VinnyCommunity is a huge part of what we do at OpenDNS. We rely on our users to provide feedback on our products, help us categorize domains, and tell us how we’re doing as a company. The three groups that largely power these objectives are our Domain Tagging, Security, and PhishTank communities.

Like all good things, however, community is best with moderation—for the web is dark and full of terrors (and trolls). The responsibility for keeping our enthusiastic members in line falls to a lone sheriff: Vinny LaRiza, our one and only Community Moderator.

Last week, I sat down with Vinny to get the inside track on his role at the company and why community is so important to us.

As the Community Mod, Vinny does a lot more than swing the banhammer. In addition to patrolling the groups, he serves as support for people experiencing website blocks due to malicious activity, and helps the research team identify malware false positives.

At first, Vinny was intimidated by working with the researchers who make up our Security Labs. “They’re all really smart—bonafide geniuses. And each of them is interesting and cool in a unique way.” He went on to say just how fortunate he feels to be a part of such an amazing team. “It’s exciting to come to work every day. I definitely enjoy working with them—and especially with Dan Hubbard, our CTO.”

Vinny is an important member of the team himself, serving as liaison between OpenDNS and the public. Part of his work consists of “checking in on the communities in terms of activity, and making sure they’re on point. But more importantly, staying in constant contact with group members, and providing a point of human contact—almost like a lifeline to the company.”

“People in our communities are really cool, very smart, and reasonable,” he continues, “I want to empower them to not only help us out by tagging domains, but also to enjoy doing it. We consider all of our users to be very important, and this is just one more way to give them a platform to make themselves heard.”

Vinny has a clear goal, but the varying natures of the three communities can make moderation a balancing act. “There’s not a lot of danger in categorizing sites within Domain Tagging or PhishTank”, he says, “ but the security community can be dangerous, and requires more hands-on interaction from us. They’re dealing with malware and other things that can mess your system up —definitely handle with care.”

Despite these differences, Vinny’s moderation style can carry over from one group to another. “People don’t react well to negative attitudes, so I try to stay positive. One thing to remember is that—excluding the security community—we have members with different skill levels, so it’s important to communicate with them clearly.”

“All of our users, no matter who they are, should feel like they can talk to us. Everyone is important —we genuinely care, and we want to help them out if they have a question or a problem. That’s why I’m here, to help.”

Although members of the security community must apply to be admitted, the Domain Tagging and PhishTank groups are open for anyone to participate. This inclusive community is a great way for non-techies to actively participate in security. “Domain Taggers come from a lot of different backgrounds,” Vinny says, “they can be teachers, librarians, retirees—the process can be pretty interesting. You’ll learn a lot about different sites.”

What users may lack in technical acumen, they certainly make up for with enthusiasm: community members vote on 20,000 domains every week, and submit another 7,000 to the database.  “It’s really a great concept. Users are giving back and taking control of their own protection,” Vinny says.

Participation in the communities is on a voluntary basis, but Vinny says those who frequently engage with the group will get the most out of it. In addition, the top contributors in each community are rewarded with tokens of appreciation, like OpenDNS swag or gadgets.

“I get to know the top contributors very well mainly because they’re also the best communicators: they ask me about anything. But I want other users to know that they shouldn’t feel shy about sending me an email. I want them to have the best experience possible in our communities, so if they have a question, they shouldn’t hesitate to reach out.”

Joining the OpenDNS Communities is a simple task—just apply and let us know why you’d like to join. If you’re interested in the Security Community, you’ll have to demonstrate your technical skills, but otherwise, the only qualification you need is enthusiasm!

For more information on how to join our Domain Tagging, PhishTank, or Security Community, click here, or you can email Vinny directly at vinny@opendns.com.

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