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Field Notes The Cod of Conduct
Betsy Aoki is a Community Program Manager for Microsoft on the Xbox team. Her gentle neuroses are avidly expressed in her e-mails, blog posts, and, hopefully, on the XNA Framework.
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Sometimes what you need may not be a bigger server, or a better-educated user base who refrains from beeping you just as you are about to leave early for the weekend. Sometimes it's not managing the code that's the problem; what you need is a great big fish.
About a year ago, I was working on abuse reporting for the Live QnA site (qna.live.com). We manned the Delete buttons and monitored the site for idiocy attacks and poor behavior. We had internal tools. We had external policies. We confronted a couple of real wackos who attempt to sabotage our questions with nasty content.
Meanwhile, I was burning out. After all, the community health of the site was my charter. I was the one who helped work on the code of conduct that set the tone for the site. I was the Gatekeeper, and everyone was just going to darn well BEHAVE.
Except they didn't. People are people—that is to say, capable of the greatest perfidy and the wildest saintliness—and what I wanted didn't really factor into whether someone would call another user a butthead or not.
So one Saturday I was sitting in my kitchen, thinking about the code of conduct I was defending. As I was doodling around with my pen, I had one of those "brain-moves-sideways" motions in my head. What if there was no code of conduct, but a cod of conduct? And if so, what would this cod look and act like? Well, I grew up in New England where we ate cod. White, flaky, boring cod. I wanted to be able to chide and cajole my QnA membership with the snide, matter-of-fact tone of a cod. Not just the smiting hammer of the Delete button, which I was using with too much frequency of late, but with the scathing wit that would make someone laugh even as they vowed not to cross the line again. Thus, Norbert the Cod of Conduct was born. I pondered giving him a pipe, but I figured the bowtie was enough.
The Cod of Conduct (Click the image for a larger view)
I uploaded my drawing of the fish to a new LiveID, gave it a QnA user name, and Norbert, the QnA Cod of Conduct, was ready for business. He wasn't always me, mind you. Sometimes another team member would take on the Cod persona and chide the miscreants. Who is the Cod of Conduct? See go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=99044. Does the Cod of Conduct hurt people's feelings? See go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=99045.
QnA community members took to him like ... er ... a fish takes to water. They bantered with him, summoned him, got cranky about him. He educated the newcomers, chided the folks we thought could be turned from darkness to light, and provided a lighthearted way of looking at the rules beyond just reading a dense legalese-ridden Web page.
Rules—whether they are company policy, tribal law, or playground pecking order—all depend on the goodwill of the folks who feel the effects of the enforcement. As an IT person or a community Web site developer, you can create tools that assist in the enforcement of the rules, but sometimes the best tool for the job will be something that arises out of your own personality or the collective tribe's sense of humanity. Rather than technical engineering, a bit of social engineering spit and polish can be more effective. Or perhaps, in our case, spit, polish, and a fish.