Taco's Thoughts

Tuesday, July 20, 2004


Testing out the BloggerBot by sending you THW's website, which I've bitched about numerous times.
Posted by Hello

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Moving...

The end of an era really. I've moved to my own domain, TacoJohn.net. I've also changed software to Wordpress. It's much more full-featured than Blogger (sorry Blogger). So check that out if you're used to reading my stuff here.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

How not to run a message board

So I've talked a lot on my LiveJournal about The Hoosier Web. THW was supposed to be a website for the students of Indiana University. It had a photo gallery, book exchange, classifieds, and most importantly, a message board. Most of the message board was good. It had a place to talk about sports, entertainment, sex and dating, classes. And it had "The Lounge". Most of the problems with THW stem from the Lounge. So here's what happened with THW and how to avoid it should you be running a message board.

Moderate it. Please
THW is not moderated. Or I should say, it is moderated as little as physically possible. No one has posted pornographic images, but I have a feeling they would be deleted very quickly. People have flamed one of the site's owner/operators ("Shems") and those threads were deleted. But if you want a good message board, here's a guideline to keep in mind: moderate it more than this. If something gets off-topic, steer it back toward topic. If a topic turns into a flamewar, lock it. If someone is being mercilessly attacked, delete the thread (all of them, I'll get to that in a sec). If people don't get the message and circumvent these measures, ban them. Simple as that.

Remember the point of a message board is to have users
THW really went downhill when a small clique of users decided to form a group to "start shit and piss people off". They started calling themselves the Axis of Evil. If you have members who want to be in some sort of exclusive group, that's up to you if you will tolerate it. However, when their stated goal is to upset the message board, make people mad and start flame wars, then you need to moderate them. PM them, tell them that it won't stand, and if they don't listen, ban them. The Axis of Evil (and then all heavy posters on the board) began to attack lurkers. First off, lurking is an essential part of becoming a member of an internet community. I'm sure most people would prefer that those who comment in forums and on blogs would prefer if people read some threads/posts and watched the board/blog for a while to see what was tolerated, how it worked, and what roles people play. So when members have a problem with people trying to become members of the community in the proper way, it's your duty to let them know that doesn't fly.

Don't protect specific users
This section begins with the cautionary tale of IrishMafia. IrishMafia is a 23 year-old junior who participates heavily on THW. He's studying psychology and cognitive science, and claims to be able to control minds. He started to participate heavily on the board. He eventually got to a position where he had stories posted on the front page, making him a featured writer. At this point he began to use this status to protect himself. He attacked people and when they responded he normally justified it with "I'm a featured writer, I can do whatever I want." Eventually, he went to far, and there was a big long thread attacking him back. So he deleted it (rather, it was deleted, he says he deleted it, even if he didn't, I guarantee he had a hand in it).

The moral of the story is this: If you have prominent users who are being attacked by the community, censoring the attackers is not the answer. If it's one or two people, then it's an isolated problem and you can deal with it. But if the entire community (or at least a large portion) says that they dislike the person's behavior, then you can't deal with it by censoring people.

Use "premium" features at your own risk
THW's next big blunder was to create premium memberships. Paid memberships which had access to certain features. Except, it meant access to features like searching. If you can't support the site through your own funding, maybe you need to get out of the website business. Advertising is a much better way support your site. Google's Adsense would be much more successful than selling premium memberships. If you do sell premium memberships, keep this in mind: you will be instantly dividing the community. You will have premium members who can't stop telling everyone about the great features and think every nonpaying member is a freeloader. And you have free members who feel that contributing to the site through participation or clicking the occasional ad is enough. And if you're going to have premium memberships, remember this: make sure the features you designate as "premium" are really premium features. A premium message board of just premium people is a premium feature. Searching the forum is basic functionality which helps the forum stay organized and needs to be available to all.

Have forum policies and make them prominent
THW has some vague posting guidelines. There are three problems with them. First off, they are not detailed or extensive enough to actually be rules for the forums. Next, they're not enforced at all. And finally, and most importantly, they're not prominently displayed. An FAQ board with locked, sticky threads giving forum guidelines is great for telling everyone what the rules are. If it's the first think you see in the boards, then people might read it. If it's buried in another section of the site, it'll never be found by people who don't care what the rules are.

Protect the newbies and lurkers
This is the last one. I'm not saying coddle the guy who comes in, doesn't understand what the deal is, and starts spouting off at the mouth. I'm saying if someone is attacking people just because they don't have 1000 posts or just registered a week ago, you should do something about it. This goes along with the "more members is good" rule. THW has its little clique who hate newbies and lurkers. They believe it's their message board, and they will choose who gets to participate or not by seeing who can stand up to harsh criticism as a newbie. You have to tell these people that they don't run the site, and the owners will choose who will stay and who will go, not some freak social-Darwinians.

THW doesn't have to change. If they want to be a place where 6 people post harsh things about other people and don't let anyone else have their say because they're "newbies", "lurkers" or "freeloaders", that's their perogitive. But I'm going to wean myself off that site because I can't stand them. And if you want to have a successful internet forum that's a great place for people to hang out and discuss things, learn from these dopes.

Microsoft to force you to accept spam

Microsoft Joins IronPort Whitelist : "Anti-spam software and hardware maker IronPort won a major victory for its whitelist service with the announcement Wednesday that Microsoft was joining its ranks."

That sounds fine and dandy. "Microsoft is joining up with an anti-spam company. That must be good for hotmail users." What is this in reality? You may not have to see ads for OTC Viagra, "herbal supplements" and "Live Teens" but you will be forced to accept e-mails from "legitimate marketers". i.e. If you use Hotmail, you will be forced to accept spam. This should take some of the heat off of Google and its targeted text ads.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Gmail update

I've continued to use Gmail and recently, Google did a little update of the GUI. They moved some of the preferences around in the settings page. Not a big deal. But it shows you that Google is moving forward with the service, and commited to tweaking it to get it just right. I'm sure few people would have thought "These settings are all jumbled, I refuse to use this." But Google felt the need to change them anyway.

That's an "average" system?

Longhorn to Steal Limelight at WinHEC: "Microsoft is expected to recommend that the 'average' Longhorn PC feature a dual-core CPU running at 4 to 6GHz; a minimum of 2 gigs of RAM; up to a terabyte of storage; a 1 Gbit, built-in, Ethernet-wired port and an 802.11g wireless link; and a graphics processor that runs three times faster than those on the market today."

This is yet another reason people hate Microsoft. Apple has managed to make an operating system which gets faster as it is upgraded (even though it may only be recouping loses, but still). And now for Microsoft's next OS, you will need a computer which has not yet been marketed. This computer will probably cost about $4000 when it is introduced. This is probably why Microsoft has chosen to hold off Longhorn until 2006. Maybe if Microsoft could write better code and get more features, more security and more stability on the same hardware, they might not be losing users to Linux and Mac OSX.

Now this is a better way to respond...

New Kerry Ads Tout Biography
This is a campaign trend I can get behind. Answering attack ads with something more positive. If only he wasn't sending out spam...

That was a close one!

City-Sized Asteroid to Pass Earth This Fall
This came out after rumors began to abound on the internet about an Extinction Level Event this fall. Luckily, that's not going to happen. The massive astroid will only come within 1 million miles of Earth on Sept 29, 2004. And it won't be back this close to Earth until 2562. So just watch out for the great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandkids.

Monday, May 03, 2004

More Gmail news

In Wired.com article, Google seems to be cleaning up the PR mess that was made of Gmail. Google reps were at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference passing out Gmail accounts and answer question from privacy advocates. Passing out Gmail accounts is a great idea. If Google had done this earlier (maybe showing the service to privacy advocates before anyone outside of Google had gotten their hands on it), then many of the questions about possible invasions of privacy couldn have been answered. But now that it got out into the press and blogsphere, Google must answer millions of the same questions. This is a good step toward that.

Illegal E-mail?

California State Sen. Liz Figuroa has introduced this bill, which would make it illegal for a webmail or instant messaging provider to scan your communications to serve ads. Ridiculous. Let's be clear. Gmail is a consumer product. No one is forcing you to use Gmail. If you want 1GB of e-mail, someone has to pay for it. If you want to pay for it yourself, then you can run your own mail server on your own domain. But if you want it with no out of pocket expense, there's going to be ads. When pressed to define this type of scanning as different than what employers currently do to you e-mail, the senator's aide was unable to answer the question.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

How many Google machines

How many Google machines
This little article explains how the author figured out how many machines and home much processing power were in Google's server farm based on the information given in Google's S1 filing. Basically, Google might have the world's fastest supercomputer if the company decided to harness the power. But maybe they already harness it to run their search engine.

Friday, April 30, 2004

My Gmail Review

I've been using Gmail for a while now, and here are a few thoughts I have on the service.

1) Interface is fast and easy to use
Gmail's Javascript interface is very quick to respond. Click links, keyboard shortcuts, select mails, drop-down boxes, anything, it all moves very quickly. Only slight complaint is that logging in takes a bit of time. But to have a webmail service which acts like an e-mail client is worth a couple of extra seconds. I also like the colorful, minimalist look. Having a white backgroud is far superior to Hotmail's sea of blue. And only the stuff you need is on the page. Only complaint is this: As an IU student, I would have liked to see more red in the interface.

2) Labels are a godsend
My IU e-mail is very well organized. I can find almost anything instantly, mostly because of M2's (Opera's integrated e-mail client) filters and accesspoints. Well, Gmail's filters and labels are the same thing. For those of you who aren't familiar, labels are Gmail's replacement for folders. You can assign a label to an e-mail just as you could move an e-mail to a folder. But that's where the similarity ends. You can affix multiple labels to one e-mail. So e-mail from your boss about Project X21V can be labeled "Boss" and "Project X21V". You couldn't put the e-mail in two folders. When you click either label, you will see the e-mail. This works with filters too, so you can automatically assign labels, just as you would automatically move mail. Currently, you can only have 20 filters, but hopefully Google will raise the limit.

3) Converstation view
Conversation view really turns back and forth e-mail into just that, a conversation. You can see some or all of the discussion if you choose. You can review what was said, so you never have to think "Why exactly is he sending me this?". And it's much better looking than quoted messages with tons of >>>>>. Messages are grouped as conversations in the inbox, which seems a little odd at first. But it makes managing mail that much easier. You label conversations instead of individual e-mails, so there's no need to put "Travel" on all 15 messages you sent to friends about your travel plans. This might pose a problem with discussions which wander onto different topics, but then you can just assign another label or search for it. Conversations make "reply to all" almost useful. Instead of having another e-mail in your inbox with "I agree!", it stays in the conversation with your originally e-mail. So all those "Sounds good to me!" e-mails are dealt with much more efficiently.

4) Ads are unobtrusive
A lot has been made of the Adwords ads, which Google displays along the side of your e-mail. Basically, a program scans you e-mail for keywords. If any of these keywords are found, a 4-line text ad is served next to your conversation. For instance, I sent an e-mail to someone about soccer, and a "Save WUSA" ad appeared. A lot of the time (maybe most of the time, I haven't checked), no ad is shown. The reason I haven't checked is the ad is easy to gloss over. It's on the side, it's just regular text.

5) Privacy concerns
Google really dropped the ball on this one. In my opinion, most of the outrage over the privacy concerns about Gmail has more to do with the massive PR blunder by Google and less to do with real concerns. First off, e-mail is not private. If you believe every e-mail you send can only be read by you and the recipent, you're living in privacy Fantasy Land. Every e-mail you send at work can (and may be) read and/or scanned by your IT department. A few people have said Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail seem to serve ads which seem to correlate quite highly with the content of certain e-mails. Google is being upfront about it's policies with scanning your e-mail to serve ads.
A larger concern is that as people ditch 2MB e-mail accounts where information is spread over 5 accounts and deleted periodically, large collections of personal data are collected. Google's mention that they will be copying and backing up your e-mail didn't help. As for backing it up, I fail to see how this is so bad. To everyone who says "They're copying my e-mail to send to the DOJ!" and uses a webmail service for any sort of business communication, would you rather they not back up your e-mail? I'm sure you would change your tune when the sales lead you were working on is lost when something goes wrong. Creating a large collection of data is risky, I'm not disputing that. But you're really only making it slightly easier to have someone seize your e-mail. If you feel that's dangerous, don't use the service.

Now that I'm done, I'm going to go on a little rant.

It seems today that every time someone creates a new service which may or may not infringe on your privacy, there's a massive outrage. These are consumer products. Google cannot offer 1GB of e-mail storage without using some sort of advertising. I don't think that much of people's privacy (also insert environmental/social/politcal) concerns over consumer products are about "protecting people's rights." If they were, people would post once, and leave it alone. This is about having your cake and eating it to. It's about being spoiled. You do not have a right to have every product you want without making trade-offs. Google's business is using some sort of content to serve targeted ads. Now it's e-mail. So use or don't. But stop bitching. It's just e-mail.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Police Attitude

Note to the students of Indiana University
Your attitude toward the fine men and women who patrol the streets of Bloomington and campus is despicable. Let's get something clear here: when you are under 21, and you drink, you are breaking a law. When you walk home in a disorderly manner, you are breaking a law. When you have alcohol in your posession and you are a minor, you are breaking a law. It is the duty of the police to enforce these laws. They will not change anytime soon. So protest the laws all you want. But when you are being robbed at gunpoint, and a cop saves you, please tell him what you really think of him: that he's a money-grabbing pig who doesn't stop real crime. I'm sure he would appreciate that. Oh, you say you never will be robbed at gunpoint? Maybe it's because the police have done there job preventing crime.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Little 500: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Little 500 is over, and here's my review off the races and the things around them.

The Good
This year's Little 500 was one of the most exciting races ever. The women's race on Friday was the closest race in the history of the event. And the men's race ended in dramatic and controversial fashion with 6 teams in contention on the final lap, a Turn Two collision which took out four of these teams, leaving Cutters and ATO to battle for the title in the last 2/3 of a lap, and a photo finish with ATO crossing the line first, but then being assessed a two-second penalty whcih gave the Cutters their 7th win in 20 entries.

The Bad
Note: Most people might put this under "The Ugly", but I'm reserving that for a big long rant. Anyway...
After the race, Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) showed a complete lack of class by making obscene gestures and chants after being stripped of their victory, throwing a plastic bottle or two onto the track (at the celebrating Cutters team and fans), and refusing to leave the stadium. Being unhappy with the decision is perfectly natural. Being angry is perfectly understandable. Filing a protest is acceptable and doesn't make you seem like a poor loser even. But throwing things, refusing to allow a team to enjoy the victory they have won (even temporarily, if you believe so), and refusing to show any sense of sportsmanship is despicable, and indicative of the deep-rooted problems within the Greek system here at IU.

The Ugly
This part is not about the Little 500, the race itself. It's about the culture surrounding the Little 500.

It seems the Little 500 is less and less about "The Little 500", the bike race, and more about "The Greatest College Weekend." I think it could aptly be described as "Little 5." People don't care about "The Little 500", they care more about "Little 5" and "Little 5 Week." A 7-day excuse to drink during the week, never go to class, and demand teachers put off work and tests. It's like a second spring break, held on campus instead of in Cancun.

Little 500 was not supposed to be about this. It wasn't supposed to be about drinking, and parties, and hooking up on a Tuesday night. It was supposed to be about a great intramural athletic competition which would give students one last event before finals and to raise money for working students. Instead it became this "excuse" to drink.

Far too many people don't care about the race. They don't care about what it stands for. They just care about what it has been perverted into: drunken debauchery. This isn't the only place this has happened. The Woodward Dream Cruise was supposed to be a one-day event where classic car owners could relive the crusing culture of the late '50's and '60's which made Woodward Ave. famous. Now it has become a weeklong traffic jam where half-ass modified compacts take over the road for a week, with dangerous racing and burnouts. I'm all for people having fun, but this is not what these events stand for.

IU students amaze me sometimes. Things aren't events anymore. They're excuses. Basketball victory? "Let's party!" Basketball loss? "Let's drown our sorrows!" Football game? "Why go into the stadium when you can tailgate?" Little 5? "Let's blackout for a week!" IU is allegedly a party school. It's something that students (including myself) take a bit (well, some more than a bit) of pride in. If we are a bunch of hardcore party animals, then why do we need excuses? Why can we not just have fun because we enjoy having fun? I have a theory, which will come up later.

IU students are generally not respectful of the traditions of Indiana University. Everything is just an excuse to celebrate. I'm surprised more people don't come wasted to Founder's Day. Or that the Arboretum isn't a big party place.

So here's my solution. If people want to drink, they should at least attend the race. So make it worth the idiot students' while to go the race. Anyone caught drinking can avoid any penalty if they attend the race, checking in at the beginning and end of the race, and pass a test about the event. That way, those who want to use this great event as an excuse to drink must see it, learn what it's about. Then when people say they "can't wait for Little 5," they really won't be able to wait.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Welcome

Welcome to my other blog. This is where I put options, rants and such. It won't include a diary of things I do. If you were looking for that, you can find it here.