How accessible I am to my site’s users is something that I’ve went back and forth with over the last few years. When I say “accessible” I don’t mean venturing into offline interactions or anything like that, just in regard to how I interact with the users. I tend to be pretty available to answer questions directly instead of hiding behind an “admin” or “support” account. This was up until recently when I have decided that it’s best for myself and my users if I stopped being the face of the site and allowed them to be more autonomous.
Before I go into why I’ve changed my stance on this, let me discuss the positive side of things. The pro of this, and it’s a very superficial one, is the popularity aspect associated with it. “OMG Josh commented on my status”, has popped up on my dashboard at least a few times. There’s a bit of lore that comes with it, and people tend to like being able to talk about how they know the owner of the site.
From a moderation perspective, users tend to change their attitude if I pop up in a chat room or on a thread. It’s the equivalent of when you slow down when you see a cop. You already know you’re doing wrong, but now there’s an authority figure watching.
Incidentally, the biggest con with being accessible is closely related to the popularity. When people think they have a connection with you, they start to try to weasel their way into being in positions of privilege. Most specifically, users would chat me up once or twice and then try to make demands about which users needed to be deleted (not your personal army).
Other times users would make threats about how they are going to tell me. We have report buttons all over the site, you can report people but I actually don’t even handle the support on the sites. Obviously those threats are empty but the drama would often spill over onto my desk and I would have to deal with it.
Some users would even go as far as saying that I said something that I didn’t. The recent bouts of “Josh saids” is the reason I’ve recanted my forward facing position as site owner.
More of a nuisance than anything, being accessible lended itself to people sending me direct feedback, constantly. I love feedback, but I would have preferred that people used the feedback form instead of using the “Ask” function on my profiles (which I’ve since disabled on my accounts) or “@mentioning” me (which would alert me) in a status update. The signal to noise ratio was extremely disproportionate.
I tend to think that most, if not all of these problems are directly related to the predominately teenage demographic of my sites. I could be wrong though, as a lot of adults seem to channel their inner teenager when they get on the Internet.
It will probably take a while, but I severed all ties with being known as the site owner on the sites. No more “official staff” on my profile, no bio on the about page, none of that. The only downside of not being known as the site owner is going to be users attempting to bully me because of my age!
I wonder if Mark Zuckerberg ran into anything like this during Facebook’s infancy. Oh wait, he was too busy being sued ;)