Requesting Comment: Proposed Structure and Rules

Here is my proposal on restructuring the forum to support our overall goals of:

  1. Kindness: Argumentation versus Criticisizing with Kindness and Woman Leaves the Westboro Baptist Church.

  2. Understanding: To understand and be understood; this is the purpose of our group.

  3. A Secular-Confessional Society : that is fair to all view points, but also values personal confession of beliefs and strong critique of everyone’s ideas.

A Trust Based System

First, let us start making use of the trust system. There are 5 levels (explained below):

  1. New User
  2. Basic Member
  3. Member
  4. Regular
  5. Leader

People are promoted along these three trust categories by adjustable rules. Below you will see the default rules, which may be adjusted by us. At @moderators discretion, we may promote or hold people back based on their ability and willingness to play by the rules.

  1. Front Porch : This is a place were anyone (TL0 and up) will be able to post, but it will not be visible in the “latest” topics, and may not even be visible without a login. Introduction threads, side comment threads, and personal banter will all be acceptable here. Threads that become unhelpful or exhibit gracious dialogue will be moved to this category entirely at @moderators discretion.

  2. Conversation Table : This is the place very similar to our current “conversations” category, which will now require TL2 (or up). It will appear on our front page. It will include the book club, public square and peaceful science, and references. Personal banter will no longer be allowed in this category.

  3. Platformed Exchanges: Participation here is a privilege, and participation here will require continued adherence to the best of our values of civil discourse. This will require TL3 or higher to participate, or in a moderator controlled “scholars” group that anyone can request access to, though there will be very strict standards for joining this group. This is where office hours will be conducted and all important dialogues contentious topics, such as Intelligent Design and other optics of high value.

The precise structure will evolve as we get a stronger handle on this. Instead of our current pattern, place personal banter on the Front Porch, using a linked topic. This is all very easy to do. It requires actually reading the tutorial: Discourse New User Guide - faq - Discourse Meta to learn how.

Tags to Topically Organize Content

We will carefully construct a list of TAGS that we can start to topically organize content. Categories will be primarily be used to manage trust. Tags will be used to manage topic content. In user settings there are ways to filter your notifications so that topics can be ignored or highlighted in a manner personalized to each user.

Tags, for example, will likely include:

  1. Science
  2. Theology
  3. Adam
  4. Design
  5. Biology
  6. Physics

I am sure more will be added, but we will start slowly. We will start with tags being only moderator assignable, but once we get the hang of it, we will start allowing others to tag posts too.

New Rules and Standards

There are some big changes here to our rules of engagement.

  1. Do not respond to poor behavior with poor behavior; instead, flag the post. Failing to follow this rule will result on flags on your poor behavior, and will impact your trust level.

  2. Report more complex problems to the @moderators privately, through the personal messaging system, or by describing the problem when you flag posts.

  3. Do not publicly complain about forum or @moderator fairness in any context (including offsite), until @moderators have at least 48 hours to address any issues that have been brought to their attention. Breaking this rule, and denying @moderators a 2 day grace period is a direct violation of the rules, and will result in flags and removal of complaints. Violations of this rule are serious. Instead, flag problems, notify @Moderators, and give them 2 days to deal with it.

  4. Keep on the topic of the original post, for the Conversation and higher. We will implement this rule slowly giving time for everyone to adjust and for @moderators to work out the right amount of balance between surprising turns and so on. In some cases, we might split a thread, naming it at our discretion. In other cases, we may hide posts. The community should flag off topic posts.

The end goal is to create more substantive exchanges on our main page. We are aiming to remove pointless or confusing junk from this category. At @moderators discretion, we will move threads to the Porch, where they will be accessible to everyone, but will keep our main page more helpful and welcoming.

Enforcement of Rules and Standards

In many ways, this gives everyone the tools to enforce good behavior and self-police. By insisting on flagging bad behaivior, the forum will become self correcting. People will be rewarded for making a lot of good flags, and we will know who is being unfair in flagging posts.

In the past, we had only one stick (and no carrots): suspending or silencing users, which is a very extreme punishment. We are loathe to administer it. Now, based on behavior, we may promote people to higher trust, or demote them. We can easily reverse decisions if needed, so do not publicly complain if this happens to you. Instead, read out to the moderators, and negotiate a solution with them about what to do about it.

One reason this is important is that people with a pattern of disruption, and unwilling to satisfy they will act differently, will be given a hard ceiling of TL2, and be unable to engage on Platform discussions. Poor behaivior in the Conversation category will, at least temporarily, earn demotion to TL1.

Perhaps more importantly, we will now have a carrot, TL4, which is granted exclusively at my discretion. At TL4, many moderator abilities are granted. TL4 users will be able to help curate content and have a leadership role here.

More Details about Trust Levels

The user trust system is a fundamental cornerstone of Discourse. Trust levels are a way of…

  • Sandboxing new users in your community so that they cannot accidentally hurt themselves, or other users while they are learning what to do.
  • Granting experienced users more rights over time, so that they can help everyone maintain and moderate the community they generously contribute so much of their time to.

This is based on this book:

There is a natural progression for participants in any community.

This seemed like a great starting point for our user trust system. Thus, Discourse offers five user trust levels . Your current trust level is visible on your user page, and a summary of all trust levels within your community is presented on your dashboard.

Trust Level 0 — New

By default, all new users start out at trust level 0, meaning trust has yet to be earned. These are visitors who just created an account, and are still learning the community norms and the way your community works. New users’ abilities are restricted for safety – both theirs and yours.

(We also want to hide any “advanced” functionality from new users to make the UI less confusing for them as they gain more experience.)

Users at trust level 0 cannot

  • Send personal messages to other users
  • “Reply as new topic” via Link button (UI removed)
  • Flag posts
  • Post more than 1 image
  • Post any attachments
  • Post more than 2 hyperlinks in a post
  • Have actual links in the ‘about me’ field of their profile (will be silently and temporarily converted to plain text)
  • Mention more than 2 users in a post
  • Post more than 3 topics
  • Post more than 10 replies

Admins can change these limitations by searching for newuser and first_day in site settings.

Trust Level 1 — Basic

At Discourse, we believe reading is the most fundamental and healthy action in any community. If a new user is willing to spend a little time reading, they will quickly be promoted to the first trust level.

Get to trust level 1 by…

  • Entering at least 5 topics
  • Reading at least 30 posts
  • Spend a total of 10 minutes reading posts

Users at trust level 1 can…

  • Use all core Discourse functions; all new user restrictions are removed
  • Send PMs
  • Upload images and attachments if enabled
  • Edit wiki posts
  • Flag posts

Admins can change these thresholds by searching for tl1 in site settings.

Trust Level 2 — Member

Members keep coming back to your community over a series of weeks; they have not only read, but actively participated long and consistently enough to be trusted with full citizenship.

Get to trust level 2 by…

  • Visiting at least 15 days, not sequentially
  • Casting at least 1 like
  • Receiving at least 1 like
  • Replying to at least 3 different topics
  • Entering at least 20 topics
  • Reading at least 100 posts
  • Spend a total of 60 minutes reading posts

Users at trust level 2 can…

  • Use the “Invite others to this topic” button for one-click onboarding of new users to participate in topics
  • Invite outside users to PMs making a group PM
  • Daily like limit increased by 1.5×

Admins can change these thresholds by searching for tl2 in site settings.

Trust Level 3 — Regular

Regulars are the backbone of your community, the most active readers and reliable contributors over a period of months, even years. Because they’re always around, they can be further trusted to help tidy up and organize the community.

To get to trust level 3, in the last 100 days…

  • Must have visited at least 50% of days
  • Must have replied to at least 10 different topics
  • Of topics created in the last 100 days, must have viewed 25% (capped at 500)
  • Of posts created in the last 100 days, must have read 25% (capped at 20k)
  • Must have received 20 likes, and given 30 likes.*
  • Must not have received more than 5 spam or offensive flags (with unique posts and unique users for each, confirmed by a moderator)
  • Must not have been suspended

* These likes must be across a minimum number of different users (1/5 the number), across a minimum number of different days (1/4 the number). Likes cannot be from PMs.

All of the above criteria must be true to achieve trust level 3. Furthermore, unlike other trust levels, you can lose trust level 3 status . If you dip below these requirements in the last 100 days, you will be demoted back to Member. However, in order to avoid constant promotion/demotion situations, there is a 2-week grace period immediately after gaining Trust Level 3 during which you will not be demoted.

Users at trust level 3 can…

  • Recategorize and rename topics
  • Access a secure category only visible to users at trust level 3 and higher
  • Have all their links followed (we remove automatic nofollow)
  • TL3 spam flags cast on TL0 user posts immediately hide the post
  • TL3 flags cast on TL0 user posts in sufficient diversity will auto-silence the user and hide all their posts
  • Make their own posts wiki (that is, editable by any TL1+ users)
  • Daily like limit increased by 2×

Admins can change these thresholds by searching for TL3 in site settings.

Trust Level 4 — Leader

Leaders are regulars who have been around forever and seen everything. They set a positive example for the community through their actions and their posts. If you need advice, these are the folks you turn to first, and they’ve earned the highest level of community trust, such that they are almost moderators within the community already.

Get to trust level 4 by…

  • Manual promotion by staff only
  • (Possibly via a to-be-developed election system in the future)

Users at trust level 4 can…

  • Edit all posts
  • Pin/unpin topic
  • Close topics
  • Archive topics
  • Make topics unlisted
  • Split and merge topics
  • Daily like limit increased by 3×
  • Any TL4 flag cast on any post immediately takes effect and hides the target post

We believe this trust system has been a success so far, as it leads to stronger, more sustainable communities by carefully empowering members, regulars, and leaders to curate and lead their own communities. But like everything else in Discourse, the trust system is evolving over time as we gain more experience with more communities. We’ll continue to update this post with any changes.

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Sounds good to me.

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At this time, I would like to invite comment, especially from those who have been engaging in this forum for a while (@trust_level_2), many of scholars, including @art, @NLENTS, @deuteroKJ, @jongarvey, @Agauger, @bjmiller, @pnelson.

We are not implementing this immediately, but will happen very soon. So it is critical that all concerns be addressed now.

Great. With this system, I expect we will break past our current ceiling of about 45 active users per day. There are forums I’ve seen with hundreds of active users per day. That is our goal.

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  1. Regarding Side Comment threads, which are relegated to the Front Porch (I assume this is similar to the current Chatter category?), sometimes these just consist of personal banter, but they often also consist of genuine, more elementary questions about the discussions in the main thread, or comments about peripheral issues that are interesting and substantive in themselves (and deserve being treated like a regular topic visible in “latest topics”). Shouldn’t there be a differentiation between these two types of side comments?

  2. Since only TL2 can participate in Conversation Table (and becoming TL2 requires replying to 3 different topics and visiting for 15 days), doesn’t that raise the bar for participating in actual substantive discourse other than introductions and personal banter? There is a dilemma here in that we want to discourage nameless trolls or repetitive, uninformed posters from jumping into interesting discussions, but I think it would be a good thing to encourage not just public figures and scholars, but informed laypeople (like @PdotdQ) to come in and contribute their expertise and/or insight. It seems less likely for such people to join and stick to the forum if they can only participate after lurking for two weeks.
    Perhaps we should lower the bar for TL2, or widen the range of topics included in Front Porch, such that people can discuss substantive topics there. It would be disadvantageous if all the regular posters spend most of their time in Conversation Table and new, well-meaning posters are forced to have to contend with personal banter (where the conversation will have more trolls and repetitive posts) for two weeks.

By the way, I’ve never figured out how to do this (not that I’ve really wanted to do it) after gaining Regular status. Is it disabled for this forum?

I also notice that new users @simon.cossar and @HAWK have just been granted leader status - I assume for technical purposes.

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This looks very reasonable.

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They are support from @discourse.


It seems good to me. A built-in vetting process over a period of time and amount and quality of participation.

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@hawk do you have any advice for how we structure our discourse to be effective?

@gbrooks9 what are your thoughts?

No, there would be more content there.

There will always be an option to create a mirror side-comments thread in Conversations, but I want to get more important comment to the porch.

Easy solution. In the beginning, we will experiment with a 0 day threshold, and move it up as required. Also, pinging the moderators and requesting it, we can always promote someone up a level manually. In the case of @PdotdQ, he hopefully would have made an intro thread, and you would have notified us. Based on that, we would have promoted him to TL2.

To streamline this process, we may create a “Promoted to Conversation” (or something like that) group that people can request access to join. Moderators will be able to make this possible, and we can even appoint some people to be leaders of that group and review requests (are you interested @dga471?).

Also, I expect the Porch to have more content to interact with.

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Sounds good, but I wonder whether the custom of having substantial introduction threads for everyone sustainable once we scale up.

Sure, I’m happy to contribute, as long as I’m not the only person responsible for it!


This looks like a sensible plan. My personality is one that says give it a try and see how it works in real time. Give some time for kinks to get worked out, but then also have some sort of exit strategy or be willing to jettison system if it doesn’t seem to be accomplishing your goals. Too often one gets caught throwing good money after bad. I’d hate to see PeacefulScience get stuck in some sort of intellectual corollary of the “sunk-cost fallacy.”

That being said, I can see how this might be helpful to structure certain conversations. Good conversations with people who might not generally engage in a forum due to bad past experiences can be comforted that trolling is in some sense controlled for. If trolls want a voice, they’ll have to earn it. If they earn it, they will likely be less troll-like!


We are nearly set up. At this point, let’s see how things run. We will be following this closely from here. Please report your experience. Watch carefully to see if new users need help.

At this point, this is the opposite of what we are doing. We will change and adapt as need.

At the moment, the new structure is in place, but we will not enforce the new rules till there is more discussion on them.

Yep, things are moving differently here. I’d very much like to see it continue to succeed. My point was more for the internet record as a reminder for 6-months, a year, two years out, when one is banging their head against the wall spending more time trying to fix the fix than is healthy. That’s the point where “sunk-thought” needs to be remembered! May it not be the case here.

What the solutions are to growth pains I leave to those with more admin skills. But the danger is that a group of likeminded people solving problems in a public hall may eventually become a hubbub of small-talk where you only find the important conversation by luck (and can’t hear yourself think if you do).

The levels you describe will, of course, be incomprehensible to most people joining the forum, so in practice it may be best that the process of “upgrading” is invisible. The more you’re contributing, the more you find yourself in a quiet corner with a leading scholar with the same interests.

Doesn’t sound democratic, but I would have thought that given US politics that’s an advantage!


You might be right @jongarvey. Let’s see how this plays out.


My source for this is experience at BioLogos, where the more the numbers grew, the more threads asking old, old questions like “Hey, I’m wondering if anyone here thinks evolution is compatible with Christianity?” would be started and clutter up the boards with helpful moderators, belligerent creationists, cynical scientists and atheists with too much time on their hands!

Eventually I’d scroll down and see an ancient buried thread with a title like “Jon Garvey’s view on Babylonian geography,” which might have been handy to find months before!


I have no experience with this kind of thing, but it seems sensible to me.