We’re at midcourt, the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Get your week started here at the NLSC with a feature that’s dedicated to opinions, commentary, and other fun stuff related to basketball video games.
August 26th marked my fourteenth year running the NLSC; you may have seen my post celebrating the occasion in the Forum, or on our social media pages. I’d like to think that I’ve done a good job over the years – I’ve certainly tried my best – and improved in the role along the way. Creating content for the NLSC can be time consuming and at times arduous, but it’s something I do enjoy. I also enjoy taking part in the Forum, but that also involves a task that can be even tougher: moderating.
That is to stay, it’s the approach and philosophy of moderating that can be tough. Performing the actual functions of moderating is certainly straightforward enough. However, there’s a delicate balance to maintain, when the aim is to foster a welcoming and friendly community that is as drama-free as possible, while also allowing everyone to speak freely and not feel bullied by the moderators. So, to tip things off this week, I wanted to give everyone a bit of an insight into how we try to maintain that balance.
When it comes to discussions forums and comments sections, all sites have their own philosophy. Some favour a free-for-all, anything goes type of approach, and that works for some communities. Other online communities get by just fine with a stricter approach. We’ve experimented a little over the years, but we’ve always tried to be somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. Following the example set by Tim, Lutz, and Brien when they founded the original NLSC Forum, I’ve always wanted people to feel they can have their say without constant fear of an immediate ban, while also drawing the line at being nasty and anti-social. I believe it’s worked for the most part, and most people in the community are great at cultivating that culture.
Needless to say, we’ve had our ups and downs. There have been times where we’ve been too restrictive, and had to back off a bit. Similarly, there have been times when we’ve let a bit too much slide, and had to get a bit tougher. While I believe it’s important to have a clear approach and goals when administrating our Forum, and that it should never be a case of “the inmates running the asylum”, the Forum is a facility that’s there for everyone’s enjoyment. Therefore, it’s important to listen when there are complaints, and take action as appropriate. When a complaint has no merit, you stand firm in your position. When a complaint has merit, you see what can be done to improve the situation.
It’s important that no one feels as though posting their opinion will get them banned, if it happens to run contrary to the opinions of the moderators or the community in general. On the other hand, rude, nasty, and bigoted comments, or bullying behaviour – anything that goes against the code of conduct that’s been decided upon – is not going to be tolerated. Quite often, people who act like jerks will make snarky remarks about freedom of speech when they’re asked to rein it in and play nice. You can’t worry too much about the vocal minority who believe that’s an all-conquering trump card, nor bend to their demands.
As I said, it’s vital to take any complaints about moderating into consideration, because we’re all human and we do make errors in judgement. However, you’ll often find that some people have no problem with the moderating until they step over the line and are asked to cool it. Granted, sometimes it will be your mistake as the administrator or moderator, and sometimes that means taking a look at the rules and moderating procedure. At other times, it’s just someone having a bit of a pout at being reprimanded, and lashing out. Hey, no one likes to be scolded, and sometimes moderating can come across that way, even if you don’t intend it to.
Something I’ve done over the years is get involved in some other communities, and check out other forums. While I do that because I’m also interested in whatever they happen to be about, I also use it as an opportunity to see how other sites are moderated, to participate in discussions where I don’t have an administrator badge. It’s the same reason I listen to other podcasts, read other people’s articles about gaming, and watch video content. It’s important to see what other people are doing, so that I can continue to get better at what I’m doing. I also want to have a good idea of what not to do. Participating in a forum where the moderating is a bit draconian is an effective reminder of what I don’t want to be, and how to avoid becoming that.
And so, it comes back to moderation. It’s allowing everyone to have fun and letting a few things slide, while also knowing when to draw the line and say enough is enough. It’s about being lenient when appropriate and willing to listen, but also able to stand firm and not be a pushover. Come down too hard on people too often for minor infractions, and you’ll drive people away. Allow too much disorder and anti-social behaviour, and the people who want to have good discussions and make good use of the Forum will leave in disgust. Strike a good balance where a majority of users feel comfortable, and you get a good community, like ours.
It’s easier said than done. You’ll make mistakes, because you’re only human. You’ll read a situation incorrectly, or you’ll come across too harsh, either unintentionally or perhaps because you might have had a bad day. You won’t always be popular with everyone, because there are times when you have to be the bad guy. Some people will bottle up their grievances instead of bringing up their concerns right away, and they end up quitting in a huff before you’ve got a chance to put things right. There are times when things will get a little unbalanced, and you’ll overcompensate, tipping things too far the other way.
But in time, you’ll get a handle on it. At least, I’d like to think I have, after fourteen years. As anyone who’s worked in customer service will tell you, some people are just difficult to deal with, no matter how experienced you are, and how much you try. However, in its own way, it’s a rewarding experience. I would say that moderating the Forum has helped me in my professional life, and I’ve been fortunate that as the years have gone by, the NLSC team and I have been able to hone our approach, maintain that balance, and oversee a great community of gamers. I’ll always aim to get better, and do what I can to make the NLSC Forum a better place to hang out. As always, I’m grateful for the support and understanding the community shows me.
That said, I’ll just have to accept that some people – like the fellow who angrily emailed me a few months ago – will disagree with our moderating philosophy and insist they’ve been unfairly “bunned”. What can I say? Damn it, folks, I’m an administrator, not a baker!