RFC 1855 : Netiquette guidelines

More and more people spend more and more time online. I wish more and more of them read RFC 1855 which covers netiquette guidelines. This document is more than 10 years old, but most of the points that it discusses are as valid today as they were back then. Some are even more important today than they used to be. Another good thing about this RFC is that it has theoretical directions combined with some practical advice.

A good rule of thumb: Be conservative in what you send and liberal in what you receive. You should not send heated messages (we call these “flames”) even if you are provoked. On the other hand, you shouldn’t be surprised if you get flamed and it’s prudent not to respond to flames.

Reading this document won’t make you wise enough to avoid all the mistakes of online communications, but it can seriously minimize them.

The Truth According To Wikipedia

Before the official closing of The Next Web Conference 2008, we were shown the premier of the new documentary “The Truth According To Wikipedia”. IMDB page suggests that the film is post-production and the director, who was present at the conference and had a few words to say before the premier, noted that he finished editing of the movie just that morning.

Boris, one of the conference organizers, had this to say in one of his recent blog posts:

The video led to heated debate between the maker of the documentary and some of the audience members and even during the party afterwards people where still discussing the video. […] The questions it raises are far from answered […]

Note that as organizer Boris has to be nice to people, so that they won’t be too afraid of showing up next year.

I, on the other hand, can say whatever I want and feel like. And here is how I feel about the movie – it sucked. Not to offend organizers for showing it, but they probably haven’t seen it themselves before it was premiered.

Purely from the movie purpose of view – it was boring. It hadn’t much pace or depth and it wasn’t packed with information either, so I was struggling not to fall asleep most of the time. From the documentary point of view it was very weak. The interviews in the movie were vaguely connected, presenting only two view points on the situation. And there weren’t enough numbers and references to support either side. And the whole argument looked like a semi-heated discussion on something somewhat important between a couple of somehow famous guys. Anybody who ever participated in any forum or have been subscribed to any mailing list for longer than three month is familiar with the type of the discussion. Not trolling yet, but pretty close.

Now, to the point of the argument. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia where everyone and anyone can add, edit, or delete content. There is no way to establish credentials of any contributor and there is no way to identify experts. Nobody is responsible for the accuracy of the information. And so on and so forth.

As I said before, there are two sides of the argument in the film. One side suggests that people are good by nature and given some guidelines will improve things constantly. The other side suggests that in order to contribute something, someone should be “an established expert in the field” (whatever that means), and by such the information contributed will be more accurate and trustworthy.

Can you guess which side I am on? You probably can. I am all for wisdom of the crowds. I do believe that wisdom of the crowds is very much like meat – it’s nice and all, but it needs some cooking to taste its best. So, just opening Wikipedia for everyone and everything will degrade its quality. Gladly, as open as Wikipedia is, there is a certain level of control to rule abusers out. I think Wikipedia has just enough.

How do we know if information in Wikipedia is accurate and trustworthy? We don’t. Human history has been through enough discovery iterations to prove that things people believe in change. As do things proven by our own science. As one of our professors in the college used to say: “There are no absolutes. Only vodka.”

Ask any expert out there if they were ever proven wrong. If they say they weren’t, either they lied or they aren’t experts. Now, if you still want to go deeper into this then think about how do you distinguish an expert from a non-expert. Degrees? Certificates? Years of experience in the field? Recommendations of other experts? A combination of these? How well does your criteria apply to different areas of human life? Can you still find experts in such subjects as Philately and Dog training? If so, how many languages do those experts speak? After all, you will need to verify the translations too, won’t you?

Do you want to continue? If so, try to remember a few experts that you talked to. On any subject. One thing that I often come across is that experts are some of the most difficult people to understand. They usually know their subject inside out and can freely manipulate it back and forth and side to side. They also often use plenty of terminology. So if I’d ask an expert to explain me the subject matter, I’d often be better of with a non-expert book which will know how to assume that readers don’t know much just yet. Nice touch to Wikipedia is that experts can actually share the knowledge while less knowledgeable people can edit it into a plainer text, available to the rest of the world’s understanding.

So, yes, I believe that knowledge bases should be as open as possible. Anyone (or almost anyone – minus the abusers) should have full access. People should contribute to knowledge bases as much as they can – be that original, high level knowledge, or editing of the form, or fixing typing mistakes, or providing references and supplementary materials, or anything else. There is no way to know for sure if any article or page or fact is trustworthy. But anyone can establish that for themselves. If you don’t trust a piece of information – don’t use it. If you doubt something – check, double check, and cross check. If you notice an error or just know better – contribute your knowledge. This way we’ll have the most updated, most accurate, most cross-references, and most easily explained knowledge gathered and organized.

Oh, and if you are to make a movie about a popular phenomena, at least do your home work. Study as many different views as possible. Bring in as many people as possible. And look at history, numbers, and trends. That should put you on a right track.

Update: There is also a discussion about the movie over at TechCrunch.

Destroying LiveJournal

Back in December of the last year, when the Russian company SUP bought LiveJournal, I wrote this post, in which, among other things, I said that it wasn’t a very good thing for LiveJournal.  A few things happened since then, which confirmed my worries.  But the biggest of them is unfolding right now.

SUP removed basic (free) accounts from the registration form.  They have also introduced plenty of annoying advertising to existing free accounts.  Lots and lots of people got really annoyed with that.  In fact, there even was a boycott with some users not updating their diaries for 24 hours, while others going as far as deleting their diaries (no worries yet, since there is a way to restore the diary).

If you missed this whole story, here is a CNews article in English and here is a Lenta.ru article in Russian which cover the basic story.  For more, check numerous posts on the blogosphere.

Most of the people I know, saw it coming.  And this is surely not the last incident in this story.

Yahoo Life! anybody?

(Side note: punctuation in product names sure makes headlines confusing)

Mashable has a post about upcoming Yahoo Life!

The premise is this: take Yahoo Mail, and make it the hub of your daily online activities; turn e-mail addresses into social profiles; connect e-mail to other services, and use the info from the contacts in these services according to the context.

This sounds good.  This sounds like exactly what I need.  Of course, there is a “but”:

It sounds and looks great, but we can’t know how well it works until the product actually goes live.

OK, we have to wait and see.  But I see that this niche will get a bit crowded pretty soon.  With all those web services and social networks more and more people are coming online.  Social connections will be more and more important, and therefor we’ll see more and more tools that do this.  There are some specialized tools for these purposes already, but none of them have enough functionality and momentum to lead the way yet.  Hopefully it will change sooner than later.  And, hopefully, Google will play some major role in this too…

Blog 365 initiative

Via Web Worker Daily I learned about Blog 365.  That’s a nice idea which I heard and did before, and which I think is still valuable enough to bring attention to.

More and more people are joining the blogosphere every day.  More and more people ask the same questions over and over – “how can I improve my blogging?”, “how can I get more comments?”, “how can I promote my blog more?”, etc.  To all of them I answer – Blog 365.

You see, the hardest part of blogging is … actually, blogging – thinking about things, finding things, preparing content, and posting it.  You can have all bells and features on your blog, and it can be search engine optimized to no avail, but if you don’t publish any posts, nothing will matter.  Most blogs get lost and disappear because they don’t get updated anymore.

Now, if you are new to blogging, then posting every day may sound like a hard job to do.  I’ll tell you a little secret – it is, but for just a few weeks. The thing here is to make blogging into a routine.  Once your brain understands that it has to produce at least one post every day, it will start looking for and creating content by itself.  You won’t have to do anything, but pick the bits that you like better and write them down.

I did a “have to publish at least one post every day” experiment a few times myself.  The longest one was, I think, in 2004 and ran for about a year and a half.  My posts varied from thoughts, notes, and simple links to somebody else’s pictures and videos.  Eventually, I got it into my system.  I had no problems posting something every day.  Even better than that.  There was a period of time when I felt uncomfortable if I didn’t publish anything.

Sure, I did my share of polluting the web with crap that nobody cares about.  But that was all for the better.  Here are the benefits from the top of my head:

  • my English got better.  Much better.
  • my touch-typing  got better. Much better.
  • my Google skills got better. Much better.
  • my reasoning got better. I learned that if I say something, I might be asked for a reference, so I learned to check those references before I was saying anything.
  • my blog got more popular (more incoming links, more and better search engine results positioning, more people coming in and staying, more comments)
  • my understanding of many social (people, communications, other cultures) and technical (Internet, blogging tools, search engines) topics improved a lot.
  • I found a few more friends (not as in “close friends”, but as in “people with who I enjoy talking a lot”) that I wouldn’t have met otherwise.

These are just a few.  There are many more.  Like all those archives that I can search through and cross reference now…

So, if you are interesting in blogging, the Internet, or communications, take my advice – join the Blog 365 project.  It’s much easier to do this with several other people, than alone.  They understand what you are going through and how tough it is during the first few weeks.  They’ll help you out with ideas, tips, links, and comments.  You’ll get more out of it than you can imagine.  We all will. Just give it a try.

Blogging is a skill.  It’s like tough-typing, programming, riding a bicycle, or driving – you can read all about it you want, but you won’t get any better until you’ll sit down and start blogging.  A lot.  So, here is your chance.  Take it!

Marketing social objects

There are a couple of interesting posts (part one, part two) at gaping void on how the Internet (particularly, its social side) is changing marketing. As often with such analysis, the matters could be a little exaggerated and examples somewhat simplistic.  However, if you can handle those, you’ll sure find a few interesting points raised.

Let me get you started with a quote:

Now, when you buy something, you don’t phone up the company and order a brochure. You go onto Google and check out what other people- people like yourself- are saying about the product. In terms of communication, the company no longer has first-mover advantage. They don’t ask your company for the brochure until your product has already jumped through a series of hoops that SIMPLY WERE NOT there twenty years ago.

30 Boxes solves calendaring

http://30boxes.com is a brand new webservices. The public beta was launched last Sunday.

The purpose of the site is to solve the surprisingly difficult problem of calendaring. What’s wrong with calendaring, you might ask? Well, lots of things. Existing calendaring applications are complicated and clumsy, unpractical for sharing and social interactions, and, well, “traditional”.

http://30boxes.com chose a fresh approach. They have totally and completely minimized and simplified the user interface.

Entering events can be done with as little as filling in one single text field. Application understands human language like “tomorrow”, “yesterday”, and “next week”. You can have “buddies” which is just their term for contacts. All you have to do to add a contact is specify email address. You buddies can have calendars of their own, you can share calendars and even use the system to send invitations and confirmations/denies for events. You can track a lot more information about your buddies too – Flickr photos, LiveJournal entries, MySpace blog, and any other RSS feed. When there are new items – you get a small icon on the appropriate day of the calendar and can quickly check what they are up to.

The interface looks very clean and works pretty fast. It’s also based on AJAX technology which allows you to see updates without refreshing the page – feels nice.

Check it out – it costs nothing, and can do a lot for your organized life!