This may seem like a pointless article, but frankly: there are so many contra-productive guidelines on various sites that it makes you think about it. Isn’t the point of having a rules page to show, as clearly and shortly as you can, what you expect from your visitors?
Rules page occur almost everywhere: fanlistings and cliques have them, directories have them, and of course- review sites have them as well! Rules and guidelines occur even on personal sites: in interactive games and SOTM contests, for example. There are, of course, rules for using someone’s linkware graphics. There’s nothing wrong with that; you have to tell people what exactly they may or may not do in order to avoid problems and confusion. But then again, guidelines are not there to show how mighty and powerful you are; don’t invent rules simply to satisfy your ever growing megalomania.
First thing you have to bare in mind is that nobody has to actually READ the rules, just to obey them. So, avoid code words and similar tricks. Do you really think that forcing people to put “chocolate” in the comments field will actually stop them from stealing your work or submitting an entry without a valid email address?
Find me a person who doesn’t hate the trick: 1. Don’t steal my work. 2. Put “banana” in the comment field so I know that you’ve read the rules. 3. No direct linking. 4. I like orange. 5. You must credit me. 6. I changed my mind, put the name of the fruit I like in the comments field. Grrrr! These things usually make me close the site in question. Another popular trick is to hide a link to goodies/submit form in one of the random words on the rules page. And at the end of the page, there’s an “Agree with the terms” button, which takes you to the page where a webmaster will explain how big idiot you are for clicking that button instead of a hidden link.
Plus, those tricks never work. If there are people who really wish to steal your oh-so wonderful graphics, they will usually click the right link and steal whatever they want. Or, they will read the rules and still put idiotic messages in the submit form fields. Code words and similar tricks won’t stop them.
Guidelines for writing- guidelines!
So, what to do? Make your rules page as clear and short as possible. If you want people to provide a believable nickname, say so. Give an example of a nickname that is not acceptable (e.g. girly_flower225). If a site is required, simply write: “you must have your own site to join”. And so on. If you made a complicated application form, provide an example of a correctly filled application. On the submit form page, simply state: “by sending this form you agree to the rules”. So if there are people who break the rules, you have a full right to delete their submission. Simple as that.
Also, note that in some cases (such as thefanlistings.org approved fanlistings) you can’t invent your own rules; all you can is re-word general rules accepted by the network.
As for linkware goodies- you can’t be 100% sure that your work won’t be abused, one way or another.. just take that as a risk. There will always be normal people who understand rules of the game. As for the rest of them… You can actually benefit from people copying your work; you know, a copy can rarely be better than the original. Just be honest to yourself and don’t simply edit copyrighted images and other people’s work and claim them as your own.