The Capricious Community

As more and more online communities spring up to allow like-minded people to gather around a virtual watering hole to compare notes, share tips, commiserate or what have you, the admins of those communities become the local sheriffs enforcing an often arcane version of the law of the local land.

There are no hard and fast rules for moderation and administration, nor are the admins usually trained in how to best deal with inevitable kerfluffles. Which means that they sometimes make incredibly stupid judgment calls that reverberate through the community and I'm sure some online sites have effectively disintegrated because of poor reactions from the admins and mods.

One recent example of an admin or admins reacting in the wrong way is from one of my Twitter contacts, rivkasmom. She makes some pretty cool steampunk jewelry and accessories. She used to sell them on Etsy but had not just her steampunk store shutdown after a dispute but her other store that had nothing to do with the problem. Basically what happened is she caught someone ripping off her designs and then selling them as her own. She notified the admins, they sided with the thief. She details the boondoggle at You Thought We Would Not Notice.

The Flickr community has had its own share of turmoil. From Yahoo buying the company, which sent thousands upon thousands of people into a tizzy, to wanton theft of photographs that caused many to lock down their images or leave the community altogether. I've had my own personal issues with the site after a group I started on a whim several years ago was deleted without notice, without any communication of any sort. Sure, it was a fairly low brow group but it was also a pretty popular group with several hundred members and several thousand photos added to it. The fact that they just deleted it without warning really, really rubbed me the wrong way for several weeks. I've gotten over it now but it made me seriously reconsider the site.

There are probably more failed and imploded online communities than anyone could ever track or know of. A community is a delicate creation, like a souffle, if you don't treat it gently then it can fall in on itself and become worthless.

There are, of course, plenty of counter-examples of communities that thrive because of good moderation or a transparency of the moderating process. One that leaps to mind is MetaFilter, partially because there's a specific part of the site to discuss grievances openly. And also partly because Mathowie is a very smart and level-headed guy who hires very smart and level-headed people to work for him. Another example on a much smaller scale is Skyrates, the sporadic play game I've been involved in for the last couple of years. The site and game thrive due in no small part to the openness of the developers to discuss issues openly.

Do you know of any communities that have been torn apart by capricious administrators? I'd love to hear about them in the comments.
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