In my last post, I mentioned that I thought it was ludicrous to try to control the spammers on your site by trying to control everyone entirely. Why? Because if you do, you will not only succeed in driving away the spammers but also your community as well. I mean would you want to live in a community where your freedom of speech was restricted? Of course not but how do you get around this problem while still giving people an open voice? Well below is not a perfect answer (because there are no perfect answers) but it is a practical and effective one that actually allows you to use the strengths of your community, the people within it, to aid you in controlling this problem as a collective group (which is what communities should be all about).
Before I describe the approach though, I want to elaborate a bit more upon the current situation of blogs. Right now it seems that when a blog has a few visitors (like my own for example), comments are low and spam usually isn’t a problem, therefore I myself can administer my own site quite easily at this point in time. As the community around a site grows though, the comments increase in number as well. This brings more awareness of the community to others “malcontents” shall we say who would like to take advantage of the community for their own purposes. Imagine them like thieves and scoundrels infiltrating a thriving growing community.
Therefore, once my site gets very popular and attracts a lot of attention, this problem will probably grow beyond the means of me administering it on my own. It would be like having a single sheriff in a massive metropolis trying to maintain law and order. It’s impossible. This is why site owners usually revert to enabling robots (i.e. spam catchers) to help them maintain order, security gates that moderate those who can speak, or an identity system that tracks their users and only allows those authorized to speak to do so. What is wrong with all of these approaches is that all of them still keep the site owner in control like some fascist dictator who doesn’t trust anyone else to control his kingdom but himself. Yet for a community to be sustainable over a long period of time, trust needs to be an integral part of it.
Ok onto the solution and this will be another one of those “Everything I Learn In Life, I Learned From Video Games”. Back four years ago or so, when I used to play Counter-Strike, I was within a clan that had their own server where in effect we were doing the same thing as people do on blogs today. We we’re creating a community. Like a blog, the more popular that our clan CS server became, the more malcontents arrived on the scene to spoil things. So how did we get around this. Again we leveraged the power of the community around us. Instead of forcing everyone to go through an “Iron Curtain” to access the server, we kept the server completely open to everyone and elevated the roles of community members in helping us keep the “riff raff” out. In effect, we rewarded and empowered our long time community members.
Basically we gave these key community members (who had been a part of the community a while already) administration access to the server so that they could self-administer the server if we weren’t there. Thus the larger our community became, the more easily were we able to administer the server because more and more people were chipping in to help out. After all, we didn’t own the community (even though we created it), everyone did. Therefore why not let everyone truly participate within it and help it grow?
Now just to clarify, people weren’t the only ones administering the server. We did have bots that automatically followed set rules to deal with malcontents who without question were breaking the rules. For example, if a flood of messages (i.e. 10 in one second) appeared, the bot would detect this and kick the person automatically for spamming. If a person repeatedly shot another person on their own team, again they were kicked automatically. The key thing to realize here is that the bots were only used when something was completely obvious. All other situations were left up to human judgement, in effect letting the community administer itself (even to the point of allowing the community to vote someone off the server).
So to clarify what I’m getting at here, instead of setting up “Iron Curtains” on your site and making them your own little dictatorship, why not instead reward and empower your long time members of your community and give them some administration rights. While a lot of blogging systems don’t include all of the tools necessary for good community-based administration (i.e. banning rights to ban spammers IP’s, notification messages to inform the master site owner of the ban, etc), you can still at the very least give certain trusted people in your community the ability to delete comments on their own, so that spam can be removed from the site. Yes, this means that someone might see the spam on your site for the short period that it is there. And yes this means that things won’t be perfect and they may be a little messy but hey that’s life. Again it isn’t perfect. The key thing is that your community can retain it’s voice and in elevating certain members you’re actually creating a stronger community because they will actually feel like they are contributing to the success of the community as a whole.