Can you recall the community-related news and trends of last summer? Let us refresh your memory.
YouTube announced new guidelines for advertisers that inadvertently led to significant changes in revenue for many creators on its platform. Photobucket broke countless images across the web without notice. The city of Charlottesville, Virginia was descended upon by white supremacists during the violent, hateful, and deadly Unite the Right rally, yet Twitter still gave them (and still gives them) a place to convene and organize online.
These topics were covered on Community Signal as they happened and this week’s episode is a gathering of unreleased clips from last summer. These were originally released to our Patreon supporters between July and September of 2017. If you’d like more behind the scenes clips and the chance to contribute potential questions and conversation topics to the show, please consider backing our show on Patreon.
These clips touch on the events mentioned above, the following topics, and more:
- Having a backup plan when you rely on third-party software
- Creating a culture of reciprocity in support communities
- The goldmine waiting for journalists in the comments section
Our Podcast is Made Possible By…
“If you base any significant part of your business or your community on a third-party, you need to have … some means of how to replace them should they shift, should they change, should they pivot or just outright pull the rug out. [You should] be thinking about who you’re working with, who your hosts are, who your advertising partners are [and] then determine, ‘Well, if they go away tomorrow, what do I do? What’s my plan?'” -@plagiarismtoday
“You can’t always rely on the technology but you can often rely on the people.” -@jessamyn
“People are hard. … Code is easier than people, sometimes. It’s harder to deal with people. You have to be personal. You have to be there. Automation can help but it’s not enough. It’s hard to replace a good community manager or a good personal touch.” -@ale_fattorini
“I didn’t really want to just encourage our journalists to jump into the comments just because the audience engagement team says they should just because that’s engagement, and whatever engagement means, you have to do it now. That’s not what our role is and that’s not useful for anyone. If someone told me that, I would think, ‘What’s in it for me? It doesn’t make any sense.’ I have been careful to angle it with what’s in it for them, which is how can it then improve your journalism or add some insights that might be of interest to you. What do your readers want to know? What are your readers not understanding in your stories? That’s all stuff you can get from the comments.” -@lilahrap
“People don’t care about the feelings of white supremacists. … Like when GoFundMe bans them from their platform and they complain on Twitter, GoFundMe doesn’t respond, because why respond? Nobody cares if these people are unhappy. You drive them away to whatever platform that will take them at that time: Reddit, Gab, The Daily Stormer, whoever will take those people, that’s where you push them because they’ll always find each other and will exist but you don’t have to have them on your platform.” -@patrickokeefe
- Sponsor: Higher Logic, the community platform for community managers
- Sponsor: Structure3C, expert community strategy for large organizations
- Jessamyn West, librarian and former director of operations for Metafilter (Community Signal episode)
- Jonathan Bailey, copyright expert and voice behind Plagiarism Today (Community Signal episode)
- Christina Shorter, community manager for National Geographic (Community Signal episode)
- Alessio Fattorini, community manager for NethServer (Community Signal episode)
- Lilah Raptopoulos, community editor and comments advocate at the Financial Times (Community Signal episode)
- Josh Millard, owner and manager of Metafilter (Community Signal episode)
- Randy Farmer, co-creator of Habitat, often regarded as the first graphical virtual world (Community Signal episode)
- YouTube’s “advertiser-friendly” guidelines
- WhatCulture Wrestling, a wrestling promotion that saw a dip in revenue after YouTube changed its advertising policies
- In the Company of Givers and Takers by Adam Grant
- Unite the Right Descends on Charlottesville, Virginia
- How Photobucket broke images across the web, without notice to their users
- Patrick talks discusses the Photobucket debacle with Jessamyn West and Jonathan Bailey
- Spi.ne, a container hosting platform
[00:00:04] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Sponsored by Higher Logic, the community platform for community managers, and Structure3C, expert community strategy for large organizations. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[00:00:28] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and thank you for listening to Community Signal. On this episode, we’ll be talking about building community for US diplomats abroad, changing members from takers to givers, and when community fills a gap when the services we use just don’t care. Through our Patreon campaign, we release bonus clips to supporters of the show. These are show extras that either don’t make it into the final episode or are recorded specifically for listeners backing the show on Patreon. They are the first to hear these clips and we keep them exclusive to Patreon for an extended period. Because of the value and insights included within, we may also periodically release them in special compilation episodes of Community Signal where you can hear from several different people with different backgrounds speaking about community smart topics in a single show. That’s what we’re going to do today. As we get to hear bonus extras from episodes 79 through 85, originally released to Patreon supporters between July 19th, 2017 and September 10th, 2017.
Before we do, I’d like to thank our Patreon supporters including Joseph Ranallo, Dave Gurtler, and Luke Zimmer for believing in the show enough to back it in such a meaningful way. If you like to join them, please visit communitysignal.com/innercircle.
Our first clip is with Jessamyn West, librarian and former director of operations for Metafilter and copyright consultant Johnathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today discussing how we have to be continually reminded not to put our eggs in someone else’s basket.
Jonathan, I threw you at the start. Did you have something else?
[00:01:53] Jonathan Bailey: Yes. One thing I would be thinking about in light of this. This has been a rough year for businesses that rely on other people’s platforms. Before Photobucket, YouTube famously changed their ad policies and they changed them in response. It was a necessary change but it came very suddenly and very quickly, a lot of YouTubers, many of whom have been producing content for years, found that their business was just no longer sustainable.
[00:02:18] Jessamyn West: Would you mind summarizing that, Jonathan? I’m not sure I know what you’re referring to.
[00:02:22] Jonathan: Long story short was YouTube, back in March, had a scandal where turned out some very, very mainstream ads were being played next to some non-mainstream content.
[00:02:32] Jessamyn: Familiar with that.
[00:02:33] Jonathan: Some very horrible, horrible, racist abusive stuff that I’m not going to describe in detail. Long story short, YouTube came back in April and said, “We’re changing our policy.” It made it sound like at first, it was just going to be tighter restrictions on who was eligible to join the partner program but they also gave advertisers tighter controls on where their content, where their ads would play. Part of that was advertisers could choose not to have their content on anything that was seen as not family friendly.
Well, there were a lot of YouTube channels that were perfectly fine including some LGBT channels, professional wrestling channels, things like that that were perfectly fine within the ToS but were caught up in this new filter that had been added. Suddenly, they reported their revenue from advertising dropped 80% to 90% overnight.
[00:03:21] Jessamyn: Gracious.
[00:03:22] Jonathan: Just completely tanked. They went from getting thousands of dollars per million views, they’re getting $15 or $30 in some cases. It was very, very extreme. The result of that, for example, when I cited on my website was on WhatCulture Wrestling. They were launching a free Internet wrestling program and they had to stop doing that because the revenue completely ended. You had that hit come in April and then here in late June, early July, we have Photobucket pulling the rug out from billions of images.
The result of that is it’s just a very stark reminder that if you base any significant part of your business or your community on a third-party, you need to have something in mind, some means of how to replace them should they shift, should they change, should they pivot or just outright pull the rug out. This is a good opportunity to be thinking about who you’re working with, who your hosts are, who your advertising partners are, all that stuff, be thinking about it. Then determine, “Well, if they go away tomorrow, what do I do? What’s my plan?”
[00:04:26] Jessamyn: Well, we’ve heard about that with SoundCloud also, right? SoundCloud was like, “Subscriptions don’t cover our bills.”
[00:04:34] Patrick: The people who rely on SoundCloud are going to be cut off and those people just like they would. People, you’ve been on Facebook Groups, whatever, there’s pros and cons but then they’re going to complain when Facebook cuts their reach and makes them pay for it like they do with Pages.
[00:04:47] Jonathan: Exactly. We need to be thinking about how we’re going to replace these things and how we can move on because that’s a key part of the survivability especially over the long-term for communities and businesses, is how do you deal with the tectonic shifts that will inevitably hit the Internet because that’s what we’ve learned this year. It’s not longer a matter of if but when these services go away or drastically change.
[00:05:10] Patrick: Long story short, thank you for supporting the show on Patreon so we can diversify [chuckles] where the show generates revenue is not all in one bucket.
[00:05:19] Jessamyn: Thanks, Patreon supporters.
[00:05:20] Jonathan: Thanks, Patreon supporters.
[00:05:24] Patrick: Following that conversation, Jessamyn also shared a story about a service that purported to memorialize her loved ones and how it one day simply decided to close up shop. She was left to rely on the kindness of a stranger to help when the service itself really should have done more.
Was there anything else? Is there anything else on your mind? If we’re in a room right now of community professionals who just listen to us speak, threw you the mic, is there something that jumps to mind that you’d say?
[00:05:46] Jessamyn: Sure. I have one thing. It occurred to me but it’s very lateral with this. When my father passed about six years ago, we had a community website at a website called athousandmemories.com and their big deal was memorialize your loved one, put all your stuff online now and forever. That was their Terms of Service. I knew that might not just actually be forever, forever but it worked at the time and I know how to use computers. I have all the stuff that people uploaded.
But what was interesting to me was not that they got bought by somebody and not that somebody that bought them eventually changed everything around and not that, “Hey, it turns out those images aren’t actually up anymore even though they said forever and they promised.” The level of just not caring. I happen to bend the ear of a tech guy who was very helpful and helped me set up a download link so I could at least get that content, put it on my computer, host it on my own site. I’m tech savvy so it worked for me.
Just the extent to which giant websites that scale really don’t care about the individual user. One of the strengths of communities coming back to the community topic is that they can help shepherd their set of users through inevitable junk like this that happens, you know what I mean? I happen to be able to navigate this system because I got a friendly person and I knew what I was doing but a lot of online communities with a lot of different kinds of stuff. The DMCA registration at copyright.gov just talking to Jonathan, that solves a problem for me. I wouldn’t have known it if you hadn’t, Patrick, made that connection. I feel that’s the stuff we need to be highlighting as the strengths of our online community so when people are all like, “Blah, blah, blah, that’s not real life.” I’m like, “Well, I’ve got all these songs my dad recorded that somebody else uploaded to an Internet website that was supposed to be around forever but then it wasn’t,” because I had access to an online community and access to other human beings because you can’t always rely on the technology but you can often rely on the people.
[00:07:55] Patrick: These days, if you can count down on a second hand when someone is going to offer to migrate any big servers that says they’re closing, I saw a tweet someone sent about how they’re working on a migration for Photobucket where they’ll preserve the URL structure and just change the domain or something so you can just, as we talk about during the show, replace just a part of the URL. Even what happened with IMDB. There are people talking about archiving the IMDB message boards when they opted to close with two week’s notice after 19 years or however long it was.
[00:08:24] Jonathan: God, I remember that.
[00:08:25] Jessamyn: It’s still mad. It’s still mad.
[00:08:27] Patrick: Yes, it’s still not great. It’s still terrible. I’m still not happy about that. I’m never going to be happy. I’ll be talking about that forever.
[00:08:32] Jonathan: At least there was two weeks’ notice and not two minutes.
[00:08:35] Patrick: See, what I want from Photobucket is two to three months. I don’t want two weeks. You’ve been on for 14 years. People have written their blog for 14 years. I need months, not weeks.
[00:08:46] Jessamyn: Right. You got to hire someone.
[00:08:49] Patrick: Before building a community for National Geographic, Christina Shorter worked in the US State Department where she would help US diplomats abroad feel a sense of community in their new surroundings.
Your first step in the community was building a community for US diplomats abroad?
[00:09:05] Christina Shorter: Yes.
[00:09:05] Patrick: Talk about that a little bit and that work.
[00:09:08] Christina: I went from what people say was an opposite from IRL to URL. I started with communities that were in person. A little background, both my parents are diplomats. I grew up around the world but around embassies. When I had the opportunity to have an internship, I was like, well, I want to work in a community office because it’s so important that families, they go there because whoever is the diplomat is assigned to a country.
You don’t really have a choice on that matter but when you’re there, you’re in a brand-new place, you don’t know what to do. The community office really helps make events for you, connects you with one another, connects you with the country you’re in whether it’s, “Here’s a recommended restaurant. Here’s a place where you can get your hair done, find a dentist,” things like that which you need it but you might be too stressed from the move to even have the time to do it.
[00:09:58] Patrick: It’s essentially onboarding for people joining this local community. Which sounds like being a child of diplomats. That was you, right? You were moving from place to place and you didn’t know.
[00:10:06] Christina: Yes. For me I was like, yes, it’s great to connect people. Whatever the context is, it’s so great for people to be connected. Even for me, when things like Facebook, other social media community platforms where created, I used to write snail mail. Once it became an online thing, it just became even easier for you to be connected with people around you. To be connected with people you previously knew.
For that, it just sparked my education charter with public communication. Getting messages out to people and eventually for graduate school I decided that I’m going to look at international relations but I’m going to focus on new media. The US State Department, terrorist organizations, and citizens, they all communicate online. I focus on Twitter. Using that platform to communicate with one another, communicate with each of the three areas.
Then, is it effective? Is it working? Is it too many messages and it’s all muddled and you’re overwhelmed by the amount of messages you’re receiving. That’s what, I think, any online community, any community, depending on the size, there can be a lot of messages that are coming out. It’s just so important to figure out what’s going to work? What should we focus on? It’s kind of where I got my start in all this.
[00:11:16] Patrick: You mentioned terrorist organizations. That made me think different countries, different situations than the US. Is part of that ever like, “These are not safe areas. Don’t go here.” Those sorts of things, is that information included in those packets?
[00:11:28] Christina: Yes. It’s just like maybe areas to avoid. I remember I did research on that. I worked at two different community offices in different countries. I do remember there was kind of like, “These are areas you probably should stick to.” If you have kids, depending on the age too, that was something we looked into through them. Just so there was a helpful guide for them in this brand new community.
[00:11:49] Patrick: Has there been anything recently or semi-recently that you did with your job that made you think back to those days that’s relevant?
[00:11:58] Christina: Definitely. Actually, back to what I studied in grad school, looking at terrorist organizations and government and things like that. Last year was an election year. We did have photographers who photographed a protest or something going on in their city. Which is again, people uploading what’s happening around you. One of our users was saying that they saw photos that they believed were maybe someone who might be a terrorist. It was a photo of a protest.
In situations like that, obviously, whatever your political affiliation is, you might feel very, very passionate about it. In that situation, we did look and it was like, “Well, it’s actually not that extreme but it’s like we understand your concern.” It did made me think back, I was like, “Man, I read a lot of things on how Al-Qaeda was the model for what ISIS did,” but Al-Qaeda is actually– they did it very, very well, their online strategy.
It just made me think, is this something that could be potentially dangerous? It wasn’t, but it did made me think about. I didn’t expect that to happen, but it did. I think if it’s politically associated or affiliated. It might spark something in someone’s mind. It might raise a concern.
[00:13:07] Patrick: Let’s take a pause so that I can tell you about our great sponsor, Structure3C.
Structure3C helps large organizations unlock the full value of community. Founded by Bill Johnston and staffed by a network of experienced community builders from the public and private sectors, Structure3C helps clients transform existing programs, launch new communities, and develop forward-looking strategies for community-based growth and innovation.
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Support communities struggle with drive-by users, people who only ask a question and leave. While you can’t blame them, there can be opportunities to change someone from a taker to a giver. Alessio Fattorini, community manager for NethServer, shares his strategies in this next segment.
Support communities see a lot of turnover in general, right? As we talked about on this episode, people are there to ask a question, they get their answer and they’re on their way, often times.
But there is an opportunity to keep some of these people. As you said before the show, turn them from takers into givers. Turn them from people who are receiving support to people that are now giving it. What are some strategies that you’ve used or you’ve found success doing that?
[00:14:15] Alessio Fattorini: It’s a hard question. It’s not my terminology, [chuckles] I use it. Takers and Givers is a good book by Adam Grant. He’s a great psychologist. This kind of strategy, I learned it from Richard Milton. He’s a great mentor and he’s a great guy. What I learned is that you have to try to treat them as experts. They have to feel welcomed. You have to use some sort of tricks, okay? You can’t use just technical arguments or technical terms. It’s not enough. Last year I asked to my actual members, my ambassadors, “Why are you here? Why are you still here? Why are you helping?”
[00:15:02] Patrick: Hopefully they don’t answer, “I don’t know.”
[00:15:07] Alessio: No, no. I talked about that. Maybe for the product, maybe for the new features, maybe for the development process. Maybe because the product is very cool, whatever. They answer me because they feel acknowledged, because they feel welcomed, why? It’s very human. They have to feel human, your community. Not just askers, not just numbers, not just online profile, but human.
You have to talk about them. About the day, their work, about their goals, about their achievements, about what they are trying to do. You have to ask, ask, ask, ask whatever you want. Ask about them, about their problems, about their issues, about their lives, whatever. They have to belong to the community. They have to belong. You can’t feel people belong to the community just with a feature or just with some code or just with —
[00:16:12] Patrick: An answer [crosstalk] or just with a badge.
[00:16:15] Alessio: Yes, or just with the badge. Badge can help, but it’s not absolute enough. Badge can help because you are acknowledged, you are contributing. I use a badge just to award specific kind of behavior. If I want specific kind of behaviors in my community, I try to create a badge for that. It’s not just posting. Helping people, solving questions, be kind. I create a badge for that, for a prize, but it’s not enough. Thank you is much more powerful sometimes.
[00:16:57] Patrick: To me, it’s a good reminder that you kind of get what you give in the community. The time you invest and there’s no shortcuts. You still have to do old school community work that we’ve been doing for a long time. You still have to talk to people. You still have to reach out to people, appreciate people, ask people questions about themselves. No automation or gamification or anything like that, yet, replaces the old school community-building work of one to one. But actually making people feel welcome on a one to one basis. That’s a good reminder.
[00:17:25] Alessio: People is always people. People don’t change. The code change but people don’t change. People are hard. When I talk with my colleagues or my friend, code is easier than people sometimes. It’s harder to deal with people, it’s a long run. You have to be personal. You have to be there.
Automation can help but it’s not enough. It’s my opinion. Can help your work. Good dashboard, good assistant. But it’s hard to replace a good community manager or a good personal touch.
[00:18:11] Patrick: Code is easier than people, I like that. [laughter] It’s a good line.
The struggle to prove our value is a constant theme in community professional conversations. Here Lilah Raptopoulos of the Financial Times talks about her own limitations in doing so at a large legacy media organization.
Before this show you talked about, “Knowing the limitations you have as a small part of a very big legacy media organization.” You are less than two years at the FT.
It’s this long-running as you say legacy media organization. There are people that have been there for a long time. There are many departments, some very entrenched. There are esteemed people, there are just a lot of people at the FT, that have been there longer than you. That have had operations longer than you.
As you’re doing your work, as you’re trying to prove this value of onsite community, pushing for more resources, pushing people to respect the contribution that this makes to the business, what are those limitations that you bump up against? Talk about them a little bit if you could.
[00:19:08] Lilah Raptopoulos: I joined the Financial Times a year and a half ago. I joined a fairly new team within it which is the audience engagement team, which sits in the newsroom. I think joining that team has been very helpful because that team has a lot of freedom to experiment. Because in creating it, the FT was saying, “We know that thinking about our readers first is important to us a business.”
They’ve been quite open to experimenting with new ways to take advantage of the fact that really like we’re sitting in a gold mine with expertise on certain topics and personal experiences. The job initially was to find ways to get journalists and editors think differently about how could they include the insight that our readers has in their reporting. Or think about their readers more as people who might know something that might really be of interest to them. I didn’t really want to just encourage our journalists to jump into the comments just because the audience engagement team says they should just because they should tweet and they should comment because that’s engagement, and whatever engagement means, you have to do it now. That’s not what our role is and that’s not useful for anyone. If someone told me that I would think like, “What’s in it for me, it doesn’t make any sense.” I have been careful to angle it with what’s in it for them, which is how can it then improve your journalism or add some insights that might be of interest to you.
What do your readers want to know? What are your readers not understanding in your stories? That’s all stuff you can get from the comments there, from other ways of actually asking you this question.
The other thing is that this is an opportunity to build a community of loyal fans who care about your work and they follow you. Initially, it was going desk to desk or going journalists to journalists and initially asking the ones who already comment why are they commenting and what they get out of it. Also doing a few projects to ask readers what they want to hear more about on certain topics, for example, recently we did one asking readers how much they know about AI. We had a sense of whether they were just super fans or whether they were in the field or anything like that. Then what about automation and artificial intelligence interested them, what questions they had, what they thought we should cover more of. Then we used that to turn around and show editors as like, “Here’s a way to get some insight that can help you commission if you want to know what your readers want to know, that could be of help to you.”
I worked at the FT money desk, we asked readers for their personal finance questions after Brexit and then got a few a hundred in and then could give us the money desk and say, “Here, this is what your readers want know.”
That could influence what they chose to answer right about. Now, as you introduced different desks and journalists so the different options that are available, the other being asking readers what they think about a certain topic and then using that as content or as sources to continue on. The journalism doing that sort of thing shows journalists what the value is, and then has let us, slowly over time have allowed the space for them to start coming to us and saying, “We’re doing this project, how can we involve our readers?” or, “We think our readers might have some good stories about this, what’s the best way for us to ask them? Or, “We have this piece coming out that we might be able to read it prompted at the bottom of just a direct conversation in a way that might be interesting for us to read,” that sort of thing.
[00:22:28] Patrick: It sounds like a limitation you’re describing as the limitation of, “We are used to doing this work and we haven’t had to do this other thing before.” Your limitation is trying to introduce the other thing that has not been a part of their job previously and get them to make it at least a little bit of their job.
[00:22:46] Lilah: Yes. Also, we have a system of commissioning and reporting and moving quickly and we don’t have a lot of time. If this isn’t fitting, if my editor isn’t telling me directly that this is a part of my job, then what are other ways that we could fit it in or that I can encourage journalists to make part of their reporting process so that it doesn’t feel like an added piece of work.
[00:22:12] Patrick: Let’s take a moment to talk about our generous sponsor, Higher Logic.
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The Unite the Right rally organized by white supremacists and held in Charlottesville, Virginia in August of 2017 sparked protests and violence that sadly led to a death. Shortly after these events, I talked with Josh Millard of MetaFilter and we discussed how these events played out in that community and how Twitter should be handling white supremacists.
What’s Charlottesville like on MetaFilter?
[00:24:07] Josh Millard: A lot of close discussion, we had a constant, basically there’s always a US politics going on more or less a weekly basis anyone starts up. The Charlottesville situation was so galling and so terrifying that we spun off a separate thread for that as well and people been tracking the whole situation there. What can you say? It’s an absolutely appalling situation even by 2017’s expectation. We have emboldened Nazis, neo-nazis, white supremacists, all stripes of organized, hateful racists marching in the street injuring and killing people.
We are at the bottom end of the slippery slope that usually gets brought up in rhetorical arguments about much milder things. We’ve got shit happening that should not happen like ever, not in the United States, not anywhere. How do you discuss that? How do you say, “Okay, but let’s have a normal discussion about this,” there is no normal to this. This is just like the latest thing. This is the sort of the march of how bad things have been but Charlottesville, it’s a situation where the community is just trying to sort of keep its head above water and keep track of what’s going on. In the case of, we have folks who are in Virginia making sure they’re okay knowing what’s going on on the ground if anybody was there, et cetera. It’s so straining not just to have this happen but to know that this is just sort of the shape of things that are happening right now.
Like the notable things about Charlottesville are so much less notable than they would be normally. Five years ago this would be the most insane thing that happened in the United States like ever. This year it’s what happened this week. I don’t know if I even have anything super thoughtful to say about it. It’s been a very potent example of how difficult it can be to navigate as a community, the emotional taxation of what we’re going through right now as a nation.
[00:25:58] Patrick: Yes. When I saw this playing out, it’s like Twitter could have made a choice months ago and not been kind of the epicenter of conversation and rallying for these people at this point. People like Richard Spencer or David Duke or Jerry Taylor or other figures, Baked Alaska, ridiculous. All these people who have these Twitter accounts, who have verified accounts, they could have made a choice.
[00:26:22] Josh: Yes.
[00:26:22] Patrick: The landscape on Twitter would have been different now. Now, Twitter is not the same as a MetaFilter. It’s not the same as the communities I run. I don’t really see it as a community. It’s a platform. People talk on it. It’s a communications platform but there’s room for discussion as far as what speech they should allow. I think there’s a discussion that can be had. My perspective has been that people don’t care about the feelings of white supremacists. That’s my overarching theme is that we don’t care how they feel. Like when GoFundMe bans them from their platform and they complain on Twitter, GoFundMe doesn’t respond, because why respond? Nobody cares if these people are unhappy.
My thing is, drive them away, right. You drive them away to whatever platform that will take them at that time, Reddit, Gab, The Daily Stormer, whoever will take those people, that’s where you push them because they’ll always find each other and will exist but you don’t have to have them on your platform. Now, what is your kind of take on that?
[00:27:13] Josh: I agree. I think Twitter has honestly fucked up enormously by not having the courage, their convictions to say, “Hey, I don’t care if this might potentially piss off an investor because it’s bad business. Let’s just not let the Nazis hang around. Let’s not let the white supremacists hang around.” Let’s actually say, “Oh, this is really clearly awful stuff. It’s gone.” The point has been made recently that as much as Twitter has failed to act on things like dealing with…It’s such a huge platform and how do we actually come up with a rule set where we can say, “Okay, well, this is a Nazi and this isn’t. How do we make that choice? It’s so difficult,” which I’m sure logistically it’s very complicated thing and I realize they’re operating on a gigantic scope that I don’t have to deal with on Metafilter. But on the other hand, there are countries that have specific restrictions on things like Nazi slogans and imagery and whatnot and Twitter bans them in those countries. If Twitter’s able to disable a ton of accounts being displayed in Germany because they violate Germany’s laws about, say, Nazi paraphernalia, Twitter has a capacity to do this. They could just say, “You know what? We’re just going to do it everywhere. We’re just going to go ahead and flip the switch and take the heat. The Nazis will be mad at us and the investors might think it’s too activist of us but we’re going to do it anyway because it’s Nazis, you know?”
[00:28:28] Patrick: Yes, it’s a fair point. If they do it in other countries.
[00:28:30] Josh: I think they’ve done a very cowardly job of it essentially. I think they have failed to display the courage required to do the right thing in the face of a somewhat difficult business situation.
[00:28:41] Patrick: Their scale is, as you kind of pointed to, don’t operate that scale, I understand. It’s a massive logistical thing but, yes, I mean it’s whack-a-mole. It’s old community stuff. It’s whack-a-mole. At the end of the day, if people want to come back for another five bucks at MetaFilter, They will. It’s a deterrent for most people. Most won’t bother but I’m sure you’ve had some who tried and I’ve had people who created accounts on my sites where you don’t have to pay. They are on their 20th or 30th account, like it’s whack-a-mole. I get it but whack-a-mole works.
[00:29:07] Josh: You still whack them, yes.
[00:29:08] Patrick: Exactly. Whack-a-mole works because when you whack enough of them and you knock off the biggest ones, you change the tone of the site. It’s a big enough consequence too to say, “You know what? You had an account with a hundred thousand followers, it’s gone now.” You can start over if you want but you need to pretend you’re someone else and you have to go back from zero. There’s a consequence there. It means something to them. It means something to me if my account got blocked. Even though I could go and sign up again, I’d lose my followers. I’ve been there for nine years. There’s a consequence there and they could change the tone of the site if they took a stronger stance. It’s unfortunate, I think, that they haven’t.
[00:29:41] Josh: Absolutely.
[00:29:42] Patrick: For 14 years, Photobucket allowed people to upload images for free and embed them within posts on online communities, in blogs and on websites. Then, they simply stopped, without notice. When this happened last year, we talked about it quite a bit due to their exceptionally poor handling of the situation. Community veteran Randy Farmer had some harsh words for the company and for users, some technical solutions to share.
Let’s talk about Photobucket because when the Photobucket news happened and we talked about it here on the show. What change they made where they essentially broke possibly billions of images across the internet. Across so many online communities and you tweeted that Photobucket just broke all the forums, now charging $399 a year to store photos linked anywhere, #fail, #.comsuicide, #gameover.
You saw that, took action, started a service where people can get their photos out of the services that will eventually close up shop or let us down in some way. But what are you thinking when you hear that Photobucket news, just in the context of online community. What came to mind for you?
[00:30:46] Randy Farmer: First, I must say I have heard your episode on the topic. It is excellent. Anyone who’s not familiar with the topic would do well to go back and listen to it.
[00:30:54] Patrick: Thank you so much.
[00:30:55] Randy: What happened with them turning off– they didn’t just turn them off, they put spam on everything. They broke not only forums, they broke people’s templates for their WordPress blogs. They just destroyed a big chunk of how the internet works by arbitrarily changing the content. As noted in your episode, if they just decided on a reasonable pricing strategy, they would have been able to convert a lot of that. They would have been able to deflect a lot of the complaints. Because basically what they said is not only do you have to pay $399, you have to pay it in advance. You have to pay $400 in advance to unhostage your pictures.
Now, they say you can go get them. Let me tell you, I did. I went to try to go get them. The download software that they do, they create a .zip and send it to you. It’s unreliable, it’s got 80% fail rate. They are not really caring, I challenged them to say they do. This frustrated me deeply because it didn’t have to be this way. You didn’t have to replace the whole picture. They could have put a little nick in the corner of your pictures, saying, “Upgrade now because you got one year until we do this.”
I have Dropbox. Dropbox has been warning me for a year that my public links are going to break. If you’re going to have to break things because of the technology, letting your people know in advance, letting them figure out how to fix it, decide what they want to do and then implement. And if they wait until the end, then hey, it was their own choice.
But there was a truth that was mentioned in your episode. That a lot of people are no longer associated with those forums or those photos. Some of those people are dead. They are never on the internet again. They cannot correct this. This is a flaw on the internet. A separate discussion about how to do references. But there is a way to fix this and that is to put a proxy in between. I came up with this simple idea, it’s not rocket science.
I talked to Steve Sullivan who’s one of the lead engineers on the new Habitat project. He runs this service called Spine, which is a large scaling hosting, push-button service thing. It’s really cool, check it out, spi.ne.
I said, you know what, we should just open source this proxy. Then you can tilt it up with spi.ne with a single button. Then what you’ll get is a URL that you stick in front of your Photobucket URL. It automatically serves it from this server instead of Photobucket. But it grabs it from Photobucket once, so that you never have to call Photobucket again. It will be expanded for other services such as Flicker and stuff as we go along. But we’re trying to get this thing up.
One can imagine really easy fixes by working with major technology providers. I have thousands and thousands of photos, not all of them in a Photobucket. But the ones that are on Photobucket, I got to go around forums everywhere trying to find them. I’d be nice if something like ProBoards where a lot of my photos are referenced, could actually just put something in, when it looks at the image tag, it says, “This is a Photobucket image. Hey, we’re going to redirect that through this service. Pay us a dollar a month to be a premium user of all the forums that you use and we will host your photos forever.” Really simple. You don’t have to change the forums. Literally, ProBoards is the next day in every photo, that’s in Photobucket would be fixed on ProBoards the next day.
The idea was to finally start moving that reference away from corporations and into a generic naming space. If you want to do it yourself, guess what, it’s open source. You don’t have to use this spi.ne push button service for it. You just tilt up something if you know how to tilt up something on AWS or something else, go for it, man. It’s open source, you can just grab it and run it.
[00:34:16] Patrick: It sounds like you were at least somewhat active user of Photobucket yourself, right?
[00:34:21] Randy: For a number of years. Then eventually, when we bought Flickr, I started posting at Flickr instead. But it’s worth noting that Flicker’s terms have never been as actually as open as Photobucket’s were. At any time Flickr can say, “Hey, the rules for cross-posting are being violated by all these billions of people,” and shut them down if you do the same thing. Having a service like this, especially if your hosting companies could use it.
You can be protected against these changes in the future. Flickr is in the short list to get done soon, because honestly with the acquisition of Yahoo, I have no idea what’s going to happen with Flickr.
[00:34:57] Patrick: Continuing with Randy, our last clip is a bit of Internet history as we learn about the invention of the JSON protocol.
[00:35:03] Randy: Another set of innovations, is the direct result of working on Habitat, was at a company called State Software that was formed by Chip Morningstar and Doug Crockford. I was the first non-founder employee and we were going to do applications on web browsers. This is nothing now but that didn’t exist yet.
[00:36:08] Patrick: I’d like to thank all of our guests for sharing their insights with us. I’m going to mention them one by one and tell you where you can connect with them online.
Find Jessamyn West at jessamyn.com, that’s J-E-S-S-A-M-Y-N.com; Jonathan Bailey of CopyByte at plagiarismtoday.com; Christina Shorter of National Geographic on Twitter @shortercr; Alessio Fattorini of NethServer on Twitter @ale_fattorini, that’s ale_F-A-T-T-O-R-I-N-I; Lilah Raptopoulos of the Financial Times on Twitter @lilahrap, that’s L-I-L-A-H R-A-P; Josh Millard of MetaFilter at joshmillard.com and finally, Randy Farmer on Twitter @frandallfarmer.
For the transcript from this episode plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad and Carol Benovic-Bradley is our editorial lead. See you next episode.
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