I've been running a minecraft server since the beginning of the year. During this time, I've gone through two server resets due to patch updates and new map formats. I've learned a lot of things, and find that I continue to do so.
The first thing I learned is to never automatically trust anyone. There are many people whose main intention is to solely cause problems. They'll do their best to grief and cheat, or even worse, try to disrupt the community in some other way. So, whenever a new user logs on, I watch them closely for about a week and have my moderators do so as well.
I've also learned that if you run a tight server, treat everyone fairly, give everyone respect, listen to feedback, and attempt to make it as fun as possible, you'll soon have a loyal following. The saying, "Its not the size that matters, but how you use it" actually applies itself towards Minecraft Servers. Mine can only handle up to 14 connections at once. I run it out of house, on my own ISP and on an old single core 32bit Win XP machine. Its not that powerful. But I managed to squeeze every drop of performance juice out of it as possible, and with proper plugin management, have gotten it to run smoothly. Yet even when I do have problems with the machine, the loyal crowd still comes back.
I've noticed too many server owners act like complete jack asses. I can't tell you the number of times that my users have come to me and told me how nice I am and how other owners treated them badly. To me, its pretty special, but also rewarding because I know that I'm not being "fake." I play on the server for fun, and I want others to have fun as well.
However, for this to be accomplished, I've discovered that once you come up with a fair set of rules, they have to be strictly enforced. My basic rules are these (and we are a family server): No griefing/hacking/cheating. Those are instant bans. Since its a family server, no swearing or other low talk. PvP is only allowed on one world. Stealing is never allowed, but raiding on the PvP world is.
Those are pretty simple rules. I don't try to run my players' lives, but at the same time, I keep order. Sure, I've had to ban a few players, and I've jailed a few, but to my delight, I've learned that this is respected. Indeed, on the last server restart, I decided to remove all previous bans. A few of the troublemakers came back and started doing their old thing. I caught them fast though and banned them once more. However, others whom I had previously banned had changed their ways and played legitimately. For them, my server is the best one out there.
Now, I'm not trying to "toot my horn" or any of that, although I am proud of what has been achieved; instead, I'm writing this blog for the benefit of other (future) owners out there, to show them how you can have a steady community, regardless of the server size or hardware.
I'll write more thoughts as they come along!
Hope to see you on the server! solarius-no.ip.org