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Friday, September 4, 2015

Why Popular Online Communities are Gated

Online communities are almost exactly like real life communities in psychology and governance. There are different types of neighborhoods like walled gardens, open and gated communities. So what is a gated community? Gated online communities are those that have implemented security or codes of conduct that restrict the freedoms of it membership.

Sometimes what was once thought to be a forum  for the freedom of expression becomes a prison for content makers. Indicators
 for sweeping changes in preparation to protect a websites online reputation  or brand are some or more of the following.

  •  Do not trust members  to show good conduct and common sense.  
  •  Have filtered and moderated content and subject matter
  •  Have specific membership criteria such as contributions, email address or locale.

Walled Gardens vs. Gated Communities

In a walled garden like  where people get invited and some even pay to get in. Walled gardens can be like Disneyland cool and fun for while because you went in willingly with eyes open.

Gated communities are based mostly on privilege and timing. Timing falls in the category of being one of the first in before the gate is built by existing members. Gated communities  are annoying and people either avoid them or leave them because of  the rules.  A gated community is specifically designed to keep out  the ahem!  "unwanted element".  It starts out with  keeping out spammers but changes in to something else very rapidly.  Usually changes in site architecture followed by bylaws to keep community environment pure and clean. A lofty goal but one not  easy to accomplish in reality. This is because communities of this sort tend to constrict the freedoms that most associate with being online. This usually happens as the communities grows and the freedom of expression changes into the commodity of strategic content.


The decision of what is news and what is not should be left up to the individual. As long as the content is within the guidelines of tastefulness and does no harm. Otherwise it is Discriminatory or at the very least showing inequity to the content producers. Guidelines should never be so strict that they can be interpreted as censorship.


Exclusionary, elitist and anti-social. Elitism does not create or promote better "high quality" and more searchable content. Creates a hill of denials to be searched through by the membership and search engine bots. Similar people unable to get in a particular neighborhood walk around the area.  They park along the boundaries  congesting and cluttering surrounding streets and pathways with traffic. Traffic considered unworthy or unwanted by the communities  residents.

Community shredding

A community that uses a reputation system as a reward for guiding behavior and gaining status.  When it works well, reputation is an effective discriminating signal that promotes trust and collaboration based on trust. The problem with most systems is that they only implement a system based on one way trust. The content producer is to trust the membership. Like all things one-sided abuse is used frequently  in a strategy to gain more status and ego. Reputation systems work well in the beginning but as a community grows it divides the trusting parties more and more.  Soon the only residents of the community are those with high reputation scores blocking those newcomers with  lower scores. Similar in a fashion to the real-life problem of income differential and inequalities. 

Expected  gated community 

in  open source  cms  and other software places like will be created. The fact that they are gated is an expectation. The same applies to paid membership sites.

They impose lightweight security features  such as CAPTCHA and  depend on user input as moderation. Some try to establish a team mentality to hold down the friction of individual moderators and membership in fighting.

Accidental  Gated Community

Many communities implement lightweight security changes designed to make the environment more comfortable. They are not gating the community but trying to make it safer and less chaotic.

But sometimes due to the lack of user input a community leadership might implement what they think is best for the community but in actuality it is too much and heavy handed for the amount of activity or number of active users. It is not until later that their mistake is discovered when those on the outside looking in  inform them that what they have done  is not better. The possibility is that they have created choke points  for those seeking to join rather than a better environment for existing users.

To Far Too Soon

Unexpected gated communities can happen in cases the community unknowingly falls under the protection of the leadership. When those in charge or already inside the gates see their taken measures only as a minor inconvenience for the protection of the communities brand.

 Think of a real life neighborhood where in an effort to reduce crime sidewalks  are lined with fences and streets blocked with speed bumps traffic restriction pillars.  Patrols by neighborhood watch volunteers are imposed. Maybe the residents think they live in the same conditions but anyone visiting the community from outside can see all the evidence that they do not.

Problems with online communities arise after security measures against spamming are carried a step too far too soon. When members are given more than the right to identify spam but also to eliminate it.

The Problem with Humanity

The greatest problem arises when  the community increases it's policing of the rules by adding human moderation or increasing them in number.  This is illustrated in the recent debacle with moderation at the center. In reality the implementation of  moderation as a security measure to keep the purity of the communities content and enforce a  list of draconian  rules becomes something else. It has the effect of being detrimental to the idea of open communication, freedom of expression and the sharing of ideas.


Perhaps later are given rights like police "to protect and to serve" otherwise called "moderation".  Given these powers unchecked  the potential for abuse is increased and wielders use them to bolster their egos. Ego is a communities lifes blood and while it's a great system for contribution to an open source project.  It is terrible idea for use in motivation of moderation personnel. And therein lies the problem, community creators and leaders mistakenly think that moderation is a contribution that should go rewarded with complete powers over  the actions of the communities membership. Almost always they are immutable lifelong powers with no checks and balance system.  For instance a moderator cannot loose reputation for being too draconian or uncaring in pursuit of their duties. Powers abused are not reduced and resignations are not asked for in reprisal.

Shadow banned

Moderation is probably the more stndard way to gate a community. Shadow banning is gaining popularity as a tool for moderators. Though is asked about the use of this protocol website owners tend to deny it because they believe it would make it less effective.

 Stealth banning (also called Shadow banning and Hell banning) is a practice used by some online community managers to block content added by spammers and Internet trolls, as well as other individuals whose interests do not coincide with the managers'. The practice involves making a user's contributions invisible to all other users, but visible to themselves, making them less likely to create new accounts to add the same material. 

Shadow banning to protect  the communities boundaries is  not always  done in the same formula as Reddit.  For instance the  format is to  increase moderation time period, rejection of content,  remove resubmission by permanent rejection.  For this type of banning to be effective takes a little more work on the part of the moderator but not much. If they have a digital black list it becomes easier as the need to read and use editorial judgement is skipped entirely.

Trust and Security

My experiences with several  forum and   recently with has shown me how the implementation of security measures without the input  from the community is not a good test for the relationship and could lead to the death of the community. owned by yahoo!  was open then walled by allowed only yahoo email address now open again.  But  it may never recover it's old glory because of the interest lost.

A blog post about this very subject  is one of the most on point and lucid set of arguments for allowing open blog postings into a community or social networking website.
In online forum culture, there’s a strong bias against linking to a poster’s own blog. That bias often slides into strict rule enforcement that degrades the quality of the forum itself, because most people who regularly produce substantive writing will want their own, ideally non-transient, forum for such writing. A blog provides that and most websites don’t. That means sites like Reddit—which has an overly strong opposition to what they call “blogspam”—tend towards intellectual vacuousness.  -- Social news sites and forums should encourage users to blog

 This is why I feel that the hard line drawn by and other communities when giving exculpatory powers over it's membership to moderators is one that will continually cause them problems. Because from the beginning the internets use of the term moderator has been wrongly implemented.

A discussion moderator or debate moderator is a person whose role is to act as a neutral participant in a debate or discussion, holds participants to time limits and trying to keep them from straying off the topic of the questions being raised in the debate. Sometimes moderators may ask questions intended to allow the debate participants to fully develop their argument in order to ensure the debate moves at pace.
This does not sound like it applies to an online forum until  you add in some of the smaller jobs the moderator has.

Speakers were not permitted to slander or insult other speakers, or diverge from the topic at hand, illustrating the value placed on politeness.

If  an online forums moderators were kept to the strict interpretation of their  job title  then there would most certainly be more trust placed their  judgement.  They also would not be given powers which to abuse. What  the term moderator is being misinterpreted as  is  "Sergeant-at-arms".

According to the National Assembly Rules, "the Sergeant-at-Arms" shall remove, or cause to be removed, any stranger from any part of a Chamber which has been set apart for members only, and also any stranger who, having been admitted into any other part of the Chamber, misconducts himself or herself or does not withdraw when strangers are ordered to withdraw.

 The  "Sergeant-at-arms" layer of governance is very important and missing from all online forums and social networks. It's also important that persons in the service as "Sergeant-at-arms" not be the moderator of a forum.

I want to learn from my peers whom have more to say than  just posting about a recipe for development.  A peer group not restricted by motto or rules up for indiscriminate moderation. They might ask questions that  though are not on point might lead to other interesting material and information in the midst of conversation. This is the whole point of social networking in real life and online.

 Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.

With advanced users, bloggers and long time experts being pushed away or leveraged out via moderation.

What’s left are a steady stream of novices, which is very useful when one is a novice but not at all useful when one outgrows the novice phase and wants to explore the deeper implications of a subject, art, or craft. Posting the same links as answers to questions.

With  the questions themselves being censored akin to a home owner being asked to repaint their house because the color does not fit in with the colors on a list of acceptable colors created by the members of the gated community.

This question was removed from Stack Overflow for reasons of moderation. Please refer to the help center for possible explanations why a question might be removed.

Over-Moderated content is hardly entertaining or thought provoking. Like going to a social event where everyone is a politician and they and guests are restricted to pre-defined "talking points".  Maybe a  good party the first time. But definitely not something a person would want to be part of on a weekly basis. Even after a few years of annuals many would grow tired of going knowing that the subject matter and people would be exactly the same.  This is because always  being on point removes the freedom to socialize. It erases the "social" part of  social networking. It gives members fewer reasons to stay and more reasons to go.

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