This is not for tomorrow’s agenda, but is still something that should be talked about with more than just the people who happened to be online at the time.
I propose we allow users to archive their own topics (not replies). In addition, we should lengthen the time-to-edit to allow people to remove semi-sensitive data.
One of the ongoing concerns in the forums is a double-edged sword. We want the forums to be more welcoming to more people, and the needs of the people have changed considerably in the decade+ since we codified the forum guidelines. At the same time, making it easier for people to get where they need to be and do what they want to do causes an extra burden on the volunteers.
Part of simplifying the experience for users and lessening the load for volunteers comes with an added twist of privacy and legality.
It came up today (2 Sept 2020) that someone had posted information that isn’t exactly ‘private’ but could land them in legal trouble for sharing. They did so by posting a debug log that had information that probably should not be public.
Over the course of the discussion, many pain points were identified (including talking to the plugin A plugin is a piece of software containing a group of functions that can be added to a WordPress website. They can extend functionality or add new features to your WordPress websites. WordPress plugins are written in the PHP programming language and integrate seamlessly with WordPress. These can be free in the WordPress.org Plugin Directory https://wordpress.org/plugins/ or can be cost-based plugin from a third-party developer about making it clearer to the users that some data should not be shared on public forums). The one we can action on from the forums side would be to alter our policy of “No, we don’t delete posts except in extreme circumstances” to “allow users to delete their own posts whenever they want.”
Why This Needs to Happen
Back in 2010, the user base for WordPress was different. It was not unacceptable to think that most people coming to the forums were aware of the basics of servers and FTP FTP is an acronym for File Transfer Protocol which is a way of moving computer files from one computer to another via the Internet. You can use software, known as a FTP client, to upload files to a server for a WordPress website. https://codex.wordpress.org/FTP_Clients., as few one-click-to-install services existed. Having Multisite Multisite is a WordPress feature which allows users to create a network of sites on a single WordPress installation. Available since WordPress version 3.0, Multisite is a continuation of WPMU or WordPress Multiuser project. WordPress MultiUser project was discontinued and its features were included into WordPress core.https://codex.wordpress.org/Create_A_Network. require people demonstrate some server awareness (by editing a wp-config.php file) was seen as reasonable and logical. We actively wanted that barrier to entry, as the support and maintenance of Multisite would need you to know how to log in to the server and possibly use command line.
Today, a number of companies offer WordPress managed hosting, where they do everything for you. While we have amazing tools like WP-Cli WP-CLI is the Command Line Interface for WordPress, used to do administrative and development tasks in a programmatic way. The project page is http://wp-cli.org/ https://make.wordpress.org/cli/, the average user has shifted, and not everyone needs to care about Ubuntu flavours or packaging their own PHP PHP (recursive acronym for PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor) is a widely-used open source general-purpose scripting language that is especially suited for web development and can be embedded into HTML. http://php.net/manual/en/intro-whatis.php. versions.
- WP 3.0 (released in 2010) had 37,579,278 downloads
- WP 5.4 (released in 2020) had 60,771,290 downloads
- WP 5.5 (released a month ago) is around 16,700,000 already
To be clear, I think this is a good thing for the ongoing growth of WordPress. But it also means we need to reevaluate how we handle things in the forums. The decisions made a decade ago were never meant to be immutable and permanent. They are, in fact, guidelines for a reason. Our user base is going to keep growing and changing, and we must adapt.
Recognizing that our user base is different means we need to change our expectations. It is no longer fair to assume that everyone knows a user ID isn’t a security risk, or that posting in public means Google will find it eventually. Instead of trying to educate an ever growing user base, we can simply permit people to remove posts.
In addition, with the landscape of privacy awareness, it’s unfair to expect all forum moderators for all nations to be up to speed on the legality of sharing private information. There’s no possible way any volunteer can always know what is safe for public consumption from their e-commerce store, and what is privileged information, after all, and we should not be asking them to do so!
Proof of Concept
I can speak to this directly. In previous years, when the Plugins team emailed all developers to ask them to update their plugins for compatibility, we would receive hundreds of requests to close plugins. In April 2020, we added a change that permitted developers to close (but not reopen) their own plugins on their own.
This last release cycle, we received under 20 requests, while over 100 plugins were still closed.
By allowing people to take agency over their own experience, the developer satisfaction rose. I firmly believe this will have the same effect on forum posters.
These are ordered in what I believe are ‘easiest to hardest’ to do:
- Extend the time-to-edit (currently 1 hour, proposals were for 3 days to 7 days)
- Make the link to edit more obvious
- Rewrite the WALL O TEXT before the post box to something smaller/actionable
- Link to the guidelines (maybe a checkbox) at the post box
- Allow OP (and only op) to self-archive (the URL A specific web address of a website or web page on the Internet, such as a website’s URL www.wordpress.org would become a 410 GONE with a simple message of “This post has been removed by it’s author”)
- Allow people to report individual replies, not just posts
- Have a popup if ‘Debug Log’ is pasted in
- Have Carike’s Flow be a thing (It’s already in progress)
Pros and Cons
- Giving users agency makes happy users
- Smaller burden on forum mods
- Legally protected from privileged data
- Reduction of harassment towards mods when telling people no
- SEO bonus as less valuable posts will be removed, making the Google Beast happier
- Solutions may be lost for other people with the same problem (this is often referred to as the DenverCoder9 problem)
- Some people may act maliciously and hide/edit the post to try and cover their tracks
- Longer post editing will cause out-of-sync issues, where answers no longer make contextual sense
Allowing users to remove their own posts, and giving them a longer time to edit, will give them power over their own representation online, and allow them the freedom to make mistakes without dog-shaming them about them in perpetuity.