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View Poll Results: Moderator work: How shall we proceed in future?
Keep going as is, see how long you can take it 6 33.33%
Abandon ship. Just let the posts fall where they may and chill out 3 16.67%
Try to define a strategy for moving forward. This may mean some additional rules or restrictions. 9 50.00%
Voters: 18. You may not vote on this poll

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  #1  
Old 26.09.2006, 23:26
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Maintenance issues, current workload on forum

This forum has been growing, and I think we all agree that's great. We currently have two moderators (Lob Rockster and Litespeed) who help out keeping the place tidy and move the conversations along. However, we all have limited time.

The rate of messages has increased, as has the number of new signups. Signups are coming in at 50-100 per week, and message volume is moving into the 300-400 post per day range (not counting PMs). With this also comes the fact that many newbies, (and quite a few oldies) post messages in the wrong areas, violate clearly displayed policies and seem to continue to post new threads for questions which have been asked many times previously (not using search function).

To the average forum user this isn't a problem, since they hardly every see it. The mods clean it up, and usually try to inform the user by private message and a conversation usually takes place. Sometimes the user apologises and usually says that they didn't read some prominently placed notice (like do not post before reading this for example), and in some cases they hurl abuse. All of this is extremely time consuming, and at times demoralising. What may seem like a minor point to one user, is something that plays out day after day and hour after hour for a forum admin.

Today I've spent almost my entire day on the forum, and a big percentage of that has been on "clean up" and communication and clarification with those that I'm cleaning up after. Some of you may laugh and accuse me of having OCD or something similair. Sure - maybe I do, but I also have a vision of a forum that continues to be a useful resource, and this cannot happen if the structure and organisation becomes lost.

My intention with this post is not to look for sympathy, or beg everyone to behave. I want this to be the starting point for a discussion about how to go forward.

I see a number of possibilities:

1. Continue as is. I doubt this will be possible if the workload stays the way it is or increases (which it is likely that it will).
2. Do nothing. We stop intervening and just leave everything where it is. We don't enforce policy, limiting our work to joining the discussions, creating new areas, and removing the endless amounts of mobile phone and viagara spam. Believe me, this is a tempting option. However, if this were to happen I feel that the forum would cease to be useful and many people would tune out. This tuning out would result in even more requests for the same information and the effect would snowball. With time, this place would not be a cool place to hang out. I think all of us know how some similair things have panned out.

3. We try to find a way forward, and that is the purpose of this thread. I'd like some constructive suggestions as to how we might move forward. I have a number of ideas.
  • I write a quick "guide for newbies". Many people seem to have no idea what a web forum is. Common sense dictates that you sus out the place before posting, just as we don't open our mouths when entering a new room with people we don't know. Common sense, however, does not seem to prevail. We lasted just over a year on very few rules and guidelines, but I think we can't last any more.
  • Each new member gets a private mail on signup which informs them (nicely) of their obligations as a member of the system. It tells them that we expect them to observe certain policies and to follow a few basic rules, with links to the rules etc. Of course, many users may simply not read or delete such emails/private mails immediately, but if it helps reduce the workload, it will be a good thing.
  • We employ more mods. I'd rather not do this if possible, but at some stage it will become necessary. It needs to be people who understand the value of the policies and why it is important to enforce them. We also need mods who can dedicate time to the task, this time isn't paid, and it isn't insignificant.
  • I write more formal documentation for the mods as to which policies they should enforce, common problems to look out for etc. If the number of mods increases, such additional documentation will become necessary.
Those are just my ideas so far, but I invite debate on the subject. Maybe they aren't enough, maybe they won't be effective but it's all I can think of right now.

I would like to think that I know a fair bit about running a forum, but I'm learning here as well. I don't think anyone envisioned it would grow this quickly, and I'm finding new surprises every day and having to think of new ways of doing things.

So here's hoping for a fruitful on-topic discussion that doesn't require me to edit posts or PM anyone. (Just kidding).

Last edited by mark; 26.09.2006 at 23:44.
  #2  
Old 26.09.2006, 23:41
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Re: Maintenance issues, current workload on forum

Hey Mark,

What about the possibility of advertising? Would banner ads be an option? And would this help in any way to make life sweeter for the Mods? And seeing as you have nothing else to do, where did I leave my keys?
  #3  
Old 27.09.2006, 00:05
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Re: Maintenance issues, current workload on forum

Hi Uncle Max,

Where did you last see them?

But seriously, banner advertising doesn't really solve any of those fundamental issues. I don't expect to be paid for my time, that wasn't the goal of this site. Advertising would not bring in huge revenues anyway, and being paid wouldn't make the job any easier...
  #4  
Old 27.09.2006, 00:42
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Re: Maintenance issues, current workload on forum

Do you have a process in place to prevent all three moderators moderating the same threads?

ie, if there is a thread that none of you has any personal interest in, could you mark it somehow as being the responsibility of just one of you. This would reduce the work-per-mod, a touch at least.

Such a solution would perhaps become more valuable in the future too.
  #5  
Old 27.09.2006, 07:33
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Re: Maintenance issues, current workload on forum

IMO 300-400 posts a day with only 2 mods (I'd say 3 with Mark) is too much work if you want to moderate at the level you are doing.

If you wish to move and trim at the present level over 13 forums, you are indeed going to spend most of your days doing just this. Get yourself more mods - ideally one for each forum - or at least have two forums per mod (ie 6½ mods).

At the same time tone down the modding. It is high-handed and pedanatic at times and must be very off putting to the new and sensitive. But please no "addition rules and restrictions"...
  #6  
Old 27.09.2006, 07:57
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Re: Maintenance issues, current workload on forum

Hi Mark n Lob n Litespeed,

first off thanks for doing a great job of moderating the forum. Its not an easy task and its clear even from this side that its really time-consuming , not to mention frustrating. So many thanks for that.

In terms of the policy for moderating the thread, I would suggest a more softly softly approach to moderation is the only way forward if the number of postings continue to grow.

Its not really necessary to prune every thread, or reassign each thread everytime there is deviation from the main topic in my opinion : this is not the Dewey system and a certain amount of bleed crossover between discussions is inevitable - indeed at times desirable - to keep the flow of conversation. This is not to say that spam , offensive material and unacceptable behaviour should be tolerated; its more a case of priority.

As you have found from your survey, many users find this forum through google. Indeed I find threads within this forum through google. With this in mind, a completely regulated database of information may not be optimum use of moderator resources.

Personally I like conversations that are able to go off at a slight tangent as for makes for more air in the discussion. I think the end result is a more entertaining read.

I have no view of your ultimate objective for the forum, and that obviously plays a part in your policy decisions re: advertising, more mods, future commercial objectives (if any). However there may be some truth in the comment below, even though I wouldn't have put it quite so bluntly...

Anyway thanks again for making the forum the success it clearly is.
dave


Quote:
At the same time tone down the modding. It is high-handed and pedanatic at times and must be very off putting to the new and sensitive. But please no "addition rules and restrictions"...
  #7  
Old 27.09.2006, 10:00
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Re: Maintenance issues, current workload on forum

Hi Mark,

The forum rules are there, but are they being read?
What if you would force the users to read the rules and accept them with a checkbox before allowing them to make their first post. Dunno if this is an existing vBulletin feature, otherwise this hack/plugin might be helpful for that.

That and one or two more mods would probably do the trick...
  #8  
Old 27.09.2006, 12:04
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Re: Maintenance issues, current workload on forum

Hi guys, thanks for your comments so far. I'll try to answer some of the points raised.

Before I started this forum I heard many people complaining about a certain mailing list. I always seemed to hear the same complaints - "It's always people asking the same questions", "the questions are so dumb", etc etc. I thought that the expat community needed something different, and that's what I tried to create. I wanted something that was a useful resouce, something between a wiki and a mailing list. I thought a web-based forum would fit the bill perfectly. Anyway, the point is that I vowed that the forum would not become like that mailing list.

I think so far it has. But in the last few weeks things have been changing. We've had a lot of "the same questions". The profiles of people who have been posting has also changed. There are a lot more people outside of Switzerland who are using the system. I don't have a problem with it - but I just never designed it that way, nor expected it.

Adfab describes the moderation as "high-handed and pedanatic at times and must be very off putting to the new and sensitive". Adfab, you can only talk about the moderation you can actually see, and most of it you don't. Moderation may seem high handed, but it is usually the result of multiple private warnings and other discussions, which you aren't privy to. You might notice that some threads have several requests from me (or other mods) to get back on topic, with people simply ignoring the request. Yes, in cases such as these you may consider it high handed. I'm not sure if you've ever used larger forum systems (I'm guessing you have), but I'm sure you've been on webmasterworld and noticed that people get their posts edited within minutes by a moderator if they so much as even insert a link. They have a huge system at webmasterworld and a fantastic resource, I understand the need for slightly more aggressive moderation in their case.

The main thing which upsets me is that over the last few weeks the signal-to-noise ratio, which was one of the key goals of this forum, has decreased.

As for the comments about the new and sensitive. Yes, I realise this, which is why the mods almost always do their work by private mail, which is also very time consuming. We don't abuse the new who make mistakes, but it does try our patience considerably. However, I favour a structure of trying to educate them before they post, rather than just leaving them to it, and cleaning up after them (or not cleaning up after them).

So far two peope have voted for "abandon ship". One was Adfab (therefore I'm responding to the comments). The other was a user who has only just signed up, and doesn't even live here. Here's why I think it's a bad idea to abandon ship.

If no moderation is done, the forum will essentially become like a mailing list. If users did search for a subject like "health insurance" they would turn up hundreds of posts of "Where can I find information about health insurance". The same goes for searches coming in through google - people would land on pages with a lot of questions, and few answers. Those who do contribute will eventually give up, being tired of answering the same questions over and over. Wouldn't it make sense for google to deliver a user to a thread which actually contains useful information? Users faced with a forum which they cannot search or navigate due to the high volume of messages will eventually give up and resort to posting yet another question, thereby compounding the problem. Adfab - if you disagreee with the moderation, then maybe you'd like to participate and become a moderator?

Evolver - yes you raise a good point about click through messages. I think many people will click without reading, but it's a start. I'd also like to install a modification whereby users for their first 5 posts are given a dialogue box before they post which says "Are you sure this is in the right area" and given a drop down box of the areas. By the way - the hack you posted is for a very old version of VB.

Quote:
Its not really necessary to prune every thread, or reassign each thread everytime there is deviation from the main topic in my opinion : this is not the Dewey system and a certain amount of bleed crossover between discussions is inevitable - indeed at times desirable - to keep the flow of conversation. This is not to say that spam , offensive material and unacceptable behaviour should be tolerated; its more a case of priority.
I don't think that comment is particulaly fair. I think you've been here long enough to know that lots of pruning is not done. Threads often wander off (and hopefully back on topic). You know there is a big difference between wandering off topic for a little, and an obvious thread hijack. When I see a thread hijack from someone with 100 posts and previous warnings via PM, yes, I do get a little upset. You know that I've been soft on swearing (swearing is even allowed), and pretty soft on a whole range of issues. It's a mistake to assume that just because you see some pruning or movement of messages that the whole thing has to run like the Dewey system - such a system would be absolutely impossible with some many different poeple providing inputs into the system.

Quote:
Personally I like conversations that are able to go off at a slight tangent as for makes for more air in the discussion. I think the end result is a more entertaining read.
So do I - in fact you may have noticed that I often participate. I think it's important to clarify what my original points were. I can sense that I've put my hand up in frustration and said "there are issues" and people might be imaging a list of issues in their head which are not the same issues I'm concerned about. I don't mind chit chat as long as it doesn't turn into absolute drivel. "Yeah great" and "lol" as the sole content of posts doesn't impress me, and I'm sure it doesn't impress others, but I don't jump in and start deleting such posts or sending PMs - I simply don't have the time or the energy.

Quote:
Do you have a process in place to prevent all three moderators moderating the same threads?

ie, if there is a thread that none of you has any personal interest in, could you mark it somehow as being the responsibility of just one of you. This would reduce the work-per-mod, a touch at least.
At the moment we have a mods-only section of the forum which we use to co-ordinate between each other. We discuss problem users, pre-emptive strikes on spammers, policy issues and the like. However, these discussions also take our time

We've had few cases where we hit the same thread at the same time, as we are often busy writing messages etc. I am looking at a system whereby moderators can tag threads or posts with "staff comments" which are visible only to staff. I think this will be incredibly useful especially for things like "kill this thread after a certain date". This requires a software upgrade however.

Which brings me to my next point- at the moment I'm kind of caught between a rock and a hard place. VB 3.6 is out, and many of the good modifications are for 3.6. I'm running 3.5, but can't update until many of the 3rd party components have been updated to 3.6. This means I have a few features that I want to implement, but can't because I'm waiting to move to 3.6.

I think there is a way forward. Some additional ideas:

A few "targetted" threads. For example different start threads for "people considering a move to Switzerland", "New arrivals", etc. These threads would be starting points to key threads (such as visa issues) as well as a brief explanation as to how those particular people could use the forum more effectively. New arrivals might want to know something about events, whereas this information would not be relevant to people outside of Switzerland.

There also needs to be several resource or FAQ threads started. I need help with these - it's a huge job. These threads will be like tables which point to relevant threads. So for a newbie they could instantly see where the best thread to discuss a particular topic is. In the past many German words were used in posts, making it difficult for newbies to locate the information they need with the search functions - these FAQ/Resource threads may help them to locate the "best of the forum" threads quickly, thereby reducing the number of duplicate questions, and work for the mods.

As always, those that have writing skills and a bit of knowledge about how forums are supposed to work are strongly enouraged to volunteer their time to help out, I simply can't do everything around here.
  #9  
Old 27.09.2006, 12:33
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Re: Maintenance issues, current workload on forum

Meant to also say I'm working on a structure for more sub forums. For example help and tips needs to be split up into a few sub forums (it gets so much traffic), for example visa/permit issues, TV issues probably need their own areas. I'll write more details later.
  #10  
Old 27.09.2006, 12:38
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Re: Maintenance issues, current workload on forum

Quote:
Meant to also say I'm working on a structure for more sub forums. For example help and tips needs to be split up into a few sub forums (it gets so much traffic), for example visa/permit issues, TV issues probably need their own areas. I'll write more details later.
From both posts:
You're proposing FAQ or newbie or starter sub-forums, with sticky or read-only posts?

This would mean consolidated information whcihc canbe referred to, and silly/repetitive questiosn can be re-directed to highly visible posts?

I'd muck in to help sort these out...
  #11  
Old 27.09.2006, 12:43
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Re: Maintenance issues, current workload on forum

Quote:
From both posts:
You're proposing FAQ or newbie or starter sub-forums, with sticky or read-only posts?

This would mean consolidated information whcihc canbe referred to, and silly/repetitive questiosn can be re-directed to highly visible posts?

I'd muck in to help sort these out...
Yeah kind of a mix of all that. Not a separate newbie forum - since all questions raised and answered may or may not apply to newbies. More like some newbie guides and FAQs.

The FAQs are the most time consuming because someone has to sift through all the threads on the forum and pick out those threads which are useful and should be included in a FAQ. Common subjects like parking rules, health insurance (to name 2 examples of duplicate questions which came up just this morning).

If there is a restructing of the areas (which there will be) then this could also be a chance to check threads for the FAQ. The reason is that whenever a new area is created then the mods have to trawl through each thread to see if it should be moved to the new area.

Send me an email if you'd like to start helping with the FAQ and we can discuss it in more detail.

Thanks gbn, anyone else got some time left over to help out with anything useful?
  #12  
Old 27.09.2006, 12:53
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Re: Maintenance issues, current workload on forum

I think more people need to search before they post, especially in the early part of the membership. Most of the ---- that needs moving and merging is first/second/third post (but there are 50+ count people who do the same).

The related posts at the bottom of the threads help us but the OPs [original posters] could do more.

I personally don't like banning people at all but some people deserve it - spammers, obviously....and serial offenders. I'll ban as short as possible but frankly if you're obnoxious in general or offensive to others or make statements that are socially unacceptible then you'll get the boot.

What I don't like is the whinging when a post gets shunted into another thread - like the tailgating comments developing on the walking thread. Don't hammer me for it; I leave it, it looks shit, I move it - you give me shit.

Do remember that each thread has a TOPIC. It's not like life spouting bollocks down the pub so try to stay ON TOPIC and it really will make more sense.

The Off-Topic forum thread I would say would be tolerated when hijacks occur - but do remember that we're trying to maintain a source of information that can be browsed and when someone seeking information gets into a thread about permits for non-eu people and then Betty Swallocks comes along , they will more than likely leave, give up and think it's daft.

You all can contribute to your experiences making someone else's transition to live and work here more smooth. So do that and give yourself the occasional
  #13  
Old 27.09.2006, 13:05
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Re: Maintenance issues, current workload on forum

Nice one Lob - looks like a poorly disguised attempt to use the new smilies

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Old 27.09.2006, 13:07
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Re: Maintenance issues, current workload on forum

(plus the mandatory characters to make my posting worthwhile)
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Old 27.09.2006, 13:08
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Re: Maintenance issues, current workload on forum

can I take time out on this post to mention to BoyD that I don't want to have to clean up after him on this site too?
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Old 27.09.2006, 14:01
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Re: Maintenance issues, current workload on forum

Hi Mark,

I was not aware that PMs were sent before wrists were slapped - but that's even more work!

Considering that the "certain mailing list" is not moderated, I'm always amazed how much it isn't abused. (I actually strongly recommended that C moderated it when she started it, but she decided not to.)

I can see a little bit more where you're going now - but still don't really get the 'master plan'. As I see it you'll have every eventuality neatly filed under forum and topic until only an annual update is required to keep the facts up to date. Also I think Adsense wouldn't go amiss here either.

I would be quite happy to moderate - but not the whole forum. I don't think that is really possible to do efficiently with the current volume of posts...
  #17  
Old 27.09.2006, 14:14
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Re: Maintenance issues, current workload on forum

Mark,

Another idea. I'm member of a large internet marketing forum. They also had the problem that things get asked and answered multiple times.
In the end they built up a huge FAQ section where all the answers can be found. If someone needs to find answers they can now search the FAQ where every topic is covered exactly once. So things are much easier to find than by searching the forum itself. Of course that won't get rid of the task of deleting or merging threads of the same topic.
  #18  
Old 27.09.2006, 14:20
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Re: Maintenance issues, current workload on forum

Yes, and what they do is put the FAQ for each section at the top, and they call it Sticky: Read before you post or something similar.

Go to http://forums.overclockers.com.au/ if you need good examples. They have a special FAQ with general rules at the Forum Root, and then forum specific ones further down.
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Old 27.09.2006, 14:25
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Re: Maintenance issues, current workload on forum

both here and at work, I find people loathe to read anything (majority)
  #20  
Old 27.09.2006, 15:16
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Re: Maintenance issues, current workload on forum

Evolver, muze7 - good suggestions, and are along the lines of what I was thinking of. I would point out that I've already tried the stickies with "Do not post before you read this".

One could easily be fooled into the assumption that nobody reads anything anymore, but the optimist in me tells me that it's just a few people who fail to read things right in front of their eyes that give us the impression that nobody pays attention anymore.

So from our point of view we end up thinking that all the users are idiots, even though we know this isn't the case. You should see my PM log, it usually contains the words "Did you notice that notice at the top of the screen that said do not post unless you read this first?"

Anyway, enough of the negatives, let's try and focus on the positives.

AdFab - glad you see a bit more of the picture now. The master plan isn't quite how you imagined though - such a forum would cease to be a forum if there was no more debate. I do think that there's an almost finite number of threads to cover all the usual questions about living in Switzerland, but things like events and current affairs will help to keep things fresh. The complaints corner should also see traffic from time to time. I also actually don't want to message traffic to get much higher than a few hundred messages a day - I think the forum becomes a less attractive place then. I've always been a fan of quality over quantity.

Regarding "that mailing list" I'm happy that it is unmoderated. It's not my cup of tea, but I'm glad that there is a choice. Many people come here expecting that the rules are the same. Many think it's a mailing list. Some bitch at me because of the moderation, that's ok - I offer them that list as the alternative they were probably looking for .

The next set of moderators will be restricted to only certain areas - because it's just getting too big. That has been my plan from the start, but only after the restructuring. There will be super mods - the current lot, and moderators of certain sections.

Adsense - seems like a good idea on the surface, but one has to remember that this place is a little strange as far as google is concerned. We are an english language resource in a non-english speaking country. We have out of town visitors looking up posts about things like insurance, where they would be shown insurance ads for their own country. Would the click-through rate be high? Probably not.

I started this thing as a grass-roots non-commercial effort, so I don't really want to change that for the moment. It also wouldn't be fair on other mods or members who donate their time to the project if it were generating money with it. At the moment I'm paying the costs from my own pocket. Some people get really snotty the minute you put your hand out for a donation to meet expenses, so I'd rather not go down that path either. Of course, that might change in future, but that's how I feel at the moment.
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