[new members] Guidelines for productive online discussion

Offer your ideas on how to improve the site or report problems.
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HB
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Postby HB » Jan 10, 2011, 3:21 pm

To-date there's been no need to formally publish forum rules, however I would like to share Team HB's guidelines for fruitful online discussion:

  • Be respectful. Treat others as you would have them treat you.
  • Be patient. Everyone is at different points in their learning.
  • Stay on topic. Many other avenues exist for non-coffee discussions. See How do I ask a good question? for helpful tips.
  • Be open and honest. Many people rely on opinions presented in these forums as part of their purchase decision. The source of the information you present and basis of the opinions you express are as important as the statements themselves. For example, you should make it clear whether you speak from first hand experience, what you read elsewhere (and if appropriate, link to the source), or conventional wisdom.
  • Encourage positive, shared discourse. Be mindful of participant reactions and consider the tone of your replies; ideally they should encourage positive discourse. Conversely, don't be disruptive by dominating the conversation. Dogmatic or repetitive replies are rarely welcome.
  • Accept the moderators' decisions. They are volunteers who want to share their knowledge and guide the discussion.
  • Help raise the discussion level. Use the how tos, resources, FAQs, search and search tips. "Newbie" questions are welcome, but they are more likely to receive thoughtful replies if some initial research is done beforehand.
  • Avoid cross-posting. Many of our members frequent multiple coffee sites. Please avoid cross-posting your question, or mention the other site(s) with referral link(s) to avoid repetitive responses. See Why is cross-posting strongly discouraged? for a more detailed explanation of this guideline.
Note that these guidelines aren't a list of "No blah blah blahs." Most HB members have been around enough public forums to recognize the usual rules like "No personal attacks" and "No commercial posts." Instead the theme is taken from Everything I Needed to Learn, I Learned in Kindergarten. Hopefully the above suggestions will work in all but rare cases.

Vendor participation in the forums

As noted above, this site has a "No commercial posts" policy. Forum members who have a financial interest in the topic in question should exercise caution before posting. For example, if you or the company you work for sells the product/service being discussed in a thread, you are welcome to correct factual errors, but should avoid posting opinions, product/service offerings, or critiques of competitive products. The same applies when a competitor's product or service is being discussed in a thread, i.e., you should refrain from offering opinions, alternative product/service offerings, or critiques. Moderators reserve the right to edit statements or delete posts that violate this policy.

Public complaints about customer service

A major goal of HB is keeping the discussion focused on espresso, the barista, and coffee. You know, topics that are consistent with the site motto "Your guide to exceptional espresso." Recently there have been public complaints about customer service issues in the forums. The pattern is easily recognized:

  1. Irritated consumer details the poor service of vendor "EspressoBiz".
  2. Some offer strategies on how the poster could better address their grievances with EspressoBiz (e.g., call and speak to someone instead of relying on e-mail, ask to speak to the owner, ask for a specific named person).
  3. Other consumers who have had good experiences with EspressoBiz reaffirm their support. Sometimes they suggest the fault lies in the irritated consumer's current course of action (e.g., relying on e-mail or voicemail, not allowing enough time to respond within business hours).
  4. Consumers who've had poor experiences with EspressoBiz (or have heard of similar reports) reaffirm that the original poster has every reason to be irritated. If nobody has been ranting up to this point, it's likely to begin. After a few hotly worded posts, coolheaded members or moderators remind everyone to focus on solving the problem, not ranting about past wrongs.
  5. Owner of EspressoBiz joins in the fray and publicly offers to personally address the problem.
  6. A few days later, the problem is resolved. Occasionally the formally irritated consumer will now extol the virtues of EspressoBiz's renewed commitment to quality service. Life goes on happily.
While on the surface one could conclude that the above sequence demonstrates the utility of online forums, the ensuing discussion arguably runs counter to HB's goal of promoting the pursuit of exceptional espresso, hence our recommendation: Please use these forums only as a last resort for complaining about vendors. Other members won't be helpful or sympathetic unless you've done everything reasonable to resolve the problem directly.

This forum is young and it wasn't until now that I've bothered mentioning rules. With luck, there will be infrequent need for moderators. Although I believe service disputes are best handled offline, if they do spill into the forums, Team HB will not intervene as long as it remains civil and it's evident that the parties are working towards mutually acceptable closure.

In addition to the above recommendations, we are weighing alternative means of balancing the consumers' right to express dissatisfaction against the vendors' concerns that their name will be indelibly sullied online. For example:

  • Forgive and forget. Archive a discussion after amends are made and a reasonable period has passed.
  • Opt-in forums. Move the discussion to a private forum where interested parties can continue their discussion. HB is based on phpBB, which supports different views on the forum index based on group membership. Creating an opt-in group for "off topic" discussions would allow those who wish to read / participate to continue to do so; those who aren't interested can readily ignore it.
For the moment, the site traffic is modest and the discussions remain focused with few exceptions, so these recommendations are no more than that - guidelines for your consideration. Your feedback on the above guidelines is welcome.
Dan Kehn