In a roundabout way, I came across a page about an IRC Channel discussing whether the channel should have a clear set of defined rules.
As an IRC user for eight years, here's the formula I have found to be the only one that actually works:
- Everyone who is considered a “regular” by the other regulars gets ops
- The standard of behaviour on the channel is determined by the rough consensus of whoever happens to be there at the time
- Ops are required not to get into stupid kick/ban wars with each other
You get fewer problems with this model than most others. Few real trouble-makers have the patience to sit around and interact levelly with a group long enough to be considered a part of it. Even the occasional idiot doesn't cause problems for long, and anyway, the alternative is creating a bureaucracy.
It also means that there's almost always someone around to deal with the passing dickheads who plague IRC. Channels with rigid ops structures almost always have far too few of them to cover the whole day, leaving those poor regulars stuck in the down-time to be the victim of whoever feels like being annoying1.
Here's the counter-intuitive part: having a clear command structure and defined rules creates more conflict than not having them. People, instead of dealing with problems between each other, take them to the arbitrating body. People don't compromise when they can ask the command structure for a black and white decision.
When the strict rules and command structure go away, people have no recourse but to settle their differences one way or another.
Sometimes, that settlement can't be made, and the group forks. This is a good thing. The alternative would be either one side of the argument being disenfranchised anyway, or worse, the group staying together because they are “accepting the judge's decision”, but festering dislike, resentment and backstabbing.
1 back when I was an IRCop, this was one of my pet peeves. I would be asked to ‘babysit’ a channel that was op-less and being harrassed, but the channel owner would refuse to add any more ops because it was ‘against policy’. I would quickly stop going to the aid of such channels.