Back when you were a kid spending the afternoon at the community pool, remember how you used to hesitate when you glanced at those signs bearing the pool rules — just as you were about to dive head first into the shallow end? If your news or community site allows comments, why not put similar notices in a prominent place and format so users will likely notice them, and then let their conscience be their guide.
From the category of “Yes, steal this idea, please!” comes this example of how valuable it can be to provide clear, concise rules for online comments in exactly the right place.
Scroll down to the bottom of this Corpus Christi Caller-Times story. They explain to users exactly what makes user comments acceptable — as well as how to complain if you don’t like something posted on the site. Their “Consider this…” list appears right above the form where users enter comments. It includes clear do’s and don’ts for users, such as: “keep it clean,” “don’t threaten to hurt or kill anyone,” and “be truthful.”
Other news sites and user-generated content sites might have “community rules” like mine at MyTopiaCafe.com, or like Wikipedia’s Five Pillars or Flickr’s Community Guidelines — perhaps embedded in a link in the footer of the site or in terms of service agreement (which most users never read). However, the basic “pool rules” are not in a place where users will easily see them when they’re ready to dive in.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal does display a brief introductory paragraph before you click on the comment link. However, this might be more effective as a bulleted list with some eye-catching formatting.
(Thanks to Ellyn Angelotti, interactivity editor and adjunct faculty at Poynter, for this tip.)