Monday, March 12, 2007

SXSW: When Audiences Attack

Chris Tolles
google him and

Your first problem is building and scaling an audience
The next problem is audience

Geotagging people at town level helped moderate users. They don't want to bring embarassment to their communities.

Who are we (technologists) to tell people what to say or not? What is our social role? We are a bunch of carpet baggers from Palo Alto.

anonymity enables certain bad behaviors
- jumping onto hot button issues with an "oh yeah"

attacking through accusation of wrongdoing

people with multiple logins

small groups of very abusive people

What can you do?
1) Take down the whole thing
2) Abdicate (not my problem - myspace, facebook does not take this approach)
3) Manage and moderate

Achieving scale with Software

1998 moderators
Profanity filters
per post/user moderation

2007 meta-moderators (a moderator that moderates moderators)
heat language analysis (topix uses this; can give numerical score to a posting)
recent activity queue
voting systems
finding the good stuff

the more your site is seen as pushing an agenda and not silencing one is better.

Ni-Chan Paradox in Practice
* take away registration. encourages trolls
* growth of community grows signficantly. people with good thing to say don't have much time on their hands.
They want to get in, say it and get out. People with bad things to say want to get in there and tear things
apart for a long time.

What should you do?

1) Security is policy. Have one.
2) Make some decisions. What do you care about on your site? There are a lot of things that have an inverse relationship.
3) We've optomized for growth (topix).
4) Get rid of the bottom 5-10% (eliminate threats, calls for viiolence, personal details, 100% harm) 5 lines of wrath, get
rid of it. Otherwise keep it. Legitimate and interesting.
5) topix is 10 years in and they are still figuring it out. "A group is its own worst enemy"
6) Real challenge: identify the good stuff

Deja Vu All Over Again
* This is a well understood problem
* Difference today are scale and impact
* Everybody learns the hard way (you can research it, but you'll do it anyway)

When someone attacks, identify who the trouble makers are.
Add a note that says "hey, we are the staff. we know what the problem is. this is how we are handling the problem."

Sunday, March 11, 2007

SXSW: Sunday Shout-outs To:

  • Deidre Molloy of - holding it down in the U.K.

  • David Strauss of Four Kitchen Studios - spreading Drupal love

  • Megan Evans of Cadence International - doing her part in the nonprofit world to bring people together online

  • Emira Mears of Raised Eyebrow - bringing the power of women's intellect to web development

  • Mitch Wagner of InformationWeek - for bringing the tech news

  • Brian Cook of University of Notre Dame - for being kind enough to tell me where I could find the slides

SXSW: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Mobile Web

Brian Fing was really informative. You can download his presentation from

SXSW: Non-Developers to Open Source Acolytes: Tell Me Why I Care

The panel went really well. The audience was engaged and asked great questions. We were told the session will be podcast. You can also subscribe the conference podcast feed:

Elisa Camahort of BlogHer moderated the panel that included me, Annalee Newitz ( and Dawn Foster (Open Culture).

I didn't have slides, but I did take some notes for myself in preparation for the talk. Although we didn't address these issues so linerally in the talk, I thought it would be great to post them anyway.


I approach the question of customer service from 2 perspectives:
my role as a sys admin and project manager for my organization
staff users

My role (admin)
-I ask how easy is the software to install and configure; what impact will it have on server maintenance (cron jobs?, patching?, backups?)
-Do I have the resources to hire a programmer? Open source software still requires time, money, expertise, documentation

Staff role (user)
-Does the software get the job done, open source or not?
-Does it have a good interface? Is there an ease of use?
-Self-sufficiency? Can users look up answers themselves when troubleshooting?

Examples of proprietary software we are using: Regonline

**Customer support - Best case scenario using open source solution like Wordpress and Drupal
1) Friendly community, includes developers and users
- helpful feedback, not just RTFM
2) Quality documentation
- Easy to find answers; doesn't need to be in manual format
- In plain language
- Clear, concise code examples
3) No need for phone support if the information I need is available online
- Phone support (when its good) is a *fabulous* benefit of proprietary software, however it doesn't guarantee better support

Q: PRO's/CON's of doing Open Source

1) Flexibility
- There is a potential to 'over customize' which can lead to a complex upgrade path that becomes difficult to maintain over time
-Proprietary solutions limit customization options; benefit from upgrade path being the responsibility of the vendor

2) Open Source is the preferred solution of our industry
- 'our industry' is nonprofit, advocacy organizations
- We are a social change organization, not a software company. The technology is sexy and we could easily get distracted and develop technology for technology's sake. We can't over think implementation. Keep it simple, make it work, move on to the next issue.
- When using a proprietary solution implmentation is a consideration only when we think about integration issues (How much will it cost us to get the proprietary solution to talk to the other, assuming its possible?)

- Using an open source solution we still need a project manager, systems adminstrator, designer, and coder
- ASP solution our staff person only needs to interact with an account manager
- For proprietary solutions that would require us to host our own softwar we'd still need a sys admin to maintain the software

SXSW: You know you are in Texas when...

You get into a taxi cab and "Just like Texas in 1880" playing on the radio.

So happy I'm at SXSW.