The trials and tribulations of (and some tricks for) maintaining a useful, workable, sustainable Virtual Public Space

Submitted by Jeff Buster on Tue, 06/14/2011 - 12:23.


A friend sent me a link to Coding Horror - from where the following quote is copied:  
There are three primary forms of secretly suspending users that I know of:
  1. A hellbanned user is invisible to all other users, but crucially, not himself. From their perspective, they are participating normally in the community but nobody ever responds to them. They can no longer disrupt the community because they are effectively a ghost. It's a clever way of enforcing the "don't feed the troll" rule in the community. When nothing they post ever gets a response, a hellbanned user is likely to get bored or frustrated and leave. I believe it, too; if I learned anything from reading The Great Brain as a child, it's that the silent treatment is the cruelest punishment of them all.
    I've always associated hellbanning with the Something Awful Forums. Per this amazing MetaFilter discussion, it turns out the roots of hellbanning go much deeper – all the way back to an early Telnet BBS system called Citadel, where the "problem user bit" was introduced around 1986. Like so many other things in social software, it keeps getting reinvented over and over again by clueless software developers who believe they're the first programmer smart enough to figure out how people work. It's supported in most popular forum and blog software, as documented in the Drupal Cave module.
    (There is one additional form of hellbanning that I feel compelled to mention because it is particularly cruel – when hellbanned users can see only themselves and other hellbanned users. Brrr. I'm pretty sure Dante wrote a chapter about that, somewhere.)
  2. A slowbanned user has delays forcibly introduced into every page they visit. From their perspective, your site has just gotten terribly, horribly slow. And stays that way. They can hardly disrupt the community when they're struggling to get web pages to load. There's also science behind this one, because per research from Google and Amazon, every page load delay directly reduces participation. Get slow enough, for long enough, and a slowbanned user is likely to seek out greener and speedier pastures elsewhere on the internet.
  3. An errorbanned user has errors inserted at random into pages they visit. You might consider this a more severe extension of slowbanning – instead of pages loading slowly, they might not load at all, return cryptic HTTP errors, return the wrong page altogether, fail to load key dependencies like JavaScript and images and CSS, and so forth. I'm sure your devious little brains can imagine dozens of ways things could go "wrong" for an errorbanned user. This one is a bit more esoteric, but it isn't theoretical; an existing implementation exists in the form of the Drupal Misery module.
Because we try to hew so closely to the real world model of democracy with Stack Exchange, I'm not quite sure how I feel about these sorts of reality-altering tricks that are impossible in the world of atoms. On some level, they feel disingenuous to me. And it's a bit like wishing users into the cornfield with superhuman powers far beyond the ken of normal people. But I've also spent many painful hours trapped in public dialog about users who were, at best, just wasting everyone's time. Democracy is a wonderful thing, but efficient, it ain't.
That said, every community is different. I've personally talked to people in charge of large online communities – ones you probably participate in every day – and part of the reason those communities haven't broken down into utter chaos by now is because they secretly hellban and slowban their most problematic users. These solutions do neatly solve the problem of getting troublesome users to "voluntarily" decide to leave a community with a minimum of drama. It's hard to argue with techniques that are proven to work.
I think everyone has a right to know what sort of jail their community uses, even these secret, invisible ones. But keep in mind that whether it's timed suspensions, traditional bans, or exotic hellbans and beyond, the goal is the same: civil, sane, and safe online communities for everyone.

Posted by Jeff Atwood   


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is it slowbanned or is it

is it slowbanned or is it a slow band. a question that I have asked as the pages somedays load oh so slowly. How is readers with old machines to know if they are being slowbanned?

what a grim read!