In the mid-1990s when I started building online communities I didn’t understand why publishers like Amazon pre-moderated all user-contributed content such as comments. The vast majority of users were intelligent and well-meaning and only a small fraction of material had to be deleted. It seemed like it wasn’t worth interrupting the flow of conversation and exchange to ensure that an off-topic posting never saw the light of day. It would be intercepted within a day or so and deleted in any case.
The Manila software that Harvard runs behind these blogs shows the foolishness of my point of view. More than 90 percent of the comments posted to this blog are link spammers trying to increase their Google rank by adding comments to old and forgotten postings. Manila makes it impossible to delete this spams except one by one, each one requiring a several page process of confirmation. In the old ArsDigita Community System we had a “delete all from this user” and “delete all from this IP address” option that made it a lot easier. But in the Age of Spam what we really need is pre-moderation. Maybe there should be an option for a vibrant interactive discussion that content goes live for 24 hours without being approved but otherwise given the small percentage of useful non-spam content it seems that the only answer is that nothing goes public without approval.
Another reason to program in pre-approval only is that eventually the moderators of every online forum find other things to do with their lives. The server doesn’t realize this and soldiers on processing postings. Spammers discover a happy home and the database fills up with crud. Software should be robust to the moderator disappearing and in an Internet that is mostly spam that means approval-required-before-going-live.