How to write a good set of Community Guidelines

Writing the Community Guidelines for an online social network is an art. Next to on-boarding and FAQs, the community guidelines are an important document that helps set the tone for the site and the people that use it. You need to be clear and firm but also treat those that use your site as humans that can think for themselves.

I can’t tell you how to write a good set of guidelines as each community is different and the voice that you choose to address the community needs to come from you as a unique reflection of your values. I can point you to some of my favorites and point out choice snippets.

Get Satisfaction

As a corporate service, Get Satisfaction needs to strike the right balance between fun and engaging but also covering all bases for those corporate buyers (more likely the corporate lawyers) that might not be comfortable with loose language. While the language is pretty straightforward, the titles of each section let slip a little personality. “Be your awesome self” and “No trolls!” have personality but for those that are not sure what they are getting at, the details are explained.

The Guardian Participation Guidelines

For a mainstream media site, The Guardian has a refreshingly crisp set of guidelines that are clear and easy to to understand.

We welcome debate and dissent, but personal attacks, persistent trolling and mindless abuse will not be tolerated.

I’m not a legal mind but I would say that such a phrase is open to interpretation but the guidelines make clear that the Guardian owns the platform and takes responsibility to curate the conversation and keep it civil for everyone.

flickr

As a photo sharing site, the flickr community managers have been inspirational for their balanced approach to weaving the line between one person’s form of expression and another’s sense of morals. Their community guidelines are as much an ice breaker as an appeal to all of us to be human. Included are such gems as:

Don’t be creepy. You know the guy. Don’t be that guy.

Tumblr

Who ever wrote these guidelines (you can see a working draft on github) sure was having a lot of fun. Sprinkled throughout are gems such as:

Harm to Minors. . .Being a teenager is complicated enough without the anxiety, sadness, and isolation caused by bullying.

Sexually Explicit Video. . .please don’t use Tumblr’s Upload Video feature to upload sexually explicit video. We’re not in the business of hosting adult-oriented videos (and it’s fucking expensive).

Username/URL Abuse or Squatting. . .Don’t squat, hoard, amass, accumulate, accrue, stockpile, rack up, buy, trade, sell, launder, invest in, ingest, get drunk on, cyber with, grope, or jealously guard Tumblr usernames/URLs.

Spam. . .don’t tag a photo of your cat with “doctor who” unless the name of your cat is actually Doctor Who, and don’t overload your posts with #barely #relevant #tags.

Confusion or Impersonation. . .Don’t impersonate anyone. While you’re free to ridicule, parody, or marvel at the alien beauty of Benedict Cumberbatch, you can’t pretend to actually be Benedict Cumberbatch.

Lastly? Check out the original TOS for Blogger. Most of it is what you expect but then you get to section 12E which helpfully states:

IF YOU HAVE READ THIS FAR THEN YOUR EYES PROBABLY HURT. ALL CAPS, WHAT WERE WE THINKING? HOWEVER, WE ARE NOT LIABLE FOR THIS OR ANY OTHER OCULAR MALADY.

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