Rant

Zero Post Accounts: To Prune or Not to Prune?

This is one of the dilemmas in forum management in which you will find a lot of debate and extreme positions in the issue. Some people consider it gives a bad aspect to your forum while other people consider that if they already took time to register we should give them the benefit of the possibility to come back.

You know what? Ten years ago I don’t remember this being an issue at all. Popular Forums were filled with zero posts accounts and as a member I got a taste of bitter and sweet of this practice.

  •  The bitter:  Having the nick of this character I liked already taken by a dead account and struggling to come up with an alternative name that will suit my taste.
  •  The sweet: I made my account in a Zelda Forum but I lost my bookmarks. For a while I jumped from site to site, browsing affiliates, hoping to find again the place. Over a year past the incident I received some sort of “newsletter” about the place. If they had that pruning philosophy going I would have been out of their database by the time they sent it and missed my opportunity to be back.

So why do people feel the need to prune accounts?

1. SPAM

 In this decade the Internet has become more and more accessible for people and as such a desperate attempt to reach more audiences and aggressively expand, the SPAM has spread from dubious email in your junk-box to almost anywhere in the net that can be seen: social network, forum, blog… you name it. Anything popular or relevant will be used to attract visitors to their business.

 In Forums there are automated accounts (bots) and genuine advertiser spammers. There are even genuine people that write generic messages just like bots, they are used to bypass the registration anti-bot measures and paid for spreading the links in different places.

 It was the bombarding of these fake accounts what made admins to take preventive measures. Some accounts once created may come and post after six months. This is one of the reasons admins want reassurance that an account is real. Another is that different bots have different purposes. Some will be happy just to create an account embedding a link to their website, thus they are registering in your community just for the sake of getting another link that counts towards their indexation.

2. STATISTICS RATIO

For many forum owners it is important to give the best appearance as possible and sometimes they have way more visitors than activity in their boards, leading to an alarmingly increase of registrations that menace to surpass the number of posts ever made.

Some other times it is not about what other people think, they simply want to have a ratio closer to their forum situation, they want people to actually be there and believe that if someone truly would like to be part of the community they will simply create a new account and start over.

Some people want to keep their forum top notch because it is a business for them to generate traffic and have the as active as possible appeal, each of this details means a better price for the sell.

To prune or not to prune them?

Well, you need to ask yourself what is what you are trying to achieve with your forum, have an idea of the risks you gain for leaving or pruning accounts so you can find the best way to execute your resolution without annoying your existing visitors.

So, just how ambitious are you?  I usually see admins either being too kind with the benefit of doubt or being too cynical about it. It is usually related with their goals, owners that have big communities have bigger risk by not pruning than dragging one valid account with all the SPAM and statistics they will save. While admins of small communities don’t want to risk any possible genuine member as they find in each the potential to make a huge difference should they become an active and valuable contributor.

Empathy and professionalism will not hurt your reputation no matter the size of your forum. If you have decided you want to prune accounts I recommend that you assume that the possible one genuine user whose account you will be eliminating deserves respect on your part by somehow making clear this is the policy of the forum. Make sure you bringtheir attention to this in the signing up rules and/or email the accounts in risks a few weeks before the actual prune takes place. These extra steps will make a difference on how you are seen by these users and increase the probabilities that even if they get their account deleted feel willing to recreate their account and post. Sudden prunes with no warnings are quite rude and annoying. What makes you think your forum is “so great”? surely  they will say “good riddance” and go to find somewhere else better. Just step into their shoes, sometimes crap happens, I lost my Internet for seven months and typing my login details to be slapped with “your username” doesn’t exist (when I am sure it is my account name) doesn’t make me think “oh well, I’ll join again in two minutes” it makes me close the window and not return. It is not the pruning, it is that I was in no way I was adviced of this risk and it took place.

Also, not every zero post account always mean that the poster has never posted. I know I have seen my post count reduced massively when big forums decide to delete very old threads linked to categories and stuff not longer in use. I know I posted over 50 times in Zelda Universe during the 2005-2007 but because a prune I was reduced to around 4 posts. Four years after that I found the url and I managed to log in. A moderator found weird I was an old member yet I hadn’t post in years. They realized about my account because they were pruning inactive ones, just imagine if the prune had left me with Zero posts?

Conclusion

There is not wrong or right, you are entitle to prune or to leave the accounts alone according to what you believe will be better for your community. What matters is how to carry your decision. Another thing is that neither communities nor their admins are static, things that work for you now may shift in the future so it would be good to try to think in the long term.

If you don’t prune:

  • Try to add anti-bot mechanisms to make those zero accounts less likely to belong to bots.

If you prune:

  • Make clear for the soon to be member your politics of pruning (how often it take splace, what to do to avoid it, etc)

I hope you enjoyed my rant and it found it somewhat helpful. I love hearing different opinions to enrich my own, so don’t feel shy to let me know your thoughts. Every comment is a way for me to know I am being read by humans and not mere bots (just for fun and irony I may not delete spambots comments in  this entry), hahah.

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