Tag Archives: weblogs

Inventive Ways to Control Trolls

To keep the peace on the ever-expanding Stack Exchange Network of online communities, owners Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood introduced the timed suspension of disruptive users’ accounts. Over time the transparency of the timed suspension process proved to be occasionally inefficient when discussions arose regarding the merits of certain suspensions. This led the administrators of the communities to investigate other ways of moderating problematic users.

What they found were three fantastically devious secret ways to effectively control trolls and other abusive users on online communities: the hellban, slowban, and errorban:

A hellbanned user is invisible to all other users, but crucially, not himself. From their perspective, they are participating normally in the community but nobody ever responds to them. They can no longer disrupt the community because they are effectively a ghost. It’s a clever way of enforcing the “don’t feed the troll” rule in the community. When nothing they post ever gets a response, a hellbanned user is likely to get bored or frustrated and leave. I believe it, too; if I learned anything from reading The Great Brain as a child, it’s that the silent treatment is the cruelest punishment of them all. […]

(There is one additional form of hellbanning that I feel compelled to mention because it is particularly cruel – when hellbanned users can see only themselves and other hellbanned users. Brrr. I’m pretty sure Dante wrote a chapter about that, somewhere.)

A slowbanned user has delays forcibly introduced into every page they visit. From their perspective, your site has just gotten terribly, horribly slow. And stays that way. They can hardly disrupt the community when they’re struggling to get web pages to load. There’s also science behind this one, because per research from Google and Amazon, every page load delay directly reduces participation. Get slow enough, for long enough, and a slowbanned user is likely to seek out greener and speedier pastures elsewhere on the internet.

An errorbanned user has errors inserted at random into pages they visit. You might consider this a more severe extension of slowbanning – instead of pages loading slowly, they might not load at all, return cryptic HTTP errors, return the wrong page altogether, fail to load key dependencies like JavaScript and images and CSS, and so forth. I’m sure your devious little brains can imagine dozens of ways things could go “wrong” for an errorbanned user. This one is a bit more esoteric, but it isn’t theoretical; an existing implementation exists in the form of the Drupal Misery module.

How to Internet: Dividing Attention

There’s a huge cornucopia of stuff on the internet, far more than even the most adept writer could hope to survey with even a full book on the topic. My goal is not to tell you what to pay attention to. Rather, I hope to give you some interesting places to start and some guideline with which to find others.

In the spirit of covering everything, I think the first thing on the current internet that one must be aware of is 4chan’s /b/. /b/ (never safe for work) is a profane, juvenile and largely distasteful part of the internet. But it’s also the home of its roiling subconscious mind, and so the font of much of its native creativity. LOLCats started on /b/ as did just about a million other memes that you may or may not have heard of. I recommend one remain aware of /b/, but frequenting is probably bad for your health.

A step toward where we might like to spend time is reddit, a community that constantly makes reference to itself as the bridge between /b/ (where internet memes are born) and Facebook (where memes go to either become overused or misunderstood). I check reddit at least once a day, and it’s always good for some lulz (a variant of LOL, usually used to connote enjoyment, satisfaction, or fun). It’s not the place you should go looking for high quality analysis of recent events or to get an education, but it’s always fun and sometimes educational.

Some other less-well-known but very solid personal favorites:

  • Waxy.org Links — Andy Baio occasionally writes longer articles of quality that are worth following, but it’s his odd little link blog that really makes an impression and offers a view of the things Baio likes that are newly popular on the internet.
  • kottke.org — Jason Kottke has one of the longest-active and most popular link blogs on the Internet. His coinage of “Liberal Arts 2.0” makes a pretty good story for what I see as the core of interneting. (Jason’s also building a meta-social-media site called Stellar–currently a closed beta–whose Interesting aggregator constantly churns up interesting and pleasant diversions you don’t need to be a member to see.)
  • Metafilter — Metafilter is probably the most widely praised and cited internet community. The main blog is posted by members of the community, the only barrier to posting is the one-time five dollar registration fee. And yet, if you’re willing to deal with the volume, there are few places that will give you a better view of what was recently popular or noteworthy on the internet. Also of note is AskMetafilter, a subset of the site dedicated purely to asking and answering questions. (If you’re volume sensitive, I recommend the Popular Favorites view.)
  • The Lone Gunman — I thought about not including this on the grounds that self-referencing is even less acceptable on the internet than it is off. But then I decided that I’m just a guest here, and so it’s not really self-pimping. When Lloyd’s here, his stuff is regularly interesting and thought-provoking, and not really as internet-culture-y as much that I’ve cited above.
  • Wehr in the World — Justin Wehr’s blog is probably less about internet culture than Lloyd’s is, but it showcases a type of confident curiosity that I very much like. His blog is the single strongest recommendation I would have for fans of Lone Gunman.
  • The Browser — Further still down the road from the internet-culture that emanates from /b/ is The Browser, my personal favorite source for mostly old-media articles that are interesting and available on the internet. Among wide swath of sites that try to do this on the internet, I like The Browser best for its brief but opinionated and informative summaries of the content it links to. More people who are trying to emulate its mission need to learn the value of this.

These personal recommendations are a place for you to start to pay attention to the internet. They’re not going to be all you’ll ever want to pay attention to, or all that’s worth paying attention to, but they’re more useful than nothing. Even if you hate them all, you now know six websites you don’t need to spend your attention on.

One of the first rules of the internet is that you only need to follow what you like. There’s so much stuff on this world wide web that paying attention to stuff that doesn’t excite or challenge you is just plain stupid. (To be clear, I don’t mean like in the sense that internet critics frequently take it of “this is in complete accordance with my worldview”, but rather in the sense of “I feel this is worthy of my attention”. The best political writers, for example, are those with whom you disagree but share enough that you can grok their perspective.)

The second rule in paying attention on the internet is to follow and unfollow promiscuously. Don’t be afraid to offer your attention to something that looks interesting, and never be afraid to take it back. As I said, there’s no point following what you don’t like. But because following publications and people is so cheap on the internet, it’s also worth it to learn not to be afraid to try something that you suspect you might like.

These two rules paired together are the best advice I can give about how you should actually divide your attention on the internet. Tomorrow, we’ll make it easier to do that dividing, and reduce the time you need to spend to pay attention.

Summarising Joel on Software

Now that Joel Spolsky has ‘retired’ from blogging at Joel on Software (in the format the site has been known for, at least), Jan Willem Boer is reading the entire back-catalogue of entries and condensing the knowledge within each essay into a single sentence (or two).

The result is a stunning list of tips on running a small business, programming best practices, productivity tips, technical hiring practices and entrepreneurship.

The series:

Blogs as Books and the ‘New’ Bias

We are prejudiced against material that doesn’t identify itself as ‘New’ and this is a problem not just with the majority of online information consumers but also the websites that pander to this ‘old media’ bias.

Whether something’s “new” or “breaking” is a concern for newspaper writers seeking scoops. There’s no reason on Earth a website […] should feel any obligation to flood its pages with constant new material. If what’s written in the site is written well, and timeless, the site should work like a book. The reader can click in, scan the volumes of text and read what he or she likes. The only reason website content producers feel the need to crank out “New! New! New!” shit every day is because they’ve decided, for reasons beyond me, to compete with the 90% of bloggers who do nothing but grab hot stories, comment on them and link other comments about it from people in their network of friends. That’s not an audience – that’s an echo chamber. […]

So what’s the cure? […] Approach the content producing sites like books. When we find one we like, maybe stop, slow down, read the back catalog. Take it as a collection of essays, a running memoir or the written equivalent of stand-up comedy. […]

Most of our lives are spent grappling with, fearing and resenting deadlines. Why limit the material we read for pleasure with artificial ‘freshness’ criteria? There are pages behind the face pages of websites, and all of the material’s free.

This is how I find the majority of the items that I share here; this article is almost a year old.

A compilation of the best things I posted in the site’s first year (and its second year, a compilation of which I’m creating now) is full of articles as relevant now as when they were initially published. (Irony? Plug? Me?)

The Blog’s Influence on Writing

Philip Greenspun on how writing and publishing has evolved since the Internet and, specifically, the blog have become omnipresent in our lives:

Suppose that an idea merited 20 pages, no more and no less? A handful of long-copy magazines […] would print 20-page essays, but an author who wished his or her work to be distributed would generally be forced to cut it down to a meaningless 5-page magazine piece or add 180 pages of filler until it reached the minimum size to fit into the book distribution system. […]

Our literary culture is impoverished when every idea is stretched or amputated to fit the Procrustean bed made up by magazine and book publishers. When an author runs out of relevant stuff to say after 20 or 30 pages, that’s how long the essay should be.

Trough the lens of what was able to be published, Greenspun sees publishing’s evolution like this:

  • Pre-1990: five-page magazine articles and 200-page books.
  • 1990 to 2000: any length essays, with little barrier to entry (static web pages).
  • 2000 onwards: one-paragraph ideas and personal thoughts, widely available (production and consumption) with blogs.