Neither did I receive anything via email as has always happened previously when the WC User Agreement has been changed. In fact I subsequently discovered that I'd turned off the emails from Admin! Then I remembered that this was because I was so fed up with the constant marketing notifications from F&W (the owners of the site) about media which I had absolutely no interest in.
Changes in the user agreement
Then I noticed that the very next day that it was announced in A Letter of Introduction (which is the only announcement at the top of each forum) that Matthew Swift the Lead Administrator who'd started the thread was very suddenly no longer with Wet Canvas. Curiouser and curiouser!
I finally found this thread Have you read the new User Agreement? (in the WC! Site Discussions Forum - a forum which is studiously ignored by most WC members). It highlights some of the concerns which have been expressed my members and the responses from WC staff and moderators.
It runs for 226 posts and 16 pages. I wonder how many WC members have read this?
For what it's worth WC backtracked and made changes to their changes - but I still don't like some of the things it says and I think there's very definite scope for improvement. At the end of the day, WC will find out whether or not they've done the right thing when members decide whether or not to vote with their feet.
Overall it struck me, yet again, that all forum owners need to be vigilant about the concerns of their members. Otherwise, just like Facebook, there is considerable scope to find out how badly managed change has the potential to create a PR disaster.
Some recommendations about changes to Forum User Agreements
This is an open note to the owners of Forums. If you want to change the the User Agreement here are some things you might want to consider:
- put somebody in charge of the exercise who knows how to handle communications in a web 2.0 world. All your users will comment on your handling of changes to a User Agreement if you get it wrong or fail to communicate effectively! Those comments will follow you around for at least the next six month every time somebody googles the name of your site - so there's lots of incentives to handle the communications effectively.
- signal what you intend to do before you do it. Unless absolutely essential that changes are made immediately, make sure people have an opportunity to comment before any change appears to be a fait accompli. You never know - they may identify some implications you had not thought of and it potentially avoids to need to backtrack on the changes made.
- explain your intentions in plain English. That then allows people the scope to check out the legalese as to whether that's the way they interpret what it says - or whether they think is says something else. Which might then require another trip to the lawyers and and another set of fees for making changes to an agreement you'd already signed off.
- always invest in a lawyer who knows how to write a user agreement in plain English. This is perfectly possible - if you like I can highlight sites which achieve the best practice standard ie user agreements in plain English.
- suggest you are going to allow third parties access to personal details at your peril. Doesn't really require any further comment does it?
- suggest that you are going to allow third parties to access images posted on the site and reuse them elsewhere at your peril (Wet Canvas and Imagekind both assumed this was OK with members without checking it out with subscribed members first). If you're dealing with copyright and reuse for commercial intent (ie marketing the site with a view to enhancing the the profits of the owners of the site) then in my opinion this something which should be NOT be covered by a user agreement or should be a section of the agreement which is clear and which people can opt out of.
- separate out essential notifications about the user agreement and site admin from your marketing notifications - that way people like me can stay informed.