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If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say -- Business Rules Part II

One of the driest lines I’ve heard in a film was uttered by Olympia Dukakis in Steel Magnolias, "If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me." While Ms. Dukakis was referring to light-hearted gossip about the folks in her neighborhood (it was a movie after all), that kind of attitude can lead to some pretty un-collegial behavior among online community participants. To prevent ugly sniping and other unladylike/ungentlemanly behavior and address it if it does happen, it is important that the business rules of an online collaboration space include Standards of Acceptable Content.Your set of standards may be different than mine or anyone else’s for that matter. I may restrict my community users from posting pornographic material, while someone in that industry may very well have a successful online community where that type of content is traded openly within that space. So, while standards of acceptable content may be subjective, I’ve chosen to offer a set that is targeted to the mainstream community creator or business user.

  • Intellectual Property -- Users may not post any material that infringes on any patent, trademark, trade secret, copyright, or other proprietary or intellectual right.

Equally as important, somewhere on your site, you’ll need to provide a statement prohibiting the copying of original, copyright-protected materials from the site without permission.

  •   Harassment and discrimination -- Users may not post any content that could reasonably be understood as harassment of, or discrimination against, any individual or group, on the basis of age, mental or physical health status, gender, political affiliation, race, religious affiliation, and/or sexual orientation.

  • Pornography and sexually explicit content -- Pornography and sex-related merchandising are prohibited in this collaboration space. This includes sexual content, or direct links to adult content elsewhere.

You may wish to add in a separate section that postings or links to sites that promote any illegal activity or content that may be damaging to your servers or any other server on the Internet are prohibited as well.

  •   Solicitation -- Sending unsolicited mail messages, including commercial advertising and informational announcements, is prohibited.

Some sites may prohibit solicitation of services of any nature, while others may allow them for job postings and other such content. There also is the sticky point where some community systems allow users and/or administrators to send emails to other users at will. If you are using this type of platform, users should notified at registration that this is a possibility, otherwise, you risk violating the CAN-SPAM act.

There are more sections to add to your Standards of Acceptable Content to customize them to your collaboration space, but these are the basics. Just make sure that that your users understand your Standards as part of your Terms of Use. I also suggest having a lawyer or your legal department give your Standards a once-over before you post them.

And remember, Grandma’s classic, "If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all," is an excellent guideline.

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