I recently stirred some minor controversy by stating my dislike of profanity filters. This wasn't intended to call out any particular company, but more to express a general dislike of the idea of the overuse of software solutions on forums. There's a common feeling that the end goal of forum software should be almost totally automating the management of the boards. Let's get a plugin to stop people posting big images, then a plugin to stop people swearing, then a plugin to make everyone think of flowers, then a plugin to hunt down Capricorns etc etc... It's a nice thought, and I understand that companies need to make a living by finding software solutions and then selling them. Unfortunately, after over a decade of running forums I just... don't buy it.
The forum features I use are banning, closing threads, stickying threads and posting. We have other stuff enabled, sure, but I've never found anything that actually worked in terms of reducing workload or improving the quality of the boards. The trend in Community Management is to pretend that things are very clean and scientific, with statistics and graphs and This One Feature You Absolutely Need, but you aren't really managing a community, you're managing people. People are messy. People find ways around automated features, or find new ways to mess up that you never thought of. The core of management isn't software, it's finding ways to get people to do what you ask of them without forcing them.
The quality of the forums I run has improved year on year since I started. It's not because forum software has changed in that time; it hasn't. It's gotten cleaner, more stable, and more efficient at providing the core, useful functionality of a forum. No, the reason my forums have improved is that my team has improved. They deal with people well. They handle a vast variety of situations well. They know when to engage and when not to. They know when people are being bullies, how to tell that a situation is developing before it becomes bad, and when to take a step back and call for second opinions. The software that can improve my team doesn't exist, and won't ever exist. Forums are about people. If your forum sucks, it's because your people suck. New features aren't going to change that.
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Guest post by Patrick Groome. Patrick is the Administrator of the Penny Arcade forums. Penny Arcade is one of the most popular and long running gaming webcomics and organizer of the PAX gaming conference.