Communities, content syndication, and commercial interests

Posted 29 Feb 2000 at 11:39 UTC by Radagast Share This

Why do large community web sites degenerate so quickly, is it a fault of the infrastructure, or inherent in the community? Is there a need for a license for syndicating news items and similar up to date information? Would such a scheme fracture or unify the world of free software-oriented news and discussion sites?

Lately, I've been ranting a lot about the current state of free software community web sites, in particular sites of the news/info/software index kind (namely those run by Andover/VA, which are now one and the same, but I suspect the reason I rant about those in particular is mostly just that they're the biggest and most visible). To expand, it's becoming obvious that community sites like Slashdot are breaking down a lot under their own load, much like Usenet did a few years ago. It seems that the decay has a lot more dramatic effects on sites like Slashdot than on Usenet, though, and this is probably because Slashdot has much less possibility to resort to what Usenet does to survive, that is, fragment into groups while still being one system.

Why can't Slashdot do the same? One of the reasons, one suspects, is the infrastructure. The rather contorted heap of Perl scripts that make up Slashdot are probably not the kind of code you easily make large changes to without breaking stuff, and adding hierarchies of discussion groups like Usenet is a pretty major change. Another reason is political, though. Breaking up the stuff on the site would most probably reduce both real and perceived traffic, which is not a good thing when you're a recently-IPOed and then mergered new media company.

So say you're someone who wants to start a new news-with-subsequent-discussion site, and maybe you want to do something along the lines of Slashdot, but with more clueful posts (wouldn't hurt) and a better backend. Perhaps your site will be something like Advogato (one of the few sites that has consistently good content, and a growing, pleasant community), but on a much larger scale. What can you do? Well, assuming that you're not yet owned by the venture capitalists, this is your moment to perform some media subversive tricks (and hope what you accomplish won't be ruined once you do sell out)!

Here's my suggestion to what can be done:
Syndicate all the content using a license specifically designed for the purpose of cross-pollinating news sites with items. As research for this article, I went through the available content licenses (as well as the most-used software licenses), and it seems there are no licenses designed with this in mind, so we might need to create a new one (I'll be extremely happy if someone can prove me right on this, I'm a real Bob's Public License skeptic). The requirements for such a license would probably be:

  • Copyleft properties, with a moderate level of infectiousness. That is, it should probably infect news stories that can reasonably be considered derivative, but shouldn't necessarily place the rest of the publisher's site under the same license.
  • Attribution clause. Require that the content piece is attributed to the original author, and that a link to the site of origin is provided. This gives a "link exchange" type synergy.
  • Change notice. This one is a bit tricky. On one hand, the original author has a right to people knowing that this is not her unchanged work, on the other hand, it can get pretty tiresome to have to label things clearly like this. Perhaps define a standard format for it, so it can be made as compact as possible.
  • Minimum hassle. It should be legally binding (to the same level as the GPL), but should not have too much ballast to weigh it down, so content publishers will have qualms about using it, because they don't understand all the verbiage. Considering what some people manage to read into the GPL, for instance, this is a real concern.
  • What about liability? There's the matter of liability, what happens if someone posts incorrect information, and it also turns out to be classifiable as slander, for instance? The license should specify where that responsability lies (which is probably with the original publisher).
Now, there might also be the need to create a standard system of data interchange to go with this (such systems might exist, my only experience with things like this is from work in the newspaper industry, where there are standards, but the old quip of "so many to choose from" applies), but that's a technicality.

Being in the process of setting up a Free Software related content site myself, as a development project for the company I work for, I'd personally be very interested in a license/exchange network like this. The main effect, as I see it, would be that you could read the site you preferred, with the audience and discussions you find most interesting, but still not worry about missing important and relevant news items. Anything from NewbieNews to GuruDot, AquaReport to Console Cronicle would be possible, and they would all interoperate. In addition, if you wanted just the news, really fast, it's easy to set up news tickers, do intelligent agent (w00) stuff, and generally frolic in a large stream of news items coming at you. From what I've seen of the old media world's interchange systems, this concept could easily kick their asses when it comes to up-to-dateness, relevance, and sheer volume.

I'm planning to work on this, also toying with the idea of setting up a discussion mailinglist, but first I'd like to see some Advogato discussion on it. A few issues I'm very interested in hearing ideas about is how to extend the benefits of such a system to increase the quality of the news items, that is, do fact-checking and other types of quality assurance. This is an area old media (not as opposed to Internet media, but opposed to Slashdot-like digital tabloid media) still rules supreme in, and I'm not so sure it needs to be that way. Also, do you think the fragmenting of the discussion would be a good or a bad thing? Personally, I think it would bring discussions down to a managable volume (did you ever try to wade through a largish Slashdot discussion lately, and get an overview?), and let you talk with people whose opinions you trust and respect.

In other words, let the discussion begin. I'm sure there are opinions.


Of Small and Growing Communities, posted 29 Feb 2000 at 14:16 UTC by chbm » (Journeyer)

I'm an editor a slashdot like site, GilDot. It's nimble sized compared to slashdot and "limited" to the portuguese speaking community. The motto is "news about Linux and more".
This site was rather peacefull and threads seldom exceded 10 replys, most of which were actually valid. Life was smooth. Then one article about irc networks wars went over 250 replies, with only about 1/10 being worth reading and the rest pure crap, personal flamewars and stuff that eventually got deleted off the boards. Nowadays, after that landmark, one out of three articles goes over 30 replies, with most being anonimous flames and personal wars.
We are moving towards an account based system and moderation (newer /. code). Something as simple as one simple and totally harmless article triggered the snow ball. In this case it exposed us to the irc unwashed masses. We also grew in editors, which gives us some roblimoesque posts.
Conclusion ? All communities degenerate into slashdots unless kept in a very fascist way.

Agreed..., posted 29 Feb 2000 at 14:52 UTC by jdube » (Journeyer)

The one exception is Advogato. I havn't seen any flames or arguments on it. Maybe that is because it is still new, who knows. I definitly do not consider Advogato facist, you can pretty much do what you want. From my understanding there isn't even a block as to what articles are posted here. Maybe it is too early to tell, but I think (knock on wood) Advogato will over come this. No AC, so some people are more intimidated to flame. Let's hope it stays that way :)

Not the only site, posted 29 Feb 2000 at 17:29 UTC by ralsina » (Master)

There is at least one other little site, that is slashdot-like, but still readable, and the maintainer is even keeping a log here ;-)

Anyway: I think anonymity sucks. If you can't put your name behind your words, your words are useless.

I know, people is going to say "oh, but then people won't say nothing that will piss Red Hat [or whatever] because they will fear retailation".

Come on, what retaliation would that be? They will refuse to sell you a CD?

I hope this works out, posted 29 Feb 2000 at 18:09 UTC by xach » (Master)

Before Slashdot became Slashdot, I emailed Rob Malda, Dave Whitinger (of LinuxToday), Michael J. Hammel (of Graphics Muse) with a similar idea about content syndication and sharing. I proposed something modeled after a newswire-style service with content in a delivery-neutral format such as SGML (XML wasn't a buzzword yet).

Malda and I exchanged a few emails on the topic, and we fundamentally disagreed. I felt that a firm separation between content and delivery were ideal, but he felt that that wasn't necessary, because he could provide the one source for everyone that would be totally flexible, customizeable, and kick-ass.

Here's a snippet from one of his emails (from August '97):

See, when the centralized place appears, the real power happens- people e-mail /us/ with the stories. I now get 2-4 stories per day mailed to me to post on C&D. I get 750-1000 hits a day. If I get 10x more hits, I would have enough stories to put an 'issue' out per day. Even if I filtered it out to 3-4 good stories.

C&D refers to the proto-slashdot, Chips & Dips.

Anyway, it seems to me that Slashdot, at least if Rob's vision has played out, was not meant to be syndicated, its content shared; it was meant to be the only place for the healthy geek to get his news. Centralization was the goal, not the problem, of information delivery.

But, I still hold on to the idea that a shared news service could be done. Like many people, I get daily news from a variety of sites, and I wish there were better ways for these sites to collaborate and share their content. This is almost purely selfish; I want sites that fit my needs better. But not quite purely selfish: I run the GIMP News website, and I'd be glad to contribute content to a sharing system that matches my ideals.

Advogato has certified participants., posted 29 Feb 2000 at 19:02 UTC by ber » (Master)

jdube was wondering, why Advogato did not create a flamewar fest so far. The answer seems to be clear: Advogate has trusted users. You cannot get in without someone supporting you. It is like an elite club in this sense. though I believe it is reasonable here. And you can see who supported the flamethrower if we ever get to this temperature.

Yes!, posted 29 Feb 2000 at 22:54 UTC by kuro5hin » (Master)

I totally agree with this article. I run kuro5hin.org, which is another in the long list of "small, growing, pleasant to read weblogs." The software that runs kuro5hin is called Scoop, and was also written by me. One of my ultimate goals with scoop is to provide for *very* broad syndication of nearly everything in the site. Stories, discussions, submissions (that heven't even gone up on the front page yet), Users, etc etc. Everything that can be shared, in other words. What I had in mind is something like a network of sites that all speak a common "content-sharing" language (probably best implemented in XML), and make all content and discussion free for the taking (and giving).

I'm impressed that you had this idea way back when, and very very disappointed that slashdot didn't pioneer this when it had the chance. But, oh well. Now's our turn to do it. :-) I will help in any way I can, with ideas and implementation. I think something like a commitee to produce an RFP outlining the protocol (or XML DTD, or whatever) would be a good first step. It should probably be at least backwards-compatible with my.netscape RDF, for starters.

I hope this moves forward. I'm definitely in. :-)

Re: Advogato has certified participants, posted 1 Mar 2000 at 02:55 UTC by prozac » (Journeyer)

Advogato has trusted users

Rather, Advogato has users that Want trust. People creating accounts here are providing (exposing if you will) their work and their personal thoughts, via pointers to and/or descriptions of their creations and online and very public diaries.

Most online "Communities" are bulletin boards and not really Communities at all.

Anonymity is a bane and a boon. The immature and the outcast will abuse it just like so many ACs on Slashdot. But the timid and real repressed people need a voice and can have it, safely, with anonymous posting.

Slashdot is Slashdot. I read the headlines and rarely read the messages. (Take the time and categorize the topic vs. the number of posts some day. The trivial and the controversial headlines get the highest number of posts and the important headlines get the least.)

One must react to the intent and the words, not the source, of a message.

Advogato is an attempt at a true online community. The trust metrics are secondary in that Advogato does not exist to generate "hits" like Slashdot does, but exists to get people together as peers with a common goal in mind. (Far be it from me to say what the creator (creators?) of Advogato actually had in mind, but that is how it appears to me.)

My thoughts, posted 1 Mar 2000 at 05:02 UTC by raph » (Master)

We really do seem to enjoy meta-discussion, don't we? Next Advogato's number will be about the economics software complexity, I promise.

First, some of the easy stuff. Yes, one of the very explicit design goals of Advogato was to have a smallish, well-defined community. There are currently 473 accounts on Advogato. I estimate there are about ten times that many free software developers. The prospect of having to scale by an order of magnitude is a bit daunting, but by comparison the idea that I don't plan to scale by two is a huge relief.

I believe that the concept of "community" is inherently a small-scale phenomena. I'm fond of saying that your community is roughly the set of people you share meals with. A lot of the people on Advogato are my friends, and I've been priveleged to share meals with quite a number of you. Not everybody, of course, but we're not completely out of whack, either. I feel like I know lots more people who I've never actually met in person. A lot of these are people I look forward to meeting (Guadec!).

Now, if you know a group of people pretty well (and they know you), you're not going to post crap. In a large scale system, you can't know everybody, not even close, so I think it starts to become inevitable that you get breakdowns of "community norms."

Absolutely, Advogato differs from "media" sites in its purpose. It is indeed to bring a group of people closer together, not to generate hits. I am thrilled with the almost 500 users and the half-dozen or so that join each day, but these stats are piddling compared with a real media site. I have the luxury of being able to say, "I want this site to stay small." If you're making money off a site, you really don't have that choice.

So what Radagast proposes is very intriguing to me. Instead of having huge megasites, why not a federation of small, thriving communities. And the Internet gives us the possibility of flow between these sites - they do not have to be isolated islands. Content syndication is a powerful tool in this quest, I think.

I also very much like the idea of a clear license that fosters the flow of this content, but at the same time protects it from being exploited by big companies. We need to do some thinking about the way this syndication works and how deeply it goes into the site. For example, the toplevel story links exported from Advogato are now available as a Slashbox on Slashdot. I'm pretty sure nobody has a problem with that. But if they started repackaging people's diary entries and selling ad banners over them, I can imagine there would be some resistance. Both types of content are easily accessible from Advogato through XML syndication.

On anonymity. ralsina has a point that anonymity is relatively less important for discussions of free software. After all, a major part of our culture is to share code, ideas, and thoughts freely. That said, I'm a pretty big supporter of anonymity (in fact, my first free software project was a client for anonymous remailers). For some areas of discussion, you really do want to make it possible for people to present their ideas without opening themselves up publicly to attack. Dissenting from the drug war, holding unconventional ideas about sex, questioning Scien^H^H^H^H^Hpowerful religions. And I'd think that these topics come up in free software too. As RMS pointed out in his Linux Expo Paris talk, in China the "free speech, free beer" analogy used to explain free software has very different resonances than it does for us in the West.

I think that when communication systems start breaking down, people abusing the system often use anonymity. On the flip side, I think it is the responsibility of a healthy forum to tolerate words and ideas from those who wish to remain anonymous. The issue hasn't really come up in Advogato yet, but when it does, I will be supporting the anonymity pretty strongly.

Lastly. One of the persistently hard parts of distributed communications systems is trying to filter out the good bits from all the crap. People have tried lots of systems, of which Slashdot moderation is only a more recent incarnation (anyone remember strn scorefiles?). For reasons that are difficult to figure out, these things haven't worked too well.

One of the problems is that individual posts in a thread do not have levels of quality that are fully independent. Most significantly, the context counts. Let's say you have a thread of which some of the posts are moderated above threshold and others below. You might not even be able to understand what's being talked about. Also, take a common pattern on Slashdot - Roblimo posts a story that is totally wrongheaded and full of factual errors. People immediately jump on the story pointing out the errors, but most of them still don't quite get it, or get it wrong in a different way. Finally, a few knowledgeable people set the record straight, but only after lots of energy has been expended bickering. Is simply filtering out the moderated-up bits of the thread the best solution? I doubt it.

I notice that kuro5hin has a link to this story, with their own discussion. The two discussions are now tied together through the magic of HTML linking. Should there be a tighter integration of some kind, perhaps implemented through XML syndication? I'm not sure.

So I think there are lots of interesting ideas here. I think that by working in noncommercial space, we can do interesting things, like communities that remain manageably small, that the bigger media sites can't. I'm eager to see what happens, and certainly willing to let Advogato be part of this effort.

While we're at it, Syndicated Identities, posted 1 Mar 2000 at 07:07 UTC by munizao » (Apprentice)

If we are to have an archipelago (advopelago?) of small interlinked community sites, it would be useful not to have to sign up for each. Having a single identity for member sites would also make it easier to search for posts based on the author. I know there are a lot of folks here whose occasional /. posts I would like to read, but I am unlikely to wade through the muck to find them all.

Certification schemes could remain seperate between sites. There was some discussion here on how to define different certification domains for different areas of expertise; it seems a fairly natural way would be to allow different sites to certify the community they cater to.

Of course, the legalese to keep identities from being abused by participating sites would have to be drawn up carefully; certainly there is potential here for a lot more mischief than banner ads on diary entries.

On the subject of anonymity, I recently read The Transparent Society by David Brin. It makes a coherent argument for transparency of identity, better than I could with this little sleep.

This is what I intend to do., posted 1 Mar 2000 at 07:31 UTC by Radagast » (Journeyer)

The responses here have been very positive, and the discussion interesting, as always. I've gotten the main confirmation I wanted, which is that people think this is a good idea, and also that there are existing sites out there who would consider joining such a network.

So I'm officially taking on the task of setting up something like this. That is, I plan to set up a mailing list for discussing the issues at hand, and then try to evolve that into a site which can act as a news hub. I've run this by people here at work, and it seems I've got a go on spending resources and time on it without commercializing it, but there are several matters that need discussing before we can even start implementing anything. Namely:

  • The details of the license. We need to work from the basic things mentioned above, and end up on an actual license text. I agree with Raph's concern that someone might take the content and plce lots of banner ads on it, but on the other hand, I know that banners is one of the few ways young sites can make money, and in a lot of cases this is necessary for them to be able to put down the work at all. This needs to be sorted out to everyone's satisfaction. I toyed with the idea of letting the info supplier specify if advertising was allowed on this info or not, but that would quickly create two classes of sites, and consolidation is what we're looking for, after all.
  • What can be syndicated/consolidated? When I wrote the article, I was thinking solely about news item syndication. From comments here and on Kuro5hin, it's clear that several people would want to take it a little further, consolidating logins/accounts, discussions, and a lot more. I think there are interesting concepts here, for instance if we had consolidated logins (optional, and separate from the news item syndication as such, of course) we could have distributed trust metrics too, for those sites that choose to use them. These issues should be discussed. Do we want to try this? Who wants it? How is it done, technically?
  • How should things be implemented? There are a lot of technicalities to be sorted out, and we should try to get as open a solution as possible. Implementation discussions will be welcome.
  • How to do the quality control/fact checking? This is an issue I brought up in the original article, and I've had some more time to think about it. Probably, we should have a trust metric between editors (an editor is the person that chooses which items from his site to send out over the wire, and also selects which items from the wire to put on his site). This creates a community of sorts between the editors (I think the hub site for the services should serve as a discussion forum between web site owners as well, I don't think that's been done before), and that community will be reasonably small and exclusive, thus making the trust metric work, and the feeling of responsibility, as referred to in Raph's post, will be strongly present. In addition, for the fact checking, the DTD (assuming we use XML for interchange, which I think we will) should have elements for specifying sources/fact checking resources in the form of URLs, email addresses, phone numbers, etc., so that editors of other sites can verify before posting. There should also be a feedback mechanism so you can quickly tell the other sites "This story has been denied, it's probably incorrect" and the like.

    There are probably a lot of other issues that need to be sorted out as well, and I expect the discussion on the upcoming mailing list to be lively. But I think we can make something great here, it could be true grassroots news publishing, and on a longer term, I don't see it limited to only technical news either. I'll make sure to let the Advogato community know when the list is up (probably this coming weekend), and hope to see you all there. In the meantime, feel free to discuss more here, of course.

certification, posted 1 Mar 2000 at 15:28 UTC by LotR » (Master)

Maybe this would be a good alternative to having multiple criteria to certify people on. Just join all the communities you're interested in, and each site has its own certification.

This might mean you will be ranked low (or not at all) in quite a few of them, but IMHO that isn't a problem. I think being an observer is seen a too big of a problem

One problem that needs to be solved for this to work nicely is sharing of stories and comments, otherwise people would end up preaching for the choir all the time.

The Cluedot Federation, posted 2 Mar 2000 at 04:42 UTC by raph » (Master)

I propose the name "The Cluedot Federation" for this project. If it is acceptable to others, I am happy to donate the cluedot domain name, which I just happen to own.

I also wanted to speak a little more on anonymity. In the cypherpunk community, there is a distinction between anonymity (no identity of any kind), and pseudonymity (a constructed identity). A pseudonym is a persistent identity, and is capable of participating in two-way conversations.

A completely separate axis is how well protected is the actual identity of the person behind the "nym". This ranges from "a hotmail address" to some fairly sophisticated cryptography. Right now, you can do the latter using arcane, difficult to use tools, but Zero Knowledge Systems is in the process of bringing this capability to a broad audience in their Freedom service.

When I say I support anonymity, I'm really talking about pseudonyms. You'll note that completely anonymous posting is impossible on Advogato, by design. On the other hand, if someone creates a nym and convinces others that she has something worth saying, that nym can get certified just as easily as a real person. A few pieces of free software have in fact been written by nyms, for example the "lucre" implementation of (heavily patented) digital cash protocols. I think that nyms of this caliber could have a lot to contribute to Advogato, and hope they would be welcomed.

When I say I strongly support anonymity, I mean that I don't care much how traceable the nym is to a real identity. Indeed, if a person is being persecuted for their beliefs, I can see a lot of value in this identity not being traceable.

Lastly, on the subject of the license. To me, the relevant concept is quid pro quo. I think any site should be able to syndicate our content if we, in turn, have the right to syndicate theirs. I think this concept captures the sense of fairness we're striving for without placing specific restrictions on banner ads or whatnot. With luck, we should be able to work with a lawyer to turn this concept into a workable license.

I'm excited.

Peer Press mailing list, posted 2 Mar 2000 at 06:15 UTC by Radagast » (Journeyer)

After talking to Raph a little, we settled on "Peer Press Federation" as a name for this concept/site/organization/thingy. I've set up a mailing list, and grabbed the relevant domains. The mailing list can be subscribed to at http://lists.styx.net/mailman/listinfo/peerpress-main

I urge everyone interested in the topic, whether or not you run a site yourself, to join the list and participate in the discussion. I'd like to hear from writers in particular, since I noticed some skepticism (of the "how can programmers^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hwriters put food on the table" variety) from people involved in writing who posted to the discussion over at Kuro5hin.

Let's do big things, shall we?

I dont have time to help but a braindump, posted 3 Mar 2000 at 00:24 UTC by alan » (Master)

For my sins I wrote the Portaloo, and in doing so I got to learn all the bad things about RSS-0.91 and that sort of setup

1. You need good tools. Im regularly yelling at people who put out broken XML. I've recently dropped Linuxplanet because their XML has been broken for too long

2. There are no message source ids so its hard to tie down duplicates across sites. That is vital. Use rfc822 ids or something

3. RSS 0.91 has NO language support. You cannot post an article with translations and use content negotiation on the portaloo to provide the right version.

4. Timestamps. Please 8)

Make something that works well and I'll teach the portaloo to carry it. Don;t just do articles though, some of us want to add things like software package change log news to this lot too.

I want to read about Linux, distribution reviews, and gnome cvs updates. I want to do it in one format in one easy to read block...

Some Thoughts from the Ghetto, posted 6 Mar 2000 at 13:03 UTC by pudge » (Master)

Well, as one of the guys who is paid to work on the contorted heap of Perl scripts that make up Slashdot, let me tell you that technically it is not that hard to make changes to fit what you want. It is simply that the people who make the decisions on what Slashdot should be disagree with you about how it should work.

I can't speak for them, but I can say that my opinion on the matter is basically, "if you want Usenet, you know where to find it." I see little reason to use sites like Slashdot if you like Usenet.

And your logic about the commercial interests is not tracable. If doing as you suggest would cause Slashdot to expand, then why would traffic decrease? You're right, it is all about eyeballs. Traffic is what matters. But Andover.Net follows the simple maxim that doing what is best for the users is what gets and keeps traffic.

Oh, and VA and Andover.Net are most certainly not the same thing. Probably in a couple of months or so they will be, but they currently are not.

Anyway, this topic also attracts my attention because I am starting a news discussion site for Perl, an extension of the Perl News site. I have some thoughts and wanted to see yours. You make some good points, but you poison them from the start by attacking the Slash backend. The Slash backend does what it is supposed to do, and it is not difficult to modify it to do other things. But I'll move on from that point now.

On the aforementioned Perl News site, I have a very simple license for the content. You can use any of it if your site is not for profit (don't even get me started on copyleft of content!), and if not, you can just post the headlines with links back to the Perl News site. If you post the content, you must post full attribution including copyright notice and a link back to the Perl News site. I don't care to include anything else in the license, as I don't think it is necessary. I am clearly not liable for something I don't do (which is publishing something on someone else's site), and a notice that I am not liable for that wouldn't change that fact either way, nor prevent lawsuits. Same thing with the change notification; if you attribute something to me, and it has been substantially changed, then you are lying and misrepresenting me, and whether or not that is actionable wouldn't be changed much with a notice in the license.

On anonymity: on my proposed Slash site for Perl, there will be no anonymous cowards. I want it to be more open than Advogato, but because you cannot register without a working email address (that is how you initially get your password), we have some control over serious trolls; we can shut off their active accounts if necessary, and they cannot just go create new ones very easily. That is, they can get around it by creating new accounts to post under, but we have the means to shut them down if we really feel the need to. I expect we would rarely do something like that.

Also, Slash has protected "pseudonymity." You can be known only as a user name with a fakeemail address (it is field in the user DB, separate from the realemail address).

And lastly, on RSS: RSS is indeed a great tool that needs to be expanded. The author of XML::RSS was trying to get people together to discuss how this is to be done.

Re: Some Thoughts from the Ghetto, posted 7 Mar 2000 at 07:50 UTC by Radagast » (Journeyer)

I realize that Slashdot people very probably don't want to do what I propose here. It would offer no immediate, and dubious long-term, benefits when compared with where they are now.

The comparison with Usenet is a bit shallow. You might as well say "If you want Associated Press, you know where to find it", and you'd be as accurate. The main idea of Peer Press is a little of both, with most of it completely optional. The idea of syndicating content and distributing news items in a coherent manner is a lot more interesting than Usenet, though. For instance, a significant amount of stories on Slashdot are actually stories that are posted on other, smaller news sites. That means that before it can show up on Slashdot, it has to go from that original site to a reader with enough incentive to submit it as a story to Slashdot, and then it goes through the review process there, and if it passes, it goes up on the site. With Peer Press, the whole process could ideally be automated, using trust metrics on the news sources combined with keyword filtering. If you don't want it fully automatic, that's ok, it's still a lot easier, all you need to do is look at the item as it comes in, and click on the little "Accept" button.

Traffic is indeed what matters to commercial sites. I remember when Slashdot wasn't a commercial site, though, and it was run as a labour of love. I used to like it a lot more back then. Of course Andover.net feel that whatever is best for the users is what gets and keeps traffic. However, it's necessarily a "one size fits all", or at best a "these are the available sizes" approach, where you get limited ability to customize your experience. In addition, the centralized nature of Slashdot has a lot of drawbacks, most noticably the fact that it's frequently not available at all because the connection and/or servers are swamped.

It's understandable that you feel a bit protective about the Slash system. I haven't looked carefully at it, though, and I must say that my main criticism wasn't towards Slash (although I heard that it at least used to be pretty crufted together), but towards the culture and community around Slashdot, and how that relates to technical issues. In other words, more the design decisions than the quality of code.

As for licenses, there are a lot of things that are prohibited by law, but still best regulated by licenses. For instance, even though posting a modified article with your name still on it strictly speaking is misrepresentation, you bet it's a lot harder to convince a court of that case (as I understand, in most countries you would need to prove that the misrepresentation caused you damages) than of the case that a license stating "Absolutely no modifications to the wording without a change notice" has been broken. You see the point, I'm sure. As for copyleft, I think it's entirely reasonable, and a lot more reasonable than your "not for profit" scheme (how do you define profit? Run by a company? Banner ads? How about if the creator profits from the site indirectly, by being part of a larger network of sites?), and as long as the level and limit of infectiousness is reasonable, the usual criticisms against copylefts should not apply.

RSS is pretty good, but it's mostly made for syndicating headlines (as is RDF). This is one of the discussion topics on the mailing list at the moment, actually. I invite you to join, it's surely going to be rewarding to have more people with actual (and large-scale) site experience participating in the discussion.

Re: Some Thoughts from the Ghetto, posted 7 Mar 2000 at 07:50 UTC by Radagast » (Journeyer)

I realize that Slashdot people very probably don't want to do what I propose here. It would offer no immediate, and dubious long-term, benefits when compared with where they are now.

The comparison with Usenet is a bit shallow. You might as well say "If you want Associated Press, you know where to find it", and you'd be as accurate. The main idea of Peer Press is a little of both, with most of it completely optional. The idea of syndicating content and distributing news items in a coherent manner is a lot more interesting than Usenet, though. For instance, a significant amount of stories on Slashdot are actually stories that are posted on other, smaller news sites. That means that before it can show up on Slashdot, it has to go from that original site to a reader with enough incentive to submit it as a story to Slashdot, and then it goes through the review process there, and if it passes, it goes up on the site. With Peer Press, the whole process could ideally be automated, using trust metrics on the news sources combined with keyword filtering. If you don't want it fully automatic, that's ok, it's still a lot easier, all you need to do is look at the item as it comes in, and click on the little "Accept" button.

Traffic is indeed what matters to commercial sites. I remember when Slashdot wasn't a commercial site, though, and it was run as a labour of love. I used to like it a lot more back then. Of course Andover.net feel that whatever is best for the users is what gets and keeps traffic. However, it's necessarily a "one size fits all", or at best a "these are the available sizes" approach, where you get limited ability to customize your experience. In addition, the centralized nature of Slashdot has a lot of drawbacks, most noticably the fact that it's frequently not available at all because the connection and/or servers are swamped.

It's understandable that you feel a bit protective about the Slash system. I haven't looked carefully at it, though, and I must say that my main criticism wasn't towards Slash (although I heard that it at least used to be pretty crufted together), but towards the culture and community around Slashdot, and how that relates to technical issues. In other words, more the design decisions than the quality of code.

As for licenses, there are a lot of things that are prohibited by law, but still best regulated by licenses. For instance, even though posting a modified article with your name still on it strictly speaking is misrepresentation, you bet it's a lot harder to convince a court of that case (as I understand, in most countries you would need to prove that the misrepresentation caused you damages) than of the case that a license stating "Absolutely no modifications to the wording without a change notice" has been broken. You see the point, I'm sure. As for copyleft, I think it's entirely reasonable, and a lot more reasonable than your "not for profit" scheme (how do you define profit? Run by a company? Banner ads? How about if the creator profits from the site indirectly, by being part of a larger network of sites?), and as long as the level and limit of infectiousness is reasonable, the usual criticisms against copylefts should not apply.

RSS is pretty good, but it's mostly made for syndicating headlines (as is RDF). This is one of the discussion topics on the mailing list at the moment, actually. I invite you to join, it's surely going to be rewarding to have more people with actual (and large-scale) site experience participating in the discussion.

Re: Some Thoughts from the Ghetto, posted 7 Mar 2000 at 18:56 UTC by pudge » (Master)

Just a few points.

  • My comparison with Usenet is not so much that we cannot borrow ideas from it, but you seemed to be saying that Usenet is this wonderful thing, and Usenet seems to do what you want, so why not just use Usenet? Perhaps I read too much into your comparison of the two.

  • As to automatically posting stories, that is a good idea, and one that we've discussed before and may be implemented in Slash (though perhaps not used in Slashdot itself).

  • I don't understand your comparison to Slashdot pre-Andover and post- Andover. I see precious little difference, except that it performs better now, thanks to Andover hardware.

  • I am not so much protective as I want to quell misstatements about it, such as the attacks on the code which are so pervasive around the Net these days. People say it is slow, "contorted," not flexible ... it just isn't the case. I get a lot of garbage from people about PHP and Python and Java being "better" in some way. It's simply false. We use Perl because we like it better. They use what they want to because they like it better. Slash in Perl is just as fast (though it does take more memory than the others, for the most part) or faster than the others. And while the code has been crufty, it is much cleaned up now (go to Slashcode and grab the 0.9.3 release if you don't believe me). It is even running under -w and use strict!

  • I understand you were talking primarily about the culture, and I agree. When I start community sites based on the Slash code (or perhaps some other code), I will work hard to make the culture very different from Slashdot.

  • I want belabor the point about misrepresentation. I just don't see it as a problem. If you think it is, you can always use the Artistic License, which protects against it. As to not-for-profit, there is absolutely no confusion on the issue. If you are an individual and make profit from the site, you are for profit. If you are a company that is not a legal NFP entity, then you are for profit. And if you don't like this scheme, I think the OpenContent License is superior to copyleft, which I think is just silly. I won't discuss this further, I'll just state my brief opinion: I think it is unreasonable to be infectious, period. Either it is free, or it is not. For me, this goes for code and for content.

  • RSS is better for headlines; but the basic data model (simply RDF) is not. RSS can easily be expanded.

discussion format, posted 7 Mar 2000 at 21:54 UTC by LotR » (Master)

Maybe it's a good idea to use an NNTP server for the discussions? I've never seen a web interface to discussions (or mailing lists for that matter) that was anything close to being usable.

Using an NNTP server for the discussions, and misc stuff., posted 8 Mar 2000 at 11:28 UTC by Radagast » (Journeyer)

I think, rather than using a standard NNTP server, making an NNTP interface layer is really easy to do. That way, the discussions can work on the web, over NNTP, as mailing lists, and over new, upcoming discussions systems (one of which it so happens the company I work in is working on).

I agree about web interfaces to discussions generally being quite bad, though. That they are still quite successful is a fact I attribute more to people's unstoppable desire to discuss stuff than to the functionality of the interface.

Just wanted to comment on the discussion about copyleft above. It seems there's some misconception here. Copyleft means a license that a) doesn't allow the thing licensed under it to be relicensed under a different license without the author's concent, and b) requires that derivative works also use the same license (infectious). Just to clear that up. Noone was saying "your entire web site and all content has to go under the license for you to even think about or mention material under it" or some such nonsense.

NNTP and Copyleft, posted 8 Mar 2000 at 19:18 UTC by pudge » (Master)

An NNTP gateway to Slash is planned. There is one already, we may just modify it some (I haven't seen it yet).

I realize what you were saying about copyleft. I know what it means. And I don't like it. Free is free. Infectiousness is not. If you disagree, fine, I don't think anyone wants YA license war. We'll just agree to disagree.

Uh. (Copyleft), posted 9 Mar 2000 at 02:58 UTC by Radagast » (Journeyer)

If you understand the term copyleft like this, I don't see the point of your "I think the OpenContent License is superior to copyleft, which I think is just silly", since the OpenContent licenses are copylefts under this definition (point 2 of the open content license, point III of the open publication license (although the OPL isn't quite as strongly infectious).

I don't really want to discuss licenses either, it's a pointless exercise. I do know that all the site publishers, writers, and other involved people I've talked to here, in private mail, or on the Peer Press mailing list prefer a copyleft license that covers derivative works.

Now, I might be wrong, but the things you say above reek of the kind of mindless dumping on anything associated with the FSF which we've been seeing way too much of lately. If so, please reconsider.

Why Slashdot is really quite irrelevant..., posted 9 Mar 2000 at 22:09 UTC by kelly » (Master)

Looking at Slashdot as an example of a community-oriented news site is simply wrong. Slashdot is not about community at all; hasn't been in quite a while (and may well never have been). Slashdot is about one thing: making money. They do what makes them the most money. What makes them money? Page views. It's in Slashdot's interest to have as many comments as possible and as many people reading and writing those comments as they can get. Flame wars make money for Slashdot. Why would they want to stop them?

Slashdot's not going to foster a community unless fostering a community helps them make money, and history has shown that it doesn't seem to really help. The possibility that Slashdot could effectively foster a community ended when it became a commercial venture. At that moment the community (if there ever was one) ceased to be the first priority.

Not that we can blame Slashdot for this. They are, after all, a business, beholden to their shareholders to produce a profit above all else. If you want someone who is NOT going to put profit above principle, don't turn to a business. A business that puts principle ahead of profit is a business headed for bankruptcy.

I'm not trying to say that Slashdot is bad. (It would be better if they exercised a bit more competent editorial control over staff-provided content and actually acted with some semblance of journalistic integrity, but they have no reason to do so because they have no competition to speak of. But that's neither here nor there.) It's just not in any way capable of building a community. If you want to try to use a web site as a means to foster community, I think it is absolutely essential that you go in with the permanent intention of doing it only for that purpose. If the notion that you might ever make money off of it even enters the picture, you're doomed to failure (even though you might someday get rich).

Copyleft (continued), posted 13 Mar 2000 at 15:09 UTC by pudge » (Master)

The OCL does not allow commercial redistribution. So it is not even a free license, according to RMS. :)

The OPL allows restrictions on redistribution of substantive modifications and commercial redistribution (see part VI), so is not copyleft. Although, I suppose, those need to be specifically stated in order to be in effect, so it can be a copyleft license.

Regardless, the OCL is the one I was referring to, and I suppose from the perspective of redistribution for non-commercial purposes, it is somewhat copyleft. I say "somewhat" because it has allowances for Fair Use, which can pretty much circumvent the copyleft anyway.

Anyway, back to the main point: if I say anyone can use my copyrighted material, and Joe Schmoe takes it, then Jane Schmuck can use Joe Schmoe's copy. I still own the copyright on Joe's work, even if he makes modifications, and Jane can use Joe's under the same terms I made the original release under. It is only when those modifications become significant that Joe can claim his own copyright.

In other words, I think copyleft is only meaningful when it becomes infectious. To say non-infectious copyleft is just to say that the original copyright remains in effect, which is already the case. So that is what I meant when I said copyleft is silly; I meant that non- infectious copyleft is silly.

Of course, you did not mean non-infectious, but moderately infectious; it would infect derivative stories, but not the site. But what is derivative? I realize what you are saying: if Joe makes significant changes to my content but it is still originally my story, then the entire story is still covered by my licensing of it. But this is how articles are done all the time. Take a paragraph from here and some facts from over there. "Reasonably considered to be derivative," in my opinion, ignores the concept of fair use and the reality of how articles are written (the OCL touches on fair use, by the way).

Maybe I am reading too much into what you meant when you said "reasonably considered to be derivative," though. Maybe you were not including Fair Use. I just know from my years in journalism that half the stories of significance in the newspaper and on TV are derivative of others. Where do you draw the line?

I prefer to simply say "anyone can use my content for not-for-profit purposes, with a link back to my original content" and let people do what they will from there. What is the worst that can happen if there is no copyleft enforced? Maybe some Joe will add a bunch of stuff to one of my articles and not redistribute it under similar terms, but will link back to my original content. Well, Jane can come along, take my original content, and then take all of his facts and use them under Fair Use laws. No one loses, that I can see.

Sigh, posted 13 Mar 2000 at 15:24 UTC by pudge » (Master)

I don't want to flame here, so I will keep it short. To state factually that Slashdot is not about community but about money is plain wrong. I suppose it is most realistic to say it is about both.

You write "Slashdot's not going to foster a community unless fostering a community helps them make money." I counter that with the idea that Slashdot won't make money unless it fosters a community. You assume there is no community there. I think that they have a community is self- evident. You say that no community can exist because it is a commercial venture. I say it cannot be a successful commercial venture without community.

It may not be a community you are happy with or like or identify with -- I know I don't spend much time there in the "community" -- but there is a community, and the people who run Slashdot (Rob etc.) wouldn't do it for much longer if they weren't happy with it. They can do pretty much anything they want; why continue with something they don't like that much?

While you don't like all of what happens over at Slashdot, the people who use Slashdot and run its content apparently do.

Are money and community compatible?, posted 13 Mar 2000 at 18:58 UTC by kelly » (Master)

Pudge misses my point, I believe. My point is that a business cannot be committed to a community because all businesses are irrevocably committed to making money. If Slashdot truly is about community, then its management is in breach of its fiduciary duty to ensure profit for the business' owners, and should be terminated. Should I sue? As a VA Linux shareholder, I have standing, or at least will once the merger is complete. The first duty of every business is to its owners. Customers are secondary. (If what you say about Rob is true, he should be fired.)

I don't deny that at the moment it is probably the case that fostering community benefits Slashdot financially. The moment the community ceases to be financially helpful, Slashdot is legally required to abandon it. Why put your community in the hands of someone who is legally bound to protect its interests?

Ack., posted 13 Mar 2000 at 19:13 UTC by kelly » (Master)

I meant, "legally bound not to protect its interest." Any chance of making it possible to edit posts? :)

Community and money, posted 14 Mar 2000 at 15:57 UTC by pudge » (Master)

You assert that committments to money and community are mutually exclusive, but you do not prove it. I assert that is nonsense.

You wrote: The moment the community ceases to be financially helpful, Slashdot is legally required to abandon it.

That is simply false. Companies, including publically held ones, can do activities that do not make profits but help communities. There is no legal obligation for every activity in a company to be profitable, or even intended for profit. The company as a whole is required to try to make a profit, but that does not descend down to every activity it engages in. If nothing else, that would make most corporate charity (where they give it, not where they get it :) impossible.

But this all misses the point: Slashdot _cannot be_ financially viable without community, or else it ceases to be Slashdot. To say they are not committed to community is to say they are not committed to profit (though the reverse is not necessarily true).

Corporate Duty and Charitable Contributions, posted 14 Mar 2000 at 20:27 UTC by kelly » (Master)

Actually, in most states (I have a case in front of me from New Jersey) a corporation may only make a charitable contribution when doing so "will contribute to the protection of the corporate interests." Corporations can't just give money to charities because they want to; the decision must be grounded in some reasonable belief that the gift will in some way reflect back on the corporation's interests. The same case (A.P. Smith Mfg. Co. v. Barlow, 13 N.J. 145, 98 A.2d 581 (1953)) suggests that if a donation is made purely for the personal reasons of the directors, or was excessive, it would be improper and a breach of fiduciary duty.

In practice, because of what is known as the "business judgment rule", the courts will not second-guess whether a decision which appears to have been made for business purposes was made wisely. But it remains the law that a corporation may never ignore its prime purpose of producing profit. Every corporate act must in some way serve that goal (although not necessarily on any given time scale).

Fine, posted 15 Mar 2000 at 13:09 UTC by pudge » (Master)

But you did not phrase it this way. You said it must be "financially helpful," which is not the same as the very nebulus standard of "will contribute to the protection of the corporate interests." Semantics, perhaps, but I did not think you meant the latter when you stated the former.

In any event, back to the meta-topic at hand: let us assume Slashdot made no money as a community (which may not be reasonable, since the very fact that it has community means you can sell banner ads, which makes money; in the web business, eyeballs are currency). Andover.Net could claim simply that the goodwill it gets by funding Slashdot's infrastructure provides goodwill to the community. They may cease funding its development but continue to host it.

But this is all based, again, on the false assumption that Slashdot can be financially successful without its community.

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