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Nathan: 2010-05-12 03:06:51 pm
45 posts
Web forums are a great way to interact, converse, build community, promote products and ideas, and generate content and relationships online. Even though forums have existed since before the web, there are many people who still do not use forums, who do not know about them, or who think that web forums are more limited than they are. This five part series offers a basic introduction to web forums by answering seven basic but important questions; addresses one of the negative aspects of forums--haters--and how to keep a healthy forum; discusses the basics of running a forum; is frank about common pests and problems which often infest forums; and finally provides five useful reminders about forums.

Part IV: Trolls, Sock Puppets, and Bots and How to Handle Them

Every community has its ups and downs, and every community has its problem children. Sometimes they cause problems by accident; other times they spark a fight just because they can. Without further ado, here are the annoyances you will inevitably face in forums. Know what they are early on so you can do your best to be free of them as early as possible.

[dt]What's a troll?[dd]This brand of forum misfit likes to say things to offend people on purpose in order to laugh when they get offended. For example, they might post "Hondas are slow trash that need maintenance every 10 miles" on a Honda racing forum. If someone replies with something like "my Civic has been going for over 100k miles without maintenance," then that person is guilty of "feeding the troll." They've fallen into the troll's trap, and now the troll can post even more crap. Trolls are best ignored. If the forum administration is active and doing their jobs, trolls usually get banned rather quickly.[dt]What's a sockpuppet?[dd]Sometimes people think they've come up with a great and original idea: they'll register more accounts that don't resemble their own and then post as those users. Sometimes they even have whole conversations with themselves. Other times they just post in response to themselves in order to make it look like a lot of people agree with what they're saying.There are tools on most forums to tell when people are doing this. If the forum's administrators are active, they should be able to take care of the situation by banning all of the offending user's accounts and, if necessary, their IP address (to keep them from making even more accounts). Sometimes administrators even give this ability to the forum's moderators to help police for clones or alternate accounts or sockpuppets (which are all essentially the same thing).[dt]What are bots?[dd]Bots are users that aren't human. In other words, they're computer programs that post on forums. Not all bots are bad - for example, some forums have bots that automatically post news from RSS feeds in threads.Spambots post what looks just like spam emails on forums. Popular topics include sex and drugs, but I've even seen spambots that post ads for spambot programs. There's not much forum administrators can do about spambots except to keep deleting their posts and accounts and trying to come up with more and more elaborate ways of testing whether a user is human before allowing them to make a post. As of this writing the most common way to do this is to make the user enter some letters and/or numbers from a picture before they register or post on the forum. This scrambled picture with letters and numbers is called a CAPTCHA. Unfortunately, spambots are getting better at reading these, so it's likely you'll see some spam on forums you visit. Ignore it and don't reply to it or you'll make life harder for forum administrators who now have even more posts they have to delete.

Many articles about online communities focus on either the positive or the negative--utopia and dystopia--and neither image is totally accurate. It's important not only to realize that there are positive and negative facets of online communities but also to be able to identify them so you know how to respond to them properly. The next and final post offers five short pieces of advice that aim to optimize your forum experience.
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