darkhavens (darkhavens) wrote,

Wearing The Modhat - an Essay

This is the edited and extended version of my WriterconUK talk on Modding Communities, given on Saturday, 15th August, 2009, at the Ramada Hotel, Coventry.

It contains my own personal views on modding and as such, does not pretend to be the definitive guide on 'How You Should Mod Your Community'.

I'm sure there are things I've missed, and things that people will disagree with, but these are my thoughts on the subject, at this moment in time. Though I refer to fandom throughout this post, the thoughts and ideas here can easily be adapted to other arenas.

Think about why you are creating this comm

If it's for you, so people will post content you approve of, in your comm, well, good luck to you, but you're probably not running the kind of comm I, and a lot of other people, want to be a part of.

If you're creating a community because you love the fandom/pairing/etc and you think fandom needs the 'service' your community could provide, then yay! You understand that your new community is not about you, it's about your fandom.

I recently stumbled over a "multifandom" comm that was actually only for three fandoms, and only one specified pairing in each of those fandoms. The comm was 9 months old. There were 15 posts and 6 members. FAIL.

Does the comm already exist in another form?

Search. Search again. Double and triple check. If it already exists but it's not being run as well as you think you could run it, ask yourself if it's worth fragmenting your fandom/pairing? Because it's very possible, even likely, that you will.

In one of my very slashy fandoms there are a couple of het pairings that get some attention. One pairing is suffering from severe fragmentation.

comm1 :~150 members : created 10/05 : 800+ entries (79 unique members)
comm2 :~100 members : created 12/05 : 350+ entries (26 unique members)
comm3 :~115 members : created 08/07 : 600+ entries (58 unique members)

(NB: What I call a 'unique member' is someone who is only a member of that particular comm, and not a member of either of the others.)

Comm1 has a rule that I believe to be responsible for the original schism: No Slash as secondary pairings.

In just about any fandom, that's going to turn away a percentage of your potential membership, but in a fandom as slash-centric as this one, it's pretty much a deal-breaker. Just because someone loves that het pairing, it doesn't mean they don't have just as much love for slash, and want to include both in their fic.

The lesson? Try not to let personal tastes cripple your community before it ever finds its feet.

(I have no idea why the third comm was created, but I think that if a community has been fractured once, it becomes easier to decide to do it again.)

As a point of interest, I did a quick check on the front pages of each journal, choosing five fic titles in each comm and searching for each of them on the other front pages. Not one of those fifteen fics had been crossposted. If that holds true for the other posts, it means that all of those 'unique members' could be missing out on at least half the content posted about their pairings, some as much as 75%.

Interestingly, there is a pairing-specific newsletter, which I thought was a wonderful attempt at bringing everything together under one roof, except... 71 watchers : over 3 years old : 40 entries : last entry Sept 08. :(

Creating the comm

Choose a name that makes sense. If I were to come up with a name for a Spike/Xander Buffy comm right now, it wouldn't be bloodclaim. Having a name that doesn't immediately tell people what the comm is about makes extra work for the mods and minions who have to pimp it and get it known.

And then there are the people who are multi-fandom. I have posting acccess to 152 communities right now, including comms for 15 specific fandoms and a whole bunch of multi-fandom places. Trying to remember what comm name belongs to what fandom can make crossposting a nightmare an adventure.

Before you get to pimping and recruiting minions to do the same, make a couple of almost-empty mod posts besides your FAQ/Affiliate Here/Rules/Links etc posts. That way, you have 'spares' to edit in any necessary mod stuff, without spamming your membership later on.

There's a certain comm in one of my fandoms that recodes their mod posts/links lists before each new season, and then reposts them all, one after another. They are huge posts, despite the lj-cuts, complete with large red fontwork and giant glow-in-the-dark asterisks from hell.

I no longer watch that comm. I will only visit if I can't find what I'm looking for elsewhere. They could so easily edit the existing links posts as necessary and then make a small new post linking back to those existing lists instead of assaulting every watching eye.

Respect the flists of your watchers and members. Remember, anyone can leave your community in three clicks.

Pimp. PIMP. P!I!M!P! But...

Pimp politely. If a community doesn't allow standalone pimp posts, then either create your own content and make a post at that comm with a discreet little "hey, lookit: a new comm!" type note at the bottom, or recruit content providers to do it for you.

If your comm is multifandom, then you definitely want to get it seen by as large an audience as possible. Making it easy for people to pimp you helps you do that. If you look at the profile page of whedonverse_nb, you can see banners in a variety of sizes, with text boxes underneath so that people can copy and paste the code to repost the banner in their own journal/comm of choice.

This is how you do that:

<textarea name="textarea" cols="30" rows="2">RAW CODE/LINKS/TEXT ETC HERE</textarea>

(you can change the width of the box by editing the 'cols=' and the depth by editing the 'rows=')

You need to actively hunt down the people who post fic, icons, meta - anything relevant to your comm. You need to read, view, comment, and then name drop your comm and tell them you'd love to have them post a link there. Keep doing it. Even the badfic writers and the headpasters and the ones with WTF summaries. ;) You need them all or it won't be a success.

If you cherry-pick the best content providers and only encourage them to post in your comm, some people not on that elite list are going to feel slighted and excluded, and may very well end up creating a very similar comm where they make a point of it being all-inclusive.


The first thing you have to remember when writing your rules is that SMART PEOPLE CAN BE DUMB TOO. If there is a way to misinterpret any mod decision or ruling you make, someone will do it, whether it's wilful, accidental or a staggering display of ignorance.

Decide what you're going to allow/disallow in your comm, and write the rules as clearly and plainly as possible. Specify what you are going to allow or disallow. Get them read by a five-year-old. And then by a lawyer. *g*

In fic-posting comms, insisting on headers, warnings and links back to previous chapters/parts is always a good idea.

Not such a good idea is insisting on a personalised-by-you set of headers or a specific subject line item order (eg: TITLE, PAIRING, RATING, AUTHOR NAME, WARNINGS), with a threat to delete or refuse a moderated post for any slight deviation.

Even if these orders are clearly posted on the comm profile, if someone (me, for instance) has to check the profile/posting details of a comm every time I go to crosspost there, eventually I/they are going to stop bothering.

If you insist on people posting their content to your comm and only your comm (even just for x amount of time until a challenge/fest is complete), some people will decide not to play. There are a lot of comment hors out there, and I am one of them. I want comments in my journal. I want my content in my journal under my control.

Having said that, I am a co-mod at ship_manifesto, where we do actually insist on the manifestos being posted in the comm itself so we can be sure of retaining the essay if/when a personal journal gets deleted/locked. But we have no problem with it also being posted at any other location the author wishes. We just want 'a copy for our files'.

A couple of years ago, a newish member of slashthedrabble asked me why I, as the mod, was posting a link out to my journal instead of posting my content in the comm. Did I not want to bring people into my comm?

I admitted to being a comment hor, and pointed out that I always link to any comm that provides a prompt that gets my words flowing or my graphics mojo going.

I create comms to encourage the production of fic/artwork, etc. I work to make the comms popular so I get more goodies to read/view/drool over, wherever they end up being posted. ;)

Community Profile Page

As well as the actual lj name, and additional 'name' entry on the Edit Profile page of a comm, LJ has also added a 'Community Description' space, which is a wonderful tool that I wish more mods would notice and use.

In this space, you can put a short description of what goes on, or is allowed, in your comm. And this description is shown when the comm appears on an lj search list, so you should make every word count.

bloodclaim: For everything Spander - Spike/Xander fic, artwork, icons, recs, fic searches and more!
slashthedrabble: Multi-fandom drabble comm with a new challenge posted every Wednesday night!
gpfg_studios: Gay Porn For Girls Studios - a Stargate Atlantis/SG-1 gay porn movie studio AU.

Graphics: If you overdo it and people have to wait and wait and wait while all those banners and awards and lovebars load, you're going to lose a certain percentage of prospective members and watchers who don't want to have to wait, or don't want to be scrolling down forever to find the members/watched-by lists.

And as far as they have to scroll down to find those lists, they have to scroll all the way back up again before they can actually click on 'watch' or 'join'. Every second spent scrolling is going to cost you members.

Please, please, have some kind of contact information on the profile page. A gmail account set up in the comm name can easily be set to forward email to your regular account. If you don't want people contacting you about your community, then you probably shouldn't be a mod. And if you do have a contact email available, please check it occasionally. Several affiliation requests I made for one of my comms - sent to the emails provided for that reason! - were never responded to, even after followup emails and PMs.


I cannot stress enough the importance of having a friend you can trust implicitly. You need someone who will not tell others when you come to whine at them about the latest hideous creation that's been posted in your comm; who will hold your hand while you weep; who will go and look and then commiserate with you before distracting you with porn or LOLCATS; who will read over the reply you've just pounded out in response to an idiotic wanker in your comm - and then tell you that no, you can't post it because the 72pt lime green font of rage is a little too much. And you mis-spelled 'go@tfuck3r'.

Co-mods can also be a great support network, though you need to choose people you know you can trust. Coups can and do happen, though thankfully rarely. Co-mods can also be a way of ensuring your comm's longevity and health if something should happen to you. A comm without a mod can be a very scary thing.


Have a post for people to comment on if they wish to affiliate their comms with yours. Link it from the profile page. Link it from the links list in the sidebar of the comm. It's the simplest method of requesting/keeping track of affiliation requests, and they're not something you want to ignore.

The way LJ's Interests search engine works means not all comms appearing on the list are actually relevant to you, and you have to dig for what you do want. Affiliating with other comms in the fandom provides members and visitors with an easily accessible list of relevant or similar comms that may be of interest to them.

It's an alternate, user-friendly way of navigating around a fandom.

If you want to be extra helpful, you can also post a list of other comms/websites that you think are relevant or worth checking out. If someone sees the list(s), goes off and lures a flistie into their shiny new fandom, they're going to point them at your comm as the place to find other links.


Having just slightly talked down LJ's Interest searches, please, if you run a comm, make sure you spend a little time working on the Interests. If it's a comm for a specific fandom, don't just list the names of the characters you like, or can remember (SEEN IT DONE). If you're unsure of a name, please don't guess (SEEN IT DONE), check IMDb or the relevant Wiki page.

If you have space left over, add locations and fandom-specific details. Add pairings! You never know. Someone might be lj-surfing and see an Eliot/Hardison fic, or a Buffy/Giles icon and suddenly realise that 'Oh Em Gee, that really works for me!' And off they go to the LJ Interests search engine to look for Eliot/Hardison or Buffy/Giles. And don't forget the threesomes and moresomes! *g*

Interests are important! I cannot find your Dexter fanfiction community if you don't have the interests I am searching for listed on your comm info.

I ran a few searches while I was getting these notes together (actual search criteria in italics):

Dexter : 366 comms.
Dexter fanfiction : 1 (dexter_fanfic)
Dexter fanfic : 0 (Not even dexter_fanfic!)
Dexter slash : 0

The largest Dexter community, dd_dexter, and the second largest, darklydexter, both allow fanfiction, and do have the interests 'dexter' and 'fanfiction' listed, but they don't have 'dexter fanfiction'. Neither one has used the 'Community Description' space, so searching the page for 'fic' does not point me towards them either as somewhere that would welcome my story or as somewhere I could read others' stories.


Plan ahead. Be consistent. And please, remember that tag clouds are not really suitable for a community. People do not want to be scouring a blob of links of various font sizes trying to find that rare and therefore tiny Bert/Ernie tag. ;)

Organised tag lists are much more useful tools:

slashthedrabble's tag list
we_love_dick's tag list
ship_manifesto's tag list

You can control who gets to create and add tags. There are three levels:

Who can create new tags and add/remove tags from entries? : Only maintainers / members only / any user

Who can add existing tags to entries? : Only maintainers / members only / any user

The more open models can lead to multiple tags of a similar nature, including typos, reversed name orders (eg: John/Rodney; Rodney/John) etc.

NB: Tags created by moderators only become visible to the members after they have been used at least once.

Links Lists/Sidebars

These are very useful in a comm, even if they're under the banner instead of off to the side. Mod posts such as signups, rules, a FAQ, the tags list, memories, resources posts, etc, need to be easily accessible too.

bloodclaim has a whole boatload of links tucked in under the header, including a 'post to bloodclaim' link because there are always going to be newbies out there who do not know how to get their post into your comm.

Mod journals.

I've only recently started learning the benefits and drawbacks of using a mod journal.

Benefits include:

1) being able to edit posts made by other mods using the same journal.
2) anonymity can make it easier to enforce the rules because it's not you that's being the picky bitch, it's mod_x.
3) they allow for the swapping out of mods without the need for a mass-reposting of mod-generated content.

Drawbacks include:

1) other mods can edit posts you've made.
2) anonymity can make it easier to be a picky bitch.
3) comments on posts made by mod journals do not automatically fall into your inbox. (Yeah, I know, it seems obvious now, but it took me two days to realise, and then I had to go back and answer all the questions I didn't know had been asked. And then I logged back into my real identity and clicked 'track this' on the mod journal posts to make sure I got any future comments.)


Tracking is a fairly new tool in LJ's kit, but it's a very useful one. Tracking makes it much easier to keep an eye on posts or discussions that might turn wanky or vicious. Instead of having to refresh the relevant page every couple of minutes, you can "subscribe" to the post, or to a specific thread, and all new replies will be delivered directly to your inbox or IM or cellphone, etc.

You can also subscribe to the comms you mod, so you are notified every time someone posts. Not all communities are going to require this level of monitoring, just as not all communities are going to require all posts to be moderated, but the tools are there if you need them.

In Conclusion

If you're going to be a mod, you can't be afraid of making the unpopular (but wise) decisions. Some people will hate you, whatever decision you make. Some people will leave the comm over it. But there will always be others who email you, who PM or IM you, thanking you for making that hard choice and for making their favourite comm a wonderful place to be.

The first time I got an IM from one of my favourite Spander authors, asking for my help as the mod of bloodclaim, I did a chair dance and squeed out loud, then ran straight to my BFF and squeed at her that 'OMG! author X is in another IM window asking my advice! EEE!'

When I get an email from someone who just wants to say thank you for creating their favourite place to spend a lazy afternoon, it always puts a smile on my face, no matter what kind of crappy day I've had.

When an anon mousie bought bloodclaim a permanent account, I cried solidly for five minutes.

Modding can be the biggest pain in the arse, and it can be a real time-suck and an energy-drain, but it is also a constant source of joy and amusement, of new friends and fandoms.

I've never once regretted putting on a modhat, and I hope this post can help others decide whether or not they share my taste in millinery.


Crossposted to writerconuk.
Tags: me, writerconuk

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.