NOVEMBER 16, 2008 11:35AM

OS on Salon: Unintended Consequences

Rate: 33 Flag
Bailey Wo's post on that kooky old Alan Keyes was one of three OS posts featured in the emailed daily Salon Newsletter.
I thought I'd see what Keyes is mucking up now. Ah, challenging Obama's birth certificate. ("He's a Kenyan! He's black! He can't be President!") I'm sure I'm not the first person to note that Republicans are not so big on that "will of the people" stuff. Yeah, we know y'all elected Clinton--twice--but we have to impeach him because he lied about an extramarital sexual encounter! It's for your own good!
As I read through the comments after the post itself somthing jumped out at me. There are a lot of OS members (the sort of folks who have an avatar) commenting initially and then suddenly there is a spate* of generic avatars. These were people who had dropped in as a result of the newsletter link. As you are required to sign up to make a comment, they are now OS's newest "bloggers."
I see this as one of the unintended consequences of the structure of OS. I guess the idea was that people would be interested first in creating their own blog and then would interact with other bloggers and we could all sing "We are a fam-a-leee" together. And it did begin pretty much just like that.
Now, though, the number of people who have signed up just so they could rate posts and add comments far outnumbers those who actually post on their own pages. If you have ever clicked on the "People" link at the top of you know that there is no reason to ever click that link again. It shows page after slow-loading page of blank avatars.
It would be nice to make OS more about the community, the interaction of people who at least occasionally put up a post of their own. But that little idea winked out months ago. We need a way of sorting people into those that want an actual blog page and those who just want to make a comment or thumbify a post (props to Jodi Kasten). 
One particular comment to Wo's post revealed another unintended consequence, this one concerning the relationship between Open Salon and "Real" Salon.
Here, you can see for yourself:
whereamiI've linked to the post in the first line of this post, so do go read the whole thing. But I wanted to pull this out so you can see exactly what has happened here. (By "see," I mean squint at the fuzzy jpeg image.)
Oops. F Arouete has wandered onto the holodeck, but thinks he/she is still in the real (Salon) world. This doesn't really raise any issues for Open Salon--we know who we are, after all, and we aren't, for the most part, pretending to be real journalists. We just post stuff. That's what blogs are for. And that's why blogs are not a substitute for that nasty old mainstream media, or rather "MSM" (insert sneer emoticon here). The one that, you know, pays people to bother to verify stuff they write.
Mother Salon, on the other hand, might want to post a notice that her readers are about to enter the playground out back and while we are, indeed, her many children, she disavows all responsibility for the kooky things we might say.
*Yes, I think that is the proper term. A murder of crows. A spate of generic avatars. 

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Insightful observations, as usual, Susan.
Susan, I didn't realize there was a Salon e-newsletter and this is how new people were popping up on the site. I guess a lot of them will be one-shot commenters and then leave, but time will tell. Thanks for the heads up on this!
I agree whole heartedly. I hate those fuzzy folks.
And once again, I cannot get the HTML right in comments. Not that we haven't begged before, but here I go again:

Susan, it may sound "avatarist" on my part, but when people don't attach a picture to their profile, a red flag goes up immediately and I go to their page to see if their a "ghost" as I call them.

Great point. They come out of the woodwork on posts like that one.
I hate those fuzzy folks.

Me too. I've begun to call them "gray heads" in my mind, a coinage due to lpsrocks.
I'm still a bit of a "newbie" here on the OS and wondered what are the actual differences between the two? Still not clear there. Is the OS a spin off of the original, like Knotts Landing was to Dallas, I believe? Just curious as there seems to be some bickering between the two on some level or just plain sibling rivalry? Appreciated this post and definitely rated.
I will add something here I always do: I click on the fuzzy head. If there isn't anything on the blog, I never look back. I know its not worth considering.
These faceless commenters remind me of the description of a panda - "Eats, shoots, and leaves."
There's a theory that seems to be supported by data that if you have a community with broken windows and other signs of lack of repair, there will be more crime. People need to feel like a community is cared for in order to invest in it themselves. While I don't think that the absence of an avatar/icon is a proof in and of itself that the person has nothing to say. However, I do think the failure to fill these things out contributes in the aggregate to a sense that the community metaphor is irrelevant or more burden than this community is worth. I hypothesize that these superficial-seeming things do actually matter and should be enforced. As I said in another forum recently, I'd even support a waiting period for first comment (perhaps waivable by some other act of commitment, such as the writing of a blog).
Beatcha to it :-)

"The one that, you know, pays people to bother to verify stuff they write."

Some of them, some of the time...
You did indeed beat me to it, Ricky B. But I'm a good girl who shares, so I actually linked to your post in a comment above. The one where I prove once again that I cannot be trusted with HTML ;) Kent also made some really good comments there and I once again really do recommend that everyone bop over there and read the whole thing, comments and all. Trust me. It's low calorie, but very filling.
Wayne, I love that panda anecdote on so many levels. And I think it is an apt metaphor for these commenters.

Add me to the "Ignore the gray heads/ghosts" movement. I just wish there was some way to "sort" them out so that I could actually poke around randomly through this list of people who are actually trying to be members in good standing of our little community.
Thanks for the important meta post, Susan! Very insightful.

I am an admitted paranoid when it comes to trolls. One of my earlier posts unfavorable to McCain garnered two late comments by a no pic, no posts greyhead with only two comments--both directed at my post--then left without a word. Now I can see how I was opened to this. This is not conversation which I love and have come to expect here at OS.
Like suzyishere, I click on the greyhead to peek in without giving them a click which counts as a read.
Cathy, "Real" Salon is the mothership, so to speak. It is an online media enterprise. It pays for the articles and editorials and everything else it publishes. It is also the creator of Open Salon, so in that sense we are more like the children of Salon than siblings. The bickering comes from the fact that we are no longer babies and would like more say in who we can hang out with and what time is curfew.

We are NOT Knott's Landing! (Haughty sniff.)
Yeah, those shadowy half torsos with names like Minke Whale Watcher etc., the one-and-outers. F.Arouette may have been truly confused as to which ship he had boarded after he'd been making a night of it perhaps (notice the time stamp), but many of the others are created (many by existing OSers, perhaps?) for the sole purpose of making a nasty comment or two, trolling, sock puppetry, whatever.

Wait for the next edition of "Sail On, Open Salon" case -- in which you are one of the chief presenters, remember -- to see how all this could turn out :-).

Indeed, Caveat. You Woof the truth. And I haven't forgotten that I play a role in your diabolic plans to make sense of this whole enterprise ;p
Great post Susan. I don't get the Salon e-mail, but I think I should sign up for it just to get this kind of info for OSers getting Salon notice.

This is a metapost that rivals Rob's best and has parallel tracks to consider. I loved finding the link to with the photos of the actual birth certificate (I assume it's so.)

Wonderful thinking of yours in this Suze.
I didn't realize today was meta-Sunday. Lots of OS navel-gazing. How 'bout those SoCal fires, huh? 600+ homes torched. That's no small number.

Myself, grey-heads and ghosts, they ain't nothin' to me...
Oops, so you did (or tried, but the intent was clearly there) :-)
By the way, one thing to remember is that the half-torso shadow figures help pay the bills, sort of and indirectly. Mother Salon charges for advertising based on "unique Website visitors", which the shadow figures presumptively contribute to, the first time they arrive. But the rest of us -- already on the baby ship -- don't contribute (at least along those terms of reference) worth a darn.

And am I hallucinating, or have multiples of Freaky (Warhol-like) taken over the cover?

Interesting observation of a situation that I never gave to much thought---but you make great points.

I invited my niece to join so it would be easy for her to read some things I was posting. I doubt she will ever post on her own, and I doubt that she will comment on posts other than those written by me or my brother---and she did post a photo. But maybe this is how some gray heads get here, than once here they see something they want to comment on--and it grows from there.

Of course, it is yet another issue for someone to confuse Salon and OS---I guess one way to look at it is it's the price we posters pay for a bigger audience---(Stated like the attention whore I can be.)
Thanks, Susan for the explanation on Salon vs. Open Salon. Makes perfect sense. And please excuse the silly reference to "Knots Landing!" It was just a random act of mental sillyness, which happens to me fairly often in this forum. Guilty!
A very well thought-out post, as usual. I have only one thing to add, and I can't possibly be alone in this: I've had several "grey heads" friend me and when I go to their blogs I find no content. Yet they comment fairly regularly on my posts. Real comments, not snarky ones.

So I am assuming there are some people who don't want to write an opensalon blog but do want to read others and have the ability to comment. Does that make sense? If so, I'm flattered. If not, then WTF?
I'm not usually so ungracious as to ignore compliments, but the "in-laws" (we aren't technically married, but they are the equivalent of in-laws) were coming for lunch so I was rushed this morning. Now that I'm back, let me say how kind it is of so many folks to credit me with insight and other forms of valuable brain activity. I've not felt like much is going on in my upstairs rooms lately, so your compliments are particularly encouraging to me right now.

I don't actually mean to disparage all of the "gray ghosts" on OS. I can understand someone signing up but not feeling ready to post or having much to say. Rather, I just wish there were a list somewhere of "active posters." Say, people who have posted anything on their pages in the past 3 months. That would be a pretty generous criteria.

Caveat, there is definitely something on the cover. I think it may involve "vogueing" and if so, I think Freaky needs to give it a try.

Must be the phase of the moon, Lonnie, that brings out the meta in us ;) ~~~ The fire damage is horrible. I always wonder if it is just a bad place to spread a lot of homes around or if humans are doing something wrong in their approach to keeping the fires away from inhabited areas.
Cathy, I was honestly just kidding about the Knott's Landing reference. (Probably need to double up on my meds or something ;)

I beg of you. Please do not let up on the mental silliness. It is necessary for sanity, I am convinced.
Susan - I think that perhaps there should be two levels of membership - one for commenting and one for both blogging AND commenting. Our posts come up highly ranked in Google and there are many visitors from outside OS.

The reason I know this is because I put an invisible HTML "ticker" in a few of my posts to see how many unique visitors I had vs. how many comments and thumbs. The results were rather amazing.

Some of my posts have had HUNDREDS of visitors - especially the ones with the Obama posters. My post of photos from Cologne Germany had 600 visitors within only 2 days, mostly because someone Stumbled it. Of course no OS non- member could leave any comment, so if I hadn't had something to collect the data I would have never known.

So, yes I think it would be a good feature if non members had some way to comment. I'd be curious to hear from Kerry if this is something he thinks worthy of consideration.
Not to worry! I am sure I got an extra helping of silliness in my DNA so the goofyness and self-deprecating remarks will continue on. To add to your comment, "it is necessary for sanity," I'd have to further say that there is a fine line between sanity and insanity and I am prone to find humor and balance to keep me somewhere inbetween!
At first, I was cool to Kent's idea of a waiting period for new members. But the more I think about it the more I like it. The theory that an uncared for community = more crime resonates with me, somehow.

But let's not get carried away. Remember: Once OS accounts are outlawed, only outlaws will have OS accounts.
On one of my busiest posts after those of us who participate were complete commenting on it, some troll came by and crapped on it. I wrote a reply to him, just in case, and he came back and dumped even larger.

I deleted his comments and closed comments on the post. I have no idea what else I could do under the circumstances.
I have to admit, my ego gets a little boost when one of those gray heads leaves a nice comment on my blog. When I click on their name and find that there's no blog and only the one comment they wrote to me, it makes me feel good that they were prompted to join OS simply to comment on something I'd written (Hey Ma, Looky! I've reached someone with my writing!) I've only had one negative comment so far from a gray head, so unless they all start turning into trolls, they're still OK in my book.
In defense of gray-heads, I created an account in August, but returned with vigor only in October, and then took at least a week to scrounge up a head shot to replace the phantom avatar.

At my age (probably gray-headed, but how would I know), I've no interest in pseudonyms and even less in cutely representative avatars. Uploading a pic isn't a technical challenge to me; I simply didn't have the time to toss it up. And there are many more people than you can imagine who read and comment on blogs who wouldn't know where to begin in uploading an avatar, much less cropping a picture and uploading it.

As evidence that brilliant people don't all have the same computer skills, note how many OSticates provide URLs that don't hot-link.

But as to your central thesis, the "spate of generic avatars" represents, presumptively, visitors with no commitment to the community. Kind of like purported book lovers who want the benefits of publishing without actually participating in its revenue stream. I caught on pretty quickly to how the ghost avatar makes that kind of statement.
Ri-- Oops, I mean, WhoNvitedHim, that cracked me up. Of course, now I want to be an OS outlaw! For real, though, you joined the Witness Protection Program??

Sally and Lisa, I am sure the gray heads that comment on your posts really enjoy doing so. It's a good illustration of what I'm talking about--the people who have a blog that they don't intend to do anything with. Its not that big a deal really, but it makes it hard to find people who really are posting. Like I said, I have nothing against people who just want to comment without picking an avatar and creating posts. As long as they aren't trolls.

Artsfish, why we don't have counters on all the blogs is a great mystery to me. It would seem to be a great way of helping people gauge their readership. Particularly in cases where posts don't attract a lot of comments or thumbs.

Susanne, we also need better mechanisms for getting rid of trolls. I know some people are adamant that there should be no rules, no limits on OS, but I think people who are abusive should be blocked. You've had more than your fair share of creepy people messing with you here. I think you did exactly the right thing but I don't think you should have had to do that. We need more admin help at those moments.

Randy, Nice to have you "pink up" your gray avatar ;) Yes, I think the community aspect is really important to OS and one of the things that makes this place very unique.
The brain I keep in a jar on my desk calls them "pawns".

This probably has a lot to do with the term "pwn". As in, the smacking down a lot of them so justly deserve sometimes.

Then again, I also associate the name "George" with the green algae muck on the inside of pipes.

(thumbified because it's my JOB, dangit!)
in defense of greyheads:

i was one for a while, trying to think of what to blog about. sometimes "lurking" is a way of getting to know a community before you join. not all greyheads are just there to shout people down...

and i think the nice thing about greyheads is that in any community things can get a little clickish without some outside perspective...even when it seems to be criticism...hey at least they're reading you...

my .02 euro.
It's not uncommon to see that when someone writes, in a particularly nasty tone, that they themselves have not written a post and are not seen again. Really good piece Susan.
Susan, this is interesting, I hadn't thought about "pure readers" signing up to comment. I agree there has to be some new process to distiguish them from OS bloggers.

I also love the "spate of avatars" and "murder of crows". I think my favourite is probably "an unkindess of ravens". [chuckle]
I'm late to comment here but we can't be Knot's Landing? I was already digging around in the pop culture section of my memory trying to figure out what character I wanted to be.

Alec Baldwin's character was interesting.
Jodi, girl, you are so magnificently out there. I consider no post of mine to be truly complete until you have put your thumb of approval upon it. Gracias.

marytkelly's comment and doloresflores' 2 Euro cents worth (yes, I know there's no such thing) illustrate the yin and yang of the gray-headed ghosts. There's absolutely nothing wrong with signing up and never doing anything with it. No comments, posts, nada. But there is plenty of evidence that trolls lurk among the gray ones.

But more to my point, I would like a better way of finding people on OS that I'm not yet acquainted with and having all these "blogs" that aren't really (aka, the gray ones) makes that all the more difficult.
Cam, I've never heard that one--"an unkindness of ravens." Wow. That is so great. Wonder how it came about that our names for groups of animals are so delightfully creative?

Dorinda, you and Cathy have convinced me. Knott's Landing we are!
No way I can speak ill of dogs. I have too many doggie friends.

The issue of people using screen names and dog/cat/bird/cartoon/etc avatars has been discussed on OS now and again. Personally, I think someone who has bothered to choose something visual to represent themselves is being an active participant in a way that someone with the generic avatar (and no posts) is not. That said, just uploading a photo of a dog means little if that's all you do.
They had TWO YEARS to challenge the validity of his birth certificate. Nothing came of their claims then, and nothing will come of them now. THIS IS A PUBLICITY STUNT! It is how idiots like Keys make money getting paid to go on tv and spout BS.
Padraig, you make a good point about the distinction between people who don't use their real name or image, but are nonetheless maintained a consistent and reliable identity here, and those who are being disingenuous about their identity in order to get away with saying things they don't want to answer for or other less than honest motives. I think that OS has had a remarkable run so far without an excess of troll and other nasty sorts that have ruined many an Internet forum/room/bulletin board or the like. But I don't think we should delude ourselves into believing this will always be so. What you are sniffing may be the foul odor of a smelly troll sticking it's foot in the door. (Not to be confused with the cake-like smell of Freaky Troll.)

I must also compliment you on your excellent pandering ;)

Thomas, I couldn't agree more about the silly business of the birth certificate, but to be honest that's not really what we are prattling on about here. Rather, it is something that came to mind while I happened to be reading about said silliness. Always good to read the whole post before commenting ;)
Good writing...the "wandering into the holodeck" and "playground out back" stuff.
First, I'm impressed at the longevity of this post of yours, Susan. I'll have to see if I can discover your secret. :-)

Second, I was thinking about other possible examples of unintended consequences on OS, and one came to mind. A couple of months ago there was an abortive attempt to prevent links on the left side of one's blog from being pushed too far down toward the bottom of a page by material above that list, including the list of recent comments. The "fix" was to reduce the amount of text in displayed for each comment, but I think a fair number of people complained that this made the comment pointers pretty useless, and so the change was reversed. (That's my recollection, at least.)

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley.
Rob, you remember correctly, and I was among those who said, "Yikes! This is terrible!" because I have often followed a path from comment to comment across other people's pages. It's a great way to meander through the morass of posts and find unfamiliar writers and writings. Not to mention tracking your own comments, although that is less useful because there are too few of them. Kerry was really surprised that there was such an outcry over truncating them; he just was not aware that people use those in various ways. (He gets big props for reverting rapidly.)

As for the longevity of the post, I naturally attribute it to my ability to speak to the moment's zeitgeist, encapsulating perfectly...blah... the deep richness of... blah blah... while referencing, of course... blah blah blah.

Weekend spillover would be my guess. ;p

k1mjay, I think you very much. What a wonderful thing to say to someone on a long, long Monday afternoon.
Just a few words in defense of anonymous, faceless bloggers who are nonetheless bona fide participants in OS. Some who have chosen to remain anonymous and who have posted an image instead of a photo as their avatar may have a very good reason for doing so.

I, for one, am expressing opinions here on OS - consistent and thoughtful ones, I think, and I hope readers agree - that are sharply at odds with the neutral, mainstream persona I feel I must maintain in public due to the nature of my job. Not that I don't applaud and even envy Padraig's courage in "coming out" despite the political volatility of his geographical environs. But I have a disabled husband to support, and I'm too much of a wimp to put my salary and my health insurance at even the slightest risk.

Oh - and I love dogs AND ravens. I'd never heard "an unkindness of ravens" before. It does rather go with "a murder of crows," but I don't think either does justice to the corvids, which are a highly intelligent and fascinating group of birds.
Organian, you provide a good example of why I would never want to insist that everyone post or comment under their own name and image. I have no problem with most of the people here who do this. It is not uncommon to eventually learn the person's first name, but I know there are a lot of reasons people might feel more comfortable and/or safer not revealing their full identity.

I think what Padraig is referring to is the fact that not everyone hides their identity for a good reason. For some people, it is a way to be mean, nasty, rude, or otherwise unpleasant without having to take responsibility for their behavior.

As for birds, I'm with you. The more I have learned about them, the more convinced I am that they are remarkably intelligent.
It's funny, isn't it that on Salon you answer with a name like "Cowgirl" and no one has a problem with hit. On OS you are Cowgirl with a gray head and it makes people uncomfortable.
New Caledonian crows are remarkably intelligent animals, first-class tool users. I've met Alex Kacelnik and some of his colleagues, who provide the page (with movies) I've linked to. It's very cool stuff.
Rob, your status as an OS icon just left the ionosphere with that "gang aft agley" comment. No one ever gets that right!!!
Thanks, Lonnie--I blame/credit Catholic high school, I guess. :-)
There aren't avatars of any kind on regular Salon, are there?

Does anyone think that I'm issuing a blanket objection to "gray heads"? I didn't think anything I said implied that. Rather, I think there's something amiss with the set up of Open Salon that so many people end up with blog pages when all they really want is to make a comment--hence, the proliferation of gray heads. For what it's worth, I don't think commenters are objecting per se to blank avatars, either.

Cool link, Rob. I knew crows used sticks as tools, but didn't know they were quite so, well, "thoughtful" about it. You're probably familiar with Alex, the late and much lamented African Gray parrot with the extensive vocabulary. The way he used language was far more complex than a bird should be capable of. Our own parrot certainly communicates pretty clearly when he wants to be left alone ("Bye bye!!") or wants to be fed ("Good! Good!").
I didn't think that, Susan, just making an observation. There should be a way for people to make comments without having to register a blog page, I think. It doesn't bother me a bit that people sign up to make comments but not post - you can't expect all readers and commenters to also be writers.
Thanks, Sandra. I've got Monday work fogginess ;)

I think it makes perfect sense for people to register and indicate that they either just want to make comments, or want their own blog page. They could always change their minds, I would think. But at least then we could easily find the people who are posting their own entries, something that is currently not possible.

Padraig's a very good judge of character, Organian, and you like dogs and ravens... you are definitely welcome here at my place any time!
Add me to the list of sorta-kinda anonymous users. I'm not really--anybody who really wanted to could figure out who I am. What I'm avoiding is having my real name pop up on Google and lead clients or peers to a blog in which I talk about my politics, my life, my relationship, my critters...Really, I do NOT want my clients stumbling into that! So I use a screen name--but it's also one I've been using for YEARS (I've had the same name with different ISPs for 9 years) on this and many other sites. And I think I'm pretty consistent in my approach...

I agree there should be a way for someone to register to comment without having to register for a blog, but I judge it more on the content of their comments--if they're clearly trolling or infiltrating and they have no posts of their own, good riddance. If they're making thoughtful, contributory comments and don't have their own posts, that's fine--some people come here to read the fantastic writing, but don't necessarily have a need or desire to write themselves.

And there is a way to police, to some extent, although just on posts (not comments). I have flagged several posts that were clearly inappropriate, e.g. an advertisement for an apartment complex, of all things. It would be nice if we could do that for suspicious comments as well, but I suppose just emailing Kerry will have to suffice for that.
I've also flagged some inappropriate posts--usually blatantly commercial crap, although I did once stumble on something that appeared to be google bombing (? I think that's what it's called??) They were dotting the post with half-hidden links to a site, but there was a different contact site listed. I followed that and it was a site that promised to get you better placement on google. I hate that stuff.

Moving on from my blather here, what I was getting to is that I flagged a bunch of sites, but nothing every came of it. I've decided it's one of those fake outs, like the pedestrian crossing buttons that seem to do nothing ;)
Coming to this party late, I add: Please correct me if I'm wrong (quite possible), but don't you have to be logged in at in order to comment/write a letter? It is my recollection that you go through a registration process there, also. Not that that process slows the excess snarkiness a bit.
You do indeed, Julie. And I think that the tensions between the "free, open, and easy" Internet and the "keeping the trolls out" controls is going to tip toward controls more and more. I've heard good arguments about keeping the web as unrestrictive as possible, but reality keeps trumping those arguments.

In fact, I was dismayed to find a really nasty troll stirring up folks on OS (not on my blog--I'd have deleted the comments). He has apparently been eventually banned at just about every site he has visited and was even prevented from posting on one site under any name or alias by court order. If you can't count on self-control you eventually have to institute external controls. It's why we aren't all anarchists ;)
Hey, great post, Susan. I'm only just discovering it. I'm always interested in the relationship between salon and Open Salon. They are certainly two different beasts, and to tell you the truth, I miss salon. I can't do them both. In fact, I can hardly do one (I haven't posted here in a while). But there's something that feels a bit more intellectual over there. I don't know--that's not quite right. I like the community feel here, but sometimes it feels stifling, like we all have to play a game of sorts. Can't quite articulate it right, but just wanted you to know I dig this post. I love meta analysis!

(Oh, and I'm sorta anonymous for reasons relating to job. I teach and planned on writing all about that--LOL, haven't gotten around to it yet--and felt uncomfortable ethics wise. Even if I changed students' and teachers' names, if they knew it was me, then they'd know it was them.)
Lainey, I understand your anonymity and I think it is quite ethical on your part. As you say, knowing the author would make it easy to figure out who you are writing about.

I also found it very interesting what you said about salon being more (kind of, but not quite) intellectual. Open Salon is a club, a writer's tree house. I think I could pick out a handful of posts worthy of Mother Salon, but the overall tenor here is much more casual. That's why I tend to stress the community aspects of OS.