Rules v. No Rules!
A lot of new forums are popping up without a proper set of rules! This is a cause for concern because everything needs some form of rules in order for everyone to get along. Sure, having too many rules can break a forum but not having any rules can really break a forum. I wrote this article to explain why a forum needs some form of rules and what the consequences are for not having any rules at all.
They have rules
Some of the most democratic or chaotic management style forums out there still have rules. Looks at forums like Hack Forums, a forum about hacking and yes even illegal hacking. They have rules in place to prevent certain violations that could make their community liable to criminal and/or civil penalties. There are many political and debate forums out there that express the need for complete freedom of speech but they still have some sort of rules explaining to their members what they cannot do on their forum community. Not having rules may seem like your forum will be better than the others but it will also open up a world of trouble if you are not careful about it.
Playing Dumb Effect
Let's say that you are a forum owner who doesn't make any rules page because you feel members will just use common sense. Let's say you start to get a load of real people joining your forum just to make one liner topics to advertise their signature links in an attempt to get more traffic. What if the links are in direct competition with your forum? If you send PMs asking them to stop doing that, they will likely respond that they didn't see any rules about not being able to do it. They can easily play dumb with you about it because you have given them the perfect opportunity to play dumb by not having any rules in the first place.
That's Not Fair!
Let's say you start a forum with no rules or no topics about possibly creating rules in the future. Your forum members start to do activities that get on your nerves. They become used to doing these activities and you finally snap and make rules against doing those activities. The members will likely become angered that new rules are in place that stops them from doing what you have allowed them to do for a while to begin with. I have seen forums fail because of this very thing and it also starts a bad reputation for your forum and you don't want that. If there are rules in place from the beginning and they are enforced from the beginning, then members are not going to be able to get used to violating the rules and doing activities that you don't want to see on your forum.
What if they don't read the rules?
This is quite common! A member will get into trouble with forum staff for violating a rule. They will complain that they didn't know it was against the rules and be quite upset about it in most cases. However, if you already have a set of rules, you can cease the discussion by pointing out that the rules were already in place and that the member failed to read and recognize them. There isn't much more of an argument for examples like this. If the rules already exist, what can they argue? If they don' like your rules, they can go participate on another forum that doesn't have those rules.