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.