Civilizing IRC and forums: moderation strategies for mutual respect

Accepted Session
Short Form
Scheduled: Wednesday, June 25, 2014 from 1:30 – 2:15pm in B202/203


As a project's public IRC channel or forum grows, it's hard to keep it friendly. People get frustrated with each other, people have "different" senses of humor, disagreements escalate...oh goodness, it can be a mess. This isn't great for retaining community members or welcoming new ones. I'll share my strategies for dealing with problems, learned at the scale of hundreds of forum threads, tens of thousands of forum visitors, and dozens of IRC chatters every day.


Here’s what I’ve learned from being the lead IRC op and forum moderator for user support in my open tech community – both by seeing things go well and by making mistakes. This is for people who are part of projects but not necessarily “moderators”; if you have some trust from other people, and some careful phrasing, you can probably help de-escalate problems and build better culture.

IRC is an especially interesting problem, since it’s core to many open source projects, but it’s often semi-hidden, and the interactivity means discussions can escalate fast. It’s maybe not ideal, but people are going to keep using it, so I want to encourage discussion about ways to improve it. In my bag of tricks for IRC and forums:

  • Carefully placing documentation to make an IRC channel easier to access for newcomers, while preventing frustrating regulars with repetitive questions.
  • Writing and enforcing conduct rules without making everyone really angry, through asking for help and building consensus.
  • Automatically flagging problematic keywords, producing a summary of conversations to check on after you’ve been away.
  • Talking to people (including volunteer moderators!) about their behavior, including when to talk in private (and suggestions for phrasing).
  • For channels and forums with lots of casual visitors and occasional bans, preventing annoying ban evasion “games” through figuring out what the person wants.
  • And more, such as convincing respected people to interact in the comments (science!).

This will include time to hear from other people about what has worked (or not) in channels/forums for their projects too, and to see if we can collaboratively come up with ideas for solving problems we’re facing.


irc, forums, moderation, community

Speaking experience

JailbreakCon 2013 - video ( and text (

JailbreakCon 2014 - video ( and slides (

And lightning talks at AdaCamp 2013 and Community Leadership Summit 2013!


  • New headshot copy

    Britta Gustafson

    18F (General Services Administration)


    I’m a content designer for 18F, which is a digital services consulting team within and for the U.S. federal government. My job is a combination of technical writing, content strategy, piecing together bits of interface copy, and other ways of moving words around to improve software and processes. Our work at 18F is open source, so I get to bring my years of experience with open source project communities into government. In my personal time: I’m a member of Double Union (a feminist hacker/makerspace in San Francisco), I edit Wikipedia and LocalWiki, and I teach Wikipedia editing workshops.