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Strictly Message Board: What Happened

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Tom Van Aardt Tom Van Aardt | 15:02 UK time, Thursday, 20 November 2008

The British public obviously cares a great deal about Strictly Come Dancing, perhaps more than anything else in the world.

After John Sergeant pulled out, we had an incredible response on the BBC message boards on Wednesday 19 November.

Eventually, I decided to close the Strictly Come Dancing board at 22:00 so the moderators could work through the backlog of messages. Personally I think Paul on the Central Communities Team and our external moderation provider did an amazing job to try and keep this under control.

Here's a more detailed breakdown of what happened.

quit_strictly.JPGWe had an increasing number of messages in the moderation queue during the day. The Communities Team and our external partners kept me informed as the numbers kept steadily rising, and by lunch time the queue was extraordinarily high.

At half past three we were already two hours behind on moderating comments, meaning something that got posted at 13:26 was only appearing at 15:25. On a busy day we get new messages checked and posted within less than an hour.

By late afternoon we had all our internal and external moderators on it, we had reduced the number of pre-modded posts for new users down to 3, and we had our own super-mod on it (and he can do 400 comments per hour - accurately!)

By five p.m. we had to cut the new user pre-modding down to two, and then one. It was clear that the problem was being caused by new users wanting to comment, and as all new users are pre-modded before any of their comments are shown, the queue kept on growing.

Between five and six we had dropped the pre-modding down to one, and the "speedbump" was moved up from three minutes to five minutes. This is a time restriction between posts so that people can't use a BBC message board like instant messaging. We had hoped that this would allow us to bring the queue down to something manageable.

To give you an idea, we get worried when a queue reaches 500-600 unmoderated comments. By late afternoon we were running at over 2000 coments. This was in spite of putting all mods on there together along with all the temporary rule changes.

For the last hour of the day we started lifting restrictions on other boards (such as Points of View) to alleviate the burden on moderators and get them to focus on Strictly Come Dancing. We tried for one final hour before six to get the queue down, and hoped that as people left work at six the comments would stop rolling in.

Unfortunately this didn't happen, and the queue kept growing. After seven it was clear to me that we were going to have a problem overnight - the Central Communities Team had to go home at some point, and we normally only have one moderator on duty throughout the night as we close most boards for commenting.

Broadly speaking I had two options open to me as we went past 8 p.m.:

Lift the rule on pre-modding comments from new users, effectively opening up the boards to anyone and everyone without managing the input


Close the SCD board at ten, and start working on this again Thursday morning while the mods worked through the night to clear the backlog.

Our primary responsibilities are towards the community and the BBC's editorial values.

I didn't want to run the risk of having a free, open board - especially one attracting so many comments. I'd rather run the risk of being accused of censorship than have libellous, abusive, racist or otherwise damaging content.

Judging by the comments Paul received when he posted the closure notice we did the right thing. In fact, most of the comments commended the team and asked us to clean up the Strictly board even more.

Tom van Aardt is Communities Editor, BBC Future Media & Technology

(N.B. Editor's note 7.25 p.m. The final two paragraphs in this post have been removed as they contain factual inaccuracies. I'll update you with some better numbers and more detail tomorrow (NR))


  • Comment number 1.

    Whilst comments are a relatively quick item to moderate, this shows the problem of trying to moderate a web 2.0 world.

    Maybe you need to find a way of sharing the role of moderating with the public.

  • Comment number 2.

    What's the point of having a messageboard if you close it when people want to talk? Restricting opinion is not what I hope the BBC is about.

    I deplore racist/abusive comments, but I'd rather be able to report them and have them swiftly removed than to have my discussion stopped so each message could be checked.

    Common sense please!

  • Comment number 3.

    Why couldn't you switch to Reactive moderation? With that many people using the boards, surely anything untoward would have been spotted and reported pretty swiftly.

  • Comment number 4.


    We are working on ways to improve and speed up moderation, but you are right that it is difficult "to moderate a web 2.0 world".

    It has been suggested here and on other boards that we be more open about this, and I'm trying to be (case in point).

    I understand your frustration about us closing a board when you want to talk. The problem in this case wasn't so much just around "racist/abusive" comments as you mention. In this specific case we've had an incredible amount of *new* users signing up.

    When a new user signs up, we *have* to check their first couple of messages - this is called "being in pre-mod". There are two primary reasons for this:
    - To protect the BBC's editorial integrity
    - To provide a safe environment for users and protect the community

    Then there is another important point to note: We publish each and every comment we receive that does not break the house rules. As a public service broadcaster, we don't throw away or delete any comments that are legitimate. Unfortunately this sometimes means moderation queues, and in the most extreme cases queues that can take up to an hour to clear.

    On the Strictly board on Wednesday the system was being held up mostly by new users who were still in pre-mod. We had thrown *all our resources on this, but it wasn't enough. As I explained, I had a decision between opening it up as a free-for-all (including abusive comments, spammers, and other possible problem cases) or closing it overnight while we cleared the backlog.

  • Comment number 5.

    Have you posted this on the messageboards? That way, the people who were actually affected will see the explanation.

  • Comment number 6.

    As a moderator/admin on a (very low volume) message board, I can totally empathise with having to deal with an influx of new members.

    Many bots and the ocasional real-person spammer were signing up on a daily rate. Members had to be manually approved and, in the cases where they slipped through, the resulting posts were... largely unpleasant.
    I can only imagine that a site as large as the BBC will have many more attempted signup attempts by spammers.

    Much as I can appreciate it being frustrating if you're trying to post on something topical/immediate, I have full sympathy for the moderation crew in this case. Trust me, that one single post that can get through unchecked is definitely not something that should show up on a BBC site about a family entertainment show. Sadly, some spam attempts are completely obscene.

    I don't think free-for-all posting is a valid option, much as I'd prefer it from an end-user point of view.
    But I have background as both a board mod and as a techie. And when a backlog reaches that extent, it's time to shut off the incoming attempts for a while.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    How do I get on to a general blog site eg entertainment/ documentaries ?

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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