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I’m going to be attending SXSW Interactive in March. It runs from March 7 through March 11. On March 11, I’ll be speaking on the day stage. I’ll be doing a book reading for “Managing Online Forums”. It’ll be my first time speaking in this capacity.

I will have 20 minutes on stage. I have pretty much decided that I will do a presentation around an idea the book, rather than actually reading from the book. I figure I’ll speak for 15 minutes and leave 5 for questions at the end, if there are any.

It’s really my first time doing anything like this. First time standing up in front of a group of people, first time speaking on stage, first time using PowerPoint. Plenty of firsts! Nerves aside, I am excited.

In the next week or two, I’ll be coming up with a list of presentation ideas. I’m going to post them here to hopefully get some feedback which will help me to pick the best one.

If you are going to SXSWi and would like to meet up, please feel free to let me know. I’d love to have you in attendance for the reading.

When to Report Someone to Their ISP

Posted by Patrick on January 29th, 2008 in Interacting with Members

I head over to the phpBBHacks.com Support Forums today and I have a private message report from a member telling me that there is spam everywhere. Yay! So, I take a look and … sure enough, there was a lot of spam. 273 messages, to be precise. All in the same forum. The person wasn’t spamming any link, website or organization – they were just spamming saying they were spamming. An annoying disruption, but no big deal, really, management wise. That’s why my good friend Jeremy wrote Post Remover. A couple clicks and we’re good. All posts removed. User marked as troll, IP banned. All set.

Most activities that violate my user guidelines also tend to violate most ISP’s AUPs (Acceptable Use Policy). Even so, you should be a bit choosy when it comes to what you report people to their ISP (Internet Service Provider) for. You don’t want to waste your time or the ISP’s time. You want to make sure that the person has demonstrated a serious intent to harm or disrupt your community. Most users I ban, I never report to their ISP because once they are banned, they don’t come back and that’s that. And I don’t have any vendetta against anyone – I just want them off my site. So, if they accept the ban and move on, we most likely won’t have any issues.

However, if I have a user who evades bans and tries to come back over and over again, then he’s disrupting my community and wasting my time and the time of my staff. So, I’ll report that person to their ISP. If someone comes and makes 273 spam posts, that is a serious disruption of my community (pushing new threads 10 pages down) and I’ll report that person to his ISP, as well. Mass private message spam is another thing that I will report people for. I’ll report people for any persistent activities that disrupt or harm the community, whether that’s the mass posting of junk messages, inappropriate links or pornography. That doesn’t usually happen to a point where I feel like I need to report them, so it is fairly rare.

However, when that time does come, I look up the user’s IP address and then I do a search for it on DomainTools to see who owns it. I then visit their website and contact them via their abuse contact. Most ISPs have an abuse contact designated. But, if they don’t, I’ll just use their general support contact. I simply introduce myself and explain what the issue is. In the case above, the ISP had a very limited contact form (1,000 characters), so I wrote something like:

Hello,

My name is Patrick O’Keefe and I own the iFroggy Network, an internet network of websites that includes phpBBHacks.com.

This morning, between 4:39 PM ET and 5:59 PM ET, a user posted 273 spam messages on our support forums (located at http://www.phpbbhacks.com/forums). These messages were all titled “spam” with the message “I am a spammer.” This represented a violation of our user guidelines, a serious disruption of our community and a violation of your AUP.

I wanted to report this so that the appropriate action could be taken. I would be happy to send you further documentation upon request, including the posts themselves, the IP information on those posts, our raw access logs and more.

I appreciate your time and assistance. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.

Sincerely,

Patrick O’Keefe
iFroggy Network

When you are contacting these ISPs, it’s important to remember to be calm and reasonable and to stick to facts. Don’t take your anger out on them. I generally like to attach proof with the e-mail, but the contact form for this ISP didn’t really allow for it. But, even so, always offer it to them and make sure you have it on hand to offer before you do so. I would like to believe that most ISPs want to “take out the trash”, so to speak, but to do so, they may need your help and cooperation. So, be polite, treat them with respect and give them the information that they need.

Sometimes, no action will be taken. But, sometimes, action will be taken. I remember this user who had PM spammed one of my sites. I reported him and I found him, a while later, complaining on his website about how I had reported him to his ISP and how they had suspended him (he also mentioned how I was wrong, immature, whatever). So, it does work with people. But, pick your battles and only do it when someone is truly worth it, as you don’t want to waste your time or anyone else’s.

Defending the Crazy People

Posted by Patrick on January 27th, 2008 in Interacting with Members

Months ago, there was a member on one of my sites who posted about a topic that… well, let’s say that most people who read it probably thought that he was either out of his mind or a total liar. And yet, it was something where you couldn’t be 100% sure. And, in reading his posts, he wasn’t really violating our guidelines. He’s not being rude, disrespectful, condescending… he doesn’t appear to be purposely misleading people (that we can readily see, though it wouldn’t be totally unfair to guess it) and, really, the post appears to be fine.

So, we leave the post but, of course, the thread requires moderation because of the replies that come to it. Even though the guy posted something that was decidedly odd, that doesn’t give anyone license to have at the guy – our guidelines still apply. Some people like to take it upon themselves to “save” the world from odd theories by screaming liar or fraud at anyone who posts one, but that just doesn’t fly. We want people to discuss the topic and we want them to question the member. That’s what it’s all about. However, it has to be done respectfully and it absolutely can be. The topic has required moderator attention because of the people who don’t understand this or simply have a moment of weakness. But, it’s pretty simple:

Acceptable: What’s your source for this story? I find it hard to believe.
Unacceptable: OMG. YOU ARE A LIAR!!!!!

Acceptable: This isn’t right. When I used to live in Perfectland, my friend Jerry said that the Moon is only green on May 27 during a leap year.
Unacceptable: FFFFFFRRRRAAAAAAUUUUUDDDDD!!1!!

Acceptable: The facts are fact, fact and fact. I have facts and I am stating those facts, respectfully.
Unacceptable: Everyone knows that you are making this up.

In moments like these, it feels like you’re defending the crazy people, but really, you’re just defending the integrity of your guidelines. Everyone needs to understand that, despite this one person’s perhaps crackpot theory, there is something more important here – the community itself. There is no need to personally beat anyone down in order to prove a point or to “protect” anyone. You can have a rational discussion, ask people to cite their sources and prove their theories and, if they can’t, then that speaks for itself and the topic dies because Mr. Topic Starter is unable to back anything up and everyone sees it.

Welcome to ManagingCommunities.com!

Posted by Patrick on January 27th, 2008 in ManagingCommunities.com

Hello and welcome to ManagingCommunities.com.

What is it? Well, my name is Patrick O’Keefe. I’m a writer, web developer and community administrator who has been professionally developing websites since 1998 and managing online communities since 2000. Beyond just being the administrator, however, I’ve spent substantial amounts of time contributing to communities from all angles, as a member, staff member and owner.

I founded and own the iFroggy Network, an online network of websites featuring several communities, including SportsForums.net, KarateForums.com, phpBBHacks.com, DeveloperCube, CommunityAdmins.com, PhotoshopForums.com and BadBoyForums.com.

I’ve been managing communities since 2000. It’s something that I’m passionate about and I’ve been wanting to share random thoughts, knowledge and experiences on the subject in a specialized blog for some time. I’m the author of a new book called “Managing Online Forums” and with that coming out in April, I felt that now was the perfect time to start blogging on the subject.

The blog will definitely be random thoughts. It won’t have any kind of set style or format at the start. If I have to ban someone on a given day, I may talk about that. If I had a noteworthy troublemaker or a great experience, I may talk about that. And, hopefully, if anyone contacts me with questions, I can answer those in entries, as well. I’m looking forward to sharing my day to day experiences as a community administrator and I hope that I am able to help some people, in the process.

Thank you for reading and for visiting ManagingCommunities.com.