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My blast from the past….Guidelines for Community Moderators

I have to apologize for slacking off on the blog recently. I’ve been heads-down in a project that’s chewing through my time and not leaving much bandwidth for writing. I did, however, start reminiscing with an old colleague at the E2.0 conference in Boston and it got me thinking about how we keep revisiting the same basic ideas in the context of new technologies.

This got me thinking of  BBS that I ran back in the early to mid-90s and how many of the guidelines for community are just as valid now as they were then.

I left in some of the technical information for context and omitted the inventory of feeds (it was tedious then and even more so now). For those of you that can’t find anything better to do with your time, in the spirit of laziness, I present…

The OnRamp Community Moderators Guide (circa 1993)

Thanks for volunteering (or being recruited) to become a community moderator for the OnRamp BBS. The term “Moderator” is a bit misleading, since your role is actually one of mentor, advocate and facilitator. However, “moderator” is the common term used in the BBS community, so we’ve stuck with it.

To get your started, this document will provide you with some background information on the system, our various content channels as well as some guidelines for becoming a successful community builder and advocate for your users. We ask that you take the time to review this document thoroughly both to make sure that this is a role that you’d like to take on, as well as to provide you with some guidance to help you get started.

The technical mumbo-jumbo

As a current member of the board, you’re probably aware of at least some of the features. However, the OnRamp is one of a new generation of bulletin board systems that’s paving the way for a new interconnected worldwide community of users. (and no, that’s not just marketing rhetoric). It’s important to understand that unlike most BBS systems, we’re connected with a number of national and international networks and many of our communities are essentially “syndicated” to the world. So, your role as a community manager is not just a local responsibility. It’s also a commitment to ensure that we respect, collaborate and cooperate with the communities that we interact with. We’re also one of the few public BBSs with Internet connectivity. The Internet is a series of high-speed data connections based on leased telephone, data or satellite links. Unlike dial-up connections, our data circuits are always on and have real-time access to tens of thousands of computer systems around the world. This allows our users to send email (via UUMAIL), transfer files (via HoloUUCP), collaborate in real time (using Searchlight chat and Tribal Voice) and reference a huge library of files and document repositories via ARCHIE, GOPHER or WAIS (for more details, please refer to the Internet FAQs in the system Help conference). We have also recently implemented NCSA Mosaic support for our PPP users (Precompiled Win3.0 and WFW binaries as well as Unix SysV sources available in the main Tools File library). Mosaic provides a freindly graphical interface to standard standard Internet tools as well as support for hypertext and hyperlinked graphics similar to Apple’s Hypercard stack, but in a networked context. The topic is a bit broad to cover here. but we’ve already embraced the technology and adopted many of our site features to work through a Mosaic front-end.

<available feeds and interconnects omitted…>

SearchLight: In addition to standard BBS functionality, we also provide online questionnaire and survey tools, a full graphical interface based on TeleGrafix RIPdraw, real-time chat via Unix TALK protocols, Searchlight Chat and an experimental HyperText system based on NCSA Mosaic. You can also offer guided tutorials or tours of the system (or any connected systems) using Tribal Voice.  These tools are all available to our community moderators to help you personalize and tailor the community to your users. Even if you’re part of a larger community feed, feel free to customize the experience for your users. We also encourage you to share your developments with the world. Community is about sharing information, not hoarding it….which brings us to the most important part of this document…

Guidelines for Community Moderators

1. Make sure that you want to do this.

Being a community moderator is not a way to attain personal power or recognition. It’s not about you, it’s about the users. They own the community. They’re the ones that will shape it, guide it and develop it. It’s the role of the moderator to understand the will of the community and to act as an advocate and a tool of the community. You will have tremendous power and visibility. But if you attempt to make it about you, the community will take your power away in a heartbeat. Either they’ll find a way to make your life miserable, they’ll push you out or they’ll simply abandon the community for greener pastures. Functional communities are the embodiment of democracy and dictators (even benevolent ones) are not tolerated.

2. Remember that the community exists for it’s own sake, not for yours.

Communities are not about supporting The OnRamp, supporting the sysops, corporate sponsors, product groups, you, me or any specific individual.They exist because of group of people decide that they want it to exist. No company, organization or individual can mandate a community. It’s also not a case of “If you build it they will come”. You can build an infrastructure and you can plant the seeds of a community by providing interesting, relevant content and conversation. But ultimately, it comes down to the collective will of the users whether the community will live or die. As a moderator, you’re the caretaker of the community, not the “owner”. You need to encourage the contributors and discourage the disruptive influences. You need to seed content when things are going slowly. You need to diagnose problems, lack of interest or frustration and encourage discussion to resolve the issues. A gardener can’t make a garden grow. They can simply plant seeds, water it when there’s no rain, fertilize the soil, trim away the dead plants and weeds and occasionally rotate the crops to keep the soil productive.

3. Engage, recruit and empower those that are willing to help from the ranks of the community

You are a tool of the community. But you can’t build anything with just one tool. Recognize your own strengths and weaknesses and engage other members of the community to work with you. Many well-intentioned moderators have burnt out by trying to do everything by themselves. In most well-developed communities, the members will end up taking control whether you like it or not. Encourage those that are supporting the will of the people and try to refocus those that are working against the greater whole. Publicly acknowledge, reward and empower those that are helping to build the community

4. Keep the conversations relevant, interesting and exciting

Don’t censor content, but if the noise starts to surpass that actual useful signal, you need to step in and try to get things back on track. Many communities will go through phases of “irrelevant chatter”, so don’t be too quick to shut things down. Occassionally people need to blow off steam and these flights of fancy are one way that they do it. But when people start to get annoyed or your core community members are getting lost in the noise, it’s time to step in. A community has to provide some sort of value or it will die. That value can be unique information, social interaction, entertainment or something totally unexpected. If your community is happy with the direction, support it. If they aren’t, intervene. But don’t assume that you, personally, are the measure of that value.  Watch the feedback and conversation and if in doubt, ask your community.

5. Allow the community to change them even if you disagree with the direction

It’s not about you. If you get to the point where the direction of the community has become something that you can’t support, then get out. I know that it’s harsh, but it’s very difficult to be an effective advocate for something that you personally disagree with. Talk with your users. Express your concerns and figure out the best way to help them reach their goals. If the best way is to replace you, then work to transition out gracefully, professionally and without being a jerk about it. If the community begins to fragment and there are clear factions forming, consider splitting the community into different groups. People evolve and so do communities, so don’t stand in the way of that evolution. When it makes sense to do so, support and encourage changes, splits, mergers or even entirely new directions without alienating the people themselves.

6. Take risks/Don’t be afraid of failure/Admit mistakes

You’re human and so are the members of your community. They’re going to want to try new things, push boundaries and experiment. As Moderator, you need to facilitate these activities, find ways to limit the risk and then either adopt the changes or discard them without blame, bad feelings or any implied loss of respect for the people that suggested them. If you aren’t taking risks, you’re stagnating. So work with your community to encourage new thinking and new ideas and don’t be afraid to admit when something goes wrong. Even if it’s not your fault, you can earn a lot of good will by accepting responsibility instead of allowing blame to fall on community members (even if they were clearly responsible). Allowing the lynching party to go after a community member will just create dissent and make others think twice before suggesting a new idea. By focusing the attention away from specific individuals, you can help to develop a team mentality without really creating any risk for yourself personally.

7. Facilitate, don’t direct

Occasionally, you’ll have a strong opinions or ideas on a subject. As a moderator, you should try to take a back seat and encourage discussion and debate before throwing your own opinion out there. Ask questions. Call out the experts and active members of the community to comment. Encourage debate. It’s easy for a conference to become a soapbox for the moderator. But it’s not about you. If you guide discussions into a narrowly defined “back alley”,  you kill the dialog and the community becomes nothing more that your personal journal. You need to encourage and inspire your community to communicate. It may take some practice, but pay attention to how people respond to your postings and watch for the “dead end”. Diffuse threats to the community politely, publicly and with respect, but avoid dictatorial threats or using your authority/power to shut someone down as a “first response”. Engage other members of the community in determining more decisive responses if discussion, facilitation or gentle suggestions don’t do the trick.

8. Don’t be a corporate mouthpeice

Some of you or your community members may feel the need to represent employers, services, products, etc. That’s fine. But don’t try to use the community as a marketing tool or a corporate soapbox. If the community smells a “corporate agenda”, members will treat it like a dead skunk. I can’t say it enough; The community is about it’s members, not you. Not your company. Not your product. Even if the conference is “GumbyTech, Inc.”, it’s not about GumbyTech. It’s about the people interested in GumbyTech and what the company offers them. If you turn it into a sales and marketing tool, you’ll have sold out the community and basically told them that you care more about your sales than interacting with your customers. Communities have to consist of dialogs and not “targeted communications”. If you aren’t prepared to have honest, genuine dialog then you don’t belong in a community. Keep this in mind as moderator. Throw the press releases, product announcements and other one-way communications into the Files sections and don’t interrupt the conversation with it. Think about how you’d feel if someone sat down next to you on a bus, delivered a sales pitch and then walked away without even waiting for a response. That’s what these unilateral postings are in the Community space. They can sometimes be disguised as dialog, but you’ll recognize them almost immediately as propaganda.

9. Be genuine

You can be professional and still be genuine. Be a human being. Share personal insight and feelings on subjects. Share personal stories if they’re relevant. Be honest and be approachable. A community is an ongoing social event and it’s about people, not jobs, titles, roles or any sort of posturing. As a moderator, this is especially important. People need to feel that you’re approachable and working on their behalf. They also want to make sure that you’re supporting them and not your own agenda. The best way to help them understand that is to talk with them. Engage in the dialogs and encourage your members to participate. Also, try to be as transparent as possible. Don’t expose people that have contacted you in confidence. But explain decisions that you may have to make and talk about difficult or controversial issues that may arise (like banning disruptive members, removing postings, etc.)

10. Provide a release valve

Make sure that you clearly and repeatedly let people know how to get in touch with you and how to submit complaint or issues. It may be obvious to you and long time members of your community, but if you don’t make sure that everyone knows that there’s a release valve somewhere, issues and frustrations will leak back into the community by default. Some of the issues should be discussed out in the open, but there are also situations where members will want to be more discrete. Make sure that they know how to get a message to you privately.

11. Promote and publicize your community leaders and contributors

Reposting or highlighting content as “Editors Picks”, “Community Highlights” or some other form of award or recognition can encourage a much deeper level of participation. If a thread is particularly active or a discussion is highly rated or relevant, call it to the attention of others. If there’s a related community that might have a particular interest in the discussion, send a note to their moderator (visible in the Conference information pages). You may draw in new members into your community or provide some visibility for your own community members.

12. Engage the grey matter

Use your brain. Don’t get caught up in rules, politics or the letter of the terms of service. Use common sense and respect for your community members as your guiding principles and you’re unlikely to go wrong.

Welcome to The OnRamp


John P. Benfield – jpbenfield

President – The OnRamp, LLC

April 17, 1993

Top signs that you work for a Dysfunctional Organization

  • You bring in Jim Varney (The ‘Hey Vern!’ guy) as a quality consultant
  • The first words out of your boss’s mouth are : “Back when I was in the mob. . .”
  • Your manager arranges for a series of project management classes given by a talking horse
  • All of your projects exactly fit the needs of the marketplace — as it existed in 1970.
  • Nobody in the group wants to volunteer to help build low-cost housing for the poor, but 8 out of the 10 members DO want to build a armed compound eight miles from town.
  • For a group outing, members want to take rifles and go to the top of a nearby tall building….
  • You move your team meetings to the local psychiatric hospital because six out of the nine members have rooms there anyhow.
  • Your new co-worker turns to you and says, “Hi. I am the almighty Lucifer. I’ve come to claim your immortal soul. What’s your name?”
  • Pants are optional on Tuesdays Read the rest of this entry »

Q: Luck is for Losers, Work is for Winners. What say you?

Some will say hard work is what gets you your success. Some will say luck is essential as well as hard work. What say you?

Angeline Lim

Tactical, Multilingual, Creative, Imaginative, Haiku-lover.

Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.

Thought of the Day

“One who asks a question is a fool for five minutes. One who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.”

– Chinese Proverb

Age Discrimination

So I am 50 plus how do I get employers to take me seriously?

Jacqueline Ann Mc Kenzie

Independent Human Resources Professional

“One thing that I would suggest is taking a step back and making sure that it’s a real issue and not your own insecurity. If it’s a real issue, again, check to see if there’s anything that you’re doing to make the situation worse. I started contract programming when I was 13. I was in a management position before I was 20 and I’ve always been very conscious of the exact opposite problem that you have. Now that I’m pushing <mumble mumble> I should be feeling the young bucks nipping at my heels, but instead, I still feel like the 17 year-old having to prove myself. The odd part of this is that this is somehow coming through in some subconcious behavior and I generally find myself connecting more with the younger employees than with the people my own age. On the flip side, I had a person younger than I was that was continually complaining that he was being discriminated against because of his “advanced” age. We sat down together and started documenting the issues and then had some open conversations with the team. It turns out that the “young people” felt that he was discriminating against them because of their lack of experience and they responded by treating him as the “old dude”. Once we all got on the same page, it was easy to see where the disconnects were coming from and how some subtle little turns of phrase, ways of responding and just ways of working were contributing to building walls between them. Both sides had a part to play in the problem and it became a really nasty feedback loop. In this case, simply breaking the cycle pretty much corrected the problem. I’m not suggesting that you run out and hop on the latest trends or try to act younger than you are. Just be yourself and look past age. If you expect to not be taken seriously, there’s a very real risk that you’ll create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Take the time to document what you’re seeing and how you’re responding. Then try to review it objectively when you aren’t “in the moment”. If, after taking that into account, there is still a problem, involve HR and see if you can get some dialog opened to address the issues. Good luck!”

Fact vs. fiction in resumes

How do you determine facts vs. fiction in resumes?

With massive lay-offs in almost every industry sector, people are busy finding jobs! Resume writers and career coaches advice applicants to be specific (What was the problem and how you solve it?) and not to give job descriptions or list of positions. One thing they strongly recommend is to “quantify” your achievement.

I like to read patents and resumes. I read resumes posted on-line and find people to do exactly that – “quantify”. We all know that industrial achievements do not come from a single individual but from efforts of many (along the entire value chain). When a sales manager claims to have increased sales by 300% – what S/he exactly means? From $1000to $3000 (easy to do) or from $3 million to $ 9 million (difficult to do). When an egineer or mid level supervisor claims of designing a process/ product/ method which saved company $x millions or cretaed $ x million market, who provides those figures and how do you verify that? We know that changes in industry comes at costs and benefits. I also see, people giving almost a page long achievements for jobs lasting 6 to 9 months, and some are quite astonishing. Either the yard stick for success has shrunk or people have become really good at what they do ! I see people claiming to create market for 100s of millions but were let go!

I also question value of references applicant provides. Everyone will provide references of people they have good raport with. Employers are concerned about legal problems and always ask managers to be careful when they give their name out as reference.

So, my question is – what is the meaning of quantifying achivements for sake of quantifying? How do you screen resumes with such bold claims?

Amit Dharia, Ph.D.

Owner, Transmit Technology Group, LLC, TX

This comes back to a recurring issue that I have with the recruiting industry. It used to be that there was a rapport between a recruiter and a candidate. The recruiter would work as an agent for a group of people and as an agent for a group of companies. They’d come to know the strengths and weaknesses of candidates as well as the cultures and unwritten requirements of the companies. The two of you would work together to determine how best to present your qualifications to the hiring manager. Now it’s just “send me a resume and I’ll forward it”. There are a few of the “old school” recruiters out there. But they’re becoming fewer and farther between.

Recruiting is now such a commodity industry, that it’s created this “tooth-and-nail” approach to resumes. People state accomplishments in the hopes that their “60%” improvement will get them ahead of the people with only a “50%” improvement listed on their resumes. Completing a project 3 months ahead of schedule pushes those meager “completed on schedule” people into the circular file. It’s all about marketing. No product goes to market saying simply “it does exactly what you’re looking for”. Similarly, very few resumes get considered if they simply list skills and experience. They have to have that “Cleans 50% whiter than white!”, “Delivers 20% better than brand X” feel or they end up in the bin.

What makes this worse is that there are so many recruiters that expect you to have a “one-size-fits-all” resume. You have to somehow cram every possible contingency into a single document. For someone like me who has worked in multiple industries, across multiple disciplines and successfully built and run consulting practices (which requires a lot of cross-functional knowledge and skills), my resume ends up reading like a complete work of fiction. Is it too good to be true? No, not really. I consider myself slightly more skilled than the average bear in a wide number of disciplines, but I know that there are a lot of experts who could blow me away in any single area. I also know enough to know what I don’t know and how to surround myself with talented people to fill the gaps.

So, when I have to second-guess what a recruiter may be looking for without knowing anything about the possible job opportunity, company or even industry, the best way to get their attention usually ends up being to bandy around a lot of numbers and accomplishments without a lot of focus on specific skills or expertise. Honestly, I’m more proud of rescuing disasters by the skin of my teeth than I am of pulling off great numbers in a supportive, mature environment. But it’s the big flashy stuff that usually engages the recruiters in conversation. It’s that conversation that allows me to present myself in a more focused manner.

If a resume gets your attention, I’d be more inclined to call the individual on the claims. They should be able to back them up with specifics. How they respond and what skills and knowledge they have to back them up is really what’s important. Selective background checks should be the last step before presenting them to your client. At that point, you can ask specific questions about roles, responsibilities and accomplishments instead of “did they really generate 100M of business?”

The value of Reputation

Would you share a key business lesson you learned?

Hi, my Business Networking International (BNI) associate and I are the education coordinators for our chapter and are writing 50 life/business lessons, one for each week. We will seek publishing later on down the line, and readers would value a diverse population. Do you have a story of a lesson you would wish to share?

Kevin Harville

Total Success Teams / New Eras Media

Your only asset with any true long-term value is your reputation.

Providing less than your very best, bad-mouthing your competition, overselling, under-delivering or misrepresenting yourself will all come back to bite you eventually. If you’re honest, open and ethical in your business dealings, you may lose out to someone “less scrupulous” in the short term, but your reputation will ultimately earn you back far more in the long run. You’ll also sleep easier at night knowing that you’re doing the “right thing” for your customers and for yourself.

Job Search Transparency

From my perspective, the best scenario with a future boss is to build a relationship based on mutual trust and respect, which implies a certain amount of transparency as the process unfolds in the interview and job search process.

The question from a potential boss and liaison to a mentor: If a potential boss asks to know when/if any other potential employers are putting pressure on a candidate, then what do you think that they are expecting to know?

-More importantly and another and yet the same question also, to promote the best relationship of integrity with whomever the employer ends up being, what would they expect to know about your job search progress?

-A) You are being pressured to take a certain job

-B) You are considering a certain offer

-C) You are interviewing with X number of companies

-D) “Other”

Thank you for sharing your thoughts about this.


Sherri Douville

Life Sciences Capital Market Insight

I would say that the only relevant information is whether you’re actively interviewing and if you have any impending offer. If the job that you’re interviewing for is the one that you really want, it wouldn’t hurt to say “This sounds like an amazing opportunity and it would certainly be my first choice if you decide that I’m the right candidate.” and then offer to call the hiring manager before accepting any other position.

Try to be open and honest without giving away too much information. On more than one occasion, I’ve passed over a candidate that was shotgunning interviews in favor of the one that wasn’t actively looking but really thought that it was an excellent opportunity to get into the company. On the other hand, I’ve also given preference to a candidate that really needed the job and would appreciate it rather than to the person who was likely to leave in 6 months for greener pastures. In many ways it’s as difficult for the hiring manager as it is for the candidate.

Never lie or exaggerate in an interview. That includes the “offers on the table” and interviewing questions. Don’t volunteer information that’s not relevant. But don’t lie about it. If you’re uncomfortable answering, just say so and decline to answer. Nobody expects total transparency on day one. But they do expect honesty.

The Recruiter Paradox

If they are looking for you and you are looking for them……

Then why are so many recruiters having a hard time fullfilling positions and people are still unemployed?

It amazes me that several hundreds of what seem like fantastic candidates have the words “seeking position” or similar in their profiles, and recruiters are breaking down my in-box with postings of job openings hoping that I can find a candidate. Why are the (2) not finding each other?

As a candidate, why would you not seek the recruiter by searching keywords and recruiters, why would you not seek candidates by the keyword “seeking”

Can’t we just all get along? Am I missing something? I have assisted with 25 job fullfillments this year alone? Should I be a recruiter?

Cher Lon Malik

Military wife: SHRM Member, Benefit consultant; B2B, Inside Sales: Job Angel

The days of personal recruiting are coming to an end. It’s all about broadcast spams and other shotgun mechanisms. Why search through resumes and make phone calls when you can use keywords to mailbomb 10000 candidates in a matter of seconds.

I get email, phonecalls and even paper mail from recruiters that have obviously never even bothered looking at my resume. Some of these are just ridiculous. (“I have a PERFECT match for you as an entry level fry cook at the local McDonalds. Why aren’t you responding to me?”).

I suspect that the answer comes down to laziness. If a recruiter can send you a single email and you then qualify candidates for them out of a pool of 1800+ contacts, why would they bother trying to search the candidates themselves? (hopefully you’re getting a commission on at least some of these referrals). The guys that are still using the personal touch are probably being pounded out of business by the spammers.

Just my two cents worth

What has been the role of chance in your professional life?

What has been the role of chance in your professional life?

Each one of us plays a fundamental role in building a dreamed state of affairs about what we want for our future professional life. In fulfilling this goal, most of us assume a long and hard learning process where continuous exposure to new knowledge, experiences, other professional and new information have profound and irreversible repercussions over our professional life.

In many circumstances, random facts and unexpected things may happen and our vision of the desired state of affairs is then distorted, blurred and in some circumstances, this vision may suffer from profound transformations that determine a new future state of affairs and a new reality ostensibly different from our dreamed vision.

What has been the role that random and unexpected facts have played in your professional life?. At what extent is possible that one may control the power and influence of chance over our professional life?

As always your responses are welcome and well appreciated.

Octavio Ballesta

Global Thinker ? Corporate Strategist with Operational Master Plan

There’s an old saying that “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”.

I, personally, beleive that “lucky” people are the ones that expose themselves to situations where opportunities might arise, see the opportunities and ensure that they’re in a position to take advantage of opportunities when they come along. From that perspective, you’re almost entirely in control.

Unlucky people tend to be the ones who are unprepared to deal with risks and often have their lives built on a very precarious set of assumptions. (“This job is going to last forever”, “I can carry debt forever”, “I don’t need to take care of my health”, etc.) and one chance event can bring the whole structure tumbling down. “Lucky” people take the hit, recover and try to move on.

Probability and chance still play a part. But, as a friend of mine used to say, you’ll never catch a fish from your living room. Put yourself out there, place yourself in situations and among people who are most likely to present the opportunities and you’ll find that your “luck” increases exponentially.

Hope for the best outcomes and pursue opportunities as if they’re already realities, but be prepared for the worst.

“I’m a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” – Thomas Jefferson

Good Luck 🙂