You’re Moderating Your Site to Death

Here's a simple postulate to consider: active moderation is a bad idea for anyone who wants a dynamic discussion on their site. Active moderation is making a user wait for their contribution to go live until someone actively approves that content. Active moderation is different from passive moderation, where you reserve the right to remove content if it's inflammatory or inappropriate. For the purposes of this post, a discussion is any kind of user interaction where users engage in some kind of dialogue, including comments on a blog, a message board post, a user review of a product, a "share your story" tool, a layer tennis match, or anything else of the sort. On the internet, there's a base expectation that things happen nearly instantly, and doubly so in any situations where users would hope that others might respond to their contribution, like a discussion on a blog. So when a user makes this contribution, and finds that it isn't going to post until it's been approved, a few things might happen:
  1. She gets frustrated — She may not have expected this hold-up, and may have wanted to keep the discussion going. Instead, now she has to wait for the comment to get moderated, other people to read it, those people to respond, and then those comments need to be moderated. It could be hours until she's able to respond.
  2. She questions her contribution — When a discussion is live, she can usually be pretty sure that her post is making a substantive contribution to that discussion. She can read all of the comments posted to date, and say something worth saying. When it's moderated, someone may have made her point already, or made a point that kills her argument. In the annals of blog history, she looks like she can't manage to make a decent argument.
  3. She goes elsewhere to continue the discussion — Whether this user is going to make a post of her own to keep the discussion moving (presumably without moderating comments), or going to look for another post on the same subject elsewhere, she is fairly likely to move on. Even worse, she could have a significant discussion with someone over IM or in person. This results in what I call null-scribing: failing to record content that could likely be useful in the future. Null-scribing is a is not just a missed opportunity, but a disservice to everyone.
If you're moderating, chances are that you're doing it out of a sense of protection. Maybe you don't want someone trashing your company in the comments, or posting something inappropriate, or maybe you're just trying to prevent spam. But which looks worse, a site where you may take a couple hours to remove the <1% of offensive posts that manage to make their way onto your site, or a site where people give up on the discussion before it's actually run its course? A vibrant community with a little bit of riff-raff, or a ghost town where no one participates? Base your practice on the 80/20 rule. Hopefully 80% of your content is good, in which case you should give new posts the benefit of the doubt, and not actively moderate. If more than 20% of your content is something you'd want moderated away, then you have bigger problems.
M. Jackson Wilkinson

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Posted in Article Category: #Design & Content
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