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When a large group of people get together, chances are that they'll form some kind of hierarchy to try and keep some semblance of order. Internet forums are no different.
Ranks can be assigned on a purely practical level - for example, the forum creator maintains the board, while moderators can ban members, meaning that their status is "official" and grants more actual power. Other members, however, form a cult of personality, with status being assigned according to fellow members' perception of them. Certain types of Online Personas gravitate towards particular ranks. This can seem strange, since most people start out as a Newbie, but can perhaps be explained by the newbie tendency to be quiet and careful until they gain some support and respect within the forum. That's when they relax and show their true colours, for better or worse. See also Flame Warriors,
From highest-to-lowest status, forum members can be grouped into these divisions:
- The Gods Themselves: If a forum is devoted to a specific topic, notably one in entertainment or pop culture, then these are the actual creators of the works in question. Be they writer, director, actor, or possibly key grip, they get the celebrity treatment -- so long as they can prove they are who they say they are to the other high-rankers. It's a huge event for the gods to quote your post, reply to your message, or debate your point, and saying anything even slightly insulting or non-lickspittle to one of them will get one labeled a troll. The gods have tiny post counts, and no administrative powers, but they may as well outrank everyone else. Of course, for some communities, like those for comics or webcomics, the forum creator is the god in question, and sometimes that's not such a good thing. Spoil At Your Own Risk on forums frequented by the gods, as admins will frequently clamp down on any unauthorized future storyline leaks to prevent any show/movie staff member from being blamed for the leak. An example of a god is nerd icon Wil Wheaton, who seems to have an account on every single nerdy forum and website in existence. Another is Kevin Smith, who is also the Forum Creator and Admin of his forum, which he posts on every single day.
- Then there's the forums that are actually dedicated to hating a particular creator or his work. If that creator starts making posts on the forum, the reaction will vary between amusement where the target and forum-goers trade friendly jabs at each other, or enormous flame wars where the target spews vitriol at the forum while its members gang up to shout out their hatred for him, often ending with the admins banning him.
- Forum Creator: Gets a rank of their own due to importance. May or may not be actually paying for the forum. On a grass roots level, the role and personality of the forum creator can vary quite a bit. They're usually both Administration and Moderator...but not always. Maybe they set up the board and gathered a few of their friends to act in Admin roles, since they don't know much about the technical side of running a forum. They're nearly always a Moderator though. Strange thing is, very often this is quite an elusive figure, despite being in charge of the board. On IRC they are the "Owner", with status +q.
- Administration: a.k.a. Admin. The maintainers of the boards, usually more technically inclined than moderators. They're the ones who can be found smacking their heads off of their keyboards when something goes wrong with the forum; not only does the glitch annoy them, but they'll have the rest of the message board on their case to fix it. Admin usually deal with setting boards up, fixing problems, conducting polls and taking suggestions. As a result, some Admin don't seem to participate much in the day-to-day discussion of the board, only appearing when summoned or to explain why the Fanfic forum is currently offline. On smaller boards, though, the Admin is just an Old Guard or Regular who happens to know what to do should the place self-destruct. Still, making them angry isn't a good idea; they outrank the Mods, and if pushed, Admin will almost certainly use their power within the group to ensure the guilty party is punished. Admins are +a on IRC.
- Moderators: a.k.a. Mods. Admin are in charge of the boards, but Mods are in charge of the members. This is usually the most recognisable of the "authority" groups, and the one that the general board populace is likely to see on a frequent basis. The Mod's greatest power is banning; make enough of a nuisance of yourself and you'll be barred from the board (although, being of a lower status than Admin, they may have to refer to that group first). They can also delete or lock discussion threads that have gotten out of hand, and are generally in charge of seeing that everyone plays nicely together. A good Mod is a godsend for a message board. A bad one is likely to cause members to flee. Often, Mods have hierarchy of their own, especially between those who moderate a single topic forum, and those who oversee all of it. Mods are usually respected and popular Old Guard members who have been given a "promotion" for their years of devotion to the forum. Mods are known as "Op[erator]s" on IRC and come in Op +o and Half-Op (lesser power) +h flavours.
- If there's any form of corruption or abuse of power on a forum, this is where it will most often reside, until/unless an Admin or Creator comes along and puts down the boot.
- The Old Guard: They don't have any official power, per se, but they're the celebrities of the board. Newbies and Regulars know they've made it in the fandom if an Old Guard praises their Fanfic or asks for their MSN address. As with Regulars, they participate in day-to-day discussion, but often not to the same extent -- The Old Guard have been into their specialisation/fandom for a while, and unless some sparkling new debate catches their attention, or a new series kicks into gear, they're not known for posting every five minutes. Sometimes even the Mods can be wary of crossing this group, since they've been here long enough to have a strong set of allies (and, occasionally, a mini-fandom of their own)... which means if they're a Jerkass, hapless Newbies and blithely ignorant Regulars should be very careful in their dealings with them. Usually, though, this is a pretty benevolent group, and the ones to go to if you want to know obscure facts about the fandom. Most likely to be voiced (+v) in a channel.
- Regulars: The bread-and-butter of a forum, and usually the most concerned with whatever topic the forum is ostensibly about. They hold debates, chat about OTPs, wonder what the deal was with the silent guy in episode 13 and greet/assess the Newbies. They'll also start Shipping Wars and occasionally flame each other, so watch out. They're the most active group, and the most closely watched by the Mods. Because they're the mainstay of the forum, they tend to define its tone and interests. Some Regulars may have been on the forum longer than some of the Old Guard, but due to lower post count aren't as well-known or popular.
- Who's here?: Just about every personality type, but a few stand out: the Mediator, the Single-Issue Wonk. and the Left Fielder in particular. Subgroups include the Die for Our Ship. A proto-version of The Shepherd often occupies this space; always nice to Newbies, but lacks the clout to challenge the Old Guard.
- Bright Young Things: An odd group, consisting of Newbies who have been promoted quickly. Their opinions are given more weight than those of other newcomers, although they're still expected to defer to Regular and Old Guard members. The reasons for this rapid ascension in the ranks can vary. They might be a friend of someone held in high esteem in the forum. They might be a well-known fanfic author or other fandom celebrity who's been active elsewhere. Or they're just plain nice, and have been making themselves useful from day one. Either way, it's not long before they've settled into the forum and are indistinguishable from other Regular members.
- Newbies: Nearly everyone starts here. These are the board's new arrivals, often recognisable for their recent "Hi, I'm new!" post. After the initial meet-and-greet, a newbie will usually post sparingly until they get a feel for the board. Confident ones can find themselves quickly raised to the level of the Bright Young Things...or Gannon Banned for unwittingly upsetting the forum's heavy hitters. Smart ones will have trawled the archives and checked the Rules and Regulations before speaking up, but that doesn't mean that they're immune to mistakes. Most decent Mods will make allowances for Newbies, and The Shepherd will take extra pains to make sure they're given a fair hearing. However, this stage is also where the Trolls are weeded out, so the Mod will probably be keeping an eye on any newcomers for signs of trouble.
- Who's Here?: Depending on the competence levels of the newbies (or the balance of acceptance vs. cynicism among the forum's regular members), they might find themselves branded a Noob. Lickspittles and Me Toos usually don't get very far above Newbie level, since they never really say much to warrant "promotion." Unless, of course, they're fuelling the resident Small Name, Big Ego.
- Guest Posters: Unlike Newbies, they don't even have an account on the forum. They usually pop up to comment on something that catches their interest and are never seen again. Or they pop up intermittently, often enough that their web handle is recognised, but not enough for anyone to get attached to them. Rather unfairly, their opinions and insights might not be given the consideration they deserve simply because the "they're not one of us" mentality prevails. Some will eventually join the forum, where they skip official Newbie status if the other board members recognise them.
- On Game FAQs, special status is given to game devs or PR people. The vast majority of them lack either the interest or netiquette to last long on the forums, so they generally just post a "thanks for buying my game" kind of response and then are never heard from again.
- They Who Must Not Be Named: Banned members. Trolls. That guy who started the Flame War that nearly nuked the forum until Admins and Mods with big sticks stepped in to sort things out. If they turn up, they'll be summarily squashed by every member from Regulars upwards. Some people can be relegated to this category unfairly (perhaps a Mod or Old Guard member took an inexplicable dislike to them), but generally these are the troublemakers that everyone prefers not to talk about. More benign ones who don't get banned are often looked upon as the village idiot, tolerated for purposes of amusement but in danger of being immediately banned if they get serious.
- Who's here?: The Troll obviously, and on less fair forums anyone the community does not like or any banned member.
- This will frequently be the status of Moderators who've abused their powers or acted out of line. An Admin eventually has their eyes opened to the Corrupt Cop and ban him, or the Forum Creator will decide after being bombarded by complaints from the Regulars that enough is enough. Expect an epic debacle with announcements of the ban, and said Moderator trying to flame the board with a Sock Puppet. Usually qualifies as a Noodle Incident.
- Bottom of this place are unpersoned members and people which were once part of the forum but now even mentioning them is not allowed for various reasons.
- Off The Radar: Don't really fit in anywhere. They seem to exist outwith the forum's system. They ride into the message board, make a massive impact and vanish just as quickly, leaving its regulars to wonder "Who was that masked poster?" Until next time. Too distinct to be guest posters, they challenge or show up the Old Guard without suffering the consequence... or don't show up at all, but they're there... lurking in the shadows...
- Who's here?: Lurker
- Also the One Post Wonder, a rare breed.
- Who's here?: Lurker