Sunday, 9 October 2011

What's Wrong: What Needs Fixin

The first imperative is the archives. The commenters at UT have made it what it is (which Glenn has graciously emphasised repeatedly). They deserve to have access to their own archived comments. Plus, of course, being able to search those archives is of enormous benefit to other commenters & lurkers.

The second imperative is the functional issues to do with comment composition and presentation, most significantly preview.

Then come HTML tagging capabilities that are standard in such comment facilities and have been for some years. They dont necessarily have to be provided in the now-standard toolbar form, but there is no good reason not to support the standards, and very good technical and operational reasons to do so.

But the overwhelming sense of outrage, for me, derives from the tone-deaf arrogance of the announcement that the changes were all going to be good for us, and the blanket refusal to even acknowledge that this has not been the case, and indeed that Salon has not attempted to ask us what changes we consider would be good for us.

Apropos, Glenn has a current post up on the War on Drugs, in which he argues strongly that people know what is best for them, far better than any centralised bureaucracy can ever do.

I'd really like him to relay that bit of actionable intelligence to Salon's management.



18 comments:

  1. I can agree with your post; the html still lags behind everyone else by years and the preview function is just silly not to offer. Silly!

    The archives are not as important to me. I have seen little other than people digging through archives looking to score a point or two. I think RR Heard said he spent a day on one guy's archives. But there is no real reason not to have access since you can get there through a search engine from the net! Do they not know that?

    Anyway, the folks in all the other parts of Salon are important also; do they have the same complaints?

    The corporate attitude has been terrible. Tells me something about Salon.

    ReplyDelete
  2. -- first, Google for archives appears to give you results, but you get at Salon-based 404 error when you open ...

    my list:
    #10 with a bullet -- allow non-social media linkage -- if not possible, I would like a very serious explanation of the "tracking" and "profiling" that I am "authorizing" by linking my Salon posting to my G-mail .... I'm confused by the information I've accrued.
    1. reinstate "most recent post first" option -- "replies should be temporally sequential after each root/non-reply post.
    2. "branching" for replies needs not only a "compress" feature ...
    3. but also desperately needs "new" flags ... this is pretty standard in most registration-required comment sections.
    4. Preview ...
    5. Darken and broaden (indent more) the line of each "limb" and then either use lighter line(s) or different colors for the tributaries there from.
    6. number ALL posts
    7. "harden" page break criteria -- messy, annoying (I think some progress has been noted here.
    8. enable colored text and other relatively basic html commands -- apparently other HTML functions are now enabled
    9. link an HTML tutorial

    some more
    - use a single time zone ... any time zone so we can reply to John Doe about his post #878 at 1000 and/or reference other posts ...
    - with branching the utility of page numbers has been lost wrt referencing someone's previous post -- that post from an hour ago is much more difficult to find -- possibly linking (href) to permlink needs to be explained and promoted as a solution.
    - there seems to be glitchiness within threads -- suggestions of a maximum number of posts/sub-thread ... I donno, I haven't been posting.
    - reinstating link/sig would help a lot of people ...
    - Fewer clicks to access letters please
    - place default cursor placement somewhere outside fo comment box please.
    - reinstated the Active Letters feature for those of us who often follow more than one at a time but don't want to keep too many widows open.

    thx

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  3. From Glenn (Part I):

    I've now read through many of these comments, so let me note the following:

    (1) I don't have a "new contract" or "new arrangement" with Salon. My contract and arrangement with them are exactly the same now as it's been since the first day I took my blog there 5 years ago: I have full editorial control over the blog and the comment section, and they have none.

    They cannot and do not delete, edit or otherwise alter comments, nor do they ban commenters based on things written on my blog. Only I (or someone acting at my behest) can do that.

    (2) Obvioualy, Salon has - and always has had - the technological ability to delete comments at my blog, since the blog and the comment section is on their system. I assume everyone has always been well aware of this, given that commenting at my blog required registering with Salon's site-wide system.

    What's true now is what has always been true: if you go to other parts of Salon to comment and violate whatever rules they have, they can obviously delete your comment or ban your account. But none of that does apply -- or has ever applied -- to the comment section of my blog, over which I maintain exclusive authority.

    Again, nothing has changed in that regard.

    CONTINUED . . .

    ReplyDelete
  4. From Glenn (Part II)

    (3) I was unaware of the nature of these changes until they happened. That's mostly my fault - in the past, Salon's re-designs have entailed things of little consequence or interest to me (how topic pages are managed, how tags are used, how the cover is organized, etc.) - and my eyes glaze over and my attention diverts when I'm included in talk of such things. So when Salon people start emailing me about "site changes," it's just not something that gets a high priority for me.

    This time, the changes were obviously more substantive, but I really wasn't aware of the scope of them until the new site went live.

    (4) As I said last week when I wrote about this, some patience is going to be needed to address concerns. Salon has a small IT staff, and the problems with the migration to the new system have been enormous, far more significant than anticipated, by all appearances.

    It's been very difficult to get them to pay attention to any issues that don't involve questions of immediate functionality - meaning: can you access the site, can you post new material, can it be read and navigated? There are still problems with that, and that is what is still occupying their time and attention.

    I have my own set of issues with things like archives and a whole slew of other smaller problems that, while important to me, are going to continue to be subordinated until the system stabilizes. That's certainly also true of things like comment archives and restoration of the preview button.

    I will do everything possible to make sure that these things are attended to, but it's going to take a little time - not because anyone is ignoring these issues or because Salon has an indifferent corporate attitude, but because the small IT staff is literally sleeping 3-4 hours a night and has multiple people clawing at them from every direction, and there are other higher IT priorities regarding site functionality that still aren't resolved.

    ReplyDelete
  5. From Glenn (Part III)

    (5) There seems to be a serious misconception about the role comment sections play. Comment sections are not about traffic. Only a small percentage of readers look at the comment section regularly, and only a tiny fraction of readers participate. If everyone stopped commenting on posts forever, the impact on traffic would be negligible. Traffic comes from people reading articles and posts; comment sections are supplements to that, but - from a strictly traffic/click perspective - not very large ones.

    The reason I value the comment section so much has nothing to do with traffic. It's because that's where the community is created of the most loyal and active readers who play such a vital role in the work done at my blog - in providing feedback, adding information and ideas, correcting errors and logical flaws, taking action, amplifying the work, providing a critical check on what I do, and otherwise ensuring that the conversation is two-way rather than a monologue. It also creates valuable relationships and interactions that are important to me.

    I'm concerned with these objections not because they're having an effect on traffic. Believe me, they're not and won't. I'm concerned about them because the people expressing them are loyal readers who deserve loyalty in return and to have their concerns taken seriously.

    (6) What seems to me the most substantive objection - privacy issues raised by having to register with a Google email - is still not entirely clear to me. If, as Heru-ur says, you can still sign in with your old Salon name, then these problems are inapplicable.

    But even if not, I still don't get why signing up for a Google email with a fake name poses any greater privacy risk than registering with Salon's email system, as was required before - I'd like to understand that better.

    I believe Salon's comment policy change was motivated by 2 considerations: 1) frustration over an inability to ban people, and 2) a desire to incentivize people to purchase Salon's new "Core membership": remember, for all the attempts here to depict Salon as some vast, faceless, money-grubbing corporate structure, the reality is that they have operated at a loss for many years, relying on the owners of the site to continue to fund it with their personal funds because they believe in its editorial mission. Salon's editors are under pressure to at least enable the site to pay for itself - to break even - and this is how they perceive that can be done.

    Both of those considerations are, in my view, valid - believe me, there are many, many regular commenters who stopped participating due to the number or presistence of disrupters, and their concerns deserve to be heeded, too. But obviously, privacy and Internet anonymity is extremely important to me, and so - as I said a week ago - I want to figure out the best way to balance these considerations by protecting privacy as much as the old system did.

    ReplyDelete
  6. From Glenn - I just posted a three-part comment, but only one of those parts (the second) is appearing - ironic given that this is a site set up to complain about Salon's comment section.

    In any event, I'm posting the entire comment here:

    http://ggdrafts.blogspot.com/2011/10/comment-section-complaints.html

    ReplyDelete
  7. Glenn,

    Thanks for your comments here. I appreciate your position and your contribution. Your work is the only reason I am a Salon subscriber.

    The thing is that these types of issues are not surprising - to anyone who has built websites or project managed the building of websites previously.

    It's good to hear that Salon's management are not corporately indifferent, but whatever their real attitude may be, it hasn't shown up in any communication from them to their paying customers. That silence alone pisses people off.

    If you were seated in a restaurant, for example, and the wait-staff completely blanked your enquiries to them, would you accept the excuse that they were "really busy" and therefore your needs were not important (enough to merit a response)?

    I doubt it, sincerely.

    This issue is not confined to technical problems, or to the attitude of the management, but it encompasses unfortunate aspects of both that have combined to seriously inconvenience and thus offend paying customers.

    The general rule in project management, which exists for very good reasons and doubly so when dealing with the public, is:

    "Communicate early, communicate often."

    It is just not happening, and left in the darkness people get angry and frustrated and all manner of uninformed speculation arises.

    I really appreciate your engagement here, and I hope you understand that in spite of the "SalonFugly" moniker (richly deserved though it is) we all have a personal and financial stake in seeing Salon becoming a functional forum for our conversation.

    Thanks for your efforts to make it so.

    ReplyDelete
  8. P.S. Yes, there is irony in the imperfections of blogspot.com

    However, this is an entirely free service that provides such capabilities to millions of people all over the world. It is both a vastly more technically complex undertaking than anything Salon has ever experienced, and simultaneously more reliable than anything Salon has provided us ("improvements" notwithstanding.

    Irony is a blade that cuts both ways.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I left links to here and to GGdrafts in the comment section so others could see this.

    I am wondering about the percentage of folks who write letters to UT verses readers. Would that be like 1% of readers comment? Less?

    ReplyDelete
  10. I posted about the following design flaw but I'll repeat it here so that Helen will be sure to read it and address it. The 'reply directly to a reply' function can not remain as it is. I assume that the current design of that was and is in error because it is so obviously unworkable as it is. In order for that feature to be a workable feature it has to be set up so that people reading and commenting do not need to go back and search for the so called 'nesting'. Just take a look at other sites, such as Kos and FDL, to see how it should be set up in order to be useful and easy to use. Looking to those examples should clarify what I'm referring to maybe more clearly than if I were to post a long explanation about it.

    I second or twenty-second what ScuzzaMan wrote about how someone at Salon absolutely has to address this on a front page post. It doesn't need to be the overworked IT people who address it. Any qualified person affiliated with Salon could post an acknowledgement of the current circumstances and of our concerns.

    Glenn: Thanks for posting here about this.

    ReplyDelete
  11. thelastnamechosen9 October 2011 at 20:47

    Glenn,

    I'll start with some quick questions--

    Today, 1% of the population knows how to protect and balance privacy on the internet, and those people are going to be fine. Why should anyone care about the other 99%?

    If the new system has the same amount of privacy as the old, how does the new system ban transgressors more effectively than the previous system?

    Will Google and Facebook assist Salon in banning accounts, and keeping track of repeat offenders?

    Does a ban by Salon affect a person's Google or Facebook account?

    Is it possible to have your Facebook or Google account terminated because of a Salon ban?

    Is the idea of the new system, that if enough websites use Google and Facebook for credentials, then specific people can be removed from the entire ecosystem of those sites participating in Google/Facebook identification services, thus creating much larger penalty/incentive to remain within the community boundaries set by all their corporate partners and investors?

    Do you think that those lobbying to remove anonymity from the internet would support these efforts, and hope a tipping point is reached where an effective monopoly (maybe after a few strategic corporate purchases) could be leveraged into a government mandate?

    Do you think that these sort of corporate, crowd sourced efforts to identify and eliminate malcontents will succeed, or simply drive the 1% to the darknet, further isolating the 99?

    If someone pays to become a member, does that mean that Salon promises not to sell their information to Google and Facebook, or do you just get the double whammy?

    ReplyDelete
  12. I agree with ScuzzaMan and with Glenn. Let me emphasize two things:

    1. The ability to access the archives is vital, not just for authors -- who should have access to their work without paying ransom -- but for others as well. I for one contributed considerable background on military law with the intent that Manning's defense might pick up an idea or two.

    (I realize Salon's terms of use says that posts are theirs. It's still cheezy to take someone's work for free, and, worse yet, make them pay for it).

    2. If Salon is going to have nested comments and posters' archives, then they can do what other blogs have long since done (e.g., Pam's House Blend) and have a way of flagging a poster's comments, in the archive, as others reply to them. This saves having to scroll through the same thread over and over. This is simple efficiency.

    I appreciate the value that Glenn places on his readership, his "salon" as it were. It's part of what made UT such a vibrant enterprise.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I apologize for not posting my compilation of concerns regarding the Salon comment system here - I tried several times and only later realized that of course I must have been exceeding the blogspot word limit.

    I've posted the most recent draft as a comment on the latest UT article, with some truncations to protect identity.

    Thanks to everyone who sent or posted input.

    Helen Gerhardt

    ReplyDelete
  14. "It's good to hear that Salon's management are not corporately indifferent, but whatever their real attitude may be, it hasn't shown up in any communication from them to their paying customers. That silence alone pisses people off."

    Scuzza, where did you work before your 25 years in IT---the Onion, or was it Fafblog?

    Posts to this site appear, disappear, show up again, and then are gone. No rhyme or reason, no apology or explanation from you, just non stop Kafka. The IT department at Salon is Wernher Von Braun compared to whoever is running Salon Fugly.

    I'd say the blade of irony must cut about 80 ways since Salon Fugly began. Maybe more.
    None of this would amount to anything except for your TOTAL SILENCE about The Strange Case of Disappearing Comments at Fugly.

    ReplyDelete
  15. PS.

    BTW, Scuzza Man, we learn from Helen that there is a limit to how many words a person can post in a blogspot comment. Is there any particular reason you decided to keep that from your commenters, or are you just funny that way?
    Imagine if the person who wrote the Bible had typed it all on Twitter, only to have everything after the first few sentences disappear. Talk about pissed.
    Also, what is your financial interest in Salon? I see you said you had one in your post.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Well Mr Anonymous, the terms of blogspot's service are published by blogspot themselves. Go to www.blogger.com and read them.

    For the record, not a single comment here has "disappeared". As I explained yesterday, some comments got caught in the spam trap because I didnt even know that blogspot HAS a spam trap. Yes, that is my bad, but I am one of those overworked IT drones Glenn talked about, and SalonFugly is very much a spare time (like I have any) effort.

    All comments received here (except two I deleted because they were duplicates) have been published, including those I strongly disagree with.

    My financial stake in Salon is confined to the premium membership I pay for each year. Nevertheless, as a paying customer, I have a moral (if not legal) right to have my concerns heard. I will exercise that right, one way or another.

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  17. Scuzza Man and Glenn:

    Scuzza: What do you mean not a single comment has disappeared? Many of mine have. Is "caught in the spam trap" a fatal occurrence or a temporary detour? What lands someone there?

    Glenn: Now that I read lastnamechosen's questions above, many of which I hadn't thought of, I am extremely curious to find out the answers. Even the first one is fascinating:

    If the new system has the same amount of privacy as the old, how does the new system ban transgressors more effectively than the previous system?

    Unless there is a good answer to this, it would seem to imply that Salon is both 1) lying and 2) up to no good.

    The other questions are also intriguing. I'll have to go look for Helen's list in Glenn's comment section.

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  18. Only 3 brief comments. House definitions apply. :-)

    I agree with Kitt about the 'reply' feature. It just sucks. I've seen many reply features and none so disastrous as Salon's new format.

    I agree with Glenn's confusion over the privacy concerns (with one caveat). What will gmail know about you that Salon wouldn't know anyway? My only caveat - which is not insignificant to my mind - is an instinct against the centralization of information. Thus, in principle alone without being able to produce a tangible reason, I can sympathize with those who have privacy concerns.

    Lastly, and even more vaguely, it seems to me that the "community" has gone out of the comments section. I miss the conversations. I suppose this has a lot to do with the 'reply' feature comments. In any event, time will tell if it returns or, perhaps more to the point, if anyone even notices or cares.

    ReplyDelete