Post of the Day
August 21, 2000

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Improve the Fool

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Subject:  Enforcement of our Rules
Author:  TMFBogey

The Fool Community has given us a lot of feedback lately on administration and cultural issues pertaining to our forum. What follows is a response from David Forrest, our Online Operations Manager. Please consider this an open ended dialog. We will continue to improve, and provide a forum that's fun and educational for everyone. Without the cooperation and involvement of you, the Community, our efforts will fall short, but we are confident this partnership will flourish and reach greater heights in the future. On to David's remarks:
This is a link to the Fool's Rules regarding the posting of content and proper conduct. Everyone who has become a registered member has indicated that they have read and agree with these rules. If you haven't read them, please do. If you find that you cannot abide by them, we understand, but respectfully ask that you no longer post on The Motley Fool's discussion boards. That piece of business out of the way�

I am absolutely certain that the folks who administer to the Motley Fool's discussion boards, myself included, have not been absolutely and unilaterally consistent in our administration. Specifically, there are posts that have been removed that probably should not have been and still others that should have been removed yet remain still.

In determining how to make things better, we have to answer a few questions regarding expectations. Specifically:

  • What is the community's current expectation of the administrators?
  • What can realistically be expected?
  • What level of service is actually being provided?

    Somewhere in the answer to those questions lies some work to be done, both on our side (FoolHQ) and yours (in the community.) Let's see if we can't find our way there.

    What is the community's current expectation of the administrators?

    I can only give you my impression because I certainly cannot speak for the community in aggregate. But, my impression is that the community expects the administrators of the Fool's discussion boards to be perfectly consistent. This is understandable. We always want the administrators of our communities to be perfect. We don't want to ever be treated unjustly. We don't want to see our friends treated unjustly. We want the bad guys to go to "jail" and the good guys to be revered as upstanding members of the community. Unfortunately, it's just not that simple. Things are not now, nor will they ever be, perfect.

    In the physical world, because we understand that all law enforcement is not perfect, we have a pretty elaborate justice system that has judges, juries, appeals, etc. Some cases, if they are controversial enough, will be elevated all the way to the Supreme Court. But, as we all know, even the highest court in the land is a subjective body whose decisions, while final, are always supported by some and rejected by others. Just ask Roe or Wade and their followers. All of this simply tells me that every time we respond to a Fool Alert, someone will be unhappy. If we remove the post, the author is unhappy (mostly). If we leave it, the person who alerted us feels slighted in some way.

    This leads me to the logical conclusion that the notion of "perfection" is a very subjective one and no matter how good we are at our jobs, someone is always going to be unhappy. I have come to accept this as a fundamental truth in our business. It also leads me to the next question.

    What can be realistically expected vs. what we've delivered?

    In calmer moments, I think anyone reading this would sit back and agree that we can't be "right" every time. I think most folks are cool with this and perhaps, dare I suggest, even sympathetic to the situation. I also believe very strongly that on an absolute basis the Fool's discussion boards are the best out there. If you disagree, head on over to Yahoo! Finance or Raging Bull and see how many people are engaging you about community rules and standards. Plain and simple, while there are issues to be resolved and improvements to be made, you won't find a more organized and reasonable set of public financial discussions anywhere. I'm very proud of our team and credit them with this. I'm also very proud of our community participants who are largely creative, fun, intelligent, and well-intentioned folks.

    Still, there is something else bothering people. The problem, as I see it, is that the community is not convinced that we apply even a basic level of consistency in our administration. To go back to the physical world analogy, I think folks believe that the police are responding to some calls and sitting in the donut shop ignoring others. That judges are hard-core in some cases, and frivolous in others. In short, people believe that there is not a consistent level of professional diligence and logical scrutiny across the board. So, what can we do to improve this? What can be expected? A few things:

    1. Context - In the past, with about 1 1/2 full-time equivalent administrators (some folks have split-duties), it has been nearly impossible to do any sort of investigation into "situations." Admins have not been able to read entire threads, to do "background" checks on people to see what's going on. Does the person have 2000 posts and been here a while or 1 post and born 3 days ago? Does the person have a history of being warned or is this a first offense? Etc.

      With the addition of another full-time administrator, I believe we will finally have the time to look into these situations in a more diligent and logical manner and make more "right" calls. It won't happen overnight, and tomorrow we'll still make some tough calls, but it will get better. This extra capacity will also allow us to make judgment calls on what kind of "warning" to deliver. Example: sometimes people who are generally calm and wonderful contributors will do something silly or just get mad at another member and flame them. In the past, we've delivered the same cold and hard warning to everyone. Perhaps now we'll have the time to just send a nice note, nudging the person and asking them to be cool. Kind of like the police officer that doesn't give you the ticket for going 10 miles over the speed limit because he knows you coach the kids baseball team and are generally a good egg. Some folks just need a reminder and not a slap.

    2. Consistent Warnings - We have been told that not all removed posts are delivered with the appropriate warning. I have made it incredibly clear to the team that all removed posts will be accompanied by a warning.

    3. Suspensions and Removal - For better or worse, we don't like to kick people out of the forum. Heck, we're not even big fans of suspending people. For those of you who have been suspended or who have friends that have been, you'll just have to trust me on this one. We don't like it. But, I think this sends the wrong message. Some people just gotta go. Going forward, we'll be using the suspension and complete removal functions with greater frequency. (Yes, we know that people can come back under another name. But, that doesn't mean we shouldn't administer as best we can on an absolute basis. More on doppels and new identities later.)

    What we cannot do - We cannot debate every decision we make. Not only is it impossible given time constraints and resources, but it's not generally fruitful. There are occasions where we'll engage someone in a discussion about a ruling we've made, but it certainly can't be a policy to do this. Some folks have said that they want an appellate process and greater context on why their post was pulled. As cool as this would be, with more than 1000 FA's a week, it's not practical for me to promise this to you.

    We also cannot remove and react to posts we don't know about. If you don't alert us, there is an excellent chance that we may not see it. There are 300 of us and 2 million of you. The math indicates that it's far more likely that you'll see a problem before we do. So, the next time you see a post that violates our rules, don't immediately jump to the conclusion that we're inconsistent or off our game. We may simply not have been informed about it.

    Finally, we cannot control the environment. Only you can do that. I can guarantee you that the quality of the community is 1000 times more dependant on your general behavior, tolerance, and good will than it is on our administration. So, help us out:

    1. Don't violate our rules.
    2. Try and let some stuff roll off your back (tolerance.)
    3. Teach and help other people.
    4. Have fun - this isn't the Spanish Inquisition.

    In closing on this long post, we're in this together. We promise to continue engaging all calm, rational, and reasonable folks (guns in holsters, please). We promise to get better, faster, smarter, and more consistent. Will you promise alongside us to create an environment that you're proud of en enjoy being in?

    Best,

    Bogey


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