A personal post from Graham Ellis

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Pettifog and forum boards away from public view

I looked up the word "pettifog" online ... and found the definition "To act like a pettifogger" here. Hmmm - I don't want to get too heated about this, but have you ever seen such a useless definition. And an ironic one too - because to Pettifog means to argue or quibble or grumble or carp over something that might not be too serious. Yes, I'm pettifogging about the definition of pettifog.

Why was I looking up the word in the first place? Because I've always liked it since I saw it introduced for a members-only board on the UK-Yankee forum where I used to post regularly and do some moderation. And I felt it might be apt for a new indexing tag for some of my posts - the pedantics and the rants that I allow myself the luxury of posting occasionally. The jury's out on that one - I'm polling the views of other members of the Well House team as to whether or not such things should be gathered in one place when I'm fully aware that I've indulged in a bit of mud slinging now and then, that mud always sticks, and it's probably not terribly good marketing to cluster it all in one package.

Should every forum have a "Pettifog" area, which is restricted in its access? Why not simply allow material / comment up to a certain point, then at that point say that "enough is enough"? There's a lot of mileage to be had for an area in which potential developments can be discussed, kites flown without fear of them getting caught in a storm, stronger views expressed that should not be in the public domain. And, regrettably, there's sometimes a need to have the more argumentative areas of a forum accessed only over a hurdle that's high enough to make it less that worthwhile for trouble makers to get over it ... to avoid your forum becoming the home of those people who aren't interested in the actual topics covered, but just in arguing! So I'm very much in favour of such an area on most forums.

How do you restrict your Pettifog area?

First question - do you even let guests know that it exists? In reality, you can't prevent word getting out even if you keep it off the menus, and it's probably not worth trying to keep it secret - someone will mention it, and nearly all regular users of any forum will in any case be aware of such board, and perhaps even at different levels.

Second question - who can post to your Pettifog board? Do you make it writeable to anyone who's a member? To members who have passed a threshold number of posts? To members who are invited by other more senior members or by the admin team? And if by invite or the admin team, how do you keep the qualification fair and open?

Third question - who can read Pettifog? Almost inevitably, not guests. Nor (probably) new members, as that would encourage people to sign up just to read the board. But there is an argument for allowing members to read at a slightly lower threshold than they need to post.

The wider subject of restricted boards is one that every forum provider needs to consider. As well as a "Pettifog" area, you may choose to have other areas which are limited in different ways - "children's club" for younger members only (if your board accepts under 18 sign ups - a whole other issue), "fat club" for members who are working together to loose weight, and a moderator and administrator's discussion area where the team that helps the owner keep a watchful eye on the happenings on the board, in private. The presence of this latter board sometimes causes negative concern amongst the more mouthy members (a good pettifog subject!) but it does provide a logical and quick way for the operations team to decide whether a thread should be split into two, if the word "shit" is to be allowed in a particular context, and to alert one another of a suspicion that two members are perhaps one and the same person under different aliases. And this moderator's board allows these discussions to be inclusive, and decisions co-ordinated.

Although I'm not shouting about this on the main forum at the First Great Western Coffeshop, I'm going to use it as a brief case study example.

We have four levels of board.

1. Most boards are public readable, and writeable by any member who is signed in.

All new membership applications need to be approved by the administrator, a step that is regrettably necessary to stop signups that are made purely to post off topic adverts, to message all your members, or to create a second "persona" for one individual.

2. Our "Frequent Posters Club" is readable and writeable by any signed in member with a certain (quite low) threshold of posts to his / her name.

3. "Behind the Counter" is an area where administrators and moderators discuss issues out of the public gaze - mainly problems that have come up, and ideas for future development and "beacon" posts.

Our administrators are the technocrats who know how the board works and can fix operational problems with databases, etc; they do not necessarily understand the detail of the subjects under discussion, but they are a safe pair of hands with the ultimate authority. The moderators are a group of subject experts, respected for their knowledge, and their calm and fair approach. Most moderators are quite active in their own posting, but we have several respected "elder statesmen" in the group who's circumstances mean they're no longer around very often, but who's inputs we greatly value.

4. There's also a "Deleted Posts" board which only the administrators know about. It's virtually never even looked it - it simply retains a history of material that we've had to take down for one reason or another, with the purpose of allowing the admins to check back if they come across something which "looks awfully familiar ..."

Traffic is heavily concentrated on the public boards - of over 1600 posts made last month, none at all are in the deleted area, a dozen or so in "behind the counter", and less that a hundred in the "frequent poster's club". It's actually a good achievement that the most restricted of the areas is so quiet - that's not a target in itself, but rather an indication that we're not having to manage the boards to the extent of having to over manage them.

Of just over 450 members, just under 150 are qualified to post in the "Frequent Poster's club"; as a forum where many people come initially because they want to rant (pettifog!) against a certain train operator, we do expect to find a proportion of our members who are "one topic wonders", and that's fine by us.

In fact, the whole requirement for the forum in the first instance was to give a voice to customers who weren't happy to just go along with things as they were - at the least, they wanted to be able to find out a bit more by asking "why?", and many wanted a chance to express their views or rant a little. Which means that if the issues that our board was set up to help address actually ARE addressed, we might be working ourselves out of a role.
(written 2009-01-03, updated 2009-01-04)

Associated topics are indexed as below, or enter http://melksh.am/nnnn for individual articles
G903 - Well House Consultants - Running and moderating forums and social media sites
  [4492] Almost so wrong, but perhaps it's right for some? - (2015-05-11)
  [4403] The unbalanced relationship between customer and provider - (2015-01-21)
  [4315] Welcoming genuine forum posters quickly - but turning away off topic advertisers - (2014-11-16)
  [4307] Identifying and clearing denial of service attacks on your Apache server - (2014-09-27)
  [4283] Can a legitimate forum post become illegal a year later? - (2014-07-11)
  [4239] Facebook marketing - early experiences - (2014-01-19)
  [4234] Change to Libel and Defamation laws from 1st January 2014 - (2013-12-31)
  [4065] Handling requests to a forum - the background process - (2013-04-17)
  [4025] Backups, Codebase, Strategy and more - dealing with forum incidents - (2013-03-03)
  [4017] Acceptable User Policy / vexatious interacter - (2013-02-24)
  [3910] Identifying your real customers and keeping them well informed fast - (2012-11-02)
  [3479] Practical Extraction and Reporting - using Python and Extreme Programming - (2011-10-14)
  [2820] Netiquette for forum newcomers - (2010-06-20)
  [2781] The 500 pound question to get you started - (2010-05-26)
  [2569] How to run a successful online poll / petition / survey / consultation - (2010-01-10)
  [2527] Flying tonight - (2009-12-05)
  [2526] A reluctance to move from old shoes to new - (2009-12-05)
  [2386] Computing under the influence of alcohol - (2009-08-29)
  [2254] Forum membership - a privilege not a right - (2009-06-22)
  [2177] Preventing forum spam - checks at sign up - (2009-05-12)
  [2162] Admins thoughts on banning a member from a forum - (2009-05-09)
  [2156] Stopping forum spam - control of the signup process - (2009-05-04)
  [2116] Why do we delay new forum members through authorisation? - (2009-04-03)
  [2103] Ask the Tutor - Open Source forum - (2009-03-25)
  [1923] Making it all worthwhile - (2008-12-04)
  [1759] While the world sleeps ... - (2008-08-19)
  [1678] Software - changes and delays. But courses must run on time! - (2008-06-15)
  [1595] First Great Western Weekend - (2008-03-30)
  [1578] Please don't shout at me! - (2008-03-16)
  [1569] I dont care - goodbye - (2008-03-09)
  [1563] Guidlines for posting on a forum - (2008-03-04)
  [1539] A forum is not always the best vehicle - (2008-02-14)
  [1532] Comment spam blocked. Please comment via Forums - (2008-02-05)
  [1523] Ive just received an email from myself. Should I be worried? - (2008-01-29)
  [1485] Copyright and theft of images, bandwidth and members. - (2007-12-26)
  [1472] The Horse goes on and on - (2007-12-15)
  [1362] No Thank You - (2007-09-23)
  [1190] Save the Forum - A regular clean sweep - (2007-05-17)
  [1088] Why use BBC code not HTML? - (2007-02-21)
  [948] Running an on line campaign - (2006-11-27)
  [923] Why shouldn't I spam? - (2006-11-13)
  [919] Freedom for X is denial of privacy for Y - (2006-11-09)
  [841] Forum help - a push in the right direction - (2006-08-21)
  [828] Freedom of speech and freedom to post - (2006-08-10)
  [806] Check your user is human. Have him retype a word in a graphic - (2006-07-17)
  [651] Please Register with Opentalk - but just once! - (2006-03-19)
  [516] Open source questions? Anyone can ask. - (2005-12-03)
  [424] How not to run a forum - (2005-08-24)
  [248] Use me, but use me effectively - (2005-03-16)
  [231] Feedback as lifeblood - (2005-02-28)
  [204] The confidence to allow public comments - (2005-02-06)
  [130] Spelling and grammar - (2004-11-25)
  [115] Expiration dates or times on web pages - (2004-11-12)
  [29] Silence is Golden - (2004-08-26)
  [22] Falling out over the silliest things - (2004-08-21)

Z801 - Pettifog
  [4720] Celebrating our diversity rather than discriminating for it - (2016-11-02)
  [4651] Pressure selling in the fire safety business - (2016-02-19)
  [4630] The story behind the bus cuts, and what they could mean - (2016-01-24)
  [4354] Wiltshire Police - assuming someone is guilty just on the say-so of a member of the public? - (2014-12-16)
  [4304] Please do not ask me to be the chair! - (2014-09-25)
  [4282] On tipping - and the expectation of a tip - (2014-07-10)
  [4167] The important customers are the majority, not the celebrity - (2013-09-08)
  [4140] Riots in Melksham - (2013-07-13)
  [3900] The Xxxxx Guest House in Xxxxxxxxxxx - my stay reviewed - (2012-10-20)
  [3835] The Information age - not yet truly with us? - (2012-08-12)
  [3749] Removal of water safety equipment, and how to use a lifesaver ring - (2012-06-04)
  [3302] Are you a half full or half empty person? - (2011-05-25)
  [3084] Can you trust the big brand names? - (2010-12-12)
  [3030] Liquorice allsorts and Dolly Mixtures - (2010-11-05)
  [3013] Audio equipment - (2010-10-24)
  [2944] What others cannot do in 10 months takes Virgin 10 minutes - (2010-09-03)
  [2937] The cat in the dustbin - (2010-08-27)
  [2788] Cost of Sales - (2010-06-01)
  [2761] A small business, facing a big government questionnaire - (2010-05-12)
  [2625] Both feet on the same pavement - (2010-02-05)
  [2193] Excellent product, excruciating customer service. 3 Mobile Broadband - (2009-05-21)
  [2122] Commission Creep - (2009-04-08)
  [1862] Remember your units - (2008-10-31)
  [1839] Job application - (2008-10-13)
  [1783] Think before you send - (2008-09-02)
  [1741] Age Concern - (2008-08-07)
  [1349] Cash is not an acceptable way of paying - (2007-09-13)
  [1337] A series of tyre damages - (2007-09-08)
  [1170] Smoking, or no? The law insists we spell out the obvious - (2007-05-01)
  [826] Fighting illegal net use by imposing download limits - (2006-08-09)
  [815] Time trickles like water through a sieve - (2006-07-27)
  [791] Strange housewarming - (2006-07-03)
  [783] Good follow up ... my thanks - (2006-06-28)
  [638] A pile of sand? Where do we stand? - (2006-03-08)
  [600] It costs nothing to say THANK YOU - (2006-02-11)
  [562] Smoke and mirrors - (2006-01-12)
  [519] New Road - (2005-12-06)
  [478] Watch what you wear - (2005-10-26)
  [471] And it gets even better - (2005-10-21)
  [439] You cant - (2005-09-08)
  [323] 1 in 48 steel - (2005-05-24)
  [90] Rude old people - (2004-10-16)
  [87] Too sittings - (2004-10-13)
  [52] International awareness - (2004-09-17)

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Well House Manor Hotel - on plan for 2009 business guests
Moving a directory on your web site
Required Request
Pettifog and forum boards away from public view
Telling Google which country your business trades in
Plagarism - who is copying my pages?
Search Engines. Getting the right pages seen.
Review of 2008
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This is a page archived from The Horse's Mouth at http://www.wellho.net/horse/ - the diary and writings of Graham Ellis. Every attempt was made to provide current information at the time the page was written, but things do move forward in our business - new software releases, price changes, new techniques. Please check back via our main site for current courses, prices, versions, etc - any mention of a price in "The Horse's Mouth" cannot be taken as an offer to supply at that price.

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