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My question: When starting a community should it basically be a free for all and as use reaches or gets near critical mass then implement rules perhaps based on user input?

Background: While setting up and starting my community I've set up rules (general and marketplace). All rules are either common sense rules or rules I've seen successfully implemented in communities like mine. The problem is some of these rules seem to be a barrier to entry.

New/Potential users have stated that it would be "Too much hassle" to follow these rules for a community with such few users.

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    What kinds of rules? There's a difference between "be nice" and "you must format your subject lines exactly this way (that will make sense when we have hundreds of posts a day)". Can you edit a little more information into your question? Thanks. – Monica Cellio Sep 27 '15 at 4:14
  • It really depends on the rules you are talking about and what do the users do in your community normally. – Baskakov_Dmitriy Aug 12 '17 at 13:43
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I get what you mean by "barrier to entry" You are saying that the rules limit seem too limiting to users when they first sign up. When I began writing rules for my community, I realized it became too specific, SEEMED limiting and was too long. So I took out few rules and shortened the list.

You should implement rules from Day One because the users who were with you since then will seem like you are taking over or infringing on their rights when you begin imposing them weeks or months later. The ground rules should be set and from there they can be amended if needed. So at least there's none of the "I didn't know there was such and such rule" business.

Here's what I suggest (and what I did when fixing my rules):

  • Relook over *ALL* your rules.

  • Choose a few that are MOST important to you and the community. (For mine, it was no pornographic material)

  • Now take the other rules that you did not choose as most important and list them from more important to less important.

  • Then take out the rules that either seem: Like common sense, implied, unnecessary or just make you seem controlling and limiting. Or combine two rules that seem similar.

The list should now be reduced from 10 rules to 5. That's pretty fair.

In the end, rules are rules and whatever rules you impose must be followed and you shouldn't change the most important rules despite what the community says. For example, if my community said that the no pornographic rules was too unfair, I wouldn't take it down because I feel my community isn't the place for that. But if it really comes down to the community not liking an important rules, make the rules less minor or compromise with them.

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It is important to have rules and guidelines in any community. If all or most your members are not happy with certain rules, then see if they can be accommodated without giving them a free pass to do what they want.

One thing that I have found to be effective is creating places for specific behaviors and types of posts that are common, but often against the rules.

For example, throughout the forums, we prohibit any type of marketing or promotion. But to provide an outlet for good members that have something to promote, we created some specific forum areas just for those types of posts. This keeps the main areas clear of promotions, while creating an outlet for it. We still ban spammers, but spammers are easy to spot since they never contribute to the site, and post crappy looking messages. And to our surprise, people actually visit the promotional posts.

Another example is our rule that topics need to be on-topic and relevant to the forum areas they are posted in. This caused issues when members started posting "Word Association Game" type posts and other posts meant to increase one's post count and keep busy on the site. So we created an area specifically for these types of posts, and then made it so that posts there do not count towards their post count.

We also made sure that we created an area for off-topic posts, which allows almost any topic as long as it is not promotional, not adult and not harmful to the community (harassing, threatening, etc.).

Other rules, like those related to treating other members well, we don't bend on. If someone cannot respect others, then they are not a good addition to the community anyway.

Listen to your members, and see what works for your community. If necessary, create specific areas for specific things. That allows people who want to participate to participate, and those who do not to ignore that entire section of the site. Best of both worlds.

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This sounds simple but it's hard work in practice. Match your rules, with the precision of a tailor, to the goals of the community.

Defining the goals of the community also sounds simple and is hard work in practice. Be very explicit with yourself.

That done, put the rules in place at the beginning. "As the twig is bent, so grows the branch".

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