Most forum software in existence features a word censor. This is a valuable feature that allows you to block certain words, terms, URLs/links and other text content from being posted on your community. The most common ability that you are given is the choice to turn a word into something else.

The best use of this, in my experience, is to simply change any inappropriate terms into an asterisk (“*”). This stops the word from being posted while not hinting at what it is or playing games by changing the word to something else, which I generally view as counterproductive. This was how I used it myself.


There are a few reasons why this wasn’t perfect. The biggest one is that, on my communities, if a word or term is not allowed, it’s not allowed in any context. In full, abbreviated or self-censored. As such, whenever we saw a post that was censored by the forum software, it would need to be removed as a violation and the member would need to be contacted. In effect, the censor would help lower the impact of the word until a staff member could get to it.

Sometimes, members would see the asterisk and then edit the post to fix it, which is a good thing. Members would be surprised to see their post censored, in some cases, and they might edit the post to ask a site related question or comment on the censor, both of which we ask that members do privately, so we would likely remove the post and address it with them directly.

Ideas for Improvement

Thinking about this, I had an idea. What if instead of letting the post go through and then applying the censor, any post that was caught by the censor was simply stopped? And then it was explained to the member that their post contained an inappropriate term while highlighted the term for them in the post, informing them that they would need to update their post before submitting it? A copy of the post would be included below so that they could edit it and not lose anything that they had written.

This censor could also do the same thing for other text based profile content, such as usernames, website names, profile fields, etc.

The benefits of this were clear: members would know that there was an issue with their post before it was actually posted and could fix it before the post went live. As a staff, we wouldn’t have to remove their post. So, what we have is a time savings for members and for staff and a better overall experience for everyone.

This was back in 2005 or 2006 and, at the time, no community software in the world offered this ability, to the best of my knowledge. I don’t even know if any other software today that offer it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some.


Because I’m not a programmer, I shared the idea with my friend Jeremy Rogers, who was, at the time, a Support Team member. He developed Censor Block for phpBB 2. The idea has since spawned two hacks for phpBB 3 that do the same thing: Censor Block by Jeremy and Prime Censor Block by primehalo (Ken F. Innes IV). The former was named Hack of the Year in the Awards 2009. Thank you to Jeremy for helping me make this idea a reality.

The hacks work great and I very much recommend them to any administrator who runs a phpBB based forum. If you run one based on a different piece of software, request the add-on from the hack and customization community around that particular one. Automation isn’t always good, but this is a great example of technical innovation that simply helps your community.