SitePoint Podcast #36: Don’t Feed the Trolls
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Here are the topics covered in this episode:
The SitePoint Podcast’s One Year Anniversary!
- SitePoint Podcast #1: The Economy (SitePoint)
Farewell Dan Schulz
- Dan Schulz RIP – We Will Miss You (SitePoint)
Five Years of Firefox
- Happy 5th Birthday Firefox! (SitePoint)
- Five Years of Firefox (Spread Firefox)
- The First-to-Market Myth (37signals)
- SitePoint Podcast #18: Internet Explorer 8 … Percent? (SitePoint)
- What is a Browser? Google Explains (SitePoint)
Google Closure Tools
- Introducing Closure Tools (Google)
Dealing with Trolls
- How to Deal with Trolls on Your Blog (SitePoint)
- Patrick’s comment on “You decide: how do you deal with that vicious commenter on your site?” (The Guardian)
- Wisdom of Community: Four Kinds of Crazy (Derek Powazek)
WebKit Enhances Safari’s Developer Tools
- Web Inspector Updates (Surfin’ Safari)
Installing PHP on Windows with Web PI
- Brad: WordCamp New York
- Patrick: CollegeHumor Live: NYC – Kumail Nanjiani
- Kevin: Video: CSS Frameworks – Make the Right Choice
Kevin: And it’s the SitePoint podcast again. Welcome back. Guys, can you believe it has been a year since we’ve started doing this?
Brad: Time flies and we’re having fun.
Patrick: Kind of.
Kevin: Thirty-six is a weird number to celebrate our one year anniversary on but we only started going weekly about halfway through the past year…
Kevin: …but yeah, just a year ago we sat down to record the first episode.
Patrick: Thirty-six is a big number, still though.
Kevin: Listener, I am going to suggest that you go back and listen to that very first episode now and tell us how much we’ve improved.
Brad: I hope we have.
Kevin: Hopefully we’ve improved, yeah.
Patrick: You can only get to a certain level and then you stop improving, right?
Kevin: Yeah, yeah, it seems fair to say we’ve plateaued by this point. I hate to start off on a sad note but I want to pay tribute and in fact dedicate this episode to a long time member of the SitePoint Forums community, Dan Schulz who sadly passed away in the past week. He joined the SitePoint community in 2006 and in that short time, so just over three years, he posted 15,648 times—and you can think of it, he was just some kind of forum addict and just posted a lot, but he was one of, if not, the most valuable member of the SitePoint community. He was Member of the Year in 2007, he became an advisor within the design team, I think it’s fair to say anyone who spent any time in the SitePoint Forums would have communicated with Dan on some level, and it wasn’t just the SitePoint Forums that he was active in. He was active on other web developer and design forums and also a big member of the WordPress community, right, Brad?
Brad: Yeah. I actually met Dan earlier in the year at WordCamp Chicago. It was the first time meeting him in person. We actually sat together and talked quite a bit throughout the day. He was just very knowledgeable guy and extremely helpful and just really enjoyed helping other people along, not just in web development, but in WordPress and other areas and just overall. He really liked to kind of share his knowledge and he had a lot of it. And I think you’re right, just about anyone who’s been on SitePoint the last few years at some point or another probably come across come across a post of Dan’s that have helped them or he’s helped them directly. So it’s definitely a huge loss for the community and it was kind of a shock to all of us, so we’re definitely keeping his family and friends in our thoughts.
Kevin: I understand a lot of listeners to this podcast may not be active members of the SitePoint Forums and therefore this may not mean a whole lot to you, but yeah, in the SitePoint forums there’s a thread of people sending their condolences and sharing their thoughts about Dan. There’s 117 posts on that thread already and counting, so that’s just some measure of how much his contribution to the community was valued and I know everyone of us here at SitePoint headquarters will miss him a lot.
So on that sad note, let’s move on to something a little more upbeat and that’s the 5th anniversary of Firefox. Firefox is celebrating its 5th birthday. I almost said selling there. Brad?
Brad: Yeah, Firefox 1.0 is actually released November 9th, 2004, so just a few days ago, and it has marked its 5th birthday. And I actually went back and looked to some stats—because I wasn’t on the Firefox train when version 1.0 came out. I think I stumbled across it around version 2. So I was curious to see how the browsers stats compared at the time it was released. So in 2004, I found browser usage stats for the 4th quarter, and IE actually owned 90.98% of the market at the time when Firefox 1.0 was released, which is pretty astonishing when you think about it that they came in to a market knowing that their major competitor is Microsoft and they own 90% of the market and they still decided to do it and look how successful it’s been five years later. So it’s truly a great story and really amazing.
Kevin: It’s pretty daunting. I mean, at the time, I remember we discussed the fact that Firefox, upon its release, it was actually a pretty, stable mature browser. I’d been using it for a while under its earlier names, Phoenix and Firebird, which is the names that it had during its beta phase and eventually, they had to change the name for legal reasons. I had been using it for a while by the time Firefox 1.0 came out and I remember discussing that this deserves to be a browser on regular users’ desktops. But at that time we were resigned to the fact that Internet Explorer would always be the browser of the masses. I wasn’t contributing to the Firefox team and maybe those people who were had a grander vision but for myself, I don’t think I ever envisioned a world where Firefox would be on a regular user’s computer. Let alone over 30% of the market now I think it is. It’s amazing.
Brad: Even when you talk to people that aren’t developers or designers—most people still heard of Firefox; even if they don’t use it, they understand that it’s another browser and it’s possibly an alternative to Internet Explorer. So it’s really gotten out there spread virally and through their marketing campaigns and things like that, but you’re right, it’s amazing how much it’s grown just in a few short years.
Kevin: The Spread Firefox site—this is this grassroots evangelism group who tries to spread the word about Firefox—and I think we can thank them at least in part for the popularity of this browser today. They’ve put a special page called ‘Five Years of Firefox’ where they have quite an inspiring video about Firefox, the vision behind it, and where they hope it will go. I’m just going to play that now.
“By 2004, the internet had become a part of everyday life. It was a place for connecting, learning, sharing, and collaborating. But something wasn’t right. Web users wanted to explore without being spied on, preyed on, or ripped off, but viruses, spyware, pop-ups and adware were everywhere. The only thing personalized about the experience was the information being gathered about users without their knowledge. It was time to take back the Web so it can serve its original purpose—enriching the lives of individuals. From this simple, powerful desire came Firefox, specifically built to make the web better more of an open system where the design of the software could be shared, customized, and improved upon by anyone, anywhere, anytime. As word and code spread, Firefox inspired a community that sees the web as a living thing that must be nurtured, grow, and thrive. People worldwide are embracing this ecology of ideas and supporting a system that’s all about their needs and interests, and in keeping the internet a vibrant, exciting place. Designed by everyone, it’s for everyone. Over 1 billion downloads later; it shows no signs of slowing down. With Firefox, life online can reflect who users really are—from how they see it, connect with it, share it, to how they grow with it. Firefox is here to help them find their own way, moving at the speed of their imagination. We’ve come so far in just five years. Imagine what we can do together in the next five. Let’s keep the internet healthy, open and the creative fires burning bright. Light the world, with Firefox.”
Well, you guys, I’m a little choked up after that, I have to say.
Patrick: You would be. We’ve been using Firefox before anybody knew about it, ever!
Patrick: Since when it was Safari or Firebird or Mustang or something… no, I’m just kidding. But they’ve come a long way and it’s interesting to chart the numbers and they definitely made headway into the market and you talk about daunting numbers. I think it’s the same thing with online communities in some way because there are these communities that are sort of dominant in their fields and there’s always people who say, “Well, I have this idea too. I’d like to do it, but they’re just so big, I can’t do anything.” The thing is the biggest thing in life is starting. There’s always room for someone else to come in and do something better or differently or better for someone, and I think Firefox is maybe a good example of that as well.
Kevin: Oh, absolutely. I think 37signals, I think, had a blog post just in his past week. I’ll look it up and try to find it for the show notes but it was a blog post about how you don’t have to be the— “The First-to-Market Myth” I think they call it. That you think you have to be the first one in the space to be the successful one. It’s not true. In fact, if you come second, you often have the benefit of your competitor’s hindsight.
Brad: Yep, definitely.
Kevin: So, yeah.
Brad: And if that was case, there’d be no Google. The Yahoo! had the search market dominated and nobody really want to touch them at the time and Google popped up—and look at them now.
Kevin: I’m just looking for that blog post that we covered on the SitePoint Podcast before about where Google did the man-on-the-street interviews in Times Square and asked people if they knew what a browser was, and I think the one person who said they were using Firefox said they were using it because their friend came over and installed it and said, “Now, you’re using Firefox.”
Patrick: So it’s dictatorship, in other words.
Kevin: Yeah. It looks like Google followed that video up with another video. It’s kind of a cartoon called ‘What is a Browser?’ So they’re doing their part to try and explain. They said that when they did the man-on-the-street interviews, only 8% of people knew what a browser was at that time. So they’ve got a nice little video called ‘What is a Browser?’ that’s worth checking out and I’ll mention that as well. But I guess it goes to show that you don’t need to know what a browser is in order to switch to Firefox, because if Firefox is up to 30% but only 8% know what a browser is, why are all those people switching to Firefox?
Patrick: Firefox is a team of elite hackers that hack into your house at night and they install the browser on your computer and switch it around and the thing is you don’t know what a browser is so you never know the difference. So that’s how it happened.
Kevin: Right and they assign the blue E icon to the Firefox program just to avoid confusion.
So Firefox turns 5. Congratulations Mozilla team and for the volunteers and the Mozilla staff behind Spread Firefox who put that video together. Yeah, great work guys and gals.
Guys, have you taken a look at this at all? Brad, I know you’re the developer mind here besides myself.
Does Google have a responsibility that other companies don’t when releasing code to make sure that it really is the best that the Web has to offer?
Brad: I guess there are two sides of this. Yes, they do have responsibility because they have a huge name attached to it, but anything it releases is never going to be perfect. Nothing is ever perfect, and I think the fact that they are releasing it as open source and allowing the world to kind of take a look at this and see how it works and what they can do to improve upon it will help them eventually get that much better over time. It doesn’t look like they’re allowing public collaboration, though, on the open source tools. It’s just out there to download and run yourself but you can’t actually contribute to it as far as I can tell. So I guess that’s the other big question. Will they allow public contributions or will they just take like these points that he’s pointing out and may or may not use them? I guess it depends on that.
We won’t solve that one on this podcast anyway, so let’s move on. The next one is a post on the SitePoint Blogs called ‘How to Deal with Trolls on your Blog?’ and Patrick, you know a thing or two about this.
Patrick: Yes. It’s time for me to speak. Hello, everyone. Yeah, the post is called ‘How to Deal with Trolls in your Blogs’ by Alyssa Gregory and she runs through, basically, how to deal with the trolls. So I guess we all know what trolls are. Basically, they’re on your site forums, blog, comments, whatever—trying to get a reaction, trying to anger people, trying to degrade the conversation. She hits on a few bullet points. First, don’t feed the trolls, which is pretty well known, not to give them attention; find out what they’re all about, which is maybe a little less uncommon, may or may not be a good idea to spend time thinking about why they’re a troll; and then finally, how to deal with them. There’s three ways that she talks about: kill them with kindness, block them, or report them. Reporting them basically would mean taking some sort of legal action, reporting them through their ISP, reporting them to authorities, and so on. And that’s kind of tied in to another article I saw recently on the Guardian web site, Guardian.co.uk by Charles Arthur, and he wrote—it was basically like a poll for the blog community they have over there, “You decide: How do you deal with the vicious commenter on your site,” and he gave an example of basically a troll and asked people how they should deal with them. And he got a bunch of comments and I was one of those comments but you know, I don’t know. Let’s give this over to someone else for a moment. How do you guys deal with trolls on your sites?
Brad: Well I think bbPress actually does it the best that I’ve ever seen and if you’re not familiar—bbPress is the open source message board software created by the some people who did WordPress. BbPress actually ships with a plug-in called the ‘Bozo’ plug-in and essentially what it does, if you get a troll on your web site or in your forum in this case—you can flag that person as ‘Bozo’. And all that does is whenever that person posts on your message board, they see their post just like it’s normal but nobody else on the entire site can see it. So they have no idea that they’re blocked, they’re just sitting there wasting their own time, replying to everybody, you know starting flame wars or trying to start flame wars or whatever it is they’re doing—but the whole time nobody else even knows that they’re doing anything. So really at the end of the day, you’re just wasting the troll’s time which I think is genius.
Kevin: That’s a great trick.
Patrick: Right. In vBulletin that’s called ‘Tachy Goes to Coventry’, I think. And it’s also maybe more widely known as ‘Global Ignore’ but it’s like I said, it’s also very effective.
Kevin: I was, again, at this conference in Perth— Wow! It was a great conference—I’m getting some mileage out of it on this show today. I got to see the closing keynote by Derek Powazek—who some people may know from the Fray indie magazine or possibly from JPG magazine. Anyway, he has a lot of experience building communities online and he gave a talk about the different kinds of crazy you’ll encounter when you build an online community. And the last one he touched on was trolls and he talked about this – thing called the Green Hair Theory which I wish I could remember the citation but apparently a psychology student of some kind conducted this experiment and was interviewed by a professional reporter and said to the reporter in the interview, “Wow, you’ve got green hair!” And the reporter said, “No, I don’t.” And he said, “Oh, that’s interesting, you’re a terrible reporter.” And the reporter went, “Oh! But I went to school here and I’ve worked in all these places,” and immediately went on the defensive. And the point here was that when it was something about like green hair that was clearly right or wrong and there was no sense of ego about whether it was right or wrong; you could just respond calmly. But as soon as you draw the person’s qualifications into question, you elicit an emotional response, they immediately go on a defensive and make the wrong move. And that’s really the reaction that trolls are counting on.
Derek said the biggest mistake people make when dealing with trolls is thinking that you can reason with them or that they actually disagree with you. Most of the time, they don’t. They just are looking for that response and that making them invisible to everyone but themselves trick is something he kind of mentioned sort of in passing that there are some big communities out there, the names of which we would recognize, that actively use this technique but they don’t want the public to know. And so he didn’t want to use their names. But I certainly had my own guesses about who they might be.
His last point was that you really need to not be afraid to call the authorities on these people, that we sort of have this sense as site owners that the Web is the Wild West and we have to deal with our own problems, but that there are actually are legal bodies out there, certainly in the United States, who’s job it is to deal with these kinds of—what are really internet crimes. There are laws against sabotage online of certain types and so if your site is being attacked by trolls, definitely don’t hesitate to pick up the phone because there are people out there whose job is to help you.
He also mentioned the fact that you can actually… usually a troll attack will often be conducted by people creating new accounts and so often the way to shut down an attack of trolls is to temporarily switch off new signups to your community, or automatically make those people go into that ‘Global invisible’ box. So yeah, there’s a lot of ways to deal with this.
Patrick: Yeah, it sounds like it was a great presentation. Another part of that presentation—because I read through the SlideShare link because you had mentioned it—and one of the things he said was that someone who doesn’t agree with you isn’t a troll necessarily, and I think that the kind of larger point there is to be careful about the classification of a troll. We have these tools like Global Ignore, I used a Troll Hack on my site— basically it’s simulated downtime. I use those on my communities where it’s like a site simulated downtime—the site acts like sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t—they’re never able to post but they get close, and that sort of thing. The thing with both of those tools is that they really should be reserved for obvious cases of trolls so I have someone who I banned then that—even if they’re a troll, I don’t bring that thing out on the first time. I don’t break that out whenever someone gets banned. I wait and if they have—if they return or if they come back, if it’s someone who is obviously causing trouble, I mean obviously some trolls might post like 15, 20 comments and say all these nasty things and it’s so obvious to you. Maybe they’re saying things that are so off the wall or racist or just highly inappropriate, pornography, whatever—that’s a different case. But I find that most people don’t fall into those categories. You have people who are just kind of nasty by nature, not to invoke the rap group Naughty by Nature.
But yeah, I think that the key to it is to just have guidelines first and foremost that speak to what your community is about, which you allow, which you don’t allow, and then enforce those guidelines fairly and evenly. And if it continues, then you have to ban them or block them in some way and if they come back, then bring out those big guns and use them—and don’t give them more attention. I’ve had people who have come back to my sites for years, who have signed for dozen accounts or more, the same person coming back over and over again. The key is that every time they came back, they got blocked again. No one spoke to them, no one knew they existed, and eventually they gave up. So you just have to keep it going, keep it moving, and stay focused on your goals and don’t let them affect you.
Kevin: The WebKit team have been hard at work again. Their developer tools—I think they’re widely recognized as the prettiest ones in browsers. So if you’ve used Safari for your development and you’ve ever opened the Web Inspector in Safari, I think you can agree. It’s got the glossiest user interface of any of these things in the browsers presently, but it’s always been a little less capable than things like Firebug. I’ve said on this podcast before that I use Firefox as my development browser, because it has things like Firebug in it, and I use Safari as my getting around the web day-to-day browser. But the WebKit team who work on WebKit Nightlies and you can download these effectively early versions of Safari, pre-release versions, and the latest one has some amazing enhancements to the developer tools. Did you take a look at this, Brad?
Brad: They’ll have to play catch up—it’s just the back and forth game.
Kevin: Mm! Does anyone else get the sense; the Firebug has kind of been resting on its laurels?
Brad: Yeah, they haven’t really changed… I mean there’s been some minor updates here and there but I haven’t noticed any major features added and I don’t know how long.
And speaking of things that are not fun to do, our last story is about installing PHP and other open source development environments on Windows. I have to say, I’ve written four editions of my PHP/MySQL book, and updating the installation section for Windows is the worst part of having to do an update of that book. And Microsoft it seems realizes this because they’ve released the Microsoft Web Platform Installer, also known as Web PI. They’ve gone to the trouble— They contacted us and wanted to sponsor on SitePoint an article covering how to use Microsoft Web PI. So this is a disclosure of sorts—that this article was sponsored by Microsoft, but it’s an article by SitePoint’s Louis Simoneau who basically goes through the process of using this web platform installer and shows it off.
It’s really just a wizard installer that lets you install IIS, Microsoft Internet Information Services, a set of web platforms so you could get to pick and choose if you want PHP, if you want a MySQL database, those kind of things. And then actual web applications so you can say I want WordPress installed, I want SugarCRM installed, and there’s a whole gallery of web applications that will be automatically installed for you just by going through this wizard. And then it drops you off with a nice, perfectly configured development web server on your Windows machine. This has been around for a little while and there’s a reason Microsoft is going to the trouble of sponsoring an article on SitePoint, it’s because it’s not getting a lot of attraction. People seem to be not wanting to use this. I guess clearly the open source developers of the world are suspicious of anything Microsoft.
Brad: I think a lot of that has to do with how well these applications work on Microsoft and it’s not the actual application’s fault, it’s usually the plug-ins and modules that load into the applications that people don’t test on Windows because they don’t use Windows. And so you know I actually had a WAMP stack I set up earlier in the year, manually, so I installed everything separate PHP, MySQL, Apache. Well I wasn’t using IIS, I was using Apache, but it was all on a Windows box. And I got WordPress working, everything worked fine, and we run a lot of sites that way for a long period of time, and we actually noticed over time there’s a lot of plug-ins that are just not compatible on a Windows server, and some pretty major plug-ins at that. Like the main Super Cache plug-in does not work on Windows very well. And I think a lot of people know that or they’ve tried it and they’ve coming to terms with the fact that, sure, they can install WordPress and out of the box it works great, but as soon as you start extending that, that these other add-ins and modules are not—they’re not thinking that when they’re building them so they’re not going to work exactly how they should on Windows.
Kevin: The third edition of my book actually used IIS. It guided the user through setting up PHP on IIS if that’s what the user wanted to do. And in the fourth edition, I decided that was just too much trouble and I threw away the IIS section and focused on Apache. If anything, what this installer does is makes it easy to set up IIS as a development environment for PHP which has been really painful in the past. IIS looks a lot better in Vista and Windows 7 than it has previously. It looks a lot better, but if anything it’s even more confusing than it used to be. There are almost more icons that you can click on in IIS’s configuration than there are in the control panel of a default Windows installation. And it’s no wonder that beginner developers would look at this and throw their hands up, especially since PHP is rarely deployed in production on IIS. Have you ever worked at a place, Brad, or ever worked for a client who wanted their PHP application setup on a Microsoft stack?
Brad: Well no, not other than maybe a Windows server, but I’ve always pretty much said you can go Windows, but you need Apache just because it’s…
Kevin: So you’ve talked them out of it.
Brad: Yeah, just for the fact that—just tell them there’s going to be some overhead, there’s going to be a little more headache if you go the IIS route. Now this again was you know a little while ago so it looks like they’re starting to clear some of this up. I mean, I was looking at the screenshots and the installer for this is amazing. You just go through, kind of check what you want and hit ‘Go’ and it does. It downloads the packages directly from the software provider so WordPress comes from wordpress.org, so you make sure you’re getting the latest version, you’re not getting something…
Kevin: Yeah, it’s not a crafty sort of version that you get from Microsoft.
?Brad: I don’t know what else Microsoft can do because… this is… It’s awesome that they provide this and this is something I’ll probably definitely use down the road but you’re right. It’s a matter of kind of getting the word out there and getting people more comfortable with running PHP applications and things like that on Windows which is going to be the biggest bullet to bite.
Kevin: I think if a developer were just wanting to learn PHP and they were going to deploy something to a server that someone else managed and they wanted to develop on Windows, I think I would recommend that they use this software to set up their development environment, at least initially. But if they were going to go down the path of administering their own server, then I would probably recommend that they set up Apache on their Windows box so that their development environment matched the deployment environment as closely as possible. I mean heck, at that point I would probably recommending they set up a virtual machine running on their Windows computer. A Linux virtual machine that matched the deployment environment exactly would be ideal. But yeah, for developers who just need to casually work on an open source technology stack on Windows, this is not a bad solution and I wish Microsoft the best of luck in winning a few developer hearts and minds with this.
Patrick: Just like we said, you can’t be afraid of a big market share someone else’s favor right?
Kevin: There you go.
Kevin: So let’s finish up with our host spotlights here. Brad, what’s your spotlight this week?
Brad: My spotlight this week is WordCamp New York City which actually starts Saturday, this Saturday. So it will be tomorrow when the podcast is released, November 14th and 15th in New York City. I’ll be there. I’m actually speaking on WordPress security so if anyone’s in the New York City area and looking for something to do, I think tickets are $40, relatively inexpensive. You get a t-shirt and some other cool schwag, so definitely check that out.
Patrick: So I like to keep things light generally so this is totally off topic but at CollegeHumor there is a video called CH Live NYC Kumail Nanjiani and it’s just a comedy routine and I laughed so hard at it and he’s talking about the Cyclone roller coaster on Coney Island. I’m sure Brad is probably familiar with this because it’s not too far I don’t think from where he is at least within a driving distance and it’s just really, really funny what he says and how he says it. And you know, I think you have to watch it and then you’ll appreciate that I sent you the link. So check it out.
And that brings us to the end of another show. Let’s go around the table guys.
Brad: I’m Brad Williams from WebDevStudios.com and you can find me on Twitter @williamsba.
Patrick: I am Patrick O’Keefe for the iFroggy network, ifroggy.com. You can find me on Twitter @iFroggy.
Kevin: And you can follow me on Twitter @sentience and SitePoint on Twitter @sitepointdotcom. Visit us at sitepoint.com/podcast to leave comments on the show and to subscribe to get every show automatically, email firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions and feedback. We’d love to receive them.
This episode of the SitePoint podcast is produced by Carl Longnecker and I’m Kevin Yank. Thanks for listening and we’ll miss you, Dan. Bye-bye.
Theme music by Mike Mella.
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