The Universal Rules of Civilized Discourse


(Jeff Atwood) #1

Feel free to comment on the blog, too, but I wanted to open this up to a fuller discussion here as well:

The principles in the default Discourse community behavior FAQ were distilled, as best we could, from the common, shared community guidelines of more than 50 forums active for a decade or more. We hope that anyone can launch a Discourse-powered forum community with confidence, knowing that they’ve got the basic guidelines for civilized discourse covered.

I’m not sure we got it 100% right, and every Discourse forum is completely free to modify these default guidelines in any way they see fit. But we feel the current guidelines are a giant step forward for online discourse, and do justice to the concept of the Civilized Discourse Construction Kit we set out to make.

We view the community behavior FAQ as one of the most important things we ship – you can’t have civilized behavior without some basic shared guidelines that everyone follows.


Discourse is intimidating to begin using?
(Jack James) #2

I always liked the Kingdom of Loathing’s rules. But the tone here is a little more formal, and I like what you’ve come up with, especially given that it will be for a wide range of sites. The boilerplate FAQ of vbulletin is just horrifying.


(Valts) #3

I think there’s one more thing that should be squeezed somewhere in there - “Make a descriptive topic title”. This is a pet peeve of mine and other moderators in a local forum we manage. It’s just so annoying when you see a title like “Help!!!1” or “Problem”.


(Jeff Atwood) #4

I like that, and I totally agree, but I think the current live check rules we have around …

  • minimum topic title length

  • minimum topic character entropy

  • preventing all caps and !@!@$ and other nonsense titles

… works better than admonitions in the FAQ! (I am open to adding more rules here if we can figure them out.)

Writing great titles, like writing in general, is an art form. It’s hard to proscribe.


(Valts) #5

Well, that’s true I suppose. But do you think that a short sentence like that would hurt?


(Jeff Atwood) #6

I don’t think it would particularly help, any more than telling people …

Please write awesome posts!

… would help them do that. I do like the idea of adding checks (length, entropy, not too many noise chars) to the title field though, which are very effective.

Note that the pre-filled help copy for the title field is currently

Type your title here. What is this discussion about in one brief sentence?

and I am open to any improvements there too.


(Valts) #7

OK, you convinced me. :smile:


(Eugen Grue) #8

Be civil. Don’t post anything that a reasonable person would consider offensive, abusive, or hate speech.
(…) avoid even the appearance of any of these things.

Although I agree with the intention, I think this is a very strict requirement, especially in an open and international word. Many reasonable persons consider any PUA related tricks as borderline abusive, and some are personally offended (again, reasonable people).

Now, I only picked this example, because it was the first that came into my mind, but the thing is, almost all topics can appear to be abusive or offensive to a significant fraction of reasonable people.

Not that I do have any suggestions for improving the formulation. Sorry about that.


(Valts) #9

I think this is the case where you cannot make a perfect “one-size-fits-all” rules. A forum dedicated to PUA might be offensive in and of itself even. And there are a zillion topics which are so controversial that they seem perfectly reasonable to some people and totally offensive to others. And that’s even without throwing religion into the mix.

So… I think there are two things to keep in mind here:

  1. This is a fine rule for the majority or forums, although specific forums might want to reconsider it.
  2. These are, after all, only guidelines, not strict rules. So common sense still applies. As a rule, there’s an exception to every rule. :tongue:

(Jeff Atwood) #10

The general guideline in such cases is a “reasonable” person. You could also measure it as the percentage of people in your specific community willing to flag something as offensive or objectionable. Different communities have different norms, of course, and some might be more sensitive or less sensitive.

So, always have good intentions – that to me is what this text is about – but don’t hesitate to throw the post out there, and react accordingly.

It’s the people with bad intentions that we worry about. Honest mistakes are fine and can be recalibrated.


(Jeff Atwood) #11

@mcwumbly how are you feeling about this comment you made on the blog?

Regarding this item:

“Identity and ‘alts’, that is, one person using several alternate identities to post on the same forum. This ranges from a ban-worthy offense (Neowin, TTLG, most others) to completely encouraged (rpg.net, Elitist Jerks, World of Warcraft forums).”

Has any consensus yet been reached?

It seems to me that insisting on a single identity within a forum is far more encouraging of civility and discouraging attempts to subvert the reputation /trust systems.

Over time, I am inclined to agree with you on this. What good can come of “alts” in the general case? The temptation to cross-like and other shenanigans is high.


(InsaneMosquito) #12

I think it’s going to depend on the purpose of the forum. The examples listed are all gaming communities. Within that community it is common to have multiple “identities” based on what character you are playing.


(a slightly fluffy latex coated steel ball) #13

Alts only really become a problem when you start having a discourse with yourself (and dont realize) …


(Dave McClure) #14

I had forgotten about it :slight_smile:

But yeah, I still agree with it.

There may be some communities where it makes sense to behave otherwise, but to me those would generally seem a little… uncivilized.

As a default, I think it makes sense to encourage people to use a single identity.


(Lee_Ars) #15

Multiple accounts is definitely verboten at Ars. Too many incidents over the past 15 years of people sock-puppeting, thread crapping, or otherwise doing stupid things.