I have had the benefit and the curse of seeing how running a forum can be from the inside (my wife runs a web portal w/forum for Malays living overseas). There are the folks who will email the person in charge of the site (in this case Sensei Mattson) giving feedback about the site, quite often conflicting feedback. You could get 2 messages in the same day, one decrying how boring the site is (discussion is too serious, lets say) and the other lambasting how prevalent is frivolous discussion (not serious enough).
Rules are needed, but will be useless if not enforced. How the rules are enforced is as important as what the rules are, though. Banning people from the site is a highly effective method of enforcing behavior, but should be done only after serious consderation of many factors. Banning is not just for the miscreant but also for eveyone else as it indicates what is nhot tolerable in this community.
Factors to consider b4 banning: how long has the person been posting? Are they going through a tough time personally and need a little leeway or guidance? What is the attitude and content of their posting on other web sites (this can take a little research)? Banning need not be permanent, although it may be neccessary.
My wife's forum has been operating since feb, 2002, has 241 registered members, gets about 3000 page views a day, and we have only had to ban one person in that whole time. By setting the tone to one that we like, people will, for the most part, self-select based on where they want to be.
I am very impressed with Sensei Mattson. I doubt they taught how to do what he does at the schools he went to as a youngster. Despite his apparent hands-off approach, his actions behind the scenes have a direct affect of setting a tone which while not always perfect, is probably one of the better ones (if not the best) in the genre (martial arts forums).
It is, IMHO, a balancing act that Sensei Mattson is doing between giving us freedom to say whatwever we want and keep this forum as a place where people want to come and participate and feel safe doing so.
Comparison of this site and other martial arts forums that are "out there" in cyberspace may yield the the realization that most are of a lower calibre (so to speak). I recommend that other folks check out some other forums on martial arts as a point of comparison.
Some of what goes on here you will find is going on everywhere. Particularly illustrative threads will have titles like, "Aikido or Jujitsu?", or "which is better, Karate or Brazilian Jujitsu?". Such threads usually start off amicably, but quickly degenerate into a, "Your wrong, my style is the best" back and forth unintelligible banter that if done in person might actually resolve the question (not really, styles are only as good as the practictioner).
Before any new set of rules is drawn up, IMHO, it would be benficial for us all to take a good hard look at the medium we are using to create this forum. The keyboard as a means of input is highly ineffectrive when compared to speech. Imagine a person sitting in front of a keyboard, with images of self-defense scenarios going through their head at approx 25 frames per second (a potentially efficient means of analysis), and attempting to cram all that info into words by way of the keyboard is a very time consuming and occasionally frustrating process. "A picture is worth a thousand words." and yet how do you take your mind's eye picture an dput it into those thousand words, while still making all your other life's commtiments??????
Part of the problem of communication on forums (all of them) is how hard it can be to convey non-verbal information. Smileys help, but are not the perfect solution. knowing the above, it surprises me not that difficulties and hard feelings arise, but that they do not happen more often or to a greater extent. The fact that the blow-ups, hurt feelings, misunderstandings and personal attacks occur is not an indication that we are bad people, but rather that we are people. It should be recalled only a small minority of us grew up with these forums; we were never taught formally how to act on these forums and the eitiquette of the net [netiquette] is still evolving.