We posted new “terms of service” this week for MonroeTalks.com, our social networking Web site.
They aren’t much different from the original terms, which have been used since the site debuted last June. The biggest difference is that they’re shorter and easier to read — more written for regular folks than for lawyers.
Our basic principle remains the same: This is the community’s Web site, and we want the users to moderate themselves.
There are now more than 2,000 people registered to use MonroeTalks.com, and about 500 of them are regular talkers. In addition, thousands more visit the site every day to check out the conversation — totaling more than 1 million page views a month.
We’ve had exceptional good luck for the first nine months of MonroeTalks.com. Use of the site has grown dramatically and continues on a steady upward curve. And while there have been a few incidents, for the most part the users have been responsible in their posts on the site.
Before rewriting the terms of service, we asked users of MonroeTalks.com for their suggestions. There were many good comments and several were used in the final version.
Most of the discussion involved how aggressively we should moderate the forums.
As on all Internet talk forums, it’s easy for discussions to veer off the topic. One person changes the subject, or flirts a little, or gets personal in an attack on another user. Before you know it, there have been pages of comments that don’t resemble the original topic.
The problem is obvious. If you were drawn to a topic such as “Should Michigan have another primary,” or “What can I do to fight the gas prices,” you don’t want to have to dig through Sam and Suzie flirting online or Joe and Pete insulting each other to get to the next serious post.
On the other hand, that’s part of what an open discussion forum is all about. It’s a lot like the talk at dinner during the holidays, when there are lots of cousins and nieces and uncles gathered around the table. Good luck trying to keep the conversation on track.
We did decide to add a rule that says, “Try to keep your posts on topic as much as possible.” But you can’t make a rule against twists and turns in a conversation. Sometimes one thing makes you think of another, and then another, and the new direction may be better than the old one.
Others wanted us to get more specific in defining what is in good taste and what violates community standards of decency.
Sorry, but it’s not possible to provide a distinct definition. The Supreme Court can’t do it; what makes folks think we can. This is how the rule reads, and it’s the best we can do:
“Please be responsible. Self-moderate, remembering that this is a family Web site. Don’t post content you wouldn’t want your 13-year-old child or your mother to view. That includes profanity, nudity and lewdness.”
Some people wanted us to add a chat room, or a separate category for socializing. We considered it. But it seemed obvious that wouldn’t stop people from socializing while commenting on any topic. And that’s part of the value of an open community forum — everyone can join in the fun.
There seemed to be a clear majority who like MonroeTalks.com basically the way it is. We agree. That’s why the changes are more in readability than in substance.
My favorite line on the MonroeTalks.com conversation came from “the nosh.” His suggestion: “Dan, go back to your desk…” In other words, leave us alone to moderate ourselves.
Nosh, that’s my preference, too. I hope the new terms of service will help.
Here are the rules for posting, taken from the terms of service:
- Please be responsible. Self-moderate, remembering that this is a family Web site. Don’t post content you wouldn’t want your 13-year-old child or your mother to view. That includes profanity, nudity and lewdness.
- Any content you post on MonroeTalks.com must be your original work, or you must have authorization from the copyright owner. Do not attempt to impersonate another individual.
- Do not post content that defames or invades the privacy of an individual. Keep your disagreements civil. No harassing or intimidating others. Disagree with another person’s views – don’t attack the person.
- Keep your ranting to a minimum. Take a deep breath, count to 10.
- Try to keep your posts on topic as much as possible.
- Content that promotes racism, bigotry, homophobia, hatred or physical harm to any group or individual will not be tolerated.