If you’ve ever bothered to read any of the comment threads on this site which extend over, say, 30 comments you’ll realize the internet is full of idiots. And not just idiots, but all the kinds of truly disgusting people you would rather not know exist. Take the recent highly-publicized example of blogger Kathy Sierra who claims to have been harassed by death threats (we’ll set aside the legal considerations of whether the material showed sufficient intent, even though she repeatedly claims without proof that the material broke “federal law”). She articulately makes the point that the mere creation of material this offensive shows a perversion of bloggers:
It really doesn’t make much difference whether the person intends to act on the threat… it’s the threat itself that inflicts the damage. It’s the threat that makes you question whether that “anonymous” person is as disturbed as their comments and pictures suggest.
The Wrong Reaction
We should be tempted to fall into despair, for human nature is evil. This is exactly what Robert Scoble has done, turning to blogo-Solipsism and taking a week off. Both strong emotional reactions and withdrawing from the blogosphere produce more harm than good. After all, if you’re affected by the cruelty present on the internet, hiding will only make it worse.
The Right Reaction
I usually read Shelly and wince, but she’s right on here:
Frankly, calmer heads are needed when responding to this event. Webloggers are not very good at maintaining perspective. I know, I’ve been one for too long.
This is not something new. People are irresponsible and rude in real life, and the situation is only exacerbated by the internet and the so-called shield of anonymity. We are living in the world of that metaphorical question “if you were invisible would you steal?”
Seth Godin suggests that “Anonymity hasn’t made the web a better place. Instead, it has allowed some of the worst ideas ever to get published.” He’s almost right. While the Internet surely allows anonymous slanderers to publish the worst ideas that exist, those ideas are powerless without an audience. And, Kathy Sierra’s public tantrum today gave her attackers more audience than they could have ever hoped for. It’s interesting that by specifically decrying offensive material we draw more attention to it. Creators of hate speech don’t mind bad publicity.
Take It All Away
Still, taking away anonymity (Discouraging Anonymity is Key to Protecting Visibility) is not going to solve any of these problems. First, there is the wee technical problem that it’s totally impossible. Second, and more importantly, people will always exist for whom hate speech is a normal way of life. Only the broadest social reforms can decrease the incident of this kind of thought. You cannot police what people feel in their hearts, but over time you can mold it.
The Only Solution
Remember the racism of the 60s? I don’t, but having heard the stories, it’s quite obvious that incredible leaps have been made to bring black Americans to the same social acceptance level as their white counterparts. Even so, there still remains work to be done wherever racism, sexism, nepotism, ageism, etc are found.
That work will not be accomplished by stifling speech (that means you, Wordpress), but rather by changing the way we are educated, and therefore the way we think.
This article on Wordpress and SEO is somewhat useful, but its terseness hides the principles behind the SEO techniques it’s trying to teach, and as a result, some of them are not as effective as they could be. I’ll try and go throw the list and point out any improvements to the article which I can think of, or explain the ideas behind the techniques:
Thomas suggests /%year%/%monthnum%/%postname%/ as a good permalink structure for ranking in search engines. The actual truth of the matter is that you want rich keywords to appear in your URL, as close to the root of the site as possible. That’s why something like /%postid%/%postname%/ is better, or even using the postname in your subdomain to set up http://%postname%.yourdomain.com to forward to the real permalink, is better.
Thomas’ suggestion is good. By placing the title of the post before the title of your blog, you are boosting rankings in the search engines. Wordpress defaults to putting the blog name first, like “Elliott Back: Wordpress SEO.” But tell me, if you’re looking for information about WP SEO on google, seeing my name first won’t incite you to click.
I’d suggest an autotagging solution, like Denis’ terms2tags. It automatically classifies your post using Yahoo’s term extraction adds Technorati tags. Why bother spending precious time tagging your own posts when all them can get great tagging coverage automatically?
The rest of it seems like generally good advice!
I’d like to show off three posts I’ve made whose comments have been hijacked by random groups of people for a purpose entirely different than intended. It’s strange when you write a post only to have its purpose corrupted in the search engines and in the public view by people leaving comments that take it someplace it shouldn’t go. Luckily, I’m not responsible for their content, otherwise I could get arrested and charged for crimes other people are doing on my blog!
The first example I present is a one-liner I posted a long time ago declaring that “BetaNews has a preview of the next version of Photoshop.” However, people have turned it into a repository for sharing serial numbers and activation codes. At first, a few people asked,
- Photoshop CS2 and illustrator CS2 Crack please
- Please send me adobe photoshop cs2 serial number and authorization code, please
- Please send me de Photoshop CS2 Crack or the keygens and the phone keygen with a guide how to crack it please!
After that, it must have ranked in the Serps for Photoshop CS cracks, because people have started posting numbers and activation codes in reply. There are now 292 comments on that post, and most of them have nothing to do with the beta news.
Then there’s the common flamewar, which has erupted on my Duke rape case post. With 97 responses, we see gigantic paragraphs of debate being passed back and forth. Some comments are even in all caps. Eventually, it boils down to slinging insults:
- LOGIC and COMMON SENSE:(for which you have absolutely none)your opinion,it’s like a nose,everyone has one.
- These soul sistas are about as smart as my rectum. I hope they go to jail.
- You have as much compassion as a pit bull has for a cripple rabbit!!!
Finally, my favorite, is where a post about Daniel Radcliffe has turned into a multinational online chatroom! Currently at 1692 comments, and climbing, young teens are taking the opportunity to chat with each other. One even impersonated Daniel Radcliffe for a while before being indicted by his peers:
- Dan: NATALIE HOW OLD ARE YOU??
- Dan: I NEED A GIRL!!!!!!!
- Natalie: 12 plz dont block me
- Natalie: so can u add me? naty0x
- Dan: i said that i can add you to my msn natalie.
It goes on and on and on. Very amusing if you take the time to read it. Sometimes a bit scary.
There are basically four options to dealing with this:
- Delete the offending comments and close the post
- Close the post, but leave the comments there for posterity
- Lecture the commenters to make them stop, but leave the comments open, deleting new comments that don’t fit your standards (very time consuming)
- Let whatever non-spam commenting behavior occur on your blog
I always choose #4, but what do you think, my fellow bloggers?