Note from archiver<at>cs.uu.nl:
This page is part of a big collection
of Usenet postings, archived here for your convenience.
For matters concerning the content of this page,
please contact its author(s); use the
source, if all else fails.
For matters concerning the archive as a whole, please refer to the
or contact the archiver.
Subject: Pitfalls of Newsgroup Moderation
This article was archived around: Sat, 15 Aug 2009 07:01:02 +0000 (UTC)
Posted-by: postfaq 1.16 (Perl 5.10.0)
Pitfalls of Newsgroup Moderation
(or Things You Wished You'd Thought Of Before You Started)
Maintained by Russ Allbery <email@example.com>
So you want to propose a moderated newsgroup. Or perhaps you want to
moderate one, or maybe someone's just proposing a moderated newsgroup for
a topic you're interested in (or even proposing moderating a group that
You may want to read this before you go further.
Let me be clear about my bias up-front. I'm an advocate of moderation for
a lot of situations. I think it's a great way of improving the quality of
a newsgroup under some circumstances. I'm also the moderator of several
newsgroups myself. But a lot of people are quite fond of the concept and
results of moderation without being aware of the work and problems that
come with it. This document is an attempt to teach you about that part.
This is not an attempt to persuade you that moderation is a bad idea,
although it may have that effect. (And if it does, moderation probably
*is* a bad idea for your particular problem. Moderation is rather far
from a cure-all.) This is an attempt to get you thinking about some
issues that you may not be aware of or may be tempted to discount.
This is not a how-to on how to moderate, nor is this a primer on what a
moderated group is. If you don't know that already, you're not in the
target audience for this post. If you haven't already, please familiarize
yourself with the means and methods of moderation; a good place to start
is with the old Moderator's Handbook, available at:
This document is divided into three parts. Each part is a list of
pitfalls and problems that arise with moderated groups, things you should
be thinking of, and things that others have wished they had thought of
earlier. The first section is aimed at proponents of moderated groups,
the second at prospective (or current) moderators, and the third at
readers of and posters to moderated groups.
* Are you aware that your group is going to depend entirely on the
moderators? Have you really thought about what that means? A regular
newsgroup can, if push comes to shove, survive on a few die-hard
posters until interest picks up again. A moderated group without
active moderators is dead. It doesn't matter how many posters there
are, how good of an idea the group is, how many people are interested,
or how many sites carry it; if no one is moderating it, the group is
dead. And once it dies, it can be very hard to revive again.
* Are you sure your newsgroup needs to be moderated? It will be easier
on you and everyone else if you can get away without needing
moderation. Unmoderated groups largely run themselves. Moderated
groups require some group of people to regularly invest their time in
the newsgroup, day in and day out, for as long as the newsgroup exists.
Don't underestimate how hard this is! This goes treble for discussion
groups; announcement groups can handle occasional idle periods when a
moderator goes on vacation, but discussion groups can't (at least very
often). They need to be working all the time, and that means finding a
moderation team that can manage that. (A lot of it can be automated,
but if everyone goes on vacation that will be when the automation will
break and spew thousands of posts all over Usenet.)
* Are you trying to moderate an existing newsgroup? If so, is there
anyone, and I mean *anyone*, who wants it left alone? If not, wow,
that's really rare. Congratulations. If so, please, for the sake of
all of our blood pressures, seriously consider creating a new moderated
group rather than moderating the old one. If people will continue to
use the unmoderated group, it won't be a waste, and you will not
believe the number of flamewars it will preserve you from. Providing a
new choice is drastically easier to defend than restricting something
that already exists.
* Do you have a team of moderators already lined up? Yes, a team. One
moderator is not recommended, even if they think they'll have plenty of
time. (They may have plenty of time, but remember, a Usenet newsgroup
is going to last for years.) Past experience shows both that finding
moderators is the hardest part of this and that groups with one
moderator are very prone to dying off. Make sure you have backup
* Do you have someone on the moderation team who's already very familiar
with how Usenet and moderated newsgroups work? Learning on the job is
a great idea for part of the team (the backup moderators can probably
do that). If the primary moderator is learning too, your group is
likely to be in for a rough start. At least make sure you have an
advisor, a technical contact, or someone in the loop who has a goodly
bit of experience with getting moderated newsgroups working.
* Did you think that the work of getting the newsgroup created would end
with the vote? We all wish that were true, but it's not. Particularly
with a moderated group. A lot of sites (it'll feel like most sites)
just won't create the group. They'll ignore the newgroup. You'll have
to mail them individually. Then they'll create the newsgroup
unmoderated instead, and you'll have to mail them again. Then they'll
get the submission address wrong. Then they'll lose it again. Expect
it to take a few months to get the newsgroup up and mostly running.
Get very used to saying "please mail your news administrator and ask
them to fix the newsgroup at your site."
* Do you have backups? Yes, I just said that above, but it's important.
Even if you think you can handle this all by yourself now, what happens
when you want to go on vacation in Tibet? What happens when there's an
illness in your family? What happens when you just plain run out of
time? Having a backup moderator is not a one-time arrangement; it's an
ongoing commitment to keep another person (or group of people!) up to
speed with how the group is being moderated so that they can take over
in the event of an emergency of some sort. That means making sure they
have current copies of the scripts, current instructions, current
copies of any supporting data files, and so on.
* Can you find some way to run the group as a team? I can't recommend
this strongly enough. You have no idea how much it helps (unless
you've already done it). It means you don't have to jump at
everything, since there are other people to bear the load. It means
that there are people to talk to and get second opinions from. It
means there are other people you can blow off steam with who will
understand. And it takes care of the backup problem.
* Do you know exactly how you're going to moderate the newsgroup, the
entire process from receiving the message in e-mail to posting it to
the newsgroup and making sure it propagates? If not, work it out
*now*. Test it. Your readers may tolerate a bit of setup time after
the group is created, but not very much. Make sure you're just working
out kinks. Don't suddenly realize that the group actually passed and
now you have to work out an entire moderation system in five days.
* Are you converting an existing unmoderated newsgroup into a moderated
newsgroup? In that case, forget any leeway mentioned above. The
entire moderation system has to be working immediately when the
newgroup message goes out, or the group is going to break and everyone
is going to blame you. If you don't already have this entire
moderation thing down cold, don't get involved in moderating an
existing unmoderated group! This is not for beginners at moderation.
* Do you know how to "program," at least to the extent of setting up
macros and scripts for the tools that you use to automate common tasks?
Do you know someone who does and can help you? If not, don't try to
moderate a high, or even medium, volume newsgroup. Moderating a
newsgroup that gets more than a few articles a day requires either some
level of programming, at least to the degree of writing procmail
scripts, or a lot of free time to spend on moderating the group. There
are free tools out there to help you, but they're going to require
customization for your group. Other people may be willing to help you,
but make sure you have them lined up in advance and make sure you're
already working on your moderation system. It will be harder to set up
and will take more time than you expect.
* Do you have multiple injection points? Your server is going to crash.
People will expect the group to continue working even when your server
has crashed. Furthermore, sometimes your server crashes in ways that
make it look like your posts are being posted, but they're not actually
going anywhere. If you inject the same post via multiple servers using
the same message ID, there won't be any duplicates, and you get
redundancy. (If you run the news server you'll be injecting posts
into, you don't have to worry as much about this. In that case, when
the news server breaks, you'll be able to fix it, and keeping it
running will be part of keeping the entire moderation system working.
Your existing multiple peers will be your multiple injection points.
But make sure you have some warning of when it's broken!) There's a
lot of help available for this from other moderators. Ask on the
moderators list (subscription requests to firstname.lastname@example.org).
* Are you ready to be responsible for the newsgroup? If you're the
moderator, then anything that goes wrong with the newsgroup is going to
be your fault. Even if it isn't. You're going to get to diagnose
bizarre problems with news systems all over the world. You're going to
get to deal with the fact that there are a lot of really poorly managed
Usenet sites out there, and they're going to get the submission address
or even the moderation status of your group wrong. All of the posters
and readers are going to look to you to fix it. (Make sure you provide
a way for posters to e-mail posts directly to you when their news
servers don't let them post correctly. That's a really common
* Are you able to be infallibly polite? Or at least know when you need
to cool off a bit before responding? Remember, people expect anything
they post to be approved, and you're going to have to reject some of
it. They're going to be upset about that. Quite frequently they're
going to be angry. Sometimes very angry. You don't get the luxury of
losing your temper. You are the Moderator. While you're wearing the
moderator hat, you need to be calm, cool, unbiased, and consistent.
Even if you're running a robomoderated group, don't expect to be able
to disappear into the background. You still will be the person
everyone will ask when anything doesn't work like they expected.
* Do you have backup plans? What happens when your home computer dies?
What happens when your ISP dies? What happens when you lose power for
an extended period, are called away unexpectedly, get buried in work,
get stranded somewhere, or otherwise lose network access temporarily?
What happens if you decide you don't want to do this any more? The
newsgroup is now something you're going to have to think about in
situations like that. If you should suddenly drop off the earth, can
the newsgroup continue on without you? Do the other moderators (you do
have other moderators, right?) have your home and work phone numbers?
* Do you have a nigh-permanent submission address? As much as we all try
to get everyone to use the moderation relay sites, somehow the actual
submission address gets into people's configuration files, and some
servers will keep sending posts to the submission address from five
years ago. You really want those posts to still reach you.
* Are you hooking a mailing list to a newsgroup? This involves special
issues of its own: the mailing list tends to get a lot of spam unless
it's also moderated, contributors to the mailing list may be worried
about their addresses being harvested from the newsgroup, and people
contributing to the mailing list may be using software that doesn't
generate things like References that news software wants. Make sure
you've discussed this thoroughly with both the list members and the
newsgroup users. It's generally not a good idea to try to combine
something that's unmoderated with something that's moderated;
gatewaying an unmoderated newsgroup into a moderated mailing list or
vice versa is just asking for trouble.
For readers and posters:
* Are you willing to tolerate delays? Your articles won't show up as
fast as they do with an unmoderated newsgroup, from your perspective.
If the moderation site is very well-connected and the newsgroup is
robomoderated, they may show up faster for most of the net, but they
still won't instantly be available from your local server. And despite
everyone's planning and best intentions, things will go wrong and the
group will occasionally be down for a while.
* Are you willing to put up with your posts occasionally getting lost?
Your ISP will misplace them. There will be a broken moderation relay.
There will be a mail problem somewhere. Guaranteed, sooner or later, a
post just won't show up. You'll have to resend it, and may have to bug
your local administrators to fix something.
* Are you willing to help get the newsgroup going? As mentioned above,
lots of sites just won't get this right at first. The newsgroup won't
be created, it'll be created unmoderated... there will be problems.
The only way to get those problems fixed is generally for some user of
a site with problems to contact the news administrators and ask them to
fix it; the moderators can ask, but ISPs respond much more quickly to
(polite) requests from paying customers than from random moderators.
* Do you trust the moderators? Because if they don't want to be
replaced, you're going to have a hell of a time replacing them. No
matter what you put in the newsgroup charter, moderators effectively
control the newsgroups they moderate, and no one's going to take the
newsgroup away from them unless they do something egregious. And even
then, it will be months of fighting over it. Pick people you trust!
If you don't trust the moderators, don't vote for the newsgroup, no
matter how good it sounds.
* Are you willing to have your posts be rejected? No matter what the
moderation criteria for the newsgroup, even if it's just strict
robomoderation against crossposts, sooner or later you're going to want
to post something that the moderators are going to reject. You might
be able to talk them around, but you're probably going to just have to
swallow your rejections and put up with it. Moderators reject posts.
That's the whole point of a moderated group. Don't think it's never
going to be you too.
If you have anything else to add to this post, or any suggestions about
it, don't hesitate to mail me. Thanks to Gary Johnson for his
encouragement and to Tim Ottinger for the initial framework of this post.
Thanks also to many news.groups readers for suggestions and feedback.