someone will eventually question it -- even if it is "no rules at all." The most casual glance at human history shows that humans love making rules and arguing over them. Such argumentation can quickly get to the point where the main subject matter of a forum or topic is completely obscured in favor of heated arguments over rules, and it can be very destructive to the spirit of a forum. If the rules of a gathering are in dispute, the best places to discuss them are in the Staff Forums.

There are, however, ways to avoid some of the more common rule pitfalls. If you feel your forum needs a special rule, take care to consider its fairness before implementing it and try to imagine how it might be circumvented. Words are a malleable medium, and they can be made to say things by inference, innuendo, and ambiguity which are very hard to pinpoint. Suppose you set up a forum in which you wanted everyone to be nice to each other, and you made a rule saying just that. You might have a difficult time enforcing it because language can be made to imply something unkind even while saying something ostensibly respectful. Excessive niceness, through hyperbole, can even convey an insult. Rather than creating a rule, you may want to depend on the direct yet respectful approach, calmly asking people to clarify whether an insult was actually meant, and always making it easy to save face. This is often a useful way to communicate with guests who are testing the rules, or making you wish you'd made some.

By the same token, knock-down, drag-out arguments, especially those involving personal insults, are nonproductive and can easily get to the point of dominating the interaction in discussions which might otherwise be, though controversial, potentially fruitful. Moderators can do a lot to keep the tone in their forums positive by making general ground rules which encourage courteous argumentation, and with reminders, when necessary, to "attack the idea, not the person" and to "take personal disputes to e-mail, please."

If a rule is inherent in, or indispensable to, the basic design or operation of your forum, be consistent in enforcing it, while still giving consideration to individual circumstances. Avoid like the plague situations in which a rule applies to one person or group and not to another. If your forum has a hard and fast rule, apply it always, not just when you feel like it. And most of all, abide by the rule yourself.

Handling Problems

If someone violates your rules or guidelines, there are several options at your disposal. It's important to give a sense of due process by starting with the lightest sanction you feel comfortable with, and if necessary, to escalate methodically. Here are some approaches we use, in increasing order of severity. Note that the steps are basically determined by the severity of the violation.

1. Notify the person privately via PM and explain how the response is not within the forum guidelines, and request that further responses of that nature not be entered. Notify others in the Staff Forum of your actions.

2. Use moderator powers to temporarily "hide" the response in question (make invisible), send a PM informing the poster that it has been hidden and why it was hidden. Also tell them that it will be reviewed as soon as possible and you are sorry for any delays. Notify others in the Staff Forum of your actions. If you need an Admin to look at something, please move it to the Temp Hold and someone will help you decide if the post should be deleted or simply modified.

3. If a user is a chronic problem and you cannot reach an understanding, an Admin or Global Moderator may choose to restrict a memberís ability to post (moderate posts - posts must be manually approved usually on a temporary basis) or from visiting altogether. Banning, or being locked out, is a last resort, and it should be very clear to the user that he or she is behaving unacceptably and has been formally informed of the terms of continued participation before a banning.

Whatever steps you are able to take, remember to give clear warnings, to allow for honest mistakes, and to escalate appropriately.

Now that you are pondering all the horrible things you can do to the troublesome individual who would disrupt your forum, it's worth mentioning that such instances are rare.

Remember that the people in your forum are guests, and a variety of personalities and opinions enriches the scene you are creating. Treat them with courtesy and dignity, make them feel welcome and by and large they will respond in kind.

Please also see Forum Policy & Notes Index for more specific instructions.

When you go up to the bell, ring it! Or don't go up to the bell.

- Mel Brooks