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Community Management

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In the past I engaged in the whack-a-mole game against abusers. I spent many man months on algorithmic approaches for fighting abuse. My efforts focused on analysis of the content, sophisticated filters, and user "rehab" automation. In the end, the abusers (as a collective) have won. While I had given up and have left to engage in more fulfilling endeavors, the abusers have gradually figured out ways to bypass filters, create multiple accounts, and keep flooding finance message boards with spam.

Anyone who has ever tried seriously to block email spam knows that these kind of arms' races are very hard to win. We are very few, the abusers are many, and there always seems to be more of them. They have learned to share sophisticated tools (like breaking captcha) so effectively the pros and the least sophisticated script-kiddies are no longer two separate groups.

The good news is that there is a better way, but it requires a totally new and fresh approach.

In particular, I've become a true believer in community-moderation and collaborative filtering, after seeing the success of schemes like those of Y! Answers and Slashdot. What these successful sites are doing in essence is empowering their (good) users to take ownership of the abuse and quality-level goals. They create strong incentives for good users to put an effort into moderating the sites. Users who consistently exhibit good judgments and willingness to contribute, get "strength points" making them more and more powerful in the never ending game of stamping-out abuse.

In contrast, abusers have almost no power. The more they abuse, the more they lose points. New accounts start with zero reputation/power making them useless to engage in the game.

Once we get a critical-mass of good and willing users, the incentive system feeds itself. The abusers may bypass a filter, but they cannot fool an army of dedicated human beings.

-Ariel Faigon, Yahoo! Abuse Team

Administrators are people too! And they deserve good interfaces. Far too often, since the earliest days of the web, beautiful sites have been launched to the public with minimally functional content management and administrative functonality, or sometimes none at all. Similarly, a social website has an engine room too, it needs an admin side where community managers can help cultivate the best contributions and downplay or discourage the worst.

But how can people be expected to behave well if they don’t know what constitutes good behavior? Thus its important to establish and clearly communicate the behavioral norms of the community and to actively participate in the community, particularly in its impressionable early days, modeling good behavior and demonstrating how to get things done.