They are only an effective discipline tool if they have the meatier punishment of a ban to back them up. Bans are a decent punishment because people who are here regularly want to / like to post and when you take that away from them it sticks in their minds. Most people brush off the yellow card / red card side of things without too much trouble. For sure, they may argue the point with a couple of PMs. But bans really force a reaction.
As a soccer mod, I issued a ton of warnings / infractions. They worked as part of a well structured disciplinary system - warnings / infractions did not exist in a vacuum. Pick up a certain amount in a certain period and there would be a long term ban penalty to be paid. Users were aware that the threat of a long term ban lurked in the background, so yellow and red cards became things to be genuinely avoided.
From the perspective of the soccer mod team, having a record of warnings and infractions was invaluable, as it helped to flag intractable trouble makers. And in a forum like soccer (the subject by its very nature breeds antagonism) having a black and white disciplinary process (i.e. user causes x amount of trouble he gets y amount of punishment irrespective of context) is extremely necessary. There will be an inevitable need to remove a decent amount of posters from the forum for extended periods / permanently so there is a requirement for a clearly earmarked process to do so. As such, the purpose of issuing them was to let the user and the moderator know that their behaviour was leading them towards a ban.
However, if you asked me whether I believe that the method of moderation employed in the soccer forum could be characterised as over zealous I would have to agree to a large extent. It is necessary, because the subject and the way it pushes emotional buttons produces a forum that would quickly descend into anarchy without rigid structures and close moderation. In accepting that though, you have to accept that soccer is a unique forum. Most forums will benefit a lot more from a moderating method that prizes context based decision making and punishment.
I think the way forward is to look at every individual forum on its own merits, talk to the moderators / regular posters and get a feel for what the best moderation approach would be. By doing so, you may find that:
- infractions can / should be disabled for particular forums;
- the list of available reasons when issuing infractions can be tailored individually forum by forum;
My view has always been that the biggest possible mistake is trying to homogenize anything to do with moderation / disciplinary tools across the site.