Tag Archives: Slashdot

The Unsocial Web

A piece by Donna Bogatin on why many more people read web sites liked digg.com rather than contribute to it has in itself spawned enough responses to become something of a summary of why the social web, citizen journalism, user-created content etc may not be quite the revolution it appears. Here’s how I see the responses:

  • I just want to watch. The more stuff is out there, ironically enough the less incentive there is to contribute. There’s probably a graph for this somewhere. People will contribute if they think their contribution is worth it. That means a) other people like it, b) it doesn’t take up too much time c) the stuff isn’t there already, or likely to be and d) that contributing to a site comes after browsing a site. (see Not On My Own Time, Thanks, below.) The logical conclusion of this is that while contributions may rise exponentially, gradually the number of contributors dwindles until a hardcore of contributors remains (see The Weirdo Factor below).
  • The Weirdo Factor. We newspaper journos have known this for a while. The kind of people who contribute, or contribute most, don’t represent a good cross section of ordinary readers/users. Readers’ letters are always great to receive, and they may contain useful and interesting stuff, but they tend to come from the same people, or group or kind of people. And that means an editor would be a fool to treat his mailbag as a cross section of his readership. Same is basically true of the Net.
  • Not On My Own Time, Thanks. Digesting Time isn’t the same as Creating Time. Most people probably browse sites like YouTube.com and Flickr.com at work. This means that the more content there is on these sites at work, a) the less productive workers will be, and b) the less likely they’ll actually upload their stuff — since that will probably have to be done at home, in a separate session. If you’ve already spent a couple of hours on YouTube.com at work, why would you spend more time on it at home?
  • People Don’t Like Hanging Out With Weirdoes Taking the above a step further, many users are going to be discouraged by the general tenor of discussions at places like Digg. Flaming and generally being rude may seem like a life to some people, but most people don’t like it very much, and are not going to expose themselves to ridicule by posting to such sites. (They are also not going to want to expose themself to being ignored: what happens if you Digg something and nobody comes?)
  • Freedloading off a freeloader Then there’s the reality that the social web is largely a Commenting Web, not a Creating Web. Not all of it, of course: Flickr.com is a very creative place. But photos are always of things, requiring only that someone have a camera and be there, and take a good picture. Writing is different. Writing is not just about commenting on what other people are writing. (Well, OK, this post is.) Writing is also about reporting  – about actually going out and finding information, digesting it, writing it up and then distributing it. Blogs, the foundation of Web 2.0, were built on the idea of commentary. But commentary always has to follow content, since without it there can be nothing to comment on. We shouldn’t confuse sites like Digg.com as content sites, since they simply aggregate links and comment. In the end, this freeloading element will have to be added to by something more substantial for it to grow. Netscape’s new site understands this, although I’m not convinced making a couple of calls to add to a wire story constitutes news gathering (but then again, a lot of journalists have done that for years, so who am I to quibble?)

The bottom line may be, just may be, that after huge bursts of participatory interest, that may even last a few years, the kinds of people who keep Slashdot going are going to be the people who keep Digg.com and every other user-driven, Web 2.0 site going. I’m not saying this is a bad thing — I love Slashdot, and there are some extraordinarily intelligent people on there (as well as some who could spend some time in the open air) — but it’s not a group that’s, er, broadly representative of the citizenry at large. They’re hugely dedicated, very focused, very knowledgeable about their sphere and have opinions coming out of their ears. A bit like folk who wrote letters to newspapers, come to think of it.

Should Offensive Comments Be Deleted Or Edited?

Further to my posting about HP blogger David Gee removing another comment from his blog, here’s a reply to an email I sent him requesting comment:

My May 10 blog posting summarizes my personal opinion on blog censorship well. I stated the following: “Comments, whether positive or negative, are all fair game as the blogsphere resoundingly reminded me last week. Spam, off-topic, or defamatory comments are not appropriate and I reserve the right to remove them. That’s also fair game.” As such, I did pull this blog comment which included foul language. I believe we have the right to remove offensive posts. I would also draw your attention to the coverage this activity received in Slashdot as there is plenty of healthy debate around what’s “acceptable” and what’s not when posted to a corporate blog.

That said, I also believe that we should not be editing incoming comments (ie, remove the foul language), but instead we have the right to remove them per the criteria above. I can only imagine the feedback I’d receive if I started editing comments.

This approach has some merit. But I still have some problems with David’s answers which to my perhaps oversensitive ears have a little too much polish to them to have the authentic feel of a one-person, unfiltered blogger. Or as David puts it: “My blog is my own and I keep it pure by delivering my own unfiltered point of view.” This raises more questions than it answers about corporate blogging, and, to be fair, David is by far the least egregious example of why it doesn’t often work.

Let’s parse again. “Comments, whether positive or negative, are all fair game.” Good. True. “Spam, off-topic or defamatory comments are not appropriate and I reserve the right to remove them.” Hmmm. David before only referred to Spam or defamatory comments, not off-topic, so something is being slipped in here. Should off-topic comments be removed? In a corporate world, off-topic comments may seem to be, as he puts it, ‘fair game’ for removal. It’s like someone talking about something irrelevant in a meeting. He or she would soon be hushed (unless she was the boss.) In the blogosphere, I’m not so sure.

Of course, in a perfect world everyone would stay on-topic. But if they did, Slashdot would be a really boring place to visit, as would most blogs. And who is to decide what is off-topic and what isn’t?

David says, ‘As such, I did pull this blog comment which included foul language. I believe we have the right to remove offensive posts.’ No one likes foul language, but is deletion the only reponse? David points in his post to the BusinessWeek blog post about the topic, in which Heather Green writes the following:

So, we moderate because the magazine doesn’t want to risk that even one or two of the postings on this site ends up being pornographic, racist, libelous, or hateful. If we run into those, it’s likely that we will email the person who sent it and ask them if they want to rephrase. But we don’t delete critical comments, as you have seen.

I think that’s a fair and good solution. And, given that HP blogs require registration before comments are made, HP are in a good position to go back to the poster and seek a rephrase.

All this feeds my sneaking suspicion that a lot of corporations — and the individuals who ‘officially’ blog for them — see blogs as a marketing tool in the traditional form. The evidence is there: Registration before being allowed to comment. No email address for the blogger (I reached David through HP’s Singapore PR division). Lots of on-message stuff in the blog, lots of talk of passion and having lots to say. All true. But that’s not just what blogging is about. Being a corporate blogger means opening a window on your company, and expecting a bit of a bumpy ride. To many people you’re not an individual, you’re a representative of the company. You may not like what you hear in your comments, but you’re duty bound to represent the company and handle customers as you would expect to be handled yourself as a customer. Deleting a comment because you don’t like the way it’s expressed is a bit like ejecting a customer from the store because they seem a little agitated.

David’s area is management software, so elsewhere he could reasonably argue that any comment from a reader that’s not about management software is off-topic. But that’s not, in my view, how corporate blogging works, at least in these early days. Corporate blogs are not just about getting the message out. They’re about getting messages in. David has learned one part of the lesson by reinstating the first comment that he deleted. By deleting the second, and not seeing the problems with that, he’s failed to learn the second: That every reader is a customer, and not everything a customer says may be agreeable.

The Slashdot Report, Part III: An Interview With Jeff Henning

Here are extracts from an IM interview with Jeff Henning, COO, Perseus Development Corporation, an online survey company.

Me: i was starting from the experience of being slashdotted/boingboinged, and trying to give it some context for the general user, and using it as an excuse to talk about how information gets around…
Jeff Henning: Well, let me start with my two 15 minutes of fame
Jeff Henning: I created this and posted it in one online community with 200 members, a Lord of the Rings Character Test, right when the first movie came out. It ended up being taken over 4 MILLION times. This one I showed Dave Winer. It ended up with the most interest of any study I’ve done in 18 years in market research
Me: interesting…
Jeff Henning: Dave of Scripting News linked to it then other bloggers linked to it and it took off from there.  I’ve seen this happen again and again with other items — oftentimes they start in some backwater blog and perculate before being amplified by one of the Technorati 100
Me: i see..
Jeff Henning: The phrase for this in the blogging community sometimes is “succumbing to the meme” as in “I’m succumbing to the meme and writing about Schiavo”

Me: what i’d like to explore for a general reader who’s never heard of slashdot effect is how the internet changes (or perhaps doesn’t change) the way information gets about, and why that might be important for them. have blogs made information easier and more plentiful, or just increased the volume of bad information?
Jeff Henning: Yes. 🙂
Jeff Henning: Sturgeon’s Law says that 90% of everything is crap.  That certainly seems true of blogs.
Jeff Henning: Many blogs are primarily intended to be read by 10-40 friends — so they are like e-mail;  quickly written, not vetted.
Me: right. so the interesting bit is when one of those blogs, or postings, crosses over into ‘meme’land, right?
Jeff Henning: Well, I think blogs are interesting for many other reasons too but in terms of information propagation, the “blogoshere” as a whole does try to be self correcting:
Jeff Henning: someone might post a rumor, ask others for comments, and it might be quickly invalidated or verified, then once that has happened, it might get wider play in larger blogs.  It needs to be noticed in the “short head” (opposite of the “long tail”!) of blogs for it to crossover to the mainstream media.
Me: yes. i guess the really interesting part of all this is when something that’s interesting moves rapidly to a larger audience, when it finds its way onto the short head, like boingboing?
Jeff Henning: Yes — and its not just that the short head is important because of its audience, it is also important because many of those leading sites are aggregators, with their authors skimming thousands of blog posts for interesting ideas, so for those of us with shorter blogrolls, they become the Reader’s Digest of what else is happening in the blogosphere
Me: good point. is it your impression that the ‘blogosphere’ is now a much broader sphere than it was a year or so ago? have aggregators really aggregated, and if so what impact does that have on information?
Jeff Henning: yes, the blogosphere is much, much broader.  I bought a T-shirt a few years ago from ThinkGeek that said “I’m blogging this” and when I wore it people had no idea what it meant — they always misread it (“You’re a lumberjack?  A jogger?”) 🙂
Me: 🙂
Jeff Henning: Now I overhear discussions about RSS, which is pretty technical
Jeff Henning: Not change your oil technical but not the type of thing I’d expect there to be a growing awareness of
Me: i see… good to hear that. but i still see resistance among readers to this kind of thing. a) they don’t really know where to find stuff b) they don’t know what to trust (or how to confirm). going back to my original starting point, the bb and /. phenomena… the latter is old hat now, it’s been around a while, and businessweek suggests the impact is diluted these days. do you have any thoughts on this, and where it fits?
Jeff Henning: Well, /. is one of the most influential blogs for self-proclaimed geeks — computer programmers, server administrators, and so forth.  If that was an audience I was trying to win over, then I would definitely try to get slashdot coverage.  There is a perception that it is mainly Linux and open source, but I work in a mixed shop and most of the Windows guys read it as well.  So it is a fun powerful forum.
Boingboing is quite different.
It’s funny — when you IMed, I was listening to a song (I can’t remember what they call them — its a mix/hack up of a current pop song, a Beatles song, a George Michael song and an Aretha Franklin song) that someone blogged about after seeing it on boingboing.
Jeff Henning: Boy, I’m not sure how to sum up boingboing.
Me: it’s a tricky one, isn’t it?
Jeff Henning: It really is — I amazed it is the most popular because it is so hard to pigeon hole.  But then maybe that is why it attracts such a wide audience — a little bit of something for everyone.  But still geekier than a general audience.
Me: yes. do you see any point of convergence, where a v general audience starts to look to bb for information? has that already happened?
Jeff Henning: It may have crossed over for a general 20something audience — I would expect it will do that first before reaching the larger general audience.

The Slashdot Report Part II: Where Does The / And The . Come From?

 This week’s column is about The Slashdot Effect, (subscription only, I’m afraid) and I’ve already started receiving mail telling me my explanation of the term Slashdot is wrong. Here’s what I wrote:

Slashdot (slashdot.org, named after the slashes and dots in a Web site address)

One reader commented:

Hi Jeremy, The slash and dot in Slashdot do NOT refer to “the slashes and dots in a Web site address.” They refer to having “root access” on a Linux (or Unix) computer, meaning godlike power to do whatever you want to do with the machine, like being an Administrator on Windows XP. Getting root access to a remote machine is the holy grail of hacking, because it means you “own” that machine. The slash and dot refer to how you would change what directory you are in when using a command-line interface.

In MS-DOS, or the command prompt in Windows XP, you might do: C:>cd c:windows

But in Unix you would do: cd /.

Hence, Slashdot.

while another slight variation:

Actually Mr Wagstaff,

slash dot is from “Unix”. The “bourne shell” command “ls” (for list) will report the contents of the Root Directory when you type “ls /.” The inverse “ls ./” reports the contents of “Here” (your current working directory).

        /. “News from the Root”

and 

        ./ “Here be News for Nerds”

Don’t worry that you didn’t get the “hidden in plain sight” meaning. Non-Nerds never do.

(I really appreciate the ‘Mr Wagstaff’ bit. Thanks). Both are interesting definitions, but are they correct? I based my definition on Slashdot’s own FAQ, which says:

 What does the name “Slashdot” mean?

“Slashdot” is a sort of obnoxious parody of a URL. When I originally registered the domain, I wanted to make the URL silly, and unpronounceable. Try reading out the full URL to http://slashdot.org and you’ll see what I mean. Of course my cocky little joke has turned around and bit me in the butt because now I am called upon constantly to tell people my URL or email address. I can’t tell you how many people respond confused “So do I spell out the ‘dot’ or is that just a period?” 

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily make the other explanations wrong: Slash and dot could still refer to the Unix command, making the website name both a parody and an in joke.

Update: More On iPods — And Their Batteries

 Seems the guys — the Neistat Brothers — who were complaining about not being to replace their iPod batteries without expensive customer support were wrong, and even the guy who hosted their video isn’t happy.
 
As far as I can work out, the brothers posted a soundfile of an Apple customer support guy saying they may as well replace their iPod since it would be prohibitive to replace the battery. They then went around defacing iPod posters.
 
The bottom line: you can replace the batteries, using either an official Apple battery or a third-party one. Anyway, here’s some more discussion at Slashdot and plasticbag.org on the iPod anniversary and the NYT’s piece I mentioned in the previous posting.
 
(Sorry, don’t usually crowd the links into one posting like this, but it seems to make sense this time.)

News: The Future of Music and DRM

 For those of you interested in the debate about copyright protection for music (digital rights management, or DRM, as it’s called) here’s an interesting article from the industry point of view — and a lively discussion on the lively Slashdot forum (some contributions are more, er, erudite than others).
 
Something I think hasn’t been thought through by either side on the debate is that once a product ceases to be purely the property of the holder — like a CD — then problems will occur. What happens if I want to sell the music I’ve downloaded via an online service using DRM? What happens when I want to sell software I’ve bought that uses an activation feature? In the old days I could just sell my CDs, or CD-ROMs, out of the trunk of my car.

News: Another Shot In Foot For Apple

 It never rains but it pours for Apple. Its stuff seems to be selling well, but it still seems to run into trouble. Britain’s TV standards authority the Independent Television Commission has banned an ad for the the PowerMac G5 which claims it was “the world’s fastest, most powerful personal computer”. Viewers (well, eight of them) said it was misleading because the main claim was based on the results of limited tests in which the specification of the computers used was configured to give Apple the best results.
 
An expert looked into it and agreed: He found that the claim was not supported by independent reviews and that at best “the G5 was generally as fast as the best Intel-based workstations currently available”. Judgement: the advertising was misleading and required that it should not be re-shown in its current form. Discussion on Slashdot here.

News: A Spam Blocker Throws in the Towel

  Trustic, an anti-spam blocker which used recommendations from its users to identify and block spammers, has bitten the dust after about six months of live use. Its website rather poignantly declares: “We remain confident that the problem of spam is a solvable problem. Thank you for your help with this great experiment.”
 
Trustic, which was really just one guy, would assign each user a level of trust, according to an article on the O’Reilly Network. “Users build their trust by making accurate recommendations over time. In order for a host to become untrusted, the cumulative trust level of the recommendations has to be above a certain threshold.” If you’re interested, trawl through the debate on Slashdot. Is this a dark day for anti-spam?