I’d like to share a couple of forum structure ideas that have made managing the Gearbox Software Forums a little easier and an idea we’ve yet to try.
Many message boards offer a forum dedicated to allowing users to flame. For example, the Xterra Owners Club used the traditional and cleverly name, “The Asbestos Lined Room“. Our message board lacked such a forum, and the entire community was littered with negative posts.
Thus, we spun off of the traditional idea, but took it a slightly different direction. We branded the new forum in the Gearbox theme and called it “Internal Combustion”. Unlike many other forums, we still maintained a certain level of moderation over the forum. We presented the forum as a place to voice concerns about anything related to the community that might normally be inappropriate. As a surprising result, we’ve seen a lot of very constructive threads and not much flaming.
We also made another very important decision when creating the Internal Combustion forum. A large portion of our traffic comes from Internet users looking for information that happens to be on our forums. To make it easier for these users to find the information, and to present a more positive impression of our community, we hid the Internal Combustion forum from casual users. The forum can only be viewed by community members when they are logged in. We also actively move threads from other forums into Internal Combustion when appropriate. This has ultimately helped to keep our forums a little bit cleaner.
Most of our forum users don’t even know it exists. In fact, this post may be the very first and only public posting about it’s existence. I may get flamed for not keeping the secret.
Our message board attracts a lot of immature members. Our moderators stay busy trying to curb trouble makers and keep things generally productive. Even with our best efforts, the public posting areas can be unpleasant at times. In this chaos, we noticed that a lot of our regular members were very mature, very constructive, and an important element in making our community a good place to be. So, we decided to reward these members.
We created a group of hidden forums where only selected members could post. The moderators, company employees, and those selected members all found that these new forums made for a safe haven to chat and interact without the noise of the public forums.
Much to my surprise, I found that the Illuminate actually cared deeply about the success and structure of the community as a whole. Their feedback has been valuable in managing the community. So much so, that I’ve recently proposed organizing the Illuminate as a council to provide regular reports to help the moderators, admins, and our new manager further grow the community.
It’s not live yet, but we’re seriously considering it. Currently, banning users is our only real forum of management. We want to expand our punishments and add rewards so that we can better influence the community. As a first step in that direction, we are considering jailing users instead of simply banning them. We would do this by creating a forum hidden the same way Internal Combustion is hidden. When a user earns a ban by breaking rules, we would restrict them to only being able to post in this forum. The idea is that the jailed user can still interact with any other forum member who’s willing to spend time in the jail forum. The jailed user will also have a platform from which they can discuss the nature of their punishment. The user may protest, make amends, or simply enjoy the time of the sentence.
If we go ahead and try the jail out, I’ll discuss the results in a future post. In light of this positive take on changes in the Gearbox Forums, I might also offer a future post discussing what hasn’t worked or – more interestingly – what has worked against us. Hopefully, the jail won’t be part of that post.