Costing and financing of land administration services

Sep 2015 | No Comment

CoFLAS is a land tool developed by the GLTN to provide support to national governments and public agencies in identifying and costing optimal methods for land administration service reform

Anthony Burns

Land Equity International, Wollongong, Australia

Kate Fairlie

Land Equity International, Wollongong, Australia

Solomon Haile

UN-Habitat Global Land Tool Network Secretariat, Nairobi, Kenya

Public agencies the world over continue to be challenged by citizens to rationalise the cost and quality of public service provision, particularly during repeated cycles of financial crises. The problem is even more pronounced in developing countries, where allocation of public resources must grapple with competing priorities of critical sectors such as health, education, water, infrastructure, etc. The land sector, whilst underlying such sectors, is less visible. It has typically relied on international development resources, a dependency aggravated by the declining availability of such funds for public services. Having observed this trend over the years, GLTN identified Modernizing the Budgetary Approach of Land Agencies as an important area of tool development. This thinking underpins the development of the Costing and Financing of Land Administration Services (CoFLAS) tool.

The objectives of this paper are to:

– Sensitize stakeholders on CoFLAS and the need for urgent solutions that redefine such services in the context of their usefulness to society as custodians of land and property information

– Provide a validation of the tool, based on an Expert Group Meeting in Bangkok, October, 2014


CoFLAS – the Costing and Financing of Land Administration Services for Developing Countries Tool – has been developed to address a core need of enabling public agencies to effectively cost the establishment and operation of a land administration service (LAS). A component of the Global Land Tool Network’s (GLTN) Modernizing the Budgetary Approach of Land Agencies tool development, CoFLAS has been developed at a time of decreasing international development budgets and increased competition across critical public sector priorities including health, education, water, infrastructure, disaster mitigation, etc. The co re aim of CoFLAS is to assist decision-making in the land sector, by promoting a ‘Fit-for-Purpose’ approach to ensure that LAS are provided in a costeffective manner that focuses on servicedelivery for all, not just the wealthy.

This paper is extracted from a consultancy report prepared for and financed by the Global Land Tool Network (GLTN). It is part of a longer consultancy report that LEI produced with contributions from GLTN partners, staff and other stakeholders. This paper presents an overview of the CoFLAS tool and follows on from a summary paper presented at the Conference on Land Policy in Africa (CLPA), held from 11th – 14th November 2014 in Addis Ababa. Whilst there is some overlap between these two papers, this paper concentrates on the validation process and potential future implementation of CoFLAS. For further background on the methodology for developing CoFLAS, readers should refer to the CLPA paper and the forthcoming GLTN publication.

Role of CoFLAS

Noting the financial challenges many land agencies face, CoFLAS is a mechanism to provide a business case for funding of LAS through a cost and financing tool. The core contribution of CoFLAS is its role in supporting decision-makers to identify:

i) The policy context that drives LAS reform (core needs assessment);

ii) Options for implementation that identify decision-impacts (such as immediate and ongoing cost, in particular to acknowledge that ‘best is not necessarily optimal’);

iii) The costs of LAS reform, based on selected optimal implementation methods; and

iv) Potential revenue from LAS reform implementation.

CoFLAS is implemented by decisionmakers in government, using a fourstage approach outlined in Section 3. It may also be implemented by supporting development partners or Ministries to assess a proposal for LAS reform.

What does CoFLAS do?

CoFLAS is essentially a decision-support tool for land administration. It prompts discussion on a country’s readiness for land reform, and provides a series of templates to assist public agencies to identify the core needs and necessary investment for land reform processes. The CoFLAS assessment includes:

• A detailed, systemic analysis of context and approach to land governance in-country;

• Preparation of a tenure typology and the legal and institutional frameworks that support this tenure topologies; and

• The essential requirement that LAS services are provided in a cost-effective manner that focusses on service delivery for all sectors in society, particularly the poor and disadvantaged.

This last point is core to the fit-forpurpose approach embodied in CoFLAS. CoFLAS implementation acknowledges that significant effort may be required to improve the geographic coverage and quality of data in developing countries where existing LAS are likely to be incomplete. Making such improvements, will broadly improve the costeffectiveness, efficiency, sustainability and affordability of land related services, both to government and society in general. As identified in the previous section, CoFLAS is primarily a tool that supports governments and government staff for the following purposes:

(a) Preparing proposals for LAS reform (land sector staff);

(b) Assessing such proposals and making a case for support within government and from development partners (Policy makers); and

(c) Reviewing LAS reform proposals and ensuring that such proposals provide value for money (Ministry staff and Development partners)

A number of items are out of scope for the CoFLAS tool, and these have been dealt with in detail in the CoFLAS Report, with reference to a number of other authors. In summary, CoFLAS is not intended as a tool to decide on why or how to undertake land administration reform – authors Deininger (2003) and Dale & McLaughlan (1999), among others, provide excellent materials that do this. Similarly, CoFLAS does not identify or quantify the benefits of undertaking LAS reform – Williamson et al. (2009) provide an excellent reference for this task. Finally, CoFLAS does not assist with the troubleshooting of problems to address core land administration issues or prioritisation of LAS implementation steps (see instead Dale and McLaughlan, 1988; USAID, 2013; Deininger, Selod & Burns, 2012).

Instead of the above, CoFLAS recognizes the many and varied approaches and circumstances that will impact key decisions surrounding LAS reform, such as approach, legal provisions, survey/ mapping methodology and technology. These key decisions will in turn have serious implications on the cost and viability of land administration reform, and CoFLAS seeks to capture these. CoFLAS provides the framework for highlighting the options available at key decision points and the related cost and financing implications of decisions made. In many cases these key decisions are not explicitly set out in proposals for land administration reform and there may be little or no analysis of options or alternative strategies or approaches. The core objective of CoFLAS is thus to highlight the options for key decisions – suggesting a fit-for-purpose approach – and the related cost and financing implications.

How does CoFLAS sit with other GLTN tools?

The GLTN partners have identified 18 key land tools that together are needed to address poverty and land issues at country level, promote innovative land policies and laws and enable land systems to work for the poor, be gender and youth responsive and address issues of customary and informal land. Over the last decade, GLTN has made notable progress in developing and piloting a number of these tools. Some have matured (e.g., the Social Tenure Domain Model, STDM), whilst others are at the piloting stage or under development. STDM provides the technical backdrop to enable affordable and responsive land administration systems, while the Gender Evaluation Criteria (GEC) supports inclusive and equitable land administration. The valuation of unregistered land, another tool under development, is vitally important to unleash pro-poor compensation, land and property transfer as well as taxation in hitherto neglected communities and these are all important variable in the financial equation underpinning the importance of CoFLAS. Though the present version of CoFLAS tends to focus on the formal end of the Continuum of Land Rights (another GLTN tool), subsequent versions will support the understanding of less formal aspects to strengthen linkages with tools that are specifically meant to support less developed systems.

CoFLAS also seeks to promote and is supported by a Fit-for-Purpose approach, drawing on the work of the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG) and the World Bank in their joint publication Fitfor- Purpose Land Administration (FIG/ World Bank, 2014). Whilst not a new term, in this context Fit-for-Purpose is newly applied to the building of sustainable land administration systems. It indicates a need for flexibility in the approach used for building land administration systems in less developed countries, including a focus on citizens’ needs, such as providing security of tenure and control of land use, rather than technical solutions or high accuracy. The following elements have been identified as core to the Fit-for-Purpose approach:

• Flexible in the spatial data capture approaches to provide for varying use and occupation.

• Inclusive in scope to cover all tenure and all land.

• Participatory in approach to data capture and use to ensure community support.

• Affordable for the government to establish and operate, and for society to use.

• Reliable in terms of information that is authoritative and up-to-date.

• Attainable in relation to establishing the system within a short timeframe and within available resources.

• Upgradeable with regard to incremental upgrading and improvement over time in response to social and legal needs and emerging economic opportunities. (FIG/World Bank, 2014)

Central to the adoption of a fit-for-purpose approach is the review of a country’s legal and institutional framework in order to identify any conflict that should be revised. Such a conflict may, for example, result from unnecessarily strict accuracy requirements for surveys that limit the application of a fit-for-purpose approach. In addition to enshrining the fit-for-purpose approach in law, supporting frameworks and information accessibility should also be reviewed. This element is captured through the first and following stages of CoFLAS.

Steps to implementing CoFLAS

There is great variety in land administration arrangements and systems globally. Even with the qualifications on the scope, CoFLAS must be fairly generic in its formulation in order to be applicable to multiple countries. CoFLAS is thus implemented in a sequential manner through four stages, each of which includes a series of tables that assist implementers to identify the key decisions to be made (across policy and budgetary levels) and the impacts these decisions will have on reform. Due to the inherent flexibility of the tool, these tables are expected to be guiding rather than exhaustive. At the end of the process, the CoFLAS tool should have guided implementers to an understanding of the key existing (and relevant) policies and institutions in place, the key needs and issues in play, the necessary components of reform (fitted to the current status and contextual needs) and an estimate of the costs required for both establishment and ongoing operation. To particularly support the justification of these costs, and the development of an elevator pitch, additional sections on estimating potential revenue, based on decisions made, have been developed. The following sections describe the stages of CoFLAS in detail.

How does CoFLAS work?

There are four stages to the application of CoFLAS. Each stage contains a set of policy and contextual questions that should be addressed – these provide the basis for making decisions on reform and systematic registration methodologies, which in turn impact the estimation of related costs. The four stages are: (1) Readiness Assessment; (2) Commencement Cost Assessment; (3) Operational Cost Assessment; and (4) Likely Revenue Assessment. These are outlined below.

Stage 1: Assessing LAS Reform Readiness

Whilst CoFLAS has not been created to design and implement land administration reform, users of CoFLAS need to understand the existing LAS and supporting framework (policy, legal and institutional) in place to readily understand the key cost implications and possible alternative approaches.

The following information is gathered in Stage 1 of CoFLAS:

1. Key policy issues that impact on establishing a LAS in the country;

2. Information to estimate the number of properties;

3. Analysis of existing records of rights in land

4. Preparation of a tenure typology for the country and an estimate of the properties that could be registered;

5. Preparation of an Institutional Matrix to identify key institutional actors and potential overlaps

6. A review of the major LAS processes with proposals for reengineering

7. Demonstration of knowledge of:

▪ the key issues,

▪ the status of stakeholder consultation,

▪ other government initiatives and existing development partner support.

This section particularly supports the drafting of an ‘elevator pitch’, in order to generate wider support for reform initiatives.

Stage 2: Establishing broad LAS geographic coverage

CoFLAS has been designed to look not only at the ongoing operational costs of running a LAS but also at the costs of establishing a LAS in the first place, ensuring broad geographic coverage across the country. This is particularly important given that decisions, such as the level of administration providing services to the public, have both establishment and ongoing operational cost implications.

The approach adopted in CoFLAS assesses the following generic costs in establishing an LAS with broad geographic cover:

1. Completing first registration

2. Establishing a spatial framework for land administration

3. Establishing the physical infrastructure to support LAS

4. Implementing ICT to support LAS

5. Capacity development

6. Project management.

These topics generally cover the activities that require a major investment in resources and funds in undertaking LAS reform. The requirements in each country will vary; in some countries there may be complete first registration whilst in others there may be a recent investment in ICT, perhaps as part of a broad eGovernance initiative. The implementation of this stage of CoFLAS needs to be adapted to the local context, but generic processes and forms are provided as part of the tool.

Stage 3: Cost of Running a LAS

The annual operational costs of LAS will depend upon a number of factors, including:

▪ the scope of services provided by the LAS;

▪ the approach adopted in key legal and technical areas;

▪ the role of the various actors, particularly central government, local government and the private sector; and

▪ the extent that LAS service delivery is decentralised.

Decisions on many of these factors will have been made explicitly or implicitly as the LAS is established. The cost implications of these decisions in establishing a LAS were reviewed in Stage 2 of CoFLAS. At Stage 3, the cost implications of these decisions in the on-going operations of the LAS are considered.

LAS operational costs were developed in CoFLAS through the review of a number of (developed and developing) country case studies, via a questionnaire developed at an expert group meeting and a number of pilots. Stage 3 concentrates on LAS activities of land registration, cadastral surveying and valuation. Data for land use planning and taxation were deemed to have too great a variety across how these services were implemented to be able to draw useful, generic information, and thus have not been included. The process data gathering and tool validation is ongoing and will be used to refine future versions of the tool – indeed, the Validation workshop discussed at Section 4 noted an opportunity for an online repository of such information that would guide the ongoing review and refinement of CoFLAS.

The framework developed for estimating the annual operating costs of a LAS references the number of properties and the decisions made around the way in which LAS services are managed, rights are measured, and spatial framework is implemented. The annual cost applies to a system where the registration is complete, noting that fewer resources would be required to manage LAS in a jurisdiction where registration is incomplete. The framework includes salary and other recurrent costs, and is applicable globally. The framework, however, excludes major investments that may be required over time, such as CORS maintenance or upgrading, or updated mapping.

Stage 4: Revenue generation resulting from LAS

Governments and decisions makers undertaking CoFLAS implementation and LAS reform will be interested in potential sources of revenue. In the development of CoFLAS, two main potential sources of revenue from LAS were identified:

(a) annual land and property taxes and

(b) the taxes, fees and charges levied on transactions or LAS services.

In most developed countries landrelated taxes, fees and charges can be a significant source of government revenue, particularly for local governments. Welldeveloped LASs enable cost recovery, and revenue generation, from the schedule of fees and charges for the provision of land administration services, such as the first registration of rights, the transfer of registered rights, and the registration of survey plans etc. Revenue above and beyond cost recovery may be allocated to essential infrastructure, including regulatory oversight, development and maintenance of ICT systems, the establishment and maintenance of a geodetic reference frame, etc. Under this arrangement the users of land services or those who benefit from the services, are bearing all or most of cost of the system, rather than having all taxpayers carry the cost of land sector services as they do for many public services such as law enforcement, public health and education.

Even with well-developed LASs there is a tension between the objective of recovering the cost of providing services and the need to ensure that land services are accessible and affordable for all sectors in society. In less well-developed land administration systems, the systems to record rights are often very incomplete in terms of geographic cover and the nature of the information recorded. In many African countries less than 5 percent of properties are registered in the formal LAS. This lack of a complete set of records makes it impossible to consider recovering the cost of land services from user fees and charges in a manner that is not a major barrier for participation in the formal system, particularly for the poor and vulnerable. As a result, development partner support or direct budget allocation may be required in these situations until such time where a more complete LAS is in place.

The potential revenue that might be obtained from an annual property tax will be based on the estimates for the number of properties together with information on the rate for the tax and how it is determined (that is the average characteristic that determines the tax, which might be area or value and the rate at which the tax is assessed). An estimate of the expected annual property turnover, or the percentage of properties that are sold each year, is also required in order to estimate revenue from transfer and other related services. Forms to assist and guide these estimates are presented in the CoFLAS Report.

Financing LAS Reform

A final component of CoFLAS that sits outside the four stages, is the identification of opportunities, partners and pathways to finance a program of LAS reform. As a public service typically a provided by government, land agencies face a multitude of challenges in implementing strong programs of LAS reform. Arguably, chief among these challenges is the ability to provide affordable, cost effective, efficient and sustainable services to the majority of potential clients.

The service provision challenges that land agencies face are attributed to a number of factors including:

• Out-dated service delivery and reliance on expensive and time consuming processes and systems; and a

• Lack of adequate funding to produce and deliver services, to develop and maintain the fundamental systems necessary to provide services (land records management systems, ICT systems, geodetic reference frames, etc.), and to develop the human resources and capacity to provide services, etc.

Policy decisions related to land related taxes, fees and charges need to particularly consider an best approaches that promote an appropriate mix of annual taxes and/or transaction/service based taxes, fees and charges, that do not inequitably skew access to LAS.

Acknowledging the above, there are a number of strategies that can be adopted to finance LAS over the long term. The options include:

(a) Full funding by government as a public service

(b) Setting fees and charges to fully or partially recover the cost of providing LAS services and therefore transferring the cost of providing LAS services from government to users of LAS services

(c) Transferring core parts of LAS delivery to others such as local government or private sector service providers (lawyers, notaries, private surveyors) that have the ability to recover costs through user charges

(d) Separating the regulatory and service provision LAS functions and outsourcing the service provision function to the private sector under some form of public-private-partnership.

There is a major cost in establishing a LAS and there are limited opportunities to recover this major cost from user fees and charges. The cost of developing an LAS with broad geographic cover should be understood as an investment in public infrastructure. A systematic approach in establishing a LAS that typically involves the mobilisation of teams to the field with extensive community consultation has proved cost-effective and transparent. Charging fees can create barriers to participation in a systematic process and as a result many governments underwrite the cost of establishing LAS under a systematic process, often with development partner support, and seek to recover this initial investment through fees and charges on subsequent dealings and services.

From the above it seems clear that for less well developed systems public funding with possible development partner support is the most likely source of funding for LAS reform. However, LAS data has been shown to have a public good role above and beyond basic provision of LAS services (see de Vries, 2012 and Williamson et al. 2009), and this should be recognised when deciding how LAS reform and services are financed. Such a role enables financing via user access fees and user change/update fees in addition to government funding. Regardless of the options for financing considered, government needs to ensure that there is little, if any, restriction on the use of LAS data as a fundamental dataset for existing and future needs as part of a National Spatial Data Infrastructure and/or Spatially Enabled Government. This point is particularly critical in the case of private sector suppliers or public-private partnerships.

CoFLAS Validation Process

Having provided an overview of the CoFLAS tool as it has been developed to date, the following section provides an overview of the validation methodology and outcomes. The CoFLAS Validation Workshop was held in Bangkok, Thailand, from 14th – 15th October 2014 and was organized by the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG), with support from the UN-Habitat Global Land Tool Network. The workshop was organized in three sections: Firstly, reflections on and background to the project so far; secondly an overview of the tool, with discussion; and thirdly, breakout sessions to validate the tool through a series of discussion questions.

Key strengths and opportunities of CoFLAS

Key strengths of the CoFLAS tool include its comprehensiveness, the evidence base used to support the costing estimates and its conceptualization of LAS in a manner that supports optimal – rather than ‘best’ – approaches tailored to specific country contexts. The tool allows for scenario development and priority setting in promotion of fit-for-purpose applications.

This latter point is best demonstrated through the ‘equaliser’ concept, presented during the workshop by Kadaster International Director, Kees de Zeeuw. He identified the key need for CoFLAS as being the ability for decision-makers to identify costs and necessary financing, and the ability to compare costs across the variety of implementation methods – acknowledging that optimal solutions are fit-for-purpose for the context of the implementation. The ‘equaliser’ concept depicts the range of simple (low cost) through to complex (high cost) measures, and the need to balance these for a range of criteria and requirements. The tables within each stage of CoFLAS provide guidance on the impact of each decision made, and, taken together, the stages promote a fit-for-purpose approach emulating the equaliser metaphor.

General discussion

Whilst the CoFLAS tool was validated as a useful tool and ready for implementation, a number of core issues were raised multiple times throughout the workshop, summarised as follows:

A need to further discuss the role and scope of CoFLAS

Participants, particularly those new to the GLTN and GLTN toolkit, identified a need to know more about how CoFLAS sits within and beside existing and proposed tools, such as the Continuum of Land Rights, the Social Tenure Domain Model, and other tools within the land profession, such as the concept of Fit-For-Purpose. As could also be anticipated, extensive discussions were held on what the scope of CoFLAS should be, and how flexible the tool can be made whilst still remaining specialised enough to assist country governments. The scale at which CoFLAS should be applied was also discussed. CoFLAS can additionally play a role in addressing fragmented governance of land and legacy systems. These points have to some extent been addressed (for example, an earlier section to this paper better describes the GLTN land tools and their relevance to CoFLAS), and to some extent will continue to be addressed through the pilots and further refinement of CoFLAS (for example, addressing the scale at which CoFLAS can be rolled out).

Absoluteness of numbers and management of expectations

In the methodology section of CoFLAS, a number of examples are given for the real-world costs of implementing systematic registration. These costs are dependent on country context, direct funding and expertise received from external development partners, and the approach to systematic registration implemented that will impact not only cost but accuracy, data quality and future costs. Following the workshop, the CoFLAS examples provided were updated to ensure that expectations regarding costs were managed.

The need for an ‘elevator pitch’ to enable local implementers to garner support from decision-makers

The elevator pitch is enabled by the early policy questions at Stage 1, which explore the existing status, issues, roles and processes relating to LAS in place, including the institutional, policy and legal context. The role of the elevator pitch is also to enable surveyors to challenge the status quo, and will provide a useful tool in driving LAS reform.

Core pilot needs

The core strengths and objectives of the CoFLAS tool saw it validated and approved at the workshop. The discussion additionally provided some key changes to be made to the CoFLAS tool prior to publication by GLTN, and to be particularly reviewed at the pilot stage. An essential change needed was the restructuring of the tool to better guide implementation: the four stages of CoFLAS would be reviewed to provide an implementation manual for the tool, complete with a spreadsheet template to simplify costings.

Piloting of the CoFLAS tool – by both developed and developing countries (and potentially municipalities) – is likely to provide more examples and methodology options to guide future implementation.

However, in spite of the positive benefits of piloting, the structure and implementation of pilots will need to be controlled such that the likelihood of a successful pilot is promoted (success being measured by the potential for the pilot to contribute to the development of the CoFLAS methodology). Successful pilots will therefore require political will, in-country capacity, a broad range of experiences and validation and evaluation of results.

Future Work

The CoFLAS tool has been published by the Global Land Tool Network Secretariat online at Many goverments have shown interest in the tool and plans are underway to pilot it. Additional future work may include the further evaluation (following pilots) of the value of the tool and any need for revision, as well as the compilation of country data to further refine the tool and ensure realistic and quality outputs. A key addition to the scope of the CoFLAS tool may be the development of guidelines to estimate potential revenue from the sale and licensing of LASgenerated data to further support and justify reform efforts where needed.


CoFLAS is a land tool developed by the GLTN to provide support to national governments and public agencies in identifying and costing optimal methods for land administration service reform. It addresses the core need of enabling public agencies to effectively cost the establishment and operation of a land administration service (LAS), providing a series of templates in tabular form to guide fit-for-purpose decision-making. It does not compete with existing literature or tools to quantify the benefits of LAS reform or troubleshoot existing LAS issues, but it is supported by and supportive of a range of GLTN land tools that promote pro-poor, inclusive and accessible land policies.

A number of countries have provided data to ground the CoFLAS tool, ensuring its effective application. Further refinement of the tool will occur during the pilot phase, during which time additional case studies may be gathered from both developd and developing countries. Gaps remain for further research, including identifying the application of CoFLAS at different scales, the application of CoFLAS to valuation and planning arenas, and opportunities to capitalise on spatial data generated by reform.

Ultimately, the development of CoFLAS thus far supports the GLTN methodology of utilising intense consultations and multi-stakeholder partnerships to develop innovative and essential land tools that address common land and governance needs.


The authors would like to acknowledge the funding provided to GLTN for this project from the Norwegian, Swedish and Dutch governments that enabled the development of this and many other GLTN land tools. Sincere thanks are also provided to Kadaster International, Lantmateriet and the International Federation of Surveyors for their work in developing CoFLAS.


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Deininger K, Selod H, Burns A (2012), The Land Governance Assessment Framework, published by the World Bank, 2012.

de Zeeuw, K. (2014) Unpublished slides, CoFLAS Validation Workshop, 15 – 16 October 2014, Bangkok, Thailand

FIG/World Bank (2014), Fit-For- Purpose Land Administration, joint publication of FIG and the World Bank, published by FIG, Copenhagen, 2014.

USAID (2011), Land Tenure and Property Rights (LTPR) Situation Assessment and Intervention Planning Tool, August 2011. default/files/USAID_Land_Tenure_ Situation_Assessment_and_ Intervention_Planning_Tool_0.pdf

Williamson I, Enemark S, Wallace J, Rajabifard A, (2009), Land Administration for Sustainable Development, published by ESRI Press, Redlands California, 2009.

This paper is extracted from a consultancy report prepared for and financed by the Global Land Tool Network (GLTN). It is a part of a longer consultancy report that Land Equity Internanational produced with contributions from GLTN partners, staff and other stakeholders. The paper was presented at the “2015 World Bank Conference On Land And Poverty” Washington DC, March 23-27, 2015

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