Crazy idea: give users limited moderator rights in their own topics

(Valts) #1

I got this idea yesterday when I was pondering about a common pattern of decay in Internet forums (communities). They start out as quaint little places where people with similar interests gather. For a while everything is rosy, but then the community starts to grow and eventually attracts all kinds of unsavory characters. Some of them can be banned for outright hostile behavior, but most of them are just this side of indecency. There’s nothing specific that you could put a finger on, so you can’t do anything about them, but they still make everyone uncomfortable. Eventually there’s more and more of them, and the old “core members” dissolve, leaving the forum to rot.

This is extremely typical, and I’ve seen it happening at many places, but up until now I’ve had no ideas what to do about it.

Then a few days ago I read a twitter story shared by one of my friends. Translated, it goes something like this:

I very much enjoy the moments when I once more find myself in the company of great people. My friends, A, B and C. … and then I step into the public transport, wander into the wrong bar or peculiar company, and I have a culture-shock. “What? People in this world are still prejudiced, violent, passive, cruel, uncompassionate and rude?” The protective environment bubble.

It was only yesterday however that these two things “clicked” together. In real life, we actively make our own “protective environment bubbles”. We seek out like-minded individuals, pick our friends from among them, and avoid people/places that are unacceptable to us. As most of you can attest, this can be achieved to quite a great degree, where the “unpleasant” parts of the world are only a small nuisance in everyday life.

In an Internet forum however this cannot be achieved so well. Everyone’s together. You can’t pick out friends whom you like and enemies whom you avoid. Every word of yours is heard and can be replied by everyone. Sure, you have the option of simply leaving the forum… but often that’s not possible, because there aren’t any viable alternatives. And there are still those few people there whom you like to talk to. And anyway - if you leave, you contribute to the very problem this started with - the best people leave and the forum rots.

So my suggestion is this - give people the power to create their “protective environment bubbles”. Everyone can still read everything (that’s the positive side of internet forums; it gives the power of information sharing), but people can decide whom they don’t want to talk to. There are several technical implementations that come to mind:

(Note - when I say “a topic that belongs to a user”, I mean “a topic that was started by that user”)

  • User A can mark user B as “don’t want to talk to”. Henceforth user B won’t be able to send PM’s to user A, or reply in user A’s topics.
  • User A can “ban” user B from a particular topic of his (maybe user B is generally a good guy, but has a too strong opinion on some issues).
  • User A can edit/delete any posts in his topics.
  • User A can lock any of his topics, if he doesn’t want to talk about it anymore.
  • Users can create “interest groups”, which work by invite-only. People in an interest group will get automatically notified about any topics that other people from their interest group create. An interest group also has one or more “leaders”, which are the only ones with the power to invite or kick someone from the group.

In a way this brings the forum closer to a facebook-like social network… but then, a forum is a social network. Social functions fit there.

What do you think?

Give Users More Control Over Topics/Threads!
(Kurtis Rainbolt-Greene) #2

Having looked at the repository lately, I’d say this would be a cool function but a pain to implement without a more robust permissions system (both backend and frontend).

(Valts) #3

Perhaps it doesn’t need to be implemented through the permission system… but then I’ve not seen the code and cannot tell. I think this sort of thing would be very much “in the spirit of Discourse” though.

(happycollision) #4

I am afraid this might discourage some people from participating. For instance, if I was banned from this conversation because of [something], and any time somebody from this topic started another one, they banned me ahead of time I might leave the forum. Or get discouraged and simply not even try to participate in it.

People may tend to block users for having differing opinions instead of bad manners. Possibly.

This is really a devil’s advocate comment because I love the spirit of the feature you are suggesting. I also like the idea of having the ability to moderate my little corner of a forum.

But I am worried about abuse of power. Maybe this could be tied in with trust levels. Possibly a level or two before someone gets moderator-like abilities in the entire forum, they’d get moderator-like authorities in their own topics.

(Kevin P. Fleming) #5

This blurs the line between moderation and censorship, I think. I agree with the other comments that many users would be turned off by such behavior and would probably choose not to participate in such a forum at all.

(Valts) #6

True, I’ve thought about this, but I feel that there’s not much possibility of this power being abused. After all - you can only mess up your own little corner of the world. Unless you’re the Grand King Puba around whom the entire forum revolves, the other person will hardly miss that. After all - how many % of topics are started by one person?

As for others banning you all the time - I don’t think that’s how it would work. I mentioned two kinds of bans:

  1. The user bans another user from ever contacting himself. That’s a serious ban. Anyone with half a mind will only use that for people who have really pissed them off. You won’t get banned like this by a great host of people, unless you’ve done something really offensive (in which case you deserve it).
  2. The user bans another user from joining THIS particular topic. If you’ve managed to piss off multiple people, it might be that they ban you pre-emptively for a while from their new topics. However I think this unlikely, because it will quickly grow tedious. When it does, they will either ban you completely (unlikely, if they didn’t do it in the first place) or just go back to allowing you participate.

In either case, it’s hard for a person to get “kicked off the forum” unless he really doesn’t fit in. And before that happens, he’ll have attracted a moderator’s attention anyway,

Couple of extra ideas:

  • Full personal bans could be temporary. Say, 1 month (configurable?). After that, you need to re-ban the person.
  • Moderators could have a “protect” power, which protects someone being kicked off a topic/any topic (for a while). Perhaps also from full personal bans.
  • The full personal ban might also include an optional “I don’t want the other person to see my topics” and “I don’t want to see the other person’s topics” checkboxes. Although, of course, those can be circumvented by simply logging off.

(Azareal) #7

I hope that this feature never gets implemented, ever.
There are just too many avenues for abuse as it stands as it’s bad enough that you see some unpleasant people on some forums but then, you also have to win the prize of getting banned from topics which is even worse when they are topics which you have a strong interest in or if they are showing a stance which is incredibly contrary to yours.
The purpose of a forum is facilitate communications, not for someone to expand their ego with control over their own little realms which gives them a great degree of censorship.
It wouldn’t be long before trolls showed up to take advantage of this feature by banning anyone who posted an opposing opinion in their provocative topics.
If people really need their own little areas then, a feature like vBulletin’s social groups might suffice which could probably be done in a plugin.

(Valts) #8

But that’s just it. A troll cannot spoil normal topics. He’ll just get banned from them quickly. He can create his own shittopics (and then proceed to ban people from them) - but after a few of those nobody will want to participate in their topics anyway. There’s no way how a troll can abuse this system.

(Sam Saffron) #9

I have seen a real use case for such a feature in 2 places:

In Badass Space Dragon the DM patrace really should have mod rights for the topic, allowing him to boot off players that are causing issues, edit and lock posts or the entire topic and so on.

In media browser I had a use case where the op of the topic needed to control flow inside the topic (he was getting requests from the community and needed to edit them when they were complete)

I think its a rather unique set of circumstances and not something the general public need. We already plan to allow partial moderation to certain users, for example we could give patrace moderation on the “badass space dragon” category. It would meld well with out current system and plans.

I don’t think this is a feature that needs to be exposed to every user of the forum.

(Kurtis Rainbolt-Greene) #10

Oh crap, that reminds me of:

I can’t believe that still exists. It’s got to be one of the more heavily modified forum softwares. Thread owners also had super powers within their thread/group.

(Bcguy) #11

I like this idea. Moderation of large forums is a major pain - and this would help minimize those pains.

Perhaps you don’t actually “ban” people from topics though - perhaps you just don’t “show” that person’s comments. he/she gets their freedome of expression - but nobody can see the comment except the poster.

(Valts) #12

Well, maybe “moderation rights” wasn’t the right way to put it. What I had meant was an ability to choose with whom you don’t want to talk to. Yes, in retrospect, the ability to edit/delete other people’s content would be harmful. But kicking other people off your threads or setting an “ignore” flag to someone would be appropriate, IMHO. Other social networks (like Facebook or Skype or whatever) have had this feature for ages.

(Valts) #13

I don’t think that hellban would be appropriate here. It would be efficient, but I think that other participants should see when you kick someone off. That way they can object and create peer pressure in case you kicked someone off wrongly.

(Jeff Atwood) #14

We had discussed, and will very likely have, a “wiki” mode where people can explicitly opt-in to letting others (at trust level 1 or higher) edit their posts. I think that’s a better feature to have and would work well enough in this use case.

I understand the request, but I think this sort of “topic owner controls the topic” approach isn’t widely applicable to the typical discussion topics you would see on most forums.

(Valts) #15

But what about instead of “let others edit my posts” adding a “let me choose with whom I don’t want to talk to” feature? That’s different.

(Jeff Atwood) #16

No, I don’t support that at all.

How to deal with unwelcome people in your community?
(Valts) #17

I see. Well, nevermind then. :slight_smile: Good to see that some thought has already been given to this idea.

(Ricky_Mason) #18

I wouldn’t say ‘nevermind’ …it just has to be iterated.

As Sam pointed out [quote=“sam, post:9, topic:10128”]
I think its a rather unique set of circumstances and not something the general public need. We already plan to allow partial moderation to certain users, for example we could give patrace moderation on the “badass space dragon” category. It would meld well with out current system and plans.

…there are scenarios where it seems to make sense.

There is a ‘request sticky’ option on many sites. If a discussion stems into a more lengthy topic that requires specific moderation to persist, maybe there could be a voting system that grants users with privileges for that topic.

Turn ‘sticky’ into ‘convert to blog’ or some other better worded option. Once enough votes occur, the thread is elevated to a new tier, where the OP has more privileges.

For example…there are some threads that people use for FAQs, or Q&A’s. If someone spends hours detailing specifics on one subject, and people acknowledge it is a good resource, it should no longer follow the same discussion path that normal threads get.

It might be a lot of work for not that big of a feature…but it can eventually evolve into dynamic moderation. Where users who consistently show good behavior are automatically moved into admin roles (either for the entire site, or specific categories).

Might be fun.

(Wally) #19

I think it was a good idea. I was hoping the discussion would continue.

There is a need for something like that. For instance, if you want to allow some users to write what I would call “journals,” which means topics they started and are the main contributors and want to keep the journal tidy and on topic as they see it.

Yes, this is not a common thing on forums, and I suspect one reason for this (probably the main one) is because most forums lack this moderator option.

It would really be great if Discourse had this option. I think greater flexibility is a good thing in general.

(Fahad Ullah) #20

Do we have any update on it? Did the Discourse team introduce thread moderation?

We will be moving to Discourse in a few weeks from VB and our VB setup has thread moderation where the OP can edit/delete the replies in the thread. I was hoping if the same function is available in Discourse.