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  1. #1
    Join Date
    24th September 04
    Location
    Victoria, BC Canada 48° 25' 47.31"N 123° 20' 4.59" W
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    A little behind the scenes of X Marks

    Hi folks,

    As there has been some discussion about the rules of the forum and about how those rules are applied I thought I would give everyone a peek behind the scenes and a bit of insight to how X Marks is run.

    Please understand that I cannot, and will not, speak about any particular issue or case. That would be inappropriate.

    What I can do is let you into how and why our current rules and policies were written, and how they are administered.

    We currently have a staff of 9. The 7 Forum Moderators, myself, and our software wizard. Each of the Moderators were chosen because they had demonstrated that they were, in a word, moderate. We have 5 men and 2 women currently serving as Forum Moderators. For a listing of our Forum Moderators please click the "Meet the Staff" tab on the dark blue navigation panel near the top of every page.

    Some of you who have been around X Marks for a long time may remember those early days when we were totally surprised when we broke a hundred members. We had no idea, not even a dream, that some day we would have close to 20,000 members who would be looking towards their one millionth post.

    Hank Hanna (Highlandtide) was the originator of X Marks. Hank used to sell t-shirts and other small items at Highland Games. He was amused at the way some people would dress while attending Games and began to take photos of them. There was the guy with his kilt on backwards and the guy with the blue facepaint and huge sword. Hank thought it would be fun and informative to put these photos on the web.

    Hank's primary supplier was a company that produced, among other things, a license plate frame that had the phrase X Marks the Scot using the Scottish Saltaire flag as the "X". Hank approached his supplier and asked permission to use this phrase as the name for his new website. That was granted as long as it included the .com portion.

    And X Marks was born.

    But perhaps a little history is in order.

    Prior to X Marks going live on the 24th of January 2004 there was another site called Tom's Cafe. Hamish and a few other kilt wearers hung out there and would discuss their kilts. It was a heady time as the Utilikilt Company had just started up and there was a lot of buzz around this new style of kilt. (Hamish was actually the first international sale by the Utilikilt Co.)
    Tom's cafe was not a Kilt specific site. It was more a Men's fashion freedom site. Any type of alternative male dress was allowed. Before long a very small and vocal group began to take over Tom's Cafe with photos of men in ladies dresses.

    Along comes the site "Bravehearts" and a few weeks later X Marks. It was Hank who originally set the policy that X Marks would be dedicated to the Kilt. It was Hank who wrote the first rule of X Marks. No Cross Dressing. This was an attempt to prevent what had happened to Tom's Cafe.

    Those in the world who wore the kilt had been looking for a place to go after the fall of Tom's Cafe and Hamish along with a few friends found X Marks.

    But Hank was not really interested in running an on-line forum. He had a young family and another full time business. Hank soon found that the little picture site he had started was growing far beyond what he had the time and interest in running on a day-to day-basis. Hank asked a friend with computer experience to become the Administrator and take over the day-to-day operations. Some of you may remember those days.

    This is when we had the first members banned from the forum. One person liked to wear this kilts at mid-thigh height and would post about how he loved to twirl as he passed construction sites.
    We had another member who posted a photo of himself standing in front of a card table with the caption "How many weapons can you conceal under your kilt? He then posted a second photo of himself in front of the same table with 13 various guns and knives piled on the table.
    Another member seemed to take delight in posting in a very confrontational manner. He stated he liked to "stir the pot" to encourage lively discussions.

    About a year past. X Marks had grown to over 500 members. I think you can guess how frustrating it would become constantly putting out fires on a forum with no written rules and an absentee owner. The only tool the Administrator had at the time was to ban a member if it was felt that they were causing a problem. Approximately 50-60 members logged on only to find that they had been banned. No reasons were given and no recourse. One of these banned members was so upset that he started his own kilt forum.

    The Brotherhood of the Kilt was the child of a bannned X Marks member. Other banned members found a place where a "Banned from X Marks" in your signature block was a badge of honor. Some of the members would come back to X Marks under another name and attempt to disrupt this forum just for fun or perhaps out of spite. This practice got totally out of hand very quickly. Those who were here in those years can remember some of this.

    Finally Hank stepped in. Hank had visited his forum on a fairly regular basis although he no longer posted. Hank made a decision that X Marks was proving to be too much for just one person. A few other members were invited to the staff to help take the load off the Administrator.
    And then Hank and his wife had a baby. From that point on Hank was too involved and busy to give any time to the forum and he had grown tired of the daily problems the forum was presenting.

    In the years between 2006 and 2010 X Marks had many staff members. Some would be in charge of creating a post each day for each member’s Birthday. One took care of an X Mark map showing where we all lived.

    There was no real plan for writing a set of rules in those days. When someone did something and were banned a new sentence would be added to the rules covering that incident. Before long the forum rules were a jumble of unrelated sentences. One sentence ran on for over 50 words. No one would read the forum rules nor were they understandable if someone attempted. The forum was still run by a small group that while very dedicated, received little guidance or direction and had no system of keeping track of what had been done in the past and why.

    So how did we get to where we are today?
    Last edited by Steve Ashton; 20th March 13 at 06:07 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    24th September 04
    Location
    Victoria, BC Canada 48° 25' 47.31"N 123° 20' 4.59" W
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    I have been a member of X Marks since 2005. Like many members I lurked for a while before actually registering. I am one of the original advertisers on X Marks and I feel this is my home.

    In 2009 I made a trip to Scotland and visited with some of the biggest names in the kilt world.
    I would always ask if they were members of X Marks, and if not why. I kept getting the same answer. Most of those I spoke to cited three reasons they were not involved in the largest kilt forum.

    The first reason stated was that there was no guarantee that X Marks would be around in a year or five. They seemed to feel this way for two reasons.
    There seemed to be a feeling that X Marks was not representative of their kilt world. I heard over and over they felt that what was posted here did not matter to their businesses.
    I also heard, over and over, that Hank could not give any reassurance that X Marks would continue if something were to happen to Hank or if he decided one day not to pay the bills.
    The final thing I heard was that those running businesses in Scotland did not feel that X Marks was run in a way that they felt they wanted to be part of. They cited those who had ben banned and the other kilt forums that had been started as a result.

    When I returned from my trip I contact Hank and asked him a very pointed and specific question. “If you were to be hit by a car tomorrow is there a plan to keep X Marks on line?”
    Hank’s answer was “No, My wife has no interest and it will just go off line when the hosting fees are not paid.”

    I then asked Hank if he were open to an offer to buy the forum. His response was “Make me an offer.”

    At the time I was just another member of the forum. So I contacted Panache who was running and in charge of the forum and asked him that if I were to agree to a price with Hank would he like to go in as a 50-50 partner. Panache said no.

    So I went back to Hank and made what I felt was a honest offer to buy the forum. My goals were threefold.
    1) Insure that the forum would continue even in the event of the death of the owner.
    2) To insure that an expert in the vBulletin software package would be on hand to deal with updates and other changes to the software as I am not a computer programmer.
    3) To insure that a system of checks and balances was put in place where no one persons’ personal feelings, ethics, or morals would have sway over anyone else. To insure that X Marks never became a dictatorship.

    To achieve these goals I made out a will and power of Attorney with instructions that in the event of my death someone was ready and capable to take over the forum until it could be sold to another long term member.

    I also set about looking for a vBulletin software expert. We have gone through three software guys. My goal was to find a forum member and we now have KiltedCodeWarrior handling the updates and managing the software package.
    You may have noticed that any question about the software has been answered quickly and fully for quite some time now.

    I then set about with the staff to draft our current set of rules.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    24th September 04
    Location
    Victoria, BC Canada 48° 25' 47.31"N 123° 20' 4.59" W
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    The secret to a good set of rules, are not the rules themselves, but the checks and balances system behind and supporting the rules.

    When the staff of X Marks were writing our current rules we concentrated on the checks and balances system just as much as we did on the wording of the rules themselves. This is the part that most of our members never see. This is the “how we operate” part. In a perfect system, the checks and balances should take the human element out of the enforcing of the rules.

    Here on X Marks this checks and balances system attempts to minimize the human element, the influence of personalities as much as we were able.

    The first part of our checks and balances is our “Member driven moderation system”.

    The Forum Moderators are not who decide where the limits of behavior are set. It is not the Forum Moderators who draw the lines that delineate “out of bounds”. These limits, these lines of what is or is not acceptable, are set by the members.

    Any member may submit a report by raising a flag on any post for any reason. If a number of reports are received about a particular behavior the staff will review the behaviors and compare them to our rules. We have revised and edited our rules based on what the members tell us where they feel the limits should be.
    Each member, by their reports, are telling the staff where they believe the limits should be set.

    Within our checks and balances is also our Policy for Disciplinary Proceedings and Resolution of Disputes”. This policy is published in our FAQ’s where every member can see it. This is the policy that governs how the Moderators handle the reports they receive.

    Each and every fag raised to the Moderators is handled in exactly the same way. The first step of the Policy states that a line of communication must be opened between the flagging member and the staff and also between the person whose post has been flagged and the staff.
    An acknowledgment of the flag is sent to the member raising the flag via PM.
    Another PM is sent to the person whose post was flagged informing them that a flag has be raised on their post.

    The staff fully understand that sometimes a member may post without thinking or perhaps a new member unfamiliar with the rules or a member who may not have reviewed the rules may post with all innocent intent.
    The Staff often get a response to their PMs saying “Oh gee, I’m sorry, I just wasn’t thinking.”.
    If an offer to edit or remove a post is agreeable the matter may end right there. No harm, no foul.

    The second step of the Policy states that a poll must be set up. The poll cites the applicable rule. Here is another ‘check’ in the checks and balance system. It is up to the person submitting the report to state which rule they feel has been violated. If you have ever reported a post you may have been asked by the staff to clarify your report citing which rule you think was violated. The Moderators do not interpret the intent of the reporter.

    In an effort to respond to all flags in a timely manner every poll has a time limit of 3 days. This gives the Moderators time to log on and vote or to post discussion if necessary without having issues drag on for an indefinite time.


    Each Moderator has one vote on each poll. They vote only “Has this rule been broken or not. They vote yes or no. There may be discussion over the fine points but in the end one Moderator/one vote.

    After the poll closes the majority vote decides the issue. We have 7 voting moderators. It is very seldom when a tie must be broken due to a Moderator on vacation or one abstaining.
    Ties are broken by a single vote from the Forum Owner. Breaking a tie is the only time the Forum Owner votes on a possible rule violation poll.

    Immediately upon a poll closing all the parties involved are notified via PM of the results.

    The final step of this process is keeping a record of the reports and the decisions of the Moderators. Every report is filed in our archives where it can be reviewed to insure consistency.



    There have been, and always will be, claims of tyrants and unfair treatment on forums. You can see this on every forum on the internet. Anyone who has been accused of violating the rules is naturally upset.
    It is with the checks and balances of our forum that we try to insure our members are treated as human beings, fairly and impartially. Our checks and balances attempt to minimize any one personality having sway over the entire forum.

    In review:
    The Moderators do not set the limits of acceptable behavior on X Marks. You, the members, do.
    Communication is vital. Open lines of honest communication are the best hope of reaching resolution.
    Minimize the human factor. Vote on the letter of the law. Decisions are based on votes on the letter of the law, not on interpretation of intent.
    The Majority rules. No one person or one person’s sense of morals or ethics has any more value than another’s.
    Insure consistency by keeping a record of prior action.
    Last edited by Steve Ashton; 30th March 13 at 12:48 AM.

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