Creative Commons License photo credit: Nikolai O.

A couple of days ago, on Twitter and Facebook, I remarked that “if I wasn’t a professional, I’d start “forum users from hell” and share the messages I get from some people.” In response, I received messages from 7 people supporting the idea (as well as two additional people liking the message on Facebook).

When I said it, it wasn’t necessarily a legitimate site idea I was considering, but when people responded as they did, I began to think about it. As I did, I thought I’d share my thought process here, in order to get feedback from you – people managing communities (veterans and new people alike) and those thinking about doing so. After you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Back Story

Clients From Hell is a popular humor site where designers share conversations they’ve had with clients, or potential clients, where the client has said something that is unreasonable or exhibits a general lack of computer, design or internet knowledge.

Through my various social network presences, I sometimes share a frustrating message I receive from a member of one of my communities, usually it’s a banned or soon to be banned user who is saying something vulgar, rude or otherwise very disrespectful. For example, the Stalin, Hitler, gestapo stuff, creepy banned users, people who call you names or make snide remarks about what they view is your background or place in life. In other words, big time jerks.

This is a part of life for a community or forum administrator. You have to apply your guidelines in a fair and even manner and people don’t like it. You get the nastiest, meanest things said to you. Some people treat you like complete and total garbage, saying things you’d never imagine saying to another human being. That’s the way it is.

And, the way that I run my operation is that no one really knows about that stuff except me and my moderators. Most members are blissfully unaware of what I deal with and that is how I want it.

So, with all of these factors in mind, you can see how the idea of Clients From Hell might merge with what community administrators have to deal with to form a new humor site.

The Pluses

It would be quite a hilarious endeavor for many people that run or have run an online forum or community. It would provide an outlet and a means of venting, if you will, for people that deal with these sorts of issues, and inspire a sense of camaraderie between administrators. No, you are not alone.

Serving as a means of educating general forum users about what the administrators have to deal with, it might have the effect of softening the perspective of some, when it comes to community guidelines and the staff that works behind the scenes at the community that they enjoy.

It could be a new website for me to run that fits in with the sites I already manage and is related one of my passions, which is online community.

The Minuses

Some of the people who replied to the idea on Twitter and Facebook suggested I could do it anonymously. Obviously, the person who sent the message would need to be protected because the stupid, disrespectful, rude things that they said would reflect badly on them and might cause them some form of harm. That creates a legal issue that would make the whole thing not worth it.

Does the administrator submitting it need to be anonymous? Well, if I allow others to submit messages, and not just myself… yes, they definitely do. Because it could reflect poorly on them and the organization they represent. The fun in this is laughing at how bad people can be, not targeting an individual and affecting their life.

And that brings another issue. If you absolutely have to do something like this anonymously, is it worth doing? Generally, I don’t believe that anonymity is the playground of professionals. I write here, under my name. I run my communities, under my name. I sign my messages, with my name. I want to be accountable. That’s how this works.

Anonymity is a challenge to productive online communities. I believe that. But, at the same time, that doesn’t mean all anonymity is bad.

In your opinion, would my involvement in such a site be unprofessional or unbecoming of me? Would it cause you to think less of me? I take my position in the community space very seriously and generally try to set a good example for others to follow. So, this is a concern for me.

Another question I found myself asking: do I want my moderators doing it? It’s fine for me, the administrator and owner of the community, to decide what or what not to share in this context. But, if I were to create and support this sort of thing, would I be opening the door for my moderators to submit messages they receive to it? And how do I feel about it? That, I am not sure of. It sort of makes me uncomfortable.

Corporate World
Creative Commons License photo credit: steelsoul

In researching this, I came across some articles that I felt eloquently criticized the idea of Clients From Hell and would be applicable in considering this issue, as well.

Daniel Eckhart at numerosign and Craig Grannell at Revert To Saved both make some excellent points about Clients From Hell. Namely, many of the comments on Clients From Hell aren’t really people being rude, but people who just don’t know what they want and are speaking from an area of inexperience. That’s why they are paying designers thousands of dollars, if not more. They are paying for the designers to read their comments and offer a strategy in a polite, respectful manner. If they were experts in design, they wouldn’t be paying the designer in the first place.

“Some of the clients from hell seem to think a custom website can be had for a couple hundred dollars,” writes Eckhart. “That’s not their fault either; help them understand why it’s worth more. Just as a Hyundai and a Lexus may look alike to someone who doesn’t know, our clients may not at first understand what makes our work different from a Blogger template. Want to be treated like a professional? Act like it. Want authority? Here’s your chance to pull up your britches and earn it.”

Both suggest that Clients From Hell encourages a sense of superiority for designers or “design snobbery” that is unbecoming of a professional.

Grannell rightly points out that context is missing from many statements on the site. A question about unicorns or a “blacker black” might sound funny on it’s own, but the context of that question might paint a legitimate question or, at least, someone who is looking for the expertise that they are paying for.

James Chartrand, writing for Freelance Switch, wonders why there isn’t a competing site for the rude or odd things that freelancers say to clients and suggests that maybe clients are just better mannered. I’m not sure if that’s it, but I will say that I have worked with designers with plenty of talent who had an ego to match and seemingly detested feedback. It was a chore to talk with them and I always avoided them after completing whatever it is that were working on.

Another concern that I have is that people may take the site to mean that I don’t appreciate my members or that members who are jerks are the norm. Both of those paint the wrong picture and would be completely false. But, by paying the jerks attention through a dedicated website, we may be creating a unrealistic image.

Finally, there may be a legal issue tied to the site. Essentially, you are quoting words written by another person and sent privately to the person who submitted them. With forums, this may be a message sent through the private message facility to the administrator or, at least, via e-mail. I haven’t investigated this issue deeply and there may very be a strong fair use or parody argument at work here.

Closing Points

It is worth pointing out that a site focused on forum users could avoid some of these issues by simply focusing on rude remarks that members make in the abuse of members of staff. If I did it, and I’m not saying that will happen, I would specifically not want comments where members ask questions about the forum software, etc. – questions that some would deem “newbie” and may laugh at, but are natural questions that administrators should encourage and answer.

As well, forums are simply different. A client/designer relationship is a paid relationship where a client pays a designer for their professional efforts. A member/administrator relationship is usually not a paid (money wise) relationship. A member visits the community and may or may not interact with the administrator at all, while seemingly deriving some value from what the administrator is responsible for managing.

So, now I have walked you through my mind as I consider an idea. I’m still not sure about all of this. Right now, if I had to give me an answer, I’d say that parts of it make me uncomfortable and, because of that, I probably wouldn’t do it, as I am concerned about how it would be perceived and how it would affect the view of me as a professional and someone who cares about this space.

On the other hand, maybe I am being too serious. This is an issue all community administrators will deal with if they manage a community with any sort of terms or guidelines, and it is something that we must make light of and laugh at, as part of maintaining general sanity and a bounce in our step. We deal with crazies and straight up jerks and we must be able to laugh, brush that dirt off our shoulder and keep it moving. Maybe this site would provide a vehicle for that.

I’d like to know what you think. Please tell me in the comments. Thank you.