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jenna-woodulChief community officer is the highest job title in the land – where the land is the online community industry. Earlier this year, I wrote about the career path for community management professionals, highlighting the CCO title and the first person that I had ever seen with it: Bill Johnston.

Bill informed me that he had borrowed the title from Jenna Woodul, the executive vice president and CCO at LiveWorld. I consider myself a veteran of this space, but Jenna has held the CCO title since before I even started at point A, all the way back in April of 1996. Wow. With experience going back into the 1980s, she is easily among the earliest professionals to call this a career.

I always love talking with the true veterans of our profession, so of course I wanted to interview Jenna. We talked about the chief community officer title, its future and how far this profession has come. I appreciate her taking the time to speak with me.

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It seems like I can’t go a few days without someone with a decent sized audience talking about how bad online comments are. Of course, they say this in a comment posted online – a comment they want you to read.

A lot of these people think online comments should just go away. Others have ideas for how to fix comments. I like ideas. Some of them are good, some are interesting – but many wouldn’t result in any progress.

There isn’t any magic trick when it comes to great comment sections at well-trafficked websites. You have to want it. You have to hire people whose job it is to make your comment section great. Have rules and enforce them. You can’t half-heart it, be cheap or expect it to just “work.” There is no auto-pilot, set it and forget it solution. It’s work.

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A couple of weeks ago, I shared a wonderful conversation between online community pioneer Howard Rheingold and his daughter, Mamie Rheingold. If you haven’t watched it yet, definitely check it out.

Among the many great things that Mr. Rheingold said, this quote really jumped out at me:

“If you were a good FidoNet operator, you would have a lively community. You would let people fight it out among themselves, but if things got too heated, you would try to communicate with them backstage. You would do your best to work it out. If you couldn’t work it out, you threw people out. That [operator] has to work. So Teresa Nielsen Hayden at Boing Boing or me at Brainstorms – we passionately cared about our community, so we would talk with people. We would talk with people who were outcasts, and not every outcast is a troll. If you throw out your outcasts, you lose a lot of your creativity and verve.”

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It’s natural to want to make decisions quickly, and most decisions happen just like that. There is this pressure online to act fast and respond quickly. Otherwise, you are asleep at the wheel, or you don’t care. Sometimes you just have to put those pressures aside, take a step back, and speak to those who are directly affected by the decision you will make.

At KarateForums.com, we have an articles section where members submit long form pieces that are then proof read and published. They receive a bit more polish than the average post. Due to that, they are placed in their own section and, on average, receive more attention than they might as a random thread.

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Last week, I published an interview with Bassey Etim and David Williams. Respectively, they lead the teams that moderate comments for The New York Times (NYT) and CNN. They said a lot of great things, and I really enjoyed reading it.

I didn’t want to dilute their words by making it a 2-parter, but the resulting article was so long (more than 4,000 words), that I decided to hold off on sharing my favorite takeaways. Here they are.

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CNN and The New York TimesNews organizations and online comments. If you think about that combination, what comes to mind?

There was a time when many regarded the comment sections on mainstream media sites as an example of some of the worst discourse on the web. But it is slowly getting better. Among the community management professionals leading the charge, at the highest levels of the media, are Bassey Etim and David Williams.

Respectively, they work as community managers at The New York Times and CNN. Both have been in the field since 2008, both lead the teams responsible for the moderation of comments posted on their news organization’s website.

I’ve known David for a few years now and just recently connected with Bassey. They are tremendously smart community managers and experts in moderation. If you work in this profession, you should know their names. They deal with moderation at a volume that few can fathom, in an environment that is highly charged, in a space where many people expect to be able to say their piece, no matter what that is, without restriction.

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“Photoshop this girl: Photoshop anything on her, about her and can someone please Photoshop her fat :-D.”

This is a recent post made on PhotoshopForums.com, a community that I manage. I don’t think that “make this person fat” is all that unique of a request for Photoshop and graphic design focused communities. After all, one of the things that people use the software for is to manipulate images. Sometimes they make people skinnier, sometimes they make them bald (we have had a surprising number of requests for people who want to see what they would look like bald before they actually shave their head), sometimes they put them on a bicycle.

That is to say, I am sure there are communities that would allow this request. I don’t know that I want to necessarily condemn them (it’s easy to get judgmental, harder to be patient and compassionate). But I just know that I don’t want to be one of them.

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Comic Book ResourcesComic Book Resources (CBR) is a large, long-running and influential comic book website, featuring news, reviews, blogs and an active community. Created by Jonah Weiland and launched in 1996, the site’s media kit reports that they receive more than 24 million pageviews per month from over 6 million unique visitors.

On Wednesday, Weiland announced that CBR’s current forums would be closing and would remain online for 14 days, in order to allow members to retrieve old content they wanted to save. The old forums have 12.9 million posts, with public discussions going all the way back to 2006. In their place, a new community was launched. None of the old content, nor membership information, was preserved. I learned of this story through Mark Wilkin.

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Handcuffed , Tokyo
Creative Commons License photo credit: mskogly

I had a member, who recently joined our community, create a post to criticize a martial artist they had encountered and, among their many gripes, they claimed that this person had stolen $800 of equipment from the dojo where they practice. And they named the person – first and last name.

There is an issue with this. To say that this person stole $800 worth of equipment from you, you are claiming that they have committed a crime. It is a criminal accusation and it is serious. For a very long time, I have had a policy on my communities against specific criminal accusations being made of individuals.

The reason is simple. If the person stole from you, call the police. Don’t use my community as part of a smear campaign, which is what a majority of the people who use forums for this purpose are doing. Either that or they’ve called the police and the police didn’t agree with them. Regardless, my community is not the place to make criminal accusations – it just isn’t the right venue.

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This is not a political article. I cannot stress that enough. Our comments section should remain free of general thoughts about President Obama, the Affordable Care Act or any topic that is generally political and not related to community management, moderation or the circumstance I am about to describe. Thank you.

President Barack Obama joined Quora earlier this week. His first two answers, posted Monday, were both to questions about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (answer 1, answer 2). They were of good quality, in my estimation. They both answered the question asked and did so thoughtfully. The only negative is that both included brief messages encouraging U.S. citizens to sign up for health insurance prior to next week’s deadline.

Those statements take up less than a quarter of the overall message and, since the discussion is ACA related and this is the President, I can understand how they may be generally forgivable. A tradeoff for getting the President on your platform.

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