Both directions can be harmful on different levels.
Strong moderation protects the community from bad behaviours, and makes people who agree to the rules stronger together.
On the other hand, the stronger and more strict you impose rules and moderate, the more you aim your community to the "self-centered jerks who kick outsiders between the legs". So you have a risk of closing the community on itself and losing in popularity for the external world.
Examples that come to mind : posting a topic for the first time on a random phpbb, and getting a set of the following:
- 'you didn't say hi/please'
- 'new users should post in the new user topic to present themselves'
- and any other collection of hoops to jump through before you can actually say what you want to say
Other example: superuser.com
It went from the wild west at the beginning for the lack of moderation (lack of enough appointed moderators and early community not having access to the tools yet)..... to, well, this:
Super User is for computer enthusiasts and power users. If you have a question about …
- computer hardware,
- computer software, or
- personal and home computer networking
and it is not about …
- programming and software development,
- video games or consoles,
- websites or web services like Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress,
- electronic devices, media players, cell phones or smart phones, except insofar as they interface with your computer,
- issues specific to corporate IT support and networks,
- asking for a shopping or product recommendation,
… then you’re in the right place to ask your question!
In short, you can ask whatever computer question you want, except, well, all that. (Oh, and don't you DARE asking a question someone asked two years ago, even if you would get updated answers.)
Don't get me wrong, I love the SE sites. But while it's nice to have kept them from becoming wild west yahoos, it would have been nicer if people on some of them didn't become so stingy about what newcomers can or can't do.
Because if a newcomer gets the door slammed on his face the first time he shows up, he probably won't bother coming back. (Well, except scientists)