The Trouble with Forums

Forgive me, folks, if you’re HUGE forum-adorers. I have loved forums in the past (nothing could beat the irreverent, rude yet hilarious folks at the brokenlizard.com forum in early to mid ’00s), and there are some forums that do a solid job for teens (the-leaky-cauldron.org and mugglenet in particular).

But, if you’re building a virtual world and you’re thinking of tackin’ on a good ole web 1.0 forum on there… please be careful. That content is NOT EASY TO MONITOR, especially if its for a popular website (like a dynamic world with a forum that’s been around for ten years that has support from a major kids network). Content flies in like a chat room, and with so many open channels/threads/etc – it’s nigh on impossibly to ensure complete appropriateness – even WITH chat filters (black list, white list, etc).

The reason in which I bring this up – I’ve seen some virtual worlds that are relatively new adding forums for an extra level of communication (chat flies by in moments, forum comments can be viewed by friends not online at the moment of submission at later times). Inappropriate chat comments can fly by – kids can report, but those comments can’t really be seen later on… where as, again, forum comments stick around until a mod comes through and cleans it up.

U13 kids generally don’t have forums (or at least SHOULDN’T). Sure – when parents give the all might “sign off” sites can do just about anything. That parent approval can be a heck of a barrier, and once passed, green light = go for websites, as long as they stated their intentions in their TOS, etc. So, once those U13 kids achieve their approval, they have the same abilities as over 13 kids, and tend to be in the populous of said-teenie boppers.

If you are a youth-targeted websites (anything lower than 17 years of age), you’re open yourself to the wrath of the public in certain respects. We (especially the momma bears) are very concerned about content our U16 youth consume. If a 15 year old is talking about beer, drugs, sex, etc – that is NOT GOOD, especially if you’re a youth network/brand/biz trying to appeal to families/parents/the world.

When bored kids are left to their own devices, their interactions start out well-intentioned, but as they grow comfortable in situations, and they realize they’re almost completely unsupervised… well, their chats/forums etc turn into rats nests. 1/10 threads are inappropriate (in my estimation), 1/5 comments are alluding to inappropriate behaviors (bullying, drug/alcohol references, intense relationships, suicide, etc) – this is what I have seen from monitoring branded websites with forums for the upper tween/young teen sites with little moderation from any staff (other than reporting to flags). As for the images that get uploaded? Seriously… I don’t know why anyone working in the online space for U18 year olds allow images to be uploaded into forums living on entertainment brand sites that do not have full time screening/moderation. I don’t get it.

Always screen comments. ASC. Where’s Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glenross when you need him? I realize it’s a CRAZY amount of work – but if you can’t handle that work, maybe you shouldn’t do it, yeah?

The reason for me to plead/rant today? Well, part of my screener staff training is to know the ins & outs of our competitors. A member of my team shared screen caps from a certain dynamic-vw (that will go unnamed) that freaked the crap out of me. My team update me on constant types of convos kids share in forums, or say to them in the various worlds. “Dying” epidemics, suicide threats, emotional tramas, inappropriate images, etc. Sure – take ALL THINGS with a grain of salt, and I’m not making any of these comments because I think you should worry about the content kids are sharing… a lot of it is situational exploration. I’m more or less alerting you to the possible content that will appear under the website umbrella of YOUR property, YOUR brand, YOUR biz. Are you prepared to have these things within your site? Do you have practices in place for DEALING with said-content (not only from the on-site community, but also the rabblerousing kids (although, rebel-rousing could work in some weird sense too, lol), the worried parents, and the biz folks associated to your site).

A great community manager will be on guard for this… but community managers on’t always get to make that “don’t put a forum on our site” call, ya know? And if you’re still wanting that forum-esque content… how can you pull the “good” aspects of community, repurpose, and develop into other tools/applications etc? Creativity and innovation to solve the less than stellar issues, think about it 😉

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  1. September 30, 2008 at 4:44 am

    Great article. I don’t thing there should be forums for kids. And if they are, they should be moderated at all times. 24/7. The only way to protect all children. You just never know who is peeking around the corner.

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