TMO Reports - Apple Eliminates Forum Mods; Quality Drops, Rudeness & Piracy Increases

by , 2:20 PM EDT, July 28th, 2006

Apple Computer has terminated its Apple Discussions Hosts, the forum moderators that monitor and moderate the company's user discussion boards. A source involved with Apple Discussions, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Mac Observer that management at Apple has questioned the value of the discussion boards. The end result, however, has been a marked decrease in the quality of discussions, and an increase in everything from rudeness to instructions on pirating music and software.

Apple Discussions are used by Mac, iPod, and other Apple software users to discuss issues they have with their Apple products. The boards have heretofore been moderated by Apple staff members, called Hosts, who answer questions and otherwise moderate the discussion (for instance, deleting rude and unruly posts reported by highly ranked volunteers).

Apple Discussions have long been a source for its customers to find solutions to their problems, and the vast majority of posts are how-tos and problem/solution threads. According to TMO's source, some within the company fear that losing its staff of mods will result in Apple having less of a direct interface with its customers.

"We know that Apple will have far fewer eyes to spot real problems," said our source, "or to moderate the actions of those who have unproductive agendas."

Discussion Quality Drops

Be that as it may, the actual result of having laid off the Hosts is a marked downturn in the quality of many posts, and growing dissent from the ranks of the many volunteers who provide the bulk of the peer-to-peer help that make up the boards.

"The forums have become unruly since all the forum moderators were laid off," wrote member Nikki in the "Feedback About Apple Discussion" forum. "It is unfortunate that whomever is in charge, and their management, does not recognize what these forums have contributed in the past, and what they've lost by the decision to let go a team of support professionals that were extremely dedicated to improving Apple's customer support."

"The forums have declined to such a state that they are certainly a disgrace to the Apple Corporation," added member Old Toad. "I don't know if any of the upper echelon from Apple ever visit, but they should. They would get a rude awaking."

The thread in which these comments were posted is filled with dozens of such comments from the highest ranked volunteer posters intended for Apple representatives to see. They cite numerous examples of insults and other rude behavior, as well as discussions about pirating Windows, music, and other software (at least one user has offered pirated software directly to other users).

A marked increase in profanity and other lowest-common denominator behavior is also being seen, all of which was once the domain of the small cadre of Hosts who maintained the peace in the forums. Without official comment from Apple -- the company declined to comment for the story -- it is impossible to know how the company views this issue, or what its plans are for the future of Apple Discussions.

Corporate Watchdogs

On the curious side, the lack of Hosts with moderation powers has not only resulted in a swift breakdown in etiquette and order, it has also deprived Apple of the official eyes that swept the boards of posts and threads that Apple's corporate side wanted gone.

Hosts have occasionally eliminated entire threads of complaints Apple had not yet acknowledged. While it has never been clear if the intent was to specifically squelch complaints, such deletions have sparked occasional charges of censorship or cover-ups from customers, the Mac press, and occasionally even the mainstream press.

For Apple, a company known for its strict controls over company image and company message, the elimination of its Hosts leaves the corporation with little control over a support forum used by an ever-increasing number of customers. iPod, iTunes, and even Boot Camp are bringing more and more people from outside the Mac user base to Apple's world, and there are no official eyes looking at their needs, or watching what they are saying.