Planning a Community Redesign (After Having the Same Design for More Than a Decade)
Chris Bowyer has managed MovieForums.com for almost 16 years. After using the same design for more than a decade, they launched a comprehensive redesign that the community embraced. On this episode, we walk through the steps he took to achieve a successful launch and the unique experiences you gain when you manage a community for so long, plus:
- Could you see yourself managing the same community for 30 years?
- The right way to do self-moderation
- Community culture and how quickly it forms
“Whatever a community is, it becomes more of. If it’s filled with thoughtful people, it attracts more thoughtful people. If it’s filled with vulgar or combative people, it will attract more people just like that.” -@chrisabowyer
“You and I, we’re not Facebook. We’re not these conglomerates, so we have to think differently. We have to figure out, what is it that I can do that they can’t, that’s interesting? What does my size and flexibility allow me to do that they never could?” -@chrisabowyer
“The best [form of] moderation is one that slowly creates a culture where people don’t want to break the rules. Because if they do, you’ve already lost.” -@chrisabowyer
“The single best tool you have, as a moderator, is a personal relationship with [your members], so that they want to help you moderate. They want to make your job as a moderator easier. There’s just no better way. No spam tool in the world, no CAPTCHA, nothing is going to be more useful than that.” -@chrisabowyer
About Chris Bowyer
Chris Bowyer is a web developer and television producer, who’s been building communities for 16 years. He is the owner of MovieForums.com, which has around 1.5 million posts.
In order of reference:
- Patrick’s account on MovieForums.com
- Chris’ account on MovieForums.com
- SitePoint Forums
- Community Signal episode, When Community Members Die, with Sue John
- This Online Community Had the Same Design for a Decade; Learn How They Launched a Redesign That Members Embraced by Chris
- Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
- Censor Block and the Most Efficient Use of Your Forums’ Word Censor Feature by Patrick
- Alumniportal Deutschland
- Wikipedia page for broken windows theory
- Chris on Twitter
00:04: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Tweet as you listen using #communitysignal. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
00:20 Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and welcome to Community Signal. Our guest this week is Chris Bowyer. Chris is the owner of MovieForums.com which turns 16 years old next month, has around 1.5 million posts and receives about 500, 600 posts per day. He’s a web developer and television producer who’s been building communities for that same 16 years. Chris, welcome.
00:39 Chris Bowyer: Thank you for having me.
00:41 Patrick O’Keefe: Now I’ve known you for a long time. I have an account on MovieForums.com and it is ID number 79. So even though I’ve been totally inactive. [chuckle] I haven’t contributed value to this community.
00:51 Chris Bowyer: My mother is ID number two. So, I think something like that.
00:53 Patrick O’Keefe: Okay, you’re number one, your mom’s number two…
00:55 Chris Bowyer: Something like that.
00:56 Patrick O’Keefe: I’m 79. [chuckle] So I’ve known you for a while, I registered that account in October of 2000 and the community launched in July of 2000. Your account’s number one, again, registered in July, so I was pretty early and I may have known you a little bit before Movie Forums if I was that early, I’m not sure, but we met on the SitePoint Forums, right?
01:13 Chris Bowyer: We did, yeah, and it was a little before then, too. In fact my experience with SitePoint and the community there is what made me want to run a community in the first place. I actually decided to build a community before I’d picked a topic which is probably not the best way to do it, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that, and I decided I wanted to run a forum. And then I picked from my list of interests and I decided movies, but yeah, it was about community first and foremost.
01:35 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s funny how in a way the genesis of MovieForums.com, and a community I manage, KarateForums.com, it’s somewhat similar and how we are somewhat similar in a lot of ways because we’re about the same age, we just figured out we’re a couple of months [chuckle] away from each other in birthdate. We started managing communities at a similar time. I’ve been involved in moderation since 2000. We have both managed the same community for 15-plus years, KarateForums.com just turned 15 last month. We were both home schooled. I was always told by banned users that I managed communities as a teenager because I craved authority and there was no other way for me to express my superiority over other people…
02:12 Chris Bowyer: I’ve been told the exact same thing, I have.
02:14 Patrick O’Keefe: Than to run my own community like a tyrant. And, oh, by the way, I also lived in my mom’s basement they said, and I guess they were right about that one at the time. [chuckle] But why do you think, on a more serious note, why do you think someone does what we did as teenagers and then sticks with it for so long where we’ve now been managing communities for what is half our lives?
02:36 Chris Bowyer: Well, it’s a great question first of all. I think it actually is the same reason… And this can sound a little pretentious, the same reason people create art. When someone writes a book, they’ll always tell you about their influences; the books they read growing up and how it inspired them and it made them want to inspire people the same way. So again, I know a little grandiose, but in my case it started with being part of a community that inspired me and I thought, “Wow, look at how much I’m learning, look at all these cool people from all over the world.” I felt blessed to be part of a community like that. And then I thought, “What’s stopping you from doing the exact same thing for other people? Why not give it a try?” And of course there was the power hungry tyrant stuff, too. That’s just a bonus, obviously. [chuckle] But I think it’s kind of like that, it’s kind of like you see something that you like and you think, “Maybe I can do it, too. Maybe I can run a community. Maybe I can bring people together.” That’s certainly what it was for me.
03:22 Patrick O’Keefe: And being homeschooled, there’s more of us than ever before, when we did it, there was a lot less. [chuckle]
03:27 Chris Bowyer: Yeah.
03:27 Patrick O’Keefe: There was a lot less homeschoolers, but I do sometimes draw my roots in community back to homeschooling because as a homeschooler, I had more free time. My work… And this is not true for all homeschoolers, it might not be true for Chris, it’s certainly not true for some others, but in my case, I had my work, I did it and I got it done and it was done in a couple hours. And when you don’t have to go to school for eight hours, you don’t have to get on the bus, you don’t have to stand in line to go to the bathroom, you have time for other things. And in my case my parents were like, “Well, basically, what are you interested in? What do you wanna do?” So I was interested in computers and baseball. I like baseball a lot, but then…
04:02 Chris Bowyer: Same here. There we go, the similarities continue, yeah.
04:05 Patrick O’Keefe: There you go. So baseball was big for me. But beyond that it was computers and I spent a lot of time on computers and I started making websites in, oh, I did the GeoCities website thing, I think, in ’95.
04:15 Chris Bowyer: Oh, I was a Tripod man myself but I can…
04:17 Patrick O’Keefe: Oh, I did Tripod, too. [chuckle] Angelfire was first though, for me.
04:22 Chris Bowyer: Okay. Fair enough. I never tried them.
04:23 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, and when I say website it was one page with text on it, and it was Patrick’s Miami Dolphins Website. [chuckle] So I can still remember that GeoCities URL as a lot of people can remember their, do you remember your Tripod? Do you have it burned in your brain somewhere?
04:38 Chris Bowyer: Oh yeah, it was called the MLG, which stood for Major League Gazette, it was a baseball site appropriately enough, and I guess with GeoCities though, you had that little tilde in front of it and I bet you wish you could’ve gotten rid of that.
04:48 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, you had neighborhoods on Geocities, right?
04:50 Chris Bowyer: Yeah.
04:51 Patrick O’Keefe: And so, my Miami Dolphins on there was geocities.com/Colosseum/Arena/8884. [chuckle] And I’m not joking, that was it. Like, I didn’t just pull that out of my head, that’s in my brain…
05:01 Chris Bowyer: Forever.
05:01 Patrick O’Keefe: Right before I die on my deathbed, it’s gonna flash, GeoCities URL.
05:05 Chris Bowyer: Yeah. They had no respect for SEO back then.
05:07 Patrick O’Keefe: They didn’t. But my point was that I had time to do things that I loved and it just happened that I loved doing websites and I started doing websites for other people and then I started thinking, “I don’t like doing websites for other people, I wanna do them for me”, and then I did that and then I realized, “Well, I can do this community section. I can have a forum, people can post. I can talk to other people. I can manage this space”, and then that is what set me on the path of managing communities. Now, would I have gone for that if I was not homeschooled? I don’t know. I’m not sure that I would have. I think if I had had a more traditional educational background, and just to be clear, I have nothing against public school, private school, it’s really about what works for you best, what, how you learn best, but in my case, just having that free time allowed me to explore community and if I had gone to high school, gone to college, gone that route, I don’t know, I might have turned out a little different. So it’s definitely having that free time and finding my interests that really led me to community at the start.
06:00 Chris Bowyer: It was actually exactly the same for me. The way you’re describing it is pretty much verbatim the way I would say it, and I also don’t have anything against public school. I actually did go to public school a little bit so I was able to compare the two. But, one criticism I will make is that there are a lot of distractions, and even if it’s worthwhile there are a lot of distractions. There’s a lot of social responsibilities and worrying about how you look, and all those silly things that just happen when you’re with any group of people. And just not having those is very good for focus, it’s very good for other extracurricular activities. But yeah, the same thing as you, I was able to kind of make my own schedule. It’s very free-form learning for most homeschoolers. Some of them are very regimented. Some of them not that distinguishable from public school, but most of them, if they can get their work done quick they can do whatever else they want. If they can do something productive, and I think almost anyone homeschooling their child is the kind of person who’s gonna find working with computers pretty productive, especially 15, 20 years ago. If you wanna do that, your parents are pretty likely to let you. They’re gonna see it as being the kind of the wave of the future that it was and still is.
06:54 Chris Bowyer: So, I had the exact same thing going on. And I think also that, homeschooling back then in particular, you mention there are more now but back then homeschooling was rare enough that there was a very tight bond among homeschoolers. It was a community. So you already had that sense of community. You know what I mean? It wasn’t a sort of built-in community the way a school is, it was a community that formed of its own accord. So I think that those are some of the reasons that maybe homeschoolers might tend towards community management a little more than your average person.
07:21 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s a good point you know. Homeschoolers were a community, as you said, of their own accord but also of need of…
07:26 Chris Bowyer: Yes.
07:26 Patrick O’Keefe: Sharing things with each other, of forming together to have legal protections, let’s say, and some cases, having more power to do things. And so yeah, that’s definitely true. Shifting gears back to community, managing an active community for as long as you have, 16 years, taking a community from zero to 1.5 million, to where it is now and being responsible for it the whole time. That’s really a unique experience not a lot of people have it. Like if you can make it 10 plus years, I highly recommend it because it affords you, I find, solid authority in the community. People won’t necessarily like you, but they have to respect the consistency. They have to respect that you’ve been there so long within the community. Do you find that?
08:06 Chris Bowyer: Yeah absolutely. Although it’s interesting you say that they have to respect the consistency. That does imply that you’re consistent, although…
08:12 Patrick O’Keefe: Yes.
08:12 Chris Bowyer: It’s fair to say that anyone who hasn’t had their users abandon them is probably fairly consistent. Because if you are sort of making up rules as you go and not applying them fairly, your community is not going to last that long to begin with.
08:23 Patrick O’Keefe: Right.
08:24 Chris Bowyer: But you’re right.
08:24 Patrick O’Keefe: And I don’t mean to say at 15, I was the same as I am now either.
08:28 Chris Bowyer: Oh I was an awful moderator at first, I don’t know about you.
08:31 Patrick O’Keefe: But it’s funny because our standards now aren’t all that different from what our standards were back then in my case, and that’ll be different for each person. But essentially, we’d codified them better let’s say over time, certainly. But for the last, let’s say 12, 13 years, we’ve had pretty much the same guidelines. So I think we have it pretty consistent. But maybe you haven’t been?
08:51 Chris Bowyer: No. It’s been pretty… You’re right, it has been pretty consistent. But what gets better is that you tend to understand why you chose them in the first place. It’s one of those interesting situations where you make an emotional or sort of gut level decision at first, and you sort of discover some of the reasons for it later whether you knew them consciously or not at first. The big one for me is that I didn’t allow swearing, and on the internet there is plenty of swearing.
09:14 Patrick O’Keefe: Yes.
09:14 Chris Bowyer: It’s all over the place and people have an expectation when they come to a site they don’t know very well that they’re going to be allowed to. It’s the internet, right? You can say anything you want. That’s the beauty of the internet. At risk of sounding a little vulgar, I am glad there are places you can say anything on the internet. I appreciate that those places exist but I don’t think every place needs to be like that. And my gut level decision when I started was to not allow that sort of thing. And I couldn’t have even told you why at the time, being like a 16-year-old. I probably would’ve just said, “Oh you don’t need to swear, it’s not important, it’s just rude.” And that wasn’t exactly wrong. But over time, after being questioned about it year after year from the occasional member, you sort of clarify your own beliefs. And I find that so that even if your rules don’t change, your understanding of why you chose them gets better over time.
10:00 Patrick O’Keefe: And you attract people who appreciate those rules. Those are the people you attract over time is the people who are coming to that community, and they like how people talk to one another. They like the environment because there’s a lot of movie forums, I mean there’s a lot of entertainment forums out there.
10:11 Chris Bowyer: Exactly.
10:11 Patrick O’Keefe: So each one in the best of light has its own societal norms, its own customs, how people speak to one another, the words they choose, slang, vernacular whatever. And that’s what sets you off and makes you unique in a way is what your policies are.
10:25 Chris Bowyer: You’re absolutely right. What I like to say is that whatever a community is, it becomes more of. So if it’s filled with thoughtful people, it attracts more thoughtful people. If it’s filled with vulgar or combative people, it will attract more people just like that. Whatever people see when they come to your site, if they’re like that they’ll stay, and if they’re not they’ll leave. Which is both a very encouraging thought and a very scary thought. Because that means that if something is left unchecked it will snowball. But, that also means there are virtuous cycles. If you attract thoughtful people they’re going to attract more thoughtful people. It’s weird and I’m sure you’ve thought about this too, if you try to quantify what a community really is it’s not your software. But it’s also not entirely your people, it’s the process you use to attract the people. Your product is your process. That’s the site really, is the process and the set of rules by which you attract people who are constantly changing and constantly turning over, but always have that thing in common. That thing being that they were attracted to the way you’d created things.
11:21 Chris Bowyer: It’s a little abstract, right?
11:22 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. It’s not unlike any society, community, space. People come in, people come out, but they’re attracted to a common thing. And where they’re at in their life may change, what they want at that given moment may change. And so they leave that space or they graduate onto something else. But, the space is what it is. And so communities don’t change for a single person, they don’t change for a small group, they are what they are. And so there is always a group of people at the community who appreciates what it is. And sometimes those people stick around for a long time, sometimes they don’t. But hopefully, you’re finding new people coming in who appreciate that same thing and the cycle continues because you won’t have people forever, especially when you’ve been managing a community for this long. You see this amazing life cycle when you are around for this long life, death, love, children.
12:10 Chris Bowyer: Yes.
12:10 Patrick O’Keefe: Do you have any interesting personal stories like that with your members from your time managing MovieForums.com?
12:16 Chris Bowyer: We have a few, Yeah. Some of them are a little personal so I don’t want to go into highly specific…
12:20 Patrick O’Keefe: No need to name names. [chuckle]
12:20 Chris Bowyer: Of course, of course, but we had someone a long time ago, one of our earlier moderators was a woman who lived in New Orleans and she was a police officer. And the reason I mention that is because she had tremendous instincts as a moderator and I always assumed that was because of her work. A new member would show up and they would say something and they’d be brand new two-three posts, hardly said anything at all. And she would just say, “Watch out for this person. I’m getting a bad vibe off this person”. I’d say, “Oh, you’re crazy, let’s be nice”. I’m always the softy, right? Of all the mods, everyone else wants to be harsher and punish people more, and they clamp down on them quickly. And I’m always like, “No, no, no, give them another chance” and by the way, they’re almost always right. I’m almost always wrong. And she had these tremendous instincts for kind of sniffing out troublemakers, before anyone else could. She was amazing at it and I always assumed it was ’cause she was a police officer. And then one day she just stopped showing up. And obviously, every community has that. But it’s very rare for a moderator to do it as opposed to just a random member, particularly someone who loved the site as much as she did and who had been active for as many years as she was.
13:20 Chris Bowyer: In fact, she’d actually, basically lived through Hurricane Katrina and still kept coming back, so we’re sitting here thinking, if she kept coming back after Hurricane Katrina, and she’s not saying anything anymore, and she’s this long time moderator, and she’s a police officer, we all feared the worst obviously. And we heard, I think fourth hand, from a member from a… Who knew a member, who knew a member, who knew her, at one point that she was okay. And that’s all we ever found out about her. We still don’t know what happened to this day, but I remember being so relieved when I heard that because your mind naturally goes there. I know you did a show recently about the deaths of a members and how often you don’t even know that it’s happened.
13:55 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. Good memory Chris, I appreciate that. I talked to Sue John about that. She launched a community called BritishExpats.com. She managed it for about 15 years, and yeah… Had deaths in the community and people who’d found each other and got married and it’s just an aspect of community building that a lot of people don’t get exposed to because they manage a community for a year, two years, three years and they move on to the next project or the next company or the next community. And when you are involved in a space like this for this long, the same community, it’s just like life, like people live, die, they find other people, they move on. It can be wonderful, it can be sad. I think you get the full range of human emotion.
14:36 Chris Bowyer: At this point, the emotions you feel being part of a community are no different than emotions you feel just living in general. But as for deaths, coming up on 16 years there’s only been literally one instance where we know for a fact someone died. A relative of them signed on later and told us basically. Died very young, unfortunately. I think it was a kidney problem. But in every other case, I’m sure it’s happened, we’ve had senior citizen members in their late 70s who just stopped coming around one day and we don’t know, but we have our guesses. I’m sure it’s happened any number of times but only once has it been confirmed. And that actually makes me think that at this point, I really think that everybody should have somewhere just a text file of all their forum passwords, sort of like the digital equivalent of a living will. Tell these people because it occurred to me a couple years back that if anything should happen to me, there were all sorts of people who would have no idea for years on end or ever, unless I sort of kept that information stored somewhere so that my loved ones could find it.
15:25 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s a good point. We have this digital legacy and a lot of people would have no knowledge of us passing away or moving on so…
15:32 Chris Bowyer: And for some people that’s the point, for some people that’s why they were attracted to digital communities in the first place.
15:37 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s true.
15:37 Chris Bowyer: Right, that anonymity. So it’s a fine line it’s not for everybody, some people don’t want that either way. And as a forum owner, that’s certainly something that you have to respect. It’s a very touchy subject, you’re sitting here, I’m a 15-year-old and I think, “Oh gee, wouldn’t it be fun to run a message board about movies?” 15, 16 years later you’re making life and death decisions about what to say about any news you might have about a member and you’re thinking, “Boy, I didn’t think is what I signed up for but I guess that’s what life is like”.
16:00 Patrick O’Keefe: I’ve been thinking about this lately with KarateForums.com as we stack the years, right? Five, 10, 15… How long will I do this?
16:09 Chris Bowyer: Yes.
16:09 Patrick O’Keefe: How long will I manage the community? And obviously, you’re not gonna announce here today that you’re leaving MovieForums.com, so I don’t expect that answer. Right now, I’m in a space with KarateForums.com where I could see myself managing it, practically forever. I can see myself doing this community for 30 years, double where we’re at now, and just in how it… The time it takes up, the expectation that I have for the… And the enjoyment I get from it, how much I love the community. I could see myself doing this for a long time. Do you feel that way too with MovieForums.com? Do you think you’ll be managing a community, the same community for 30 years?
16:42 Chris Bowyer: That’s an excellent question, I asked myself the same question. I mentioned digital living will earlier, how about digital heirlooms? How about communities that you pass on to your children or grandchildren? It’s going to happen, right?
16:51 Patrick O’Keefe: Right, yeah. I guess in some way you could say it’s no different than a company or a house or a car, it’s very different but at the same time it’s a responsibility you have, what happens to it can be passed on. You own a domain, right?
17:03 Chris Bowyer: Right.
17:03 Patrick O’Keefe: You own a database, you own a design, you… Everyone owns their own contributions in the forum, but you still own this website. Certainly, just like anything else, any other organization you could pass it on to someone else.
17:14 Chris Bowyer: Yeah, I’ve asked myself that a lot. Since I started this, I’ve gotten married, I have a house, and a dog, and four types of insurance, and all sorts of things now, all sort of responsibilities. And I think it’s one of those things where you just can’t say. We mentioned earlier that running a forum ended up just kind of being like life after awhile, and it’s the same thing, it’s unpredictable. I would like to run this as long as I am able, but it wouldn’t shock me if someday, some member comes along and says, “You know what, let me take the reigns and I’m looking over and maybe my day job is taking up more time, and maybe I get an offer I can’t refuse, maybe I have a kid to support”, who knows? You really just can’t predict but right now, I don’t see any end in sight and I’m fine with that, the idea of going 20 or 30 years. I kind of wanna see what’s possible. I think like you, using this word to describe yourself is horribly grandiose but there’s sort of a pioneer aspect to this, right? There are so few sites that have done this. There’re so few sites that have been around this long that I kinda wanna see what happens next. I wanna see what other ways it becomes like life. I wanna see what other experiences there are after 20 or 30 years because there are a handful of users who have been here, and I don’t want to say the entire time but maybe within the first year, 15, 16 years almost.
18:23 Chris Bowyer: And I kind of wanna see what happens. If someone goes from being a young adult to getting married, to having a child, to retiring all while on the same forum, I want to see what that’s like. And so few people have and so few people are going to that it almost feels a shame not to see how far it can go.
18:41 Patrick O’Keefe: And that’s beautiful, Chris. I’m not, I’m not joking. I’m serious, that’s beautiful. And I’m not married like you and I didn’t get married young. And so when you think about it, [chuckle] I might not be able to have a 60-year anniversary, or a 50-year anniversary, or a 40-year anniversary. But I damn sure could have a forum I’m in for 60 years. [chuckle] So that could be my thing, like that’ll be it, that will be the obituary. Here lies Patrick O’Keefe, he managed the same forum for 60 years. [chuckle] And I’m not sure how I feel about that…
19:09 Chris Bowyer: Right. It’s weird, right? Yeah.
19:09 Patrick O’Keefe: But it could very well happen.
19:11 Chris Bowyer: Well, I started my forum before I ever met my wife. And there’s sort of an aspect of, “Hey, you knew this was part of my life before you were.” [chuckle]
19:19 Patrick O’Keefe: Yup, yup. There’s not many things that were, and this was one of them.
19:21 Chris Bowyer: That’s right, that’s right. At this point, I think some time late next year, it’ll be half my life. And I guess the same would be true of you, too. It’s one thing to say 15 or 16 years. You’re like, “Wow, that’s a lot.” Then you think, “Half my life, my goodness.” How do you even begin to quantify something like that? At a certain point, you’ll have spent more days managing it than not managing it. And at that point, it’s not a site anymore. At that point, it’s an extension of you.
19:41 Patrick O’Keefe: Deep stuff.
19:42 Chris Bowyer: Yeah, deeper than I meant it to be.
19:43 Patrick O’Keefe: Deep stuff. I mean this is our lives flashing by we’re talking about here, everybody, just so you’re aware of that. Half our lives… Actually, maybe half of our overall life is just gone. We’ll see. Hopefully, we live to be very old.
19:52 Chris Bowyer: And hopefully, most of that, half of our lives wasn’t spent cleaning up spam but…
19:57 Patrick O’Keefe: So I wanna talk about community business, too. MovieForums.com had the same design for 10 years. And in 2014, you launched a new design, the one you have currently, which I really like. And redesigns are hard. And they are challenging for communities because communities become, as we’ve illustrated here, a part of our daily routines and a part of our lives. And it’s like walking into your house and seeing the furniture has been moved around. [chuckle] It has that potential and that’s not a good feeling. But when you launched this redesign, despite how entrenched the old design was, despite how long it had been there, people seemed really accepting of it. And because of that, I took notice and I asked you to write a guest article at ManagingCommunities.com, which I’ll link to in the show notes. But I want to go through that process of redesigning a site that is more than 10 years old that has had the same design for 10 years, you decide it’s time for a change. Where do you start?
20:46 Chris Bowyer: Well, you start with a lot of procrastination because you wouldn’t keep the same design for 10 years just because you thought the design was that good or it held up that well. No design can or will. So the first thing you start with is just not getting around to it or being afraid of the task which is a very understandable thing. I like the analogy you used earlier about it sort of being like your home, coming home and finding all the furniture rearranged, because that’s the same kind of reason that I finally fixed it. Because it’s kind of like you go home, and you open the front door, and there’s a rusty creek. And it’s not a big thing, that’s not a big problem, right? But happens every time you go home. So if I’m spending every morning checking the site, every morning I have to be reminded, “Boy, this design looks old. Boy, this is clunky. Boy this is messy. Boy I wish I had this other feature over here. Boy, I wish I could just make this look a little better.” When you look at something everyday like that, the small problems become big ones and it really grates on you. And eventually… Sounds kind of dramatic, but eventually you’ve just had enough. So it started with just sort of bumping up against that, just eventually having enough and realizing, “If I don’t do this now, I’m never gonna do this. This has to happen now.” And then it was just a long process of accumulating ideas over, I think, it was literally a year and a half when all was said and done.
21:55 Patrick O’Keefe: And so you pieced those ideas together. Is it you going through the community, you thinking about what needs to be done, are you talking to moderators, are you talking to members? How are you coming across the process of deciding the steps to take for the redesign?
22:08 Chris Bowyer: Well, the nice thing about taking so long to do something like this is that I didn’t have to talk to anybody. Because over 10 years, you get a pretty good feel for what’s working and what’s not, what people would like, what they wouldn’t. At that point, I already knew what I needed to do, more or less. But it was unusually slow going for a couple of reasons, the most important being… Actually, let me use a very appropriate quote from a movie, of all things. There’s a movie starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin called Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it.
22:32 Patrick O’Keefe: I’ve actually seen that not recently but fairly recently, like within the last couple years, I saw it for the first time.
22:36 Chris Bowyer: It’s one of my favorites. I love it. Very fun movie. And it’s about con men. And one of them tells the other, he says, “I came to the frustrating conclusion that I had taste in style but not talent.” And I identify with that a lot by which I mean that when I’m working on some sort of design, or feature, or something, I don’t know what I want to do. But when I found it I know, it’s right. I know when something’s good. It just takes me forever to find that something. So that was kind of the process here. I had a lot of ideas I liked, I started implementing them into mockups, I tried some things, I fiddled with it. And then it just wasn’t quite right. And I’d look at and I’d think, “I don’t know what else to do right now.” It’s not something you can power through, right? Creativity is not rote work and community management isn’t really rote work. There’s a lot of creative decisions, there’s a lot of uncertainty in your decisions. So at that point, it was just, “Well, I know I like this idea so I’m keeping that.” And then you just sort of look at it for a week. And then you just try some other stuff and you rule out things. You know that Thomas Edison quote, “I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”?
23:29 Patrick O’Keefe: Right.
23:29 Chris Bowyer: Well, I think, like any community manager, I think Thomas Edison’s a chump because I found way more than 10,000 ways that won’t work. I’ve made way more mistakes than that. And I just accumulated mistakes over six to eight months just trying things, keeping the things I liked. And about a year later, I had something I liked and then started the long process in turn of trying to implement it and prepare my users which was a multi-month process itself, prepare my users for the seismic change.
23:53 Patrick O’Keefe: So let’s talk about that, preparing your users, involving them in the process of getting ready to launch the design. How did you make them a part of that process?
24:00 Chris Bowyer: Well, like I mentioned, I didn’t solicit too much specific feedback because I was pretty sure I already knew what I wanted, and after so long, I figured the best way to go was to sort of keep it under wraps in the initial stages, just drop little hints, right? I didn’t want to do one of those multi-stage rollouts where everybody sort of already knows what’s happening before it happens, but I did want to let them know something was happening. I wanted to drop hints about it, and get them to the point where their excitement and curiosity overwhelmed the stagnation, right? Because people are very familiar with the design at this point, and even if it’s messy, it’s theirs. It’s familiar. If the forum is my home, or your home, then it’s their workplace or something. It’s some place they go to all the time that they feel a sense of ownership over. It’s something where, if you mess with it, they’re going to feel like you’re messing with them, and you are messing with them. You’re literally changing part of their daily routine. So even bad features sort of calcify in place. So I decided what I needed to do was get them to the point again where their excitement was stronger than that feeling of familiarity, where they like things just because they’ve gotten used to them.
25:00 Chris Bowyer: So I told people months in advance that I was working on it. I’d made jokes about it. I dropped little hints, and then when I got a few months out, I started leaking little screen shots. I would get very creative with it. And I was working on a version of the mobile site and I would bring it up on my phone, and I would put it on the desk, and then I would stand five or six feet away and sort of take an image of the phone sitting on the desk so you could just barely make out what was going on, and I’d post that. It was merciless. I was absolutely cruel about playing with people’s curiosity. One of the most fun things I did, though, was when I started actually implementing it into the templating system. Like most forums, there are different styles you can use, and you can just switch them on the fly. So I was able to use the new style as I was working it, and as I was implementing it, while other people are still using the old one. And because of the permission systems that vBulletin has, I was able to sort of flick the switch, and allow certain users to see the design for a couple of minutes at a time. And I was absolutely cruel about this. I would just do it randomly with certain users when I knew they were online. So they would load a page, and suddenly the new design is there, or something very close to what the new design was going to be.
26:00 Chris Bowyer: And then, a couple minutes later, it’s gone. I was just doing this sort of for fun, just to sort of get people interested and excited. And this worked far better than I could have ever hoped, because the first thing they would do, is they would go into some new thread and say, “You won’t believe what just happened. Oh, it was incredible. It was so much better. I didn’t get to see that much, but what I saw looked great.” And they got other people excited in turn, and people would deliberately talk about the design, because they knew that if they talked about it, they were more likely to get a sneak preview of it, and it just snowballed from there, so by the time the design was ready to go, it reached a fever pitch.
26:31 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s a really interesting way to do a rollout and to get people excited for it, because there are features that we get, especially through social networking and social media sites where there’s a rollout of this and that, but giving it to someone for a little bit of time definitely seems like a way that would generate some excitement, but I haven’t really heard of anyone doing that with online communities.
26:48 Chris Bowyer: It’s kind of high risk. It probably was actually a very bad idea, come to think of it in retrospect that just happened to work out. Because there was really nothing stopping anyone from taking a screen shot and just posting it and sort of spoiling some of the fun for everyone else, spoiling the surprise. But thankfully, the community, while getting bigger, is still close knit enough that nobody really wanted to do that, even though they could have. And I was pretty careful about who I chose to do it with, too, and I think everyone kind of likes being in the know, too, so they kind of felt very privileged. This is not something I would recommend for everyone, but I do think little things like this, little outside the box ways of thinking… You and I, we’re not Facebook, we’re not the social media sites that you mentioned. We’re not these conglomerates, so we have to think differently. We have to figure out, what is it that I can do that they can’t that’s interesting? What does my size and flexibility allow me to do that they never could?
27:35 Chris Bowyer: They could never do something like this. But, we can, so that’s the opportunity right there. Because when people see something like that, it’s interesting, it’s different. They think exactly what you just said, which is, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” And that helps build the excitement. And in turn, prepares people for the change, because when you change a design after 14 years, you have to really turn into the skid, you know what I mean? It’s not gonna be a nice, elegant transition. There are a few ways you can make it smoother, but it’s going to be jarring, so you need to turn that to your advantage somehow, by really getting people’s attention and getting them interested.
28:07 Patrick O’Keefe: You’re close to launching, you’re fine tuning things, right? You’re finding bugs, you’re finding things. Did you involve some members in that? Did you turn it on for a few people and let them give you feedback, or did you just go with kind of a cold launch, so to speak?
28:19 Chris Bowyer: I did have to do some serious beta testing at the end, yes. Particularly, with the mobile style. There’s really no way around it when you’re trying to do multi-platform, multiple device testing, because you need a wide range of devices and real-world circumstances. Nothing else will do. But yeah, what I’m describing works up to a certain point, but eventually, you do need to pick a few very trusted people that you know can keep a secret and that will try their darndest to break something for you. And I always think bug testing or beta testing, rather, is very melancholy, because on one hand, if you find a bug, it means something’s broken so that’s bad news. On the other hand you were pretty sure a lot of things were broken already, so it’s kind of good news to get those bug reports, too. So it’s very bittersweet watching the bug reports roll in, but it’s a necessary part of the process. So yeah, I think at some point, I certainly had to pick a few trusted members, and get them to try to break things for me in the weeks leading up to it.
29:04 Patrick O’Keefe: And then, you have this long process. You’ve been working on it yourself for a couple of years. You’ve been talking about it for awhile now. Members are… You have this anticipation, you have this excitement. How do you finally launch it, and not have it be a let down? [chuckle] What was your plan to launch it and to make it available for the community as a whole?
29:21 Chris Bowyer: Well, see, that’s a great question, because there’s actually no easy answer. When you build it up like that, the only thing you can do with those expectations is to meet them. Don’t start doing this if you don’t have any confidence that you’re going to be able to meet those expectations, because you’re right, the worst thing you can do is build it up and let people down. I think maybe I was a little fortunate, but I think putting that much time and thought into it, knowing for so long what I needed to fix, having internalized it by working on the site every day, having it be such a protracted process with the design and the testing, and just being in forums for so long, I think there are things that would not be obvious to a new forum owner, that to you or me, are things we learned eight or nine years ago, not because we’re geniuses at this, but because we’ve been doing it so long. Again the 10,000 ways that won’t work, when you’ve made that many mistakes, all that’s left are good ideas sometimes and it’s a lot easier that way. So, I think at that point just the sheer breadth of experience was a big part of it. And the fact that design was so old meant that the bar was actually pretty low to clear. Obviously, you have people who are very familiar with it. They don’t want anything to change.
30:20 Chris Bowyer: But there’s a benefit to it being so familiar, which is that being so old, all I had to do was be better than that old design. That old crusty design that needed to be modernized. So there was a lot of low hanging fruit. There were going to be a lot of things that even if people were unfamiliar with it, they were bound to recognize how much faster it loaded, how much better it looked on other devices, how much more modern it looked, things like that. So there were elements of it where a lot of the weaknesses were sort of strength simultaneously, and it’s just about finding a way to emphasize the strength part and de-emphasize the weakness part.
30:52 Patrick O’Keefe: You mentioned vBulletin, you’ve opted to stick with a heavily-customized, older copy of vBulletin. vBulletin is kind of a whipping boy [chuckle] in community circles. At the professional high end, even at the hobbyist end, it gets a lot of criticism. And I’m not saying it doesn’t deserve it, I’m just saying it happens. But it also powers many big, established communities like yours. Did you entertain other options as you were going through this process or was it always gonna be vBulletin? Why did you, in the end, decide to stick with it?
31:17 Chris Bowyer: Yeah, I absolutely did entertain other options. You can’t come at a redesign after 10 years like that and not think, “Well, here’s my chance to change… Fill in the blank. Anything. Anything I’ve been thinking about changing, now’s the time.” If I’m gonna redo the entire site anyway, might as well look at the software. And I did look, I looked at everything. I looked at newer versions of vBulletin even. Is this a good time to finally upgrade? XenForo, obviously, is the most natural choice for anyone who liked vBulletin back in its heyday but doesn’t like what it’s become. Obviously, as you know, and probably most your listeners know, former vBulletin developer spun off and created XenForo and took a similar design philosophy with it kind of where 3.8 vBulletin left off. And I thought long and hard about it. And eventually, I decided there was just too much customization, too much custom code, I’ve written myself. The rest of the site’s content is all tied into the templating and permission and user system. And I decided, “You know what? I think we can make this work. I think the day may come when I have to upgrade anyway.” And that certainly would’ve been the best time to do it, but I just haven’t found anything I like as much as this particular version of vBulletin.
32:18 Chris Bowyer: So, it was probably the hardest single choice of the entire redesign process, was whether or not to switch forum software but I ultimately stayed with what I knew. Partially, because with so many other changes I figured the design will be better if I can focus on just the design and I don’t have to re-learn a new templating or technical system as I go.
32:37 Patrick O’Keefe: So, it sounds like the close or the distant second. One or the other was XenForo right?
32:41 Chris Bowyer: Yep.
32:41 Patrick O’Keefe: That was the one you were thinking about?
32:42 Chris Bowyer: Yeah, if you’d forced me to change software that’s probably what I would’ve gone with during the redesign.
32:47 Patrick O’Keefe: I wanna talk about self-moderation. You’ve been giving your members tools to help out with moderation on your forums. What are you allowing them to do?
32:54 Chris Bowyer: As any forum owner knows spam is just a constant problem, and more specifically, it’s a constant arms race against the spammers. They get smarter and smarter, or there’s more manpower, or whatever it may be. IP proxies get better and more ingenious all the time. And we were having some issues with these sort of tranches of spammers. It would happen all at once at 2:00 AM. Every forum owner’s nightmare is the crazy onslaught of spammer bots right after you go to bed, that you don’t see until you wake up the next morning. And that was happening a little too often even with IP bans, even with CAPTCHA, various human verification methods, all that stuff. Plain English questioning, all that. They were getting through everything, it was kind of remarkable. And eventually I said, “You know what? Every time I wake up and this happens… ” Obviously, it’s very frustrating. But what I find is that there are people from all over the world in different time zones and they’re on the forums in the middle of the night talking about the spammers. And I’m sitting here thinking, “I trust these people. It’s still a close-knit community. They hate the spam as much as I do. And there they are, they’re awake already, so why don’t I give them the tools to do this.” I don’t have to make them moderators and there needs to be some oversight, there need to be some safeguards.
33:58 Chris Bowyer: But why don’t I empower them to clean up the community? They feel a sense of ownership over it, anyway. It’s like adopting a stretch of highway, they wanna keep it clean. They live here, they come here every day. So, they’ll be more than happy to do this if I give them the tools to do it. So, I built a custom kind of spam reporting system… We don’t need to get in all the little details. But the basic idea is, that if a sufficient number of users with sufficient seniority in terms of days registered, post count, or both report a spam post, it’s removed automatically. And I receive an email informing me that it’s been removed automatically, so that I can check and make sure that it’s supposed to be removed. So, if anyone abuses it, I’ll find out. And that worked very well. And eventually, I expanded it to even autoban users. Little stricter there, right? A sort of a point system. If someone with this many posts and this much tenure gets this many points if they decide to report someone. And so, it might take, say five or six newer users or two or three long time users. But if the points got above a certain total, the thread or the user is removed and myself in the mods receive a message letting us know it’s happened and we can verify it. And I gotta say to this point, I don’t think we’ve had a single abuse of the system.
35:03 Chris Bowyer: It’s worked beautifully and it gets the users even more invested in the community because now they have control, they have power. And I’ve shown them that I trust them, that I believe in them, and that I know they love the community as much as I do because I’m allowing them to protect it and be guardians of it. And it’s worked not only to get rid of the spam but to increase people’s investment in the community.
35:24 Patrick O’Keefe: And when you’re talking about auto-banning people, is this limited to newer accounts? Like this is a new account on the community and they reported it and that person’s banned, it wouldn’t be a veteran account that will be caught up in that sort of reporting?
35:34 Chris Bowyer: Exactly, yeah. There’s all sorts of little exceptions built in so that you can’t do it with someone beyond a certain point. And as far as I can tell, it hasn’t even come up once yet. But yeah, there are safeguards involved, too. Trust but verify. You definitely have to be careful. If you’re gonna give people this kind of power, I definitely recommend being very careful with it. But if you are sufficiently careful, I think it’s an underutilized tool, I can’t believe more forums aren’t doing this. I think the primary impediment is not that people don’t think it will work or not that it won’t work on most communities, but that you don’t have a whole lot of community managers who are also have a little bit of a programming background who can code something like that themselves. Because every forum site would need to program this a little differently. So, you need someone who is able to write a little bit of their own custom code, too. But if you can, I really think this is a very underutilized tool.
36:17 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s very much software-driven. It’s very much driven by what software vendors make available, and to some extent what the customization community makes available. Obviously, one of the big pros of vBulletin is that it has this great community of people making add-ons for it. That’s one of the big pros that it has, but there are a lot of things like that. And I should first say that I don’t really like self-moderation, like anyone listens to this show knows that I think I’ve talked about it before. I’m not a fan of self-moderation, but when I say that what I mean is that people expect users and members to do everything.
36:47 Chris Bowyer: Yes.
36:47 Patrick O’Keefe: And they expect them to moderate the community for them. And it doesn’t work that way and never will. But, the way you’re doing it I like, and I think it makes a lot of sense and I think it would be great for some software vendors to step up and add this as a default option or a feature where people can report posts and can have these sorts of actions taken on specific accounts when they’ve reach certain thresholds. I think it’s very smart. And one of the key parts of it is that you do review it, just like I review actions taken by my moderator.
37:14 Chris Bowyer: Exactly.
37:15 Patrick O’Keefe: Even even my most trusted… I have veteran moderators, excellent people. Also you mentioned a police officer. Two of my moderators are police officers.
37:22 Chris Bowyer: There we go.
37:22 Patrick O’Keefe: One’s a SWAT team member outside of Chicago. Wonderful people, great moderators, I trust them to remove content. And yet everything they do I review. I check every single thing, and 99% of it is good but there’s that 1% and I wanna be 100% right with all members. So I reverse things, I make changes, I fix things, I apologize.
37:43 Chris Bowyer: It’s interesting that you mention that though. As community owners we know the power of… I don’t wanna use the word crowdsourcing ’cause that’s a buzzy word. But, you know what I mean, sort of a purer form of crowdsourcing. Your community creates the content for you every day. They are the core of the site. It’s so funny that so many people stop short of thinking of them in other terms. If you can have them create the content, why can’t they do other things too? If they’re the primary source of your community’s labors, you can tap into that for this side of things as well.
38:12 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, I really like the idea of not only allowing people to report but also scoring those reports and taking temporary action against specific new accounts. There are features like that. Moderation, I think, as a whole is somewhat neglected by community software vendors at every scale, at the free open source level, at the low-cost vBulletin level, at the enterprise scale. It’s one of the features and one of things I talk about whenever I talk to these companies about what they can do that’s really impactful. It’s like work on the admin, work on the moderation, work on those features, work on algorithms. I have a feature I’ve been wanting for so long called censor block that I’ve talked about before that I’ve asked vendors to implement. Where basically, it changes the word censor so that it tells users when they hit the censor and it says, “Hey, your post did this. Here’s your post you can edit it. Please go ahead and change it and submit it.” We don’t remove profanity anymore, it’s over, once I implemented that. And that might not be the case for all communities. There are some communities where that would be abused or it would be difficult.
39:03 Patrick O’Keefe: But most of us who operate in niche communities and don’t play around in some really bad and hard to moderate spaces. That stuff would help us so much and would just take care of a very simple thing that doesn’t even need to cross our radar. And yeah, no one’s implemented it yet. So I would love for a couple software vendors to implement that feature to implement your self-moderation feature. [chuckle] Let’s make it happen. I know some of you are listening so let’s make that happen.
39:28 Chris Bowyer: Yeah, and by the way, that’s another thing that I just would’ve never discovered if I hadn’t been running this site so long because it only happened a few years ago. So theoretically I could’ve been running a forum, for let’s say 13 years and never needed that, never really needed something like that. So this is one of those things where only because I’ve been running it this long is I even run into this problem after that long that gave me the idea to do this strange thing. And I’m really anxious to see in five more years what thing am I gonna need to do that I could’ve never imagined when the site was only 15 or 16-years-old. I know there’ll be something though.
40:00 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, I love thinking about that stuff. I’ve been talking to different companies about roles and I think I’m gonna stay independent. But one of things I thought I would enjoy doing was basically leading product for a community software vendor. Just put me in a room and let me think up ways to make our lives easier and I will do it. And I will talk to people and we’ll find creative solutions to these problems. And administrators, community managers, community professionals will love you for it. Will love that you have those features that are smart, that use automation and reporting in smart ways that don’t degrade the user experience. That aren’t automation for the sake of automation because that’s where a lot of the best work can be done. It’s not infinite scroll that saves us, it’s features like this.
40:39 Chris Bowyer: Yeah. Absolutely. I think that’s what you need. You need the people who have found those 10,000 ways that don’t work, because a lot of the ideas they have left over are the good ones.
40:47 Patrick O’Keefe: We were talking via email in the lead-up to recording the show and you said, “The best moderation is one that slowly creates a culture where people don’t want to break the rules because if they do you’ve already lost.” Elaborate on that.
41:01 Chris Bowyer: Well, yeah, I think of it the way I think of, frankly, like ancient or medieval or feudal societies. You always wonder, “Boy, why do people put up with that abusive king?” There’s so many more of them than him. If they wanted to they could make a change, and if your community is of any size at all you are vastly outnumbered. And if they ever wanted to create a big headache for you, if they ever wanted to try to skirt the rules they’d be able to, because you cannot craft a set of rules for every circumstance. If someone deliberately wants to cause trouble and find ways to do things that are technically within the rules but still cause a lot of trouble, they can do that. So you want to create a situation where people are not trying to do that, where they’re not working against you. Because they don’t want to, because they know you, because you have a neighborly relationship with them. I actually never really clarified this in my mind until I joined another community, a small community for an independent video game actually called SpyParty. It’s a very high concept game, I’ll have to go into details at some point because it’s fascinating. But it’s a very small, niche-dedicated community and everyone is on a first name basis not just with the admin of the forum but the developer of the game, he’s developing it almost entirely by himself and they’re the same person.
42:06 Chris Bowyer: He’s the admin of the forum, develops the game also entirely by himself and he talks to everyone personally. He’s active on the forums. He has twice as many posts as anyone else on the forums and he’s been doing this for years and years. And thinking about that, I kind of thought to myself one day, I caught myself, I forget what I was doing but I was trying to make something easier for him. I think I was maybe telling someone that a thread should’ve gone somewhere else or trying to help him merge a bug report or something like that. And I thought, “That’s interesting. I specifically am doing this because I feel like I know this guy and I want his day to be a little bit better, or at least I don’t want it to be a little bit worse.” That kind of clarified my own moderation style for me in my mind, which is that I have a lot of personal relationships with a lot of these people, some of them for 10 or 12 years, some of them just for six months but sometimes that’s enough. And that’s one of the reasons they were so willing to file those spam reports that I mentioned is because they think of me not as this faceless admin sitting in an ivory tower somewhere, banning people and inflicting rules that they don’t like. They think of me as a human being. They know that I’m gonna get up in the morning and I’m gonna have my coffee, and I’m gonna have to go through spam reports, and I’m gonna have to mitigate disputes and all those things.
43:11 Chris Bowyer: And so they don’t want that to be worse for me, because they know me, because we’re friends on some level, and there’s just no substitute for that. That is the single best tool you have as a moderator. Is a personal relationship with these people so that they want to help you moderate. They wanna make your job as a moderator or an admin easier than it is. There’s just no better way. No spam tool in the world, no CAPTCHA, no nothing is gonna be more useful than that.
43:35 Patrick O’Keefe: It really speaks of something that I’ve been talking about lately, thinking about, telling people about. Community culture and setting the culture early and setting the culture that you want to have for the community for the long term. And it’s not necessarily easy but the same thing is kinda true with KarateForums.com. It’s really not that hard to moderate it. It’s really not that difficult. We don’t get as much activity as you do right now, but it’s an active community. And it’s really like we don’t have people who cause trouble all that much. It just doesn’t happen and it wasn’t always like that, and if I had to pinpoint why it’s because we created a culture early on, we attracted people who love that culture and want to protect it and want to embody it in how they contribute. And then we were consistent. And so, community culture is set pretty quickly. It’s two weeks, two months, two years. It’s not a decade. It’s not 15 years like the culture of MovieForums.com, the culture of KarateForums.com. That wasn’t something that came in the last year. It was a long time ago. It was choices I made a long time ago, choices you made a long time ago. The example I always paint is reddit because reddit is, every six months has some sort of major blowout and depending on your perspective reddit either is or isn’t a community space or is a series of communities subreddits that people self kind of moderate.
44:52 Patrick O’Keefe: But no matter how you look at it, the problems they have… For me, the problems they have with moderators, with communication, with blackouts, with very questionable topics, with them having to change their policies on free speech. All of that goes back to decisions they made 10 years ago.
45:07 Chris Bowyer: Yes.
45:07 Patrick O’Keefe: Decisions they made early on where they were like, “We’re gonna do this,” and then they’re saying, “No, we’re not gonna do that anymore.” And people hate it because they set the expectation in the first couple months, the first couple years of what reddit was. And now, after they sold out and took the money and they came back and people didn’t like that they were doing these things, and the mainstream media kicked down their door. And now they have to make these changes and people don’t like it. They have push-back, they complain and I’ve talked about this example before on the show. So if you’re an active listener, a regular listener, thank you and forgive me but it’s very relevant. I just spoke to a group today, Alumniportal Deutschland. It’s a platform where people who studied in Germany and then leave Germany or stay in Germany, they use it to connect with each other to stay connected. It was a basic community talk and one of the things I said to them was this exact thing. Your community that you’re creating on this platform, understand that you’re gonna set the culture in two weeks… Don’t let people get away with things because you’re desperate for activity, because that’s always the trap. It’s always the trap that you don’t wanna push people away. At the start you want as many bodies as you possibly can collect on that community.
46:09 Patrick O’Keefe: So you let them skirt the guidelines, you let them violate the guidelines. And what happens is that it’s not just an exception, it becomes the norm, it becomes the expectation and then that is your community and you can’t change that easily.
46:20 Chris Bowyer: Yeah. There’s an economic theory. I don’t know if you heard of it, called the broken windows theory, which basically, the idea… The real world example is that if you drive through a neighborhood and you see one broken window and if it doesn’t get fixed, there’s going to be another one. Because everyone who walks by that window is going to see, “Oh, this is a place that nobody’s taken care of. Nobody cares what I do here.” And the community is exactly the same way. It is like a neighborhood in so many other ways, but it’s even like a neighborhood in terms of that economic theory. If you leave broken windows, if you leave spam up, that’s going to send the signal that you’re the kind of place that allows this. I like to think that you start your community at the top of a hill. You have a ball and it’s gonna roll down one way or the other or some other way but it’s gonna start moving fast. It’s gonna self-reinforce, it’s gonna snowball. Just like that real situation, you can run down the hill and try to get in front of it and push it back up. You can do that. It’s not impossible but it’s a lot harder.
47:07 Chris Bowyer: So you really want to pick that direction with a lot of care from the get-go, because it’s gonna be a lot harder to change afterwards. It’s like steering an ocean liner, right? You get a lot of momentum going. I’m actually mixing a lot of different metaphors here but they all apply, don’t they? I think you probably know this as well as anyone. You have to set that tone and you have to live it yourself, too. I’m sure that’s something you’ve noticed as well. You mentioned being consistent. On a personal level, you have to embody the principles you wanna see in others because, it’s not gonna make sense to them if you’re sitting there saying, “Hey, we all need to be respectful,” but every time someone questions your authority or gets you mad, you snap at them. That’s not gonna ring true then when you call for respect, when you call for them to be civil to one another. You have to live out the traits. To mix another metaphor it’s kinda like raising a child, right? You need to set that example for the people because it won’t happen otherwise.
47:54 Patrick O’Keefe: Chris, this has been a great conversation. I’m so glad that I could have you on. I’m so glad that we’re still in touch after all these years, so thank you for joining us.
48:01 Chris Bowyer: Thank you for having me.
48:02 Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking with Chris Bowyer, the owner of MovieForums.com. You can follow him on Twitter @chrisabowyer. For the transcript from this episode plus highlights and links that we mentioned please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad and we’ll see you next week.
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