I've been working through a problem on the moderated Adobe GoLive discussion list I run with my co-author of Real World Adobe GoLive. The list has been running for nearly two years now and is healthy and happy with about 700 paricipants, but we exercise a fairly tight moderation policy, rejecting a minority of posts that are off-topic, offensive, or just too repetitive.
But the real problem on an ongoing basis is posts that quote too much content from the message they're replying to. Most list members subscribe to the digest form of the list and too-long quotations mean more frequent digests, and a lower words:new content ratio. I tried explaining this on the list only to get a "Glenn, go read your Orwell" e-mail back from one member. I told her that the list was a volunteer effort, and moderated for a reason. Others lists exist, including an unmoderated GoLive Talk list. To no avail: another nasty response.
So I wrote a message to the entire list, reminding them of the purpose of the list and the fact that alternatives exist. When I started the Internet Marketing Discussion List (archives, 1994-1996), I had some complaints about my moderation in the early days. Fine, I said: start another list that's unmoderated and I'll point to it. I did. It lasted weeks before spam and ad hominem attacks brought it down. I proved my point.
I received many, many appreciative responses from list members who enjoyed the fact that the list contained mostly relevant, mostly informative posts, even when their own messages had been rejected. I find that the anger from those who get rejected tends to focus on the quality of the forum: they view it as a public resource, where it's in fact a private labor donated to the good of the community. Jeff and I might sell a few books as a result of it, but it's not without a few hours a week of work.
This all reminded me of a story my grandfather told me. He ran a furniture store, Fleishman's Fine Furniture, in Poughkeepsie, NY, and its environs for over 50 years. (My great-grandfather, great-uncles, grandmother, and father were all involved at different points in it.) A woman comes in one day and buys a mattress. She refuses to pay and returns it. But because it was opened or delivered, it couldn't be resold. This might have been 60 or 70 years ago, and that was still the law back then to protect people against lice and disease.
So they take a loss, probably at a time when they were still paying bills during the Depression. (They paid every cent they owed from the 20s during the 30s, and helped convince General Electric to start GE Capital - true story!) A week later, the woman comes back in! The sales staff alert my grandfather, who goes out and tells the woman they won't ever sell to her again. She says, "But Mr. Fleishman! You have the best prices in town!"
Yeah, and the woman whose husband thought he was a chicken refused to take him to the doctor, too.