Thursday March 10

I quite like this new type of "answer engine". It works like in which you type in the search query in the form of a question. It will then analyse the question and develop a criteria to recommend a few links which it thinks will answer my question. I never really liked because when I tested it, it never gave me satisfactory links compared to But brainboost's recommendations and usability is winning me over. I'll start using this more often in concurrence with gooogle.

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An interesting CSS hack that realises the nirvana of CSS: the browser-scalable layout. It lets you create a footer that's 100% visible and sticks to the bottom of the page, no matter the size of window or screen. It uses a teased bottom property on the footer container and a forced height on the page container. But a hack is still a hack. For what it's worth, it's really inventive.

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Why blogging is good for your career

Tim Bray wrote a good article listing 10 reasons why blogging is good for your career.

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strike tag bring it back! strike tag bring it back!

Of all the decisions that the WC3 made, the worst was deprecating the strike tag. I love the strike tag. Why did they have to deprecate that? Those dumbasses nice gentlemen retained the bold tag and the italics tag and those do the same thing as the strong tag and the emphasis tag. But they let the strike tag go without a replacement.

It was one of the most useful tags around! You can't have a weblog and a sense of humour without using it every once in a while. "Oh wait..." gets really tiresome and isn't as succinct as the strike tag to suggest irony, sarcasm or satire. When used in those situations, the strike tag was as subtle as applying a sledgehammer to an egg. But it was so effective.

Now we have to have the inconvenience of defining a new class in CSS in every website we want to use a strikeout. Hey look, and are still available!

This is an interesting concept. Zopa is the middleman website for peer-to-peer money laundering lending.

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Wednesday March 09

How to deal with trolls

Probably the best definition of a troll I've seen is an online personality or content that upsets people (paraphrased from People who have been made upset is one of the strongest indications of a troll problem. The term trolling is often applied (wrongly, I think) to suggest inflamatory motives of the person who creates the content or message. It is wrong because in a mediated and remote environment like the internet, it is impossible to tell what the motives of a person are. Worse still, suggesting a person's motives is sometimes used abusively to slander someone. The belief that trolls know what they are doing is a myth. Most of them don't even realise they are upsetting people and sometimes believe they are being thought provoking.

So like all other moderators and weblog owners, I find the hardest part of handling trolls is determining whether it is a troller in action or not. I usually draw the line as soon as the troller attacks someone on a personal level, even if the content is meant sarcastically or as a parody. This approach may sound a bit anal, but I prefer nipping the bud early over having to handle a full blown flamewar. Flamewars upset me and when they occur, it reduces the pleasure I get from visiting my favourite websites and I want less and less to visit them.

Once you have determined that you have a problem, there are a few techniques on how to handle trolls. There is no such thing as a fool-proof automated method of handling trolls. As moderators you must be prepared to wade in, get your hands dirty and take responsibility for your actions. Trolling is a human problem and cannot be handled adequately by a computer.

I looked up more popular forums like slashdot and kuro5hin to create the following list.

  1. Banning them - This the most common way of handling trolls. It is easy, not time consuming and most CMSes have it as a feature. This is especially useful for moderators of large forums who don't have enough time or energy to handle trolls more personally. Banning usually gets rid of the problem completely when the troller is less than aggressive in his pursuit and won't return. But as a rule of thumb, it is usually better to make the ban temporary and not permanent.

    But banning is akin to executing a person -- there is no second chance and is often perceived as being unfair when it is used in contentious cases.

    Banning is also often counter productive because the more determined trollers can sign up as different users and continue their activities. What's worse is that banning also incites the determined trollers so they escalate their attacks. Even if you were to combine this with personal counselling via email, banning is not a good idea if you can help it.

  2. Deleting posts - This is bad for similar reasons as banning trollers. It doesn't stop the problem and it can actually make the problem worse because when the trollers realise what happened, they'll get even more angry.

  3. Editing the posts - I think anything to do with censorship is wrong. But I'm suggesting this method because it can be really really fun! I have taken posts by trollers and just edited them to say funny things and make the trollers look silly or say even complimentary things about myself or the website. The latter really makes the trollers mad because it is the exact opposite of what they intended. They keep posting and their posts keep coming out wrong. This method works best when you are online at the same time as the troller. The advantage of this method is that if it is done right, no one is the wiser except you and the troller, but the message to the troller is loud and clear.

  4. Ridicule the troller - By making wisecracks about the small points of the troller's posts, you can make the troller and his trolls look silly to his audience so that he will be shamed into keeping quiet. This works best with large sites with lots of traffic. But in doing so, you risk breaking the fragility of the self-esteem of the troller. So it is not a very nice tactic at all. If he is aggressive, the troller could take the ridicule as permission to make personal attacks against you. So the more you ridicule him, the higher he escalates his attacks.

    I do not like this method mainly because it sets a very bad precedent for the participants of your community. It encourages mob behaviour so that it is difficult for people to stop attacking (and they may become more violent) even as they cross the point of reason. And the next time someone even suspects that there is a troller in their midst, they may just attack the troller before you can do anything about it.

  5. Counselling trollers/trollees - This is the soft approach. Works brilliantly in cases where the troller is reasonable but is clueless that he is upsetting people. This method afford the moderator the opportunity to explain why people became upset and will probably even prevent future outbursts if the troller promises not to make the same mistake again. You can choose to counsel publicly or counsel privately and the moderator has to determine which approach to use on a case-by-case basis. Counselling often works best with empathy, with humour or in combination with other harder approaches. A kind of carrot and rod methodology.

    Don't forget that counselling must work with all parties. This means the moderator must also counsel the people who got upset! Very often this second part is missed out when using the counselling approach. The people who got upset must be made to empathise with the troller's position and also must be counselled to reduce their reaction should it occur again.

  6. Reasoning with the troller - The key to the success of this approach is endurance. You must outlast the troller, not out-reason him. If the troller is already incensed, his ability to see reason is reduced so it won't be quick or easy. But the state of incense is always a temporary one so if you maintain your composure, you can outlast his state of incense. And he will then be able to see reason again.

    This technique is the most diplomatic. But it can be very emotionally draining and it requires the cooperation of a lot of level headed people at the same time. Every trolling response that's posted only further lengthens the period of the troller's state of incense.

  7. Ignoring the troller - This is often called the "don't feed the trolls" method. It works because it reduces the troller's stature. (There are more techniques below that work on the stature-reduction strategy.) This method requires the cooperation of everyone in the forum or it won't work. And if you have ever tried to get six people to choose which movie to watch, you'll know why ignoring a troller is very difficult to execute successfully. Ignoring the troller is also less satisfactory because it is unlikely to lead to the troller learning from his mistake. Fortunately, many CMSes have an ignore feature built in. Users are encouraged to use the ignore feature to block all content from a troller. The problem with this is that when the troller returns to a reasonable state of mind, it will be too late for him. Everyone is permanently ignoring him.

  8. Reduce the prominence of the troll - Trollers often post inflamatory remarks because they want attention or to raise themselves above other posters. So reducing the prominence of their posts punishes them by reducing the attention they get. It also sends them the right message that, although they are valuable to the community, their post was inconsiderate. Reducing the prominence can be as simple as reducing the point size of the post or the contrast of the text to make it hard to read. Or if your CMs can handle it, move it to some out of the way place on the page.

    Reducing prominence needs a really special CMS (there are none that I know of that can do this easily) or it has to be labour intensive on the part of the moderator. It is very manageable and preferable on sites that are small. But it only works on sites that have a controlled environment like a forum (not a chatroom). But it can be very intensive if you have a large site with few moderators.

  9. Separating the combatants - This is a technique that I invented for forums. It means splitting the offensive posts off to a sandbox forum where they can stay until everyone has cooled off. It is very easy to do with most forum softwares because post-splitting is a common feature. Trolling raises temperatures temporarily among people who would otherwise be quite reasonable. It only takes a bit of time before their heads are back to normal. Which is why this method makes a lot of sense. You don't have to chastise anyone or embarass anyone. And the posts don't get deleted so all your content is intact.

    This technique is most effective (and less labour intensive) when the number of combatants are small and limited. Fortunately, it is CMS-assisted.

  10. Isolate the trollers - From slashdot: "Modify the software so that you "isolate" a user rather than ban them. By which I mean an isolated user would see his own posts, but no other user would. So the creeps wouldn't know right away that they'd been shut out, and would just think they were being ignored. And other users wouldn't have to deal with them. Maybe even make it so that isolated users see posts from all other isolated users, so that the sick abusive group members could brag to each other about their posts, not realizing that they're shouting into a vacuum."

    A really good idea, and beehiveforum can apparently (unconfirmed) do something similar to this right now.

  11. Complain to the authorities - Usually this means the troller's ISP. Everyone agrees that this is always the last resort and is used after banning doesn't work. But many ISPs, to reduce resource costs, will use dynamic IPs so you can't simply report the troller's IP to the ISP. And most ISPs won't have the necessary software to track down the troller based on the time of his activities in your community. On top of that, this won't stop the troller and it won't be the last you'll hear of him. So don't even consider this one. It's a waste of time.

  12. Make your community invitation only - This will prevent the casual troller from making his presence known in your community. But this will often reduce the size and the growth potential of your community. On the upside, it will build a community with strong links with each member so that the community will police itself. It's give and take with this method but the toll may be too high for most.

Whatever you choose to do, you cannot leave a troll situation on its own. At best it will fizzle and die out. At worst, you will lose good community members. Or, just as bad, your community could get a bad reputation. If you handle a troll situation, no matter what happens, you will at least gain the reputation of being a responsible moderator.

More tips here: Handling online vermin

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Tuesday March 08

The Male Turd Ratio (MTR) - How to choose the right online dating site

I don't post my profile on just any website. First of all, it requires a lot of thought and effort on my part. If I want to be open about my personality and my likes and dislikes, I also want to be really certain it is going to be displayed in the best light. So before determining whether the online dating site can help me find a match, I have to determine whether the online dating site is a match for me.

It's not enough to just check out the women on the site. I always check who the competition are. The straight men are the main determinant. I scan through the list, paying special attention to the paying customers. If there are too many of the type of customers I call the "Male Turds", then they will chase off the good women. It makes sense to go with an online dating site where there is an abundance of good competition rathern than bad competition.

An online dating site with a high Male Turd Ratio (MTR) will have women who will assume I'm a male turd just like all the other male turds. As a result, they are less likely to respond or less likely to register and post a good profile.

Male Turds are those who have profiles that are turn-offs. They typically use explicit usernames or profile titles. Or they post explicit photos or post photos that are obviously fake. Or the profiles are scantily or just badly-worded. Altogether, these profiles give the women the impression that the site is filled with untrustworthy Male Turds who are there for shady reasons. Or that there just aren't any good males on the site.

Unfortunately, most of the online dating sites are filled with Male Turds. But an online dating site's MTR always fluctuates. The good online dating sites periodically erase bad profiles or attract more good profiles. So I have to scan the straight male section of online dating sites to determine the MTR every once in a while. seems to have a decently low MTR. I rather prefer that site to which also has a decently low MTR because requires payment on a per usage basis, whereas's price structure is a time basis (monthly) package. I may not always make the best use of the site in the time I have.

Monday March 07

P*rnzilla: Free tools for surfing p*rn with Firefox

This site has bookmarklets that remove redirects from thumbnail galleries that sometimes redirect you to an advertiser. And much more. Very useful.*rnzilla/

(As you have noticed, I am now very careful about putting the word p*rn on my website. I want to have the freedom of broaching the subject. But I hate it when the search engines deliver traffic that's only looking for p*rn.)

Sunday March 06

Creating Brand Buzz in Forums

The key to creating buzz marketing in forums is first of all get the forum administrator's cooperation. Once that happens, there's a lot more you can do. Such as the use of sticky topics, branded signatures in every email exchanged on the forum and in every newsletter and you won't run into the problem of getting banned by the forum as long as you remain non-intrusive and non-interruptive.

More tips:

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OS9 enthusiast support group

Let me talk about They Whom Must Not Be Mentioned. OS9 users. Yes, like ghosts of Christmas Past, there are still some lingering around unable to resolve their issues with the new OS and unable to let of their old one. It was brought to my attention yesterday that there are legions of them. But they have gone underground like modern pariahs.

The fact that nobody talks about them doesn't mean they don't exist. The fact that Apple still maintains a OS9 support forum and that Versiontracker still gets submissions every day to its new software list is evidence that they are still an important market.

As I said yesterday, I respect anyone's choice of operating system, whether it is Windows or Linux and I don't begrudge them of it. And I apply the same principle to OS9 users. Many of them are using G5s and iBooks they bought as late as 2003. But since then, Apple has stopped making hardware for them and have cut them off. Yet, I doubt that will nudge them to an upgrade. Mainly because they don't see OSX as an upgrade.

They see OSX as simply a different OS. As different as Windows is to Mac. And I do understand where they are coming from. I spent a year like them when I bought my first iMac (a lime-coloured one), booting up in "Classic" and refusing to try OSX. That is, until I felt I couldn't live without a multi-IM-service client like Fire. And then I "switched".

So OS9 users are now like orphans. They are enthusiasts with no forums for them to congregate because all the Mac forums only support OSX to the exclusion of all others. And they're shy of making themselves public for fear of mockery and derision, especially from fellow Mac users. They want more software companies to support their choice of operating system, but they have no voice and are afraid of speaking up.

And so I'm proposing to one of the local Mac User Groups that is in contact with several OS9 enthusiasts to create a special forum site just for them. A safe haven where they can form their own OS9 support group and discuss their software and hardware issues openly. If you know of other OS9 enthusiasts, please let them know that help is on the way. And if there is such an enthusiast site already in existence, please let me know so I can tell them.

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I'm an online brand planner and SEO specialist in Malaysia. XHTML, CSS and PHP hacker. for branding and content planning and execution, offline and online. I'm also available for speaking and writing engagements.

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