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What's A Great Community Member Look Like?

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Starting with this feedback thread, we've had a lot of conversations about how to make CougCenter a better community. We continued the discussion with this piece, trying to give you some insight into the authors' point of view.

Of particular debate has been our use of exclusionary tactics (i.e. "ban hammer") to hold commenters to our Community Guidelines, something I've been thinking a lot about over the past couple of weeks.

One of the best things I learned in grad school was that the most effective teachers have only a handful of rules, and they enforce those rules vigorously. And most of the time, the "rules" aren't really rules at all -- more often, they're sort of guiding principles such as "respect others." Teachers who have a million rules unintentionally create an adversarial environment in which they often expend more energy enforcing their rules than actually educating.

Beyond that, rules beget loopholes, which beget more rules, which beget more loopholes ... and if you doubt this, just take a gander at any bureaucratic institution's policies and regulations. (Hello, NCAA.)

So, the irony was not lost on me when I realized last week that we at CougCenter were heading down that very path. Community Guidelines? That's not so bad. Commenting Guidelines? OK. Tired Memes? Now we're starting to push it. Where does it end? 

Beyond that, we can't expect every person who comes to CougCenter and wants to participate in the community to read all of that stuff before participating. You're not buying a house. It makes us authors feel better to have it documented, like a warm security blanket we can grab when things get rough, but the reality is that it's obviously not making this a better community.

In fact, it could easily be argued that the layers of rules we're creating have made things worse. Instead of solving a problem, we've created an adversarial relationship between readers and authors. Some of you have taken to calling us authors mods, which, quite frankly, is a term I hate. We want to be community members with you; we don't want to be the cop you're worried about running afoul of -- a sentiment we've seen expressed multiple times now which, quite frankly, disappoints me. Moderators enforce rules. I don't want to be a moderator, and neither do any of the other authors. 

So, I want to turn this discussion on its head. And I want your help to do it. In comments section, please answer this question:

What does a great community member look like?

Since commenting has been the main source of consternation for us, a couple of guiding questions for you to think about could be these:

  • What are the characteristics of great comments?
  • How does a great community member respond to other community members?

But the question really is as open ended as it sounds. If you have a different direction you want to go, please feel free to do that. And if you like a particular response, please use the "rec" button liberally to bring it to our attention. I'll then go through this thread and the feedback thread and put together something concise that everyone can abide by here at the site. My hope is to create something to inspire people to be "great."

Thanks in advance for your help.