Our first member feedback survey attracted 130 responses. This is more than one in ten out of the total forum membership, which is a fairly good sample, though we hope to get more responses next time!
As expected, the majority of respondents self-identified as Atheist (53.85%); a little over one in seven respondents (14.62%) self-identified as Christian; a little over one in ten (10.77%) as Agnostic and around one in thirteen (7.69%) as 'Other'.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents read the forum at least once a week, and more than two in five participate in the discussions at least once a week. Around one in eight respondents stated that they no longer read or post in the forum.
Of the primary reasons given for participating in the forum, the most popular was "as an exercise in critical thinking and philosophy" (27.69%) followed closely by "to read or engage in rational discussion with people of opposing worldviews" (22.31%). Amongst Atheists, the figures are 32.86% and 21.43%. Amongst Agnostics, the figures are 28.57% apiece. By contrast, the figures amongst Christians are 5.26% and 21.05%. Reasons given by Christians were all over the map, though the most popular reason given was "to better understand people of opposing worldviews" (26.32%). Only eight respondents stated that their primary reason for visiting this site was to discuss the site owner's material, though it should be noted that respondents were asked to give their primary reason, and some respondents indicated that they had other reasons for visiting that carried nearly equal weight to the response they gave.
More than one-third of respondents stated that they already participate as much as time allows. The chief reason for not participating more was given as "I don't feel that I have anything to add to what has already been said". Close to one in thirteen said that they felt the forum was too hostile; four in five who gave this response were Christians, and this answer was given by more than two in five Christian respondents. Three in five of respondents who felt that the forum is too hostile neither read nor participate in the forum any more, and this was also the chief reason for non-participation amongst those who no longer participate.
Christians were also the most likely to state that the forum was unwelcoming to new members (42.1%) and unfriendly to people with opposing views (73.69%). Amongst Atheists, the figures are 17.15% and 27.14% respectively; amongst Agnostics, the figures are 7.14% and 35.71% respectively. The average amongst all respondents is 10.77% and 35.38%.
A plurality of respondents thought that the balance was about right in terms of welcoming new members (46.15%) and opposing views (40%). This view was most common amongst Atheist respondents. The majority of Christians thought that the forum should be more welcoming to existing members (52.63%) and to members with opposing views (63.16%). This compares with 31.43% and 20% amongst Atheists, and 35.71% and 50% amongst Agnostics. A small minority thought that the community should be less welcoming to new members (2.31%) and less friendly to members with opposing views (5.38%).
There is no consensus on how to make the community more friendly or welcoming, though more than one in five (22.31%) suggested that we should ban people who create endless arguments by repeatedly stating their assertions and ignoring refutations. We may solicit further feedback from forum members in order to get a better view on how to address this issue.
More than half (54.62%) of respondents said that the rules were about right, though a small minority (5.38%) felt that they were too vague.
More than two in five (41.54%) of respondents said that the rules were enforced fairly well. A further two in five answered "Don't know" to this question - the highest number of "Don't know" responses, with the exception of the question on splitting and merging threads. Of the remainder, 6.15% stated that the rules were enforced too arbitrarily, 4.62% stated that they were enforced too leniently, and 1.54% stated that they were enforced too severely (though one of these two expressed his antipathy towards rules in general, as a matter of principle).
On the questions related to moving, merging and splitting threads, the vast majority of respondents either felt that the balance was about right, didn't know or declined to answer (around 85% in both cases). 10% thought staff should move threads more and 5.38% thought they should do less of this. The numbers were similar in the case of merging and splitting threads.
In terms of the forum structure, more than three in five respondents felt that the number of "zones" was about right (60.77%) and more than half felt that the number of boards was about right (53.08%). A small minority (10%) felt that there were too many boards on the forum.
Of the nineteen respondents who had stated that they have reported posts or threads that were contrary to the rules or spirit of the forum, only two members expressed dissatisfaction with the initial response, and three members expressed dissatisfaction with the eventual outcome. This compares with around three in five who were satisfied with the initial response and three-quarters who were satisfied with the eventual outcome.
Four respondents (three of whom were Christians) felt that reporting posts would have no effect. While I can understand that from a Christian perspective this site and forum are hostile to their interests and they may feel that their concerns may not get a fair hearing, the staff endeavour to be as impartial as possible when considering complaints against other forum members, and treat all reports with equal seriousness regardless of their source.
Five respondents stated that they have appealed against staff decisions. Of these, four expressed dissatisfaction with the initial response and/or the eventual outcome. Though in some of these cases the appeals procedure was not correctly followed - some of the incidents in question involved intemperate demands to the moderator in question to reverse their decision, instead of following the procedure and escalating the complaint to a different member of staff - we will review the appeals procedure with a view to clarifying it if necessary. Of course, we do not guarantee that appeals will be successful, so we do not necessarily expect a high satisfaction rate in this regard.
A common concern expressed by forum members was regarding "endless arguments", with the suggestion that moderators should step in more, hold members to account for unsubstantiated assertions they have made, and ask members to wrap up a discussion when it descends into an endless argument, and take more aggressive disciplinary action against offenders. Similar concerns were expressed about those who spam the forum with similar topics.
Another concern expressed by a few forum members was that moderation should be more transparent - either in terms of the identity of staff, or in terms of transparency of administrative actions. While this concern does not appear to be widespread, we will review these issues and may seek further responses from forum members in future to gauge the severity of the issue more accurately.
A few members stated that comments they have posted have disappeared without trace or explanation. As yet, in cases where such incidents have been reported, we have not been able to ascertain whether a member of staff was responsible or whether there was some technical glitch that has caused posts to disappear, but we do take such incidents seriously and we not only urge members to report them when they occur, but also ask staff to record instances where they delete posts from a thread. (Ideally, staff should do this as little as possible, but rather split the offending post(s) and move the split thread to the Trash where it can be reviewed later if necessary.)
A number of people expressed concern with the manner in which theists can be "swamped" by responses from atheists, and in which some atheists go into "attack mode"; some suggested that a board be created in which people with opposing views can discuss or present their ideas without being subjected to hostile cross-examination. In anticipation of this, religious debate has been made "off limits" in the Introduce Yourself board. People can present their ideas, and other forum members can invite them to debate them in another board, but this should be with the consent of the OP and it should not take place in the introduction thread itself. The Introduce Yourself board will be heavily moderated to ensure that this guideline is followed. A FAQ has been posted in the board to clarify the board's purpose. FAQs will be "rolled out" to other boards in due course, to clarify the purpose of those boards.
On a similar note, a number of comments were received from posters of all stripes concerning the level of hostility and sarcasm on the forum. We are investigating ways by which forum members might be encouraged to make more constructive comments, and tone down the hostility and sarcasm. To this end, there is now a Forum Etiquette Guide in the Forum Announcements section. While this is not binding upon forum members in the same way that the Rules are, we nevertheless expect forum members (old and new) to read it and at least aim to meet those standards in their contributions, and egregious violations of forum etiquette may be cited as supporting factors when considering the severity of any Disciplinary Action against a forum member.
A few people expressed a concern that there was nowhere to post "off-topic" material, that is, threads on topics that might be of general interest (or entertainment) to the community, though not on religious matters. This was anticipated, and the General Discussion/Chatter boards in the Community Zone are intended expressly for this purpose. At present, however, there are no plans to allow "endless" threads (such as "three-word story" or "chain letters"), but topics of general interest are encouraged as a means for forum members to get to know one another as people, not merely as discussion opponents.