Kathy Sierra, the private public and the anonymous

I, like everyone else in the blogosphere (and a fair number outside it) have been reading up on the Kathy Sierra ‘death threat’ affair. I wandered over to bud’s site to check out how his digital storytelling was going and found his post about standing up against hate crimes in the blogosphere. I’m a little twisted up about the whole thing. I don’t like fear… nor those who inflict it on others. I also really don’t like censorship… nor those who inflict it on others. This is a tricky issue. Some thoughts… and if you don’t read all the way through… I verily encourage you to at least click these two links KATHY SIERRA –> RAGEBOY RESPONSE
I went over to passionate users and saw a photoshop that I can imagine was very distressing and some very over the line anonymous writing that was posted on a website about her. This escalated to a discussion of how they ‘the only thing Kathy has to offer me is that noose in her neck size.’

Not good. Actually… very not good. I was reminded of this “(even to the point of one comment, which Marc Hedlund deleted in my absence, implying that I’m a child molester!)” from o’reilly web2.0 conference controversy and the dozen or so fairly nasty comments i’ve deleted off of this blog (while still in moderation). I have a few posts that get alot of ‘younger traffic’ and they seem to like to make nasty threats and comments. I also work at the university in Canada (or one of them) that posted the Mohamed cartoons last year… oh my the death threats they got that week.

Death threats are bad. Anonymous (or worse, non-anonymous) people threatening harm is bad. It is not, sadly, very new to those people who live public lives. As the famous among bloggers share themselves here on the internet they are becoming fodder for “the star” equivalents that we have on the internet. I might put it a little differently, but Chris is not to terribly off the mark given that half the human race consists of women, it should not come as a newsflash that some of them — in about equal proportion to men — are stupid, venal, dishonest, or just generally annoying.”note – (I just realized that I misread this quote… I’m now not quite sure what Chris was getting at… what I meant was that there are lots of folks out there and alot of them suck) No. This is not new. Any wander around sites that get spammed with lots of anonymous users will bring you up against nasty stuff. I can only imagine what kind of photoshops get ‘banned’ from the fark photoshop contests considering some of the things that have shown up there over the years. The internet is not a particularly nice place in that regard…

I also took note of this reply from rageboy (chris locke) and note that Kathy Sierra doesn’t make any effort to clear the ‘owners’ of the blogs in question of wrongdoing even though in both cases they removed the entire site containing the offensive comments. I do notice that Chris’ response to the comments were that they ‘were in bad taste…’ which seems understated. How many of us (assuming we were well known enough to be noticed) would like to take total responsibility for what is on our wikis I wonder? Are we now to think that the owners of a website are responsible for the opinions expressed on the website?
Here’s the problem. We have no way of enforcing identity on the internet. We can enforce (to a decent degree) identification on our own sites, but for those that do not take those steps, it is not possible. If you take the position that rageboy et al. take that they will not censor other people’s words… what then shall we do? We could say, I suppose, that Chris is wrong… that there is cause for him to censor people’s words on his website if it is hatespeech. Of course, this brings the internet to the point that our other media are in where they are governed by a board of folks who tell US what is RIGHT and GOOD… which i also don’t like.
Shall we ‘ have the police hunt down the perpetrators and bring the full weight of the law upon them.’ as Andy Price says in the comments to kathy’s post. I do not find it surprising that, as Kathy says in her post, “Was the photo itself meant to be a threat? The police believe so, yes…” There has been a desperate attempt by every law enforcement agency in the world to get the enforcement powers to mitigate what is happening on the internet.

So here it comes down. Do we wish to give up a little bit of liberty to gain safety? The ONLY way to ensure that anonymous people do not post nasty things on the internet is to log every keystroke of every computer in the world to the person who is keying it in. We have the technology, microsoft is, to some degree trying to put it into vista. It’s really not much liberty… only that every keystroke we log from here on in will be tracked.

And, as a corollary to this… how much do public figures have to accept to remain public figures. Our actors, politicians and now our bloggers are subject to personal assault. Is this the inevitable result of the public private world of blogging? What kind of comments would Voltaire, Hypatia, Mary Wallstonecraft or Rosa Parks received on their blogs?

Hate sites and hate speech are bad… censorship is bad. Safety and liberty do not often go hand in hand. These are the critical times, however, when the cynically minded people in our culture seize on fear to push their policies…

One more thought –> all the net-savvy younger people I showed the Sierra post (not a scientific survey) to shrugged their shoulders and said “those dudes are a##holes.” (meaning the people posting the hate material) There is a cultural shift here and a disconnect. As someone said in the long list of comments on passionate users ‘victimization is art’ and it is becoming that.

A great recap of the stuff people have been saying blogosphere recap

Membership, Collaboration and the Interwebs

Been a good solid month since i had the brain space to blog. I’ve got a bunch of things coming up where some of the ideas that are pinging around my brain are going to need to come out… so i thought I’d better get some of them out in time to reconsider them 🙂

One of the topics that has been repeatedly coming up in discussions lately is the idea of layers of membership in a collaborative community. With the mind numbing escalation of online communities available for people to participate in, and the second wavers starting to turn their minds to those communities, its becoming more and more important to allow for multi modal membership models…

To give this a little context, let me tell you about the project that we are running at my university. We are creating virtual research environments specially designed for the needs of given research groups. We’re using a cocktail of open source products, front-ended by Drupal, and connected to the library research infrastructure to allow our increasingly distributed research groups a comfy place to do their research in a protected/open environment, to collaborate and not collaborate… kind of a perpetual conference space where they can get their work done.

Now the early adopters are loving it. No more dreamweaver, no more webex or elluminate, and fewer flights and phone calls. They are finding their research associates, keeping track of their meetings and realizing that the library is really kick ass. We’re looking at designing custom databases for specific projects and linking all of this, through a persistent digital library to our e-learning infrastructure. All that and we can get it started in five minutes and over a couple of weeks teach people enough of the basics for them to be able to control their content online.

Working pretty well… so far as it goes. The problems lies in the very ease with which is can all be created. Any whoozit with a hundred bucks can install an elgg or a drupal or a moodle or a wiki and spam the bloggosphere saying that “this is the new community… supporting (insert obscure bit of cartilage on the long tail here)” We are increasingly collaborative, increasingly involved in collaboration… We are members of our banking sites, our research sites our community sites our schools our communities of practice…
So as we move forward with our VRE project I’ve been thinking about how to deal with this assault of membership so that we can allow as many forms of membership as possible. I want to have a series of different membership types identified so that when I’m discussing requirements with a client I can lay them all out and say, for instance, “do you care if a casual member of your community can follow along with this community?”

Here’s a first shot at a list… It is by no means meant as definitive… but meant to start a conversation.

Core membership

These are the folks who are going to be at the website almost everyday. There membership in this community represents a key part of their life/practice and they are going to be very familiar with the interface, even if you’re using hieroglyphs for navigation. Most communities will have 2-20 of these… depending on size. This graph gives a real nice sense of how this looks.


  • they need to know how this community will help them
  • they need recognition/acknowledgement (of whatever kind) or their core-ness
  • they need to be included in decision making


This is the critical middle ground in any community. These are the folks who are very familiar with the community but don’t necessarily come to it everyday and might leave for months and come back. They don’t perform any ‘critical’ functions individually in any given community, but as a whole, they are essential. They keep core members from wondering off track. They supply alot of workload as a whole. They are also key to the spreading of that community. My own membership in the moodle community would be a good example of this. I participate in discussions occasionally, and have posted some 50 or 60 times on the website, but will be absent for months at a time.


  • a sense of belonging
  • the ability to leave and rejoin the community
  • direction in terms of what they can do in and for a community
  • will make an effort for rewards

Casual membership

We have alot of these people over at edtechtalk. They are folks who actually take the time to register on the website but don’t usually participate in the discussions or post of the website. They are, I would guess, the vast majority of people in an online community. They listen, read the results of work done in a community, and are often the ‘audience’ for that community. A good way of thinking about this might be someone who reads a blog but never responds to the ideas there either in comments or by blogging about the content elsewhere. It is critical in a collaborative community to know whether or not you are interested in servicing this community.


  • clear navigation
  • clearly presented content
  • tagging
  • reap rewards with little effort

client membership

These are people who are seeking a particular service from a community. These might be information seekers from a tech forum or people downloading software from an open source software community.


  • easy access to the product
  • troubleshooting advice
  • clear descriptions of the contract (social or otherwise)

Active visitors

These are people who might have a vested interest in a given piece of content, but may not wish to join a community (for any number of reasons). These people could be reporters, researchers with related interests etc… They could also be the funders of a given project who are stopping by to see how things are going. This is always critical. Many communities that are actually successful can fall on hard times because those people who might be interested in supporting it don’t ‘see’ the success of the community when they come and visit.


  • They need to be able to experience the community quickly
  • this is where about pages and tours are useful
  • clear delineated sense of the purpose of the community

 passive visitors

These people are not members of the community per say. They are people who may visit the community once.


  • a way to get something out of a piece of the experience
  • experience a piece without needing the whole

There’s a quick list. There’s no saying that a community NEEDS to support all but the ‘core membership’ people… just that you should know what kind of membership you are looking to support before you start. Some platforms do a better job when people come all the time, others for casual membership.

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