Moderation. Forums live and die on their moderation, and moderation can affect the tone of a forum quite heavily. The light moderation of the official WoW forums have allowed it to become the cesspool of inanity and whining that it is known for, while the tight moderation of these forums have contributed to the high signal to noise ratio and theorycrafting discussions they are known for.
In the end, the purpose of moderation is to facilitate discussion. If there is no room for discussion, or the signal to noise ratio is too high on the noise end, there is a failure of moderation. Drowning in a cesspool of internet filth or choking under the weight of oppressive moderation, both are the death of a forum.
At one end of the moderation scale, there are no official moderators at all. The only thing keeping these forums from blowing up is pressure from the forum's community. But without official moderators, the forum is extremely susceptible to spam, trolling and death due to an overall lack of anything of value, or an inability to find anything of value in the mess.
The WoW forums are barely a step above this. The moderators clear the spam, but do little to curb trolling or whining, only getting rid of the most flagrantly bad offenders. Server forums can manage to keep some semblance of order through community pressure. Cross server trolls tend to be shouted down, and people have at least some incentive to be civil to the others, bad behavior in the server forums could result in snubbing in game. But those are practically islands of calm in the sea of filth that the rest of the forums are.
Explicit User moderation, like the type used by Slashdot, is somewhere between the two ends of the scale. It allows users some room to deal with spam and worthless posts. The pitfall of this type of moderation is that the system can often be gamed by having multiple accounts, and that posters can be blasted for posting an unpopular idea. This can work for some communities, but for something as far gone as the WoW forums it would only end up reinforcing the filth. Community moderation reinforces the norms of the community.
On the other end of the scale, there is so much moderation that it stifles discussion. The few people that remain on the forum are afraid to speak up for fear of being banned. All that are left are sycophants, and the spineless. There is no worthwhile discussion, because anyone who disagrees is gone. There may or may not be posted rules. It barely matters, because the mods will blast you if they want to. This kind of forum is functionally dead, whether any threads are going or not. There is no discussion of worth to be found here.
The Elitist Jerk forums, although heavily moderated, are a *far* cry from that. Rules are clearly spelled out, and enforced, for the most part. From time to time there are decisions I disagree with or are confused by, but those are exceptions, not the rule. When I first joined there were a handful of things that were not spelt out clearly to me, such as how much leeway does one actually have before getting a ban? With no sense of scale, it was hard to tell what infraction points really meant. And attempts to ask moderators about it were...less than fruitful. But now the amount of points before a ban are clearly spelled out in the rules post. At one point I was confused about how someone got a rule 5 infraction, but got a clarification after messaging a moderator. Now when I see rule 5 infractions for consecutive posting, moderators mention that the offending posts were merged together. As good as these forums are, they are not perfect, but there is effort to improve it.
Some questions that I've thought of on the topic, to maybe help things going, and to cut off my writing before it turns into a multipage essay:
Is it even possible to save the official WoW forums at this point, or at least salvage a part of it? Is there anything that can be done for these forums to make its moderation even better? Any disagreements with any of my comments? What exactly makes good moderation?
Just a reminder, before anyone posts their thoughts: This is not an excuse to post about how unfair it was you were dinged for some infraction or another, or about how you hate some moderator or another. On one hand, it's extremely whiny. On the other hand, it's unwise to complain about such things when they can ding you again for doing so. As interesting as I think this topic (Moderation) could be, I don't want to encourage any filth. Handle with care.
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