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All things in moderation

Hi. It's Hamish. It is the end of the first week of a new Webdiary, anxious and exciting. There is someone who has been working as hard as anybody for the past month who, probably for this reason, still hasn't had the indulgence the rest of us have in our, 'Opening Statements'. Kerri Browne, the Comments Manager of this site, has been on the coalface of Webdiary throughout this period when Margo has been in negotiation with Fairfax and many of us have been working hard to get the present site into condition. This is also her debut piece for Webdiary. Welcome Kerri, and thank you! Hamish Alcorn, Webdiary's Transition Manager.

Put yourself in my shoes
Walk a mile for me
I'll put myself in your shoes
Maybe then we'd see
That if you'd put yourself in my shoes
You'd have some sympathy
And if I could only put myself in your shoes
I would walk right back to me

It is with pleasure and honour that I sit at this keyboard and moderate comments that come through Webdiary. Between Margo, myself, Hamish, Roger, Craig, Polly, Russell, Caroline and guest others we read and edit every post that ricochets its way from you through the internet to the Webdiary comments list. And between you and me, there's no other media mob in Australia I'd rather work at this crucial place in time.

And there's no other group I'd rather work for than you, dear Webdiarists. You educate me, make me laugh, inform me, get me thinking. You have my fingers flying like cinders when the threads run hot and I enjoy my amateur tracking of the correlation between peaks in flaming to phases of the moon...  Sometimes I wonder who's got out of the wrong side of someone else's bed that morning, at other times the gentle pleasant banter between friends warms my proverbial cockles.

I spent a month as an interested bystander watching over Hamish's shoulder before I was invited onto the keyboard. During that time I asked him how could he not get irate at what X was saying when Y had proved that yadda yadda... how could he edit so impartially when he read the facts about... why didn't he explain to A that what B said was... I couldn't grasp his detachment - words are bullets and he as comments editor with Margo and others was in the line of fire from 200 different directions and they were herding them, softening the shrapnel, filtering the dum-dums and directing them as best they could to their targets. The editors helped people argue! How? I demanded. It's a zen, he replied.

He's right. It's a zen. It's about walking in everybody's shoes as far as possible all the time. After a while you become lightfooted in a metaphorical sense and see above the points of view to realise it's not the points but the vision that matters. The points merely illustrate the panorama and that is why overt point-scoring is frowned upon - too much and the panorama becomes like a target range. If you wanna change the scene, don't shoot holes in it, paint a better picture...

I believe that 95% of the people reading this post envision a better picture for themselves and others.

That figure comes from the 95% of the posts I moderate that I reckon are generally well meaning comments from honourable (if ocassionally bad tempered) people. Blatantly abusive posts get my blood boiling momentarily at the ill-mannered rudeness and I seem to hold my breath when clicking the irreversible delete button. But more than one or two abusive diatribes at a time is rare apart from a possible weekly alcohol wave  (or maybe that's just me).

There has been some discussion about comments management since moving homes. We editors  have one of those 'invisible' jobs: unless you are privy to the 'before' and 'after', you rarely know we've done anything at all. This thread is to take you inside the task of managing comments to see why we do what we do, and how we do it; to discuss ways in which we together can make Webdiary an even more productive and professional forum.

Who reads other discussion forums? Those who have sought good political conversation will know they are very rare. Well mannered inclusive unmoderated political and social internet discussion forums that actively seek to accommodate all views on the spectrum are like thylacine. We hope they are out there but does anyone have a screenshot? Those who understand the quality and rarity of Webdiary recognise that it is impossible to achieve without some form of moderation.

Neil Maydom gave me the idea for this thread then Bill Avent asked a valid question that I couldn't answer at that time. James Squires threw around the term censors, and then Neil chimed in again with another relevant question that deserves more than a nine word answer. These are the types of topics I'd like to see discussed in this thread, and omitted from others. This is a HouseKeeping thread where we debate the topics that continue to allow us to be house proud.

I'll start by responding to a few of the propositions raised by Neil and Bill. Why do we spend time formatting? Because it makes us stand out from the crowd. It shows we foreground our reader/contributors. Maintaining this consistency expresses our professionalism. Features like 'bolding' Webdiarists' (only) names (and other formatting conventions) allow readers to follow the skeins of conversations more simply; it's a visual aid in screen communication. This is only one of the hundreds of subtle but valuable considerations to be accounted for in making Webdiary articles and comments easier to access read and respect because someone, if not the poster then another (the editors backed by techie-channeled assistance [all hail the techies]), has taken the time to make the design, presentation, grammar, links, format and spelling reach a consistently high standard. This is a legacy of Margo and the Webdiary team's commitment to high quality presentation. Our standard is if you like a reflection of the advantage of a good professional upbringing. And we ain't about to compromise this type of rare professionalism for something as common as time and energy. Why do we bother? Because it matters and we care. And that's a good enough reason to motivate my fingers to go the extra mile if necessary.

Why don't we recompose people's 'poor' contributions into 'good' ones? Because they would not be your words but ours, not your thoughts but ours, but with your name to them. And that would be censorship of the worst order defeating the entire purpose of Webdiary. It would also remove my pleasure. I enjoy polishing and publishing views which I agree, disagree or relate to in zen fashion with because I value the challenge (or not) those views present. I am not threatened by any of them but thank their holders for presenting me and our readers with a differing perspective. To paraphrase what I said to Neil: comments are your deal, presentation is ours. The value of Webdiary is that both of us take up our tasks and contributions to the joint effort with serious respect and good humour.

You'll find those of us who are dedicated to Webdiary from this side of the keyboard have a love of the humanity and power of language and shared thought. Our allegiance is to communication, to giving voice, to facilitating. If we appear to censor ask yourself: what was cut and why? Sure the odd angry shot slips through our net (through a momentary loss of concentration most likely) but as editors we don't owe anyone a return chance. We don't play tit for tat here. You are not children in the playground asserting claims on a corner of the asphalt while we teachers on yard duty play umpire. This is adult territory and we play for the adult prizes of self-respect, improved learning and social betterment.

Well, that's my take on it anyway, what's yours? I and other editors welcome questions on the how to and the why we regarding the managing of our Webdiary comments features.

Two provisos:
1. Questions regarding the site that would be better answered by Margo may be left unpublished until she has a chance to personally respond.
2. Discussions into why a certain comment was cut when so-n'-so had said such-n'-such will not be entertained. We don't have the time; work it out for yourselves; and keep in mind that while this is a place of fluid communication, we don't appreciate rocks in the pond.

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re: All things in moderation

Kerri, thankyou for that insight into what it is like on the 'other side.' Sitting on this side, I imagine that if a black editor's type-face interrupted my posts pointing out facts that said editor had picked up of mine from their editing, I would feel violated and quite intimidated, and unlikely to post for much longer. Very wise of you to appreciate Hamish's Zen. ;)

Besides, one day if I am running for President Noelene, you can write into the DTelly or email Naomi on Today Tonight and give them 'the dirt' from my unpolished Webdiary rants and whimsy.

Oh, and by the way, during my induction into Webdiary it seems that you were also going through your editor's induction. We had a couple of clashes and misunderstandings, a couple of which I yelled and hollered over.

May I take this opportunity to tell you that you dealt with my 'whingeing' with dignity, class, and humility, especially in your private emails to me. And THAT my dear is what makes a GREAT cyber-community.

re: All things in moderation

Hi Kerri, I don't know what software format you're planning to use for the new site, but I heartily recommend that you use something that allows contributors to readily find unread posts addressed to them. It saves a lot of time, particularly for those who contribute to a range of discussions.

(I've been working as an admin of various websites/online communities for around 15 years now. Over time, I've come to appreciate certain functions, and this is a primary need, in my view.)

re: All things in moderation

Kerri from the moment you accepted that invitation onto the keyboard I felt joy. In that month, when you had been standing by the broad shoulders of Hamish Sensei, I was in the zazen zone myself night after night (and like Dogen's teacher Rujing I could have got to the point of spending less than 4 hours in actual sleep each night). It's addictive, isn't it?

Mind you, after some time at the keyboard my mind was full of groan not mindful of koan. But then over time, and to the sound of one hand slapping my right cheek, I'd pause and think - tathāgatagarbha (well for me it was actually thatsagotomargo?Naa) - and I would press on - 'Approve comment'.

Right now, after reading your debut piece in our new place for punters to put points of view with passion, I wish there was another button I could press from this side of our interface - 'Applaud comment'.

I must thank Hamish for having the wisdom to extend that invitation to you and I must thank you, Kerri, for you are much better at the art than me. Press on.

re: All things in moderation

You must be joking. You really think you are the keeper of the keys, don't you?

"Why don't we recompose people's 'poor' contributions into 'good' ones? Because they would not be your words but ours, not your thoughts but ours, but with your name to them."

In the words of Mickey Spillane, 'Juno was a...' Was a what you ask? Well, if you hadn't interfered in the edit, you would have known. Same thing applies here. Exactly what do you hope to achieve by this constant meddling with people's opinions?

re: All things in moderation

I have always had the view that the most important thing to moderate in life was moderation.

re: All things in moderation

I’m completely at ease with the format and moderation of Webdiary. I think the team does a good job and the discussion is valuable enough to bring me back every time. I don’t always comment, but I always read the topics I’m interested in, and the comments from all the different kinds of people who do comment.

One thing that impresses me about Webdiary is the way it challenges the abusers/haters on the neo-con frequencies (Liberal OR Labor) of the spectrum to actually argue their position. For example, the way Stuart Lord expresses himself on Webdiary is much more relevant and detailed than the short posts he puts up on Tim Blair, where his perspective is never challenged and he displays all the short hand of RWDB orthodoxy.

This gives me a much better handle on the arguments against my own position, and it identifies for me the weaknesses and contradictions that can be exploited in communicating with the unconverted. It also gives me insight into those elements of conservative thinking that deserve to be taken on board.

I’m fascinated at the moment by the number of neo AND genuine conservatives who are joining the Webdiary discussion. I wonder how many come over from Tim Blair’s site to scoff and troll, but stay to join the discussion because it is challengingly real, and not just the shallow parrotting of yesterday’s hate mail that fills the dread Blair Blog.

I appreciate the style guide and presentation of Webdiary, and the way in which editors moderate the personal abuse away while preserving the diversity and sharpness of dissent and argument.

Webdiary is an excellent example of democracy, and participatory politics in action.

re: All things in moderation

Tim Blair's blog is a mutual admiration society; a place to have your opinions validated, not challenged. The humour and the hate recalls a night on the piss with your mates (in younger days).

For all its bleeding-heart flaws, Webdiary is rare and rather precious. You're right, Kerri: human nature demands that moderation is crucial. Keep up the good work.

re: All things in moderation

Hi Kerry B, you're my personal favourite editor and this was a fine debut. I have much to say on where I think Webdiary is going wrong but I'll hold my tongue for the moment, whilst I gather my thoughts and try and work out how to say it politely, with due respect and restraint.

Ed Hamish: Thanks Solomon; looking forward to it. Incidentally Kerri is having a rare evening off, but I'm sure she will go through these comments and leave her own replies to some.

re: All things in moderation

I personally believe that editing and moderating is necessary. Firstly because is stops abuse and bullying and secondly because people have to make a choice, if they want to continue to contribute they then have to learn other ways to express themselves that do not involve insults, abuse or bullying tactics. So it becomes a learning experience no matter which way you look at it.

Imagine this is like a school playground. The bullies here are being dealt with by not allowing them to bully and the result is a much nicer environment in which to be part of. If the bullies were allowed to just do what they wanted, like they are in the real world, this site would be hostile and it would achieve nothing.

I say Webdiary is right in moderating and editing posts so long as they keep the communications lines in relation to complaints open then all is well.

This should set a new precedent on how people should treat each other.

re: All things in moderation

Now look, a forum on Webdiary editing and I see from R Ball's post that we all contribute etc to the Webdairy.


re: All things in moderation

I just wanted to say how much I appreciate the work of the editors here at Webdairy. As a person who is both a member and administrator of political communities on Live Journal, I've learnt that it can be hard to keep things running smoothly - especially when people on all sides of politics are invited to join in. As much as editing of comments and reply can be annoying, it is sometimes necessary when dealing with something that can stir the emotions as much as politics.

re: All things in moderation

Charles Woodscolt, what point are you putting across? That there should not be an editor/moderator or that there should be?

As an occasional guest editor I can tell you that what we 'think' is irrelevant except as a last resort. We are obliged to do our work according to the Webdiary guidelines. If we have a personal opinion we have to post a comment like everybody else. Only Margo can make personal responses as an editor.

As a final comment, I think that you would be dismayed at the poor spelling, punctuation and syntax that is often presented. An editor's job in that case is merely to make it work grammatically with the minimum of interference. Words are never changed with the exception of spelling errors. Sometimes even the spelling is left alone and the post is only massaged into suitable sized paragraphs.

"Exactly what do you hope to achieve by this constant meddling with people's opinions?". I think that Kerri laid it out simply and clearly. Nobody's opinion is changed unless you believe that changing spelling errors or correcting punctuation changes an opinion.

re: All things in moderation

Kerri, sounds like editing, as in on the subbing desk of a newspaper used to be to me, except that we also edited to fit space.

In this time of spell checkers it seems to me that nobody has any excuse for submitting work with mistakes. I am inclined to think that it would better to return it to the contributor with SPELLING! scrawled across it.

I would have thought that checking for libellous content was the major worry for anybody subbing content for a site such as this.

I am interested in the ‘delete’ procedure as I submitted a piece on the abortion debate. As it was in the turmoil of the change over I assumed that it had simply gotten lost.

Now it seems possible/probable that it was disced. While I have no argument against the editorial right to decide on content, it would help to know how and why it was outside your guidelines.

re: All things in moderation

I have been having a look at Webdiary for the last month or so and will wait awhile before saying what I think. So far it appears to me that Webdiary is really for the elite, and is far from being the best forum.

It would be nice if it actually represented what its supporters state, but from what I have read so far, it isn't that open to lateral thought.

It is more oriented toward the politically correct.

re: All things in moderation

Kerri, I think you're right. It's hard to find unmoderated forums which can sustain a real political conversation.

One place I've found that does is Catallaxy. I post and comment there, not because I share the classical liberal views of contributors like Jason Soon, Andrew Norton and Rafe Champion, but because people there can talk seriously about ideas.

Here's a link to one of Andrew's posts on Voluntary Student Unionism for example.

I think that part of the reason it works is because Catallaxy is a small blog that doesn't attract a lot of comments. Tim Blair doesn't send packs of his readers over to annoy us. A lot of the contributors and commentors are regulars and are pretty familiar with each other's views.

I've found that once a blog is getting over 60 comments in an unmoderated thread things get out of hand. Take this post from Troppo Armadillo for example.

Good luck with the new Webdiary. You're doing something unique and worthwhile.

re: All things in moderation

Raglar Hanavak, if Webdiary is 'politically correct' as you claim, then it cannot be 'elite.' Surely, the 'elite' doesn't give a fig for the merely fashionable?

re: All things in moderation

G'day ed Kerri. Thanks for opening up this thread. I think moderating is essential to prevent a slide into chaos. But on the subject of editing, I tend to agree with the minimalists such as Bill & Damien and latterly, Rowan England & E Burrows but we don't see the unedited submissions.

So, just for fun, how about making this topic a moderated but unedited thread? That might help to illustrate the point better than thousands of words. If the editors so wish, they could comment on the way they would have edited the post. We might all learn something from this exercise and the archive would serve as an accessible reference and reminder.

PS I typed this into Outlook to embolden names and the word 'unedited' but it appears not to have transferred to the box.

re: All things in moderation

Peter Hindrup: "In this time of spell checkers it seems to me that nobody has any excuse for submitting work with mistakes. I am inclined to think that it would better to return it to the contributor with SPELLING! scrawled across it."

Often tempting Peter. We do want people, especially regulars, to make an effort to present well-prepared material (and are aware that this is an unorthodox expectation on blog-commentors) but we also believe that a person even with very poor English, and certainly the vast majority who are simply not consistently good spellers or grammar-smiths, should not be impeded from presenting their views. On a few occasions we have sent private emails to regulars asking them to correct a regular mistake. People are naturally sensitive, but most response has been very good. What do people think about this? Would you be offended if we sent you an email that said, "please capitalise country-names in future," for example (Kerri would put it nicely)?

"I am interested in the ‘delete’ procedure as I submitted a piece on the abortion debate. As it was in the turmoil of the change over I assumed that it had simply gotten lost."

"Now it seems possible/probable that it was disced. While I have no argument against the editorial right to decide on content, it would help to know how and why it was outside your guidelines."

The former explanation is very possible in this case and we apologise to the handful of posters who may have got lost in the changeover. Kerri's idea for this thread is for the type of query you made to occur however, away from the topical threads. At this point, having no idea and no access, I can only say that after you have read the guidelines, and feel you haven't traversed them, place your queries here in future (as you did). The idea is to have this thread in the sidebar on the site to access at any time. Please comment.

Finally, we do have the right to not publish for any reason, and Margo reserves the right to not engage a particular topic at any time for her own reasons, and has no obligation to explain herself. Those who know Margo and those who have been around for a while know that Margo does not abuse that right. That's why this website exists and has grown.

re: All things in moderation

Raglar Hanavak, what are the best forums then? I haven’t seen terribly many, but most I have seen seem to be dedicated to unamusingly half-smart throw-away comments by people with nothing much to say, hiding behind names like “egg” and “beep”. Bawww-ring!

re: All things in moderation

Neil Maydom, I hate the idea. Minimalism, yes, but let every spelling error through? Never! I’ll be gone from here in a minute if that ever happens. I haven’t the patience to translate nonsense into understandable English in order to figure out what the writer meant to say. That’s the writer’s job, not the reader’s.

Someone’s idea of sending submissions back to the poster with an invitation to write it out properly and re-submit has some appeal, but would of course defeat the purpose of keeping the forum open to everyone. Some would surely be discouraged from continuing to participate, and that would be unfortunate.

Presentation is one of the things that sets this Webdiary apart from other forums. Every respectable publication presents its authors’ work in properly edited form. Publishers owe that courtesy to their readers. Personally, I don’t see why posters here can’t save editors’ time by taking the trouble to read over what they have written before submitting it — either that or run it through a spell checker. Nothing useful in the writer’s voice is lost in translating his or her text into conventional spelling and punctuation.

re: All things in moderation

Certainly I am grateful to the editors for 'adjusting' the spelling that occassionally drops out in a rapid post at an ung-dly hour. I understand that it used to be a clever ploy by some editors elsewhere in print to actually have spelling mistakes and grammer errors to deride the poster/letter writer. I know of this happening to someone and boy were they pissed!

However, I made the mistake when joking about Margo's spelling to not warn about a pretend spelling mistake as humour, so correcting it can mess the message. What do you do with US spelling?

I just want to register my total anoyance at the calibre and content of Webdiary. Reading opinions and information from people who have such diverse social and political views is a real eye opener and privelege and helps in understanding some of the aspirations and values of those in our community I may not normally speak with at such depth. The annoyance is how addictive this can be, and how often I have spent hours reading an interesting thread, not even posted myself, and then had to face a mountain of work not done. It is so less interesting and lacking the wit and humour, or passion or sharp derogatory stab or fact from left field that I have enjoyed reading here. Anyone else rather read WD than tax, bills, and the BAS?

I notice one poster on this thread has thought it a not their thing, but nice they still posted.

It would be good to hear more from those whose voices are usually marginalised, whose interests are not necessarily spoken of in mainstream press here in Australia. Especially if they have family background from other countries. It wasn't until I went to Canada that I first spoke with someone from Africa. We are so isolated here in our little cliques unless we do a bit of travel and meetings. Next week we are entertaining 20 Iranian students, girls and guys, who like to party, I have been told. So much for stereotyping.

Personally it takes a lot of courage for me to post as I know my weakness in using English to convey my thoughts and meaning or to launch an argument for or against a point. I remember an insulting attack I recieved and it is a bit like getting back on the horse. In real life I would respond so here I made myself. Interestingly now it doesn't bother me, I welcome it knowing where they are coming from, and respect that.

Maybe new posters, like parliamentary maiden speeches, need protected space for the first few posts.


re: All things in moderation

I have to throw in my $0.02 and say that this is one of the most civilised forums I've seen. Many others are composed largely of people who insult each other and avoid the issues entirely, and that's not discussion, that's a playground fight. Not interesting, and not a place you can learn anything. I enjoy a good discussion, so I'm glad this forum contains people with a variety of views: it would be extremely boring if it was just "Yes, I agree", and infuriating if it was "No, you're wrong, and you're a fat stupid pig as well".

Having done my own share of editing, I have to say you editors have all my sympathy, because it's a bugger of a job. And I do appreciate the light touch you display: moderation with a soupcon of editing. Very nice. Very inclusive.

One other thing I must thank you for is the Preview button. Hurrah! I like this feature very very much. I do like being able to edit my own work a trifle, and my intrinsic paranoia is much mollified now I can preview posts. Thanks. :-)

re: All things in moderation

I don't believe that posts need to be "moderated" in order for a forum to be civil and stimulating. For five or so years now, I've been an administrator of About.com's Agnosticism/Atheism forum. We don't moderate posts. If someone breaks the (well-defined and publicised) rules, we give them the opportunity to fix them. If they don't, they lose their posting privileges, but can get them back if they make a compelling argument.

We certainly don't read a post before letting it through. Given the huge volume of that forum (hundreds of posts a day), it'd be very difficult to manage that, but that isn't the reason we don't. There simply isn't any need. Over time, the community itself starts to self-regulate. When a community reaches critical mass, that happens.

Of course, this requires a range of functions unavailable in this format, including the capacity to edit one's posts.

re: All things in moderation

Hi Kerri, thanks .... it's almost full moon - loved that inclusion. I am always aware that it "must be full moon" - my vibrancy changes (for the much, much better!) when it's approaching.

I would be interested in how the editing workload has been reduced since the shift to Moveable Type as opposed to the Fred Flintstone software at Fairfax's Webdiary before the transition.

re: All things in moderation

I wonder who the so-called politically correct people are on this forum. Are they the people who refuse to knuckle under to the Howard brand of political correctness?

What is political correctness anyway? Is it having an opinion that says for example "I hate all niggers, wops, kikes, slant eyes, slopes, reffosand f...g muslims" and I will scream it out from the roof tops and stuff anyone I offend?

I grew up believing that if a "fact" was not proven it should not be repeated if it causes enormous harm.

Does that make me politically correct or decent?

Keep up the moderating I say.

re: All things in moderation

Noelene, Bill, thank you for recognising my little dig. I was afraid it may just pass by people like a ship in the night, there but not meant to be seen.

I look forward to reading the the lateral articles and thoughts that will make Webdiary a progressive and forward thinking forum.

Regarding spelling, I sometimes deliberately fail to us capitals as I am not prepared to accept that the subject is worthy of being capitalised. I do agree that bad spelling can be a put off, in trying to understand, but it is the same with semantic waffle. That is also very annoying for some.

Does Webdiary intend to include articles from all sources that have something to say, which may be relevant to good debate and forward thinking and are not abusive or totally irrational.

I don't see political correctness as just “merely fashionable”, it controls a lot of normal people's lives to their detriment. In Tasmania, it is destroying our education, health and freedoms. But then again the bureaucratic, academic and political elite may not see that from within their cloistered privileged lifestyles.

It will be interesting indeed and I wish Webdiary all the best in its new endeavour, lets hope it does cover the full spectrum of thought.

ed Kerri: Thanks for the good wishes Raglar and welcome aboard.

re: All things in moderation

Hamish, thanks for the input in my earlier post. My '€˜send it back to the contributor to have spelling cleaned up'€™ was serious. Anyone posting is using a computer - is there any program that doesn'€™t have a spell check?

It is not difficult to differentiate between carelessly constructed writing and that of someone for whom English is a second language.

I for one would be delighted to have feedback - and it need not be subtle!

It gives the opportunity to rewrite as opposed to having a post disced with no idea of why it was unacceptable. I have some difficulty with the concept of sensitive new contributors who cannot cope with being asked to contribute reasonably well constructed work.

Raglar Hanavak writes €˜that from what he has read so far, it isn't that open to lateral thought and is more oriented toward the politically correct™.

Politically correct? Well I lived out of Bellingen for some 11 years where I was considered by many to be '€˜extreme right wing'€™. After I had occasion to attended a public meeting at Byron Bay, some four hours further north, I was described up there as '€˜a left wing troublemaker from the south'€™. My point is trying to put people in boxes is a waste of time. Enjoy people with dissenting and odd-ball ideas - at least enjoy the ideas!

I partly agree with the '€˜lateral thought'€™ bit. I would like to see some opportunity for contributions to be submitted for consideration from people outside the stable of writers.

Then again perhaps I do not fully understand your procedures?

ed Kerri: Our 'stable', Peter, has an open door policy. If you have ideas for a Webdiary contribution, by all means let us know.

re: All things in moderation

My last comment was edited. The sense of what I wrote did not change. Three exclamation marks were removed when clearly one was sufficient!

Margo: I can't take credit personally, but do so as part of a team that's doing good. I was thinking, are there Webdiarists who'd like to be copy-checkers? That would involve a skim over the comments once a day to pick up spelling errors or other little literals or style errors our comments editors miss in the rush of the day.

In the fullness of time, as they say, I'll publish a simple style guide on the new site for editors and posters alike. The new site will have features aplenty to help posters present their work as they wish and help editors process it quickly and cleanly.

re: All things in moderation

It is a difficult task to moderate and edit people's contributions without causing rancour. Occasionally I have written letters to newspapers and have been downright annoyed when key sentences have been deleted, gutting the sense of the letter. I have no sense of this having occured when contributing to Webdiary.

If a coma, spelling mistake, semi-colon or even if a sentence is rearranged to make better sense then I'm happy. The important aspect is that the meaning of what has been written should not be changed. I don't pretend to be a professional writer and anything that might help give my comments more sense is appreciated. (A neo-con might say that no sense can be ascribed to the views I write about!)

Thanks Webdiary.

re: All things in moderation

Ed Kerri: Thanks for the advice on find.

Any prizes for guessing the name of the rewarding messenger who shall remain nameless? No, I didn’t suppose so. And I don’t even want a prize for guessing who lately prefaced his comment with an attempt to put the poster in his place before the conversation began.

By the way, on Keith’s comas, spelling mistakes and semi-colons etc.—if I ever go into a coma here I would prefer it not to be rearranged, thank you. Leave me and my coma alone. We might be enjoying each other.

ed Kerri: ...and another keyboard dies in an untimely tea spluttered drowning...

re: All things in moderation

Hi Kerri, wonderful timely piece. Your editing sentiments remind me of a quote in an ol' ani difranco cd cover (Living in Clip)-

"we tune because we care".

ed Kerri: ...and because we have the liberty to care. Thanks Polly.

re: All things in moderation

Thank you to the poster who shall remain nameless for this rewarding message:

"Note to Moderators. Thank you for the edit of my post last night and in particular changing a word I regretted using immediately after posting..."

It's nice to know we get it right sometimes.

re: All things in moderation

Thanks Webdiarists for the great information and responses to this thread on moderating our forum.

Regarding posts lost around the changeover. There were two or three comments that came in just as we 'handing over the keys'. Apologies to all. I know C Parsons lost one but I don't remember the other names (I felt sorry for them; to arrive just as we were leaving - like passengers who've paid a fare just to watch the arse end of the train.)

As Hamish comments here this is the thread to lodge such questions. Can't promise that all will be answered to everyone's entire satisfaction we can but hope to try.

By the way, did you like that direct link to Hamish's post? We couldn't do that on the old site. On this site, when you want to reference a particular comment by another poster you can click on the blue time/date stamp and that will change the address in your browser ever-so-slightly to add a comment# to the link. So in the above link to Hamish's post, the address has this sequence: #comment-8890903 suffixed to the address of the thread. Cut and paste that whole address into your comment using html to link the address to a word, and you can quickly point to any post. Please do not use this feature illiberally without proper html as the additional coding work on the editors could be substantial.

If a poster wanted to link directly to another comment, and make that a hyperlink of the person's name, the html code sequence would be as follows (note exact use of spaces - there is only one space in the entire sequence and that is between the initial <a and the href beginning): <a href="http://linktothread#comment-8890903">Hamish</a>
Don't worry about a natural break in the line after the <a and certainly do not insert a line break in the sequence if one doesn't exist (in this example, we could not use a real thread address due to software limitations). And remember, only the one space. Everything else butts up against each other - the brackets, the inverted commas - including the text in the link, except for spaces between link text words of course. Don't italicise or bold these words, even if they are a name or a title that would normally be emphasised. Although we are fuss pots about featuring our posters' names (initial reference only) either by placing 'bold tags around them such as: <b>name</b> or hyperlinking the name (as described above) like this: Hamish we don't want extraneous code. We limit the use of bold and italics to effective rarity and don't require the <p> tags to define paragraphs.

In summary, four formating features you can try at home:

  1. bold names - <b>name&lt/b> - no spaces
    which becomes name
  2. italicise names of books, films, newspapers etc - <i>Not Happy John</i>
    which becomes Not Happy John
  3. hyperlink names to posts - <a href="insert full internet address here including #comment">name</a&gt - check for spacing and the " "
    which becomes Hamish
  4. general hyperlink - <a href="insert full internet address here">insert link words here</a> - check for spacing and the " "
    which becomes Webdiary.com.au

As Alison comments, this software has another advantage over the old: the preview feature in the comments box. So if you are using html, you can check that your code is working before you post. Or just preview for look-n-feel. I am not sure if this new comments box times-out like the old; maybe someone could let us know if it does.

Thanks Stephen Biddle for your sharp eye and wit. I am sure that particular typo will occur and be milked for humour regularly just to prove we editors are merely human.

Don Arthur thanks for the links. More?

Neil Maydom, that's not a bad idea but... but... but it would be most difficult to read a post for moderation purposes, and NOT correct typos and spelling as you go. The zen requires a sort of auto flaw spotting mechanism that would have to be manually countered to achieve a thread without editing.

Charles Woodscolt, to make things very clear, my comment about changing people's posts was in relation to Neil Maydom's comment. I was explaining why we don't, and it's kinda self-explanatory, don't you think, on a comments forum.

Sending this back for correction? But we do! Every time! It's here! If you edit your contributions on a word processor and save them, then check this version against your published post, you will see any changes we have made. Of course, you don't see the code but by viewing the source code (the 'view source' or 'page source' function on your browser window, under Edit or Ctrl+U in Firefox, or under View in IE.) you can see the actual html code of every page. The MoveableType software inserts the template code, including the <p> paragraph marks, but the rest is done manually in the composition.

Margaret Morgan asks about Webdiary using software with a find function to locate posts addressed to posters as it is very useful on her site. Oh, Margaret! If only we had the resources of your About.com's Agnosticism/Atheism forum! Those features are backed by some extensive hardware and tech support - think they'd throw a few techies our way? But, to get back to your point regarding a quick way to find names, or indeed any text on the page, here is a quick method that will work on most sites for those using IE or Firefox. (I'm not sure about Safari or Netscape, maybe another Webdiarist can comment).

Press the Ctrl key and the F-(for find) key together (Ctrl+F). This will bring up a small text box either in the middle of the screen (IE), or down at the bottom (Ffx). (An alternate way to raise the 'find' function is to click on 'edit' from the menu bar, then select 'find on this page'.) Key in the text sought.

Firefox will automatically search each letter as it is keyed, while the IE 'find' function must be manually activated. With IE, it is necessary to click in the internet page to make the search function active in that text, and then manually activate the search. This is because the IE search function is a separate program, whereas the 'find' function is integrated in the Firefox browser.

This process may sound complex and clunky but when you get used to it, you can use it without thinking about it, like most Ctrl+ functions and it works in most places.

The Moveable Type software we are using is only temporary, like the site. We are moving to the open source Drupal content management system and hope to be able to address many usability issues with software modules.

Returning to our tasks as editors, Keith Antonysen described what we do as comments editors better than we have so far ourselves when he wrote: "If a coma, spelling mistake, semi-colon; or even if a sentence is rearranged to make better sense; then I'm happy. The important aspect is that the meaning of what has been written should not be changed. I don't pretend to be a professional writer and anything that might help give my comments more sense is appreciated."

The majority of changes we make are along these lines to provide a better reading and learning environment. And I have to confess to feeling pleased with myself when a post that is dense with valuable comment and content but contains no paragraph breaks and hswords jumdbled tgther with there meainng unclear appears as a clean, visually digestible, respectfully presented post that does us all proud. Metaphorically, we are valets to your opinions who tidy up their dress and make sure they're carrying their manners before they're presented to the public.

But that doesn't mean we don't cut and slice to remove abuse from a post. Abuse is not content. Point scoring is not content, not for the purposes of Webdiary. But then neither is being a wowser and deleting every flippant witty comment because someone may take it the wrong way. It's a dance. Sorry if we step on your toes sometimes.

We don't keep abuse we cut from posts so I cannot post real examples, but the types of things we edit include: "...you stupid lefty and other moronic people" becomes "...you lefty and other people" or maybe it's a sentence at the start of a comment to another poster that wants to put the poster 'in their place' before the conversation begins. These sentences get cut, and the post becomes stronger, and the poster more respected (I believe) for being clean in their argument.

We've extended the invitation and we'll discuss deletions here, if you like. However we will not repeat deletions word for word if others, particularly the intended recipient or the law, will take offence. And we won't spend a lot of time discussing deletions with posters who haven't read the discussion 'guidelines'.

Before this thread was posted Jack H Smit stated here that he'd:

really like to see a "GEEK'S CORNER" for comments relating to ideas about how to improve Webdiary. There's a wealth of info "out there" amongst the users - not all of it would be relevant, but many comments from me would be about nice tips about software updates eg of Movebable Type, page layout on different platforms, as seen by different users and on various monitors, and about graphics issues. An Idea?

I'll second that. And for the moment, this thread is the best place for it. Any and all links, tips and feedback welcome. Any questions for the editors or other Webdiarists on how to do this or that are also welcome. Between us all we have, if not the knowledge then the know-how to find the wherewithal to locate what we need to know to find the knowledge. It's a good start.

re: All things in moderation

Ed Kerri, the comments box does not expire. The Fairfax Webdiary box didn't either, but the security code expired every 10 minutes or so. Thanks for the formatting tips (and the preview facility).

ed Kerri: thanks for the update, Neil.

re: All things in moderation

Margaret Morgan makes some interesting points about the unmoderated site she's involved with. Her 'critical mass' proposition makes intuitive sense. More importantly, with 15 years of experience at running successful sites, she appears to be better qualified than most to comment with authority on this issue.

I'm guessing, but I imagine that she's not as resistant to the idea of experimentation as some here. In addition her posts always have a point to them and are expressed simply and in plain english, reliable signs of a good communicator and clear thinker.

I assume that when Margaret refers to unmoderated posts she means that the site makes no 'corrections' at all prior to publishing a submission. Is this the case, Margaret?

Bill Avent's impatience with poor spellers (a la Victoria's Police Minister) is a tad elitist, sorry Bill. The notion that only well-spelt propositions are worthy of his consideration is a little ... cloistered. Some people are good at language and bad at maths. Others have these talents in reverse order. Does anyone seriously wish to propose that either group is incapable of thinking to some purpose? Similarly, who wants to be the first to assert that people who are 'good with their hands' are completely useless in the thinking department? Where do dentists and surgeons or jewellers, for example, fit into this world-view?

I'm not an advocate for poor spelling and grammar, but I think what is being overlooked here is that correcting incompetent or sloppy spelling can be seen as a cosmetic device to make posts, and the sites which publish them, look better than they really are to a gullible demographic. This is the thinking behind my comment to Ed Kerri about facilitating the triumph of style over substance. Contrary to a common assertion here, correcting spelling mistakes to appeal to the imagined prejudices of an anonymous readership DOES change what was said and deprives the reader of a handy insight into the author.

re: All things in moderation

Thanks Kerri to you and everyone else for their hard work as editors. I don't post often but I do try and read as much as I can. It is wonderful to have a site like Webdiary where everyone's views can be expressed and respected. Keep up the good work!

ed Kerri: On behalf of all of us you are welcome, Wendy. And let me take this opportunity to give the technical efforts of Hamish and others a plug: although you can't 'see' their work, you are looking at it every time you read Webdiary.

re: All things in moderation

Ed Kerri, I read your post after I posted my earlier criticisms. Your comment about being thanked for improving a post by deletion rang a bell for me. I've sent a similar note to a moderator. However, I stand by my remarks implying that excessive editing can be seen as interference to make posts or, more accurately, authors seem more consistently measured or skillful than they really are.

Whose interests are best served by it? In my opinion it is intended to serve the site's interest first. But I wonder if it is in anyone's long term best interests to conceal the human or intellectual frailties of your contributors? It seems at odds with the notion of self-improvement and MKWebdiary is potentially the most obvious and likely beneficiary of this thread.

re: All things in moderation

To echo Kerri, yes, thanks Don Arthur for the LINKS.

Margo: Thanks for the memory lane piece, Don. I'll always remember this night.

re: All things in moderation

There a a small string of posts in another thread where a poster corrected another poster's language skills but made a mis-spelling in the process. His correcting post (because I don't speak French, ok?) was published to show we all make mistakes. I certainly do. As do you. I corrected an error in your last post that was, tellingly, in the spelling of skillful. I've noticed this tendency in myself and others to mispell key words, words of meaning. It's an odd function of our multi-tasking brains I think...

Now, maybe this point supports your argument for leaving alone the spelling errors of others so we can 'see their workings' but I am far from convinced that your suggestion has majority merit.

For example, I have a friend, seriously dyslexic, with a great deal to contribute to debates like ours. Should I expose, to the general public, him and his intense cerebral struggle with the transfer of thoughts to words-on-the-page just so others can gain a 'handy insight' (prejudicial, I'd wager, if you didn't know the man or his condition) into to the author? Nup, sorry can't do. Same with contributors who do not speak English as a first language. I can't allow their content to be lost in 'funny' language. I don't English-ise it all, I try to leave flavours (thanks Hamish for that teaching) of their accented style, but I respect the effort they have made to contribute and feel obliged to present their work in the best light possible. By asking me not to, you are asking an editor not to do their job. You can't seriously expect me to... ...sorry, what was that? ...tickets to Vanauatu ... six months allowance...? ...Neil, maybe you do have a point...

When it comes down to it, it's the message that matters more than the messenger. If a poster presents a cogent argument backed with facts in a well mannered way, what more do you need to know about the person? Our job as editors is to make the message clear and coherent while garnering interest and respect from our readers and potential readers for our professionally presented articles and comments.

Or have I got it wrong and we are just a comedy launch pad for the wit of Dee Bayliss and Stuart Lord.
Bring it on!

re: All things in moderation

All one needs to know when editing Webdiary is that Marilyn Shepherd is a protected species or sacred relic of Webdiary and must be printed inspite of herself. Others who attack MS need either not be printed or edited to the extreme.

re: All things in moderation

Kerri. Oh come ON! Typos and mispelling of foreign words are NOT the same as somebody's incomprehensible bombast - with verbs finding themselves dateless, prepositions chasing sentences, subjects suffering identity crises because they are alternately mistaken for objects, and on and on. Please.

re: All things in moderation

Well, you'd be the expert on incomprehensible bombast, Noelene.

BTW, Find in Safari is essentially the same as described, except being a Mac system it's apple-f rather than control-f.

ed Kerri: thanks for the Mac tip, David

re: All things in moderation

Oh, Kerri Browne, thank goodness this a light-hearted and good-natured debate! Of course all of the points you make are valid in some circumstances. Despite Margaret Morgan's reassuring remarks, I'd at least skim every post before publication, to be legally safe. But making it someone's job to add an 'l' to 'skilful', or delete an 'l' from 'skillful', in an otherwise lucid post illustrates my point. And I'd still like to see this thread and only this thread unedited for the reason outlined, if only for 50 posts or 48 hours ...

Funnily enough, I noticed 'skilful' as I was composing and had a 5 microsecond debate with myself about whether it's in the same family as 'fulfill', and kept typing, intending to review it during the comb-through. However, I then applied my favourite spelling cop-out "What word could 'skilful' be confused with (if it's wrong)?" and posted it anyway. Thanks Kerri. It's been fun. And we both know you're unlikely to find hordes, or hoards, of people scrambling over each other to disagree with the proposition that we all make mistakes, don't we?

re: All things in moderation

Kerri , I don't know what Webdiary is for. I'm sure that as an editor, it's your job to make sure that it is attractive as possible and will bring in more readers. Once here, I'm not quite sure what I'm supposed to talk about, though I know I'm supposed to talk about it nicely.

I come here and use it for my own purposes, because I learn things from it. Very recently its seemed to me that I've learnt more or less all there is to learn here and I've looked hard to find a reason to stay. I'm happy to put myself at the service of Webdiary, rather than to simply use Webdiary to serve myself, but I don't know what it would want of me.

re: All things in moderation

"Oh, Margaret! If only we had the resources of your About.com's Agnosticism/Atheism forum! Those features are backed by some extensive hardware and tech support - think they'd throw a few techies our way?"

Yeah, when pigs fly. :) About.com is now owned by the New York Times, and they have big bickies. Still there must be some decent open source software out there, for good forum structures?

You're right that Firefox readily allows a person to find a post addressed to him/herself, once you're in a thread. You just type your name, and it automatically searches for it, and that is a deeply fine thing. But it's not as good as just clicking on a drop down box that then gives you all the unread posts addressed to you.

Again, I really urge you to explore the open source options here. Such bods are the lovely people who bring us Firefox, after all!

ed Kerri: Yes, Margaret. Open source is definitely the way to go. We've set our sights on Drupal.

re: All things in moderation

Neil Maydom: "I assume that when Margaret refers to unmoderated posts she means that the site makes no 'corrections' at all prior to publishing a submission. Is this the case, Margaret?"

Yes, that's right. There is no pre-publication scrutiny at all.

Again, I do note that the reason that this system works on About.com is that it provides the ability to gag--so you can read but can't post, to ban--so you can't access the forum at all, and to "bozo", which means that you can read your own posts, but to everyone else, they appear as deleted. That's used excessively on some forums, in my view, but is quite handy when you're dealing with a serial pest.

The About.com structure also allows everyone to see if a post has been read by the recipient. That's very useful for the Admins, because they can see if a warning/demand has been read. If it has, and a reasonable period of time has passed after that time and the edits haven't been made, then we make administrative decisions accordingly.

The admins (there are about ten of us) also have a private folder which no one else can access, and we debate the more contentious issues there until we reach a consensus. We generally do, but if we don't, the Host of the site (who is contracted to About.com and actually gets paid [!]) makes the final determination.

In terms of the social niceness of the forum, it's vastly better than most About.com fora, but also more open to free speech than many of them. It has a very solid community, which is largely atheist/agnostic (although the general manager is a non-specific theist and one of the assistant managers is a Muslim), but the political diversity is enormous. It ranges from pure Randian American libertarians to Bakunin Anarchists to US Repubicans and Democrats to British Tories to Latvian neo-Capitalists to South American Marxists to Australian Liberals to Australian Laborites to Australian Greens to etc etc etc. The political diversity is far greater than this site's, but it still works, and it works with relatively little censorship. Mind you, people screaming about n*ggers and Jews being subhuman get very short shrift.

Anyway, enough rabbiting on. A successful forum like that can really only establish itself over time and with a sensible array of software. I hope that something in the open source world might be available to provide it for Webdiary!

(Oh, and thanks for the nice comments. :)

re: All things in moderation

Neil Maydom, editing is practised by all media and information outlets. It does benefit the organisation in some ways but I would not try to live on it.

The benefits in the end do accrue to the contributors. I have yet to receive a complaint from a Webdiary contributor that has asked that their lack of capitalisation, punctuation or poor paragraph layout be left just as they wrote it. It is obvious that the posters themselves place a value on the editing work.

It speaks clearly of professionalism on Webdiary's side and a value-added enhancement on the contributor's side.

re: All things in moderation

Whatcha reckon about moderators vetting posts for logical fallacies, Noeline?

Hmmm. Your posts would be largely empty space, then, so I guess you wouldn't support it....

(By the way, you're not secretly Miranda Devine, are you? It would make so much sense if you were.)

re: All things in moderation

I should have acknowledged in my last post that the editors' job is an impossible one in that one can't please all of the people all of the time. In working on Webdiary's new image, as in many things, balance is needed - this time between the desire to look professional so as to encourage contributions of "quality", and the desire to look welcoming so as to encourage diversity.

re: All things in moderation

I'm a bit sensitive about spelling because some of my immediate family are dyslexic. They have plenty to contribute intellectually, but occasionally they have to cope with insults from people unwilling or unable to look past their spelling.

I take Bill Avent's point that very poor spelling and grammar sometimes makes a message indecipherable. And, often, poor spelling here is due to lack of care or time, rather than a specific learning disability.

However, Neil Maydom's arguments deserve further consideration, and I suspect Webdiary needs to be able to tolerate posts that are a bit "rough around the edges". If spelling and grammar are changed significantly, the contributor MAY appreciate it. But the truly dyslexic may also perceive it as confirmation once again that their own way of expressing themselves is not good enough. Do, please, assist the dyslexic and those from non-English speaking backgrounds, but perhaps this is best done just by disallowing criticism of their language skills, or if really necessary some behind the scenes negotiation. Sometimes, I think, we gain something extra by being forced to consider the quirky expressions chosen by new speakers of English, rather than the cliches we are used to. (to which we are used?!)

My main concern is for the image projected to casual browsers and potential contributors of that diversity of opinions we seek. Whilst I understand your desire that this image be a professional one, the truth is that most of us are not professional writers. If the place looks all clean and polished (even "elite"), those who aren't quite up to that standard will be discouraged from contributing. What a shame when the polish isn't genuine.

ed Kerri: This is a really interesting discussion. While I can not institute Neil's idea unilaterally, I can invite anyone who feels that their message has been compromised by the editorial team to post their complaint here. Of course, we reserve the right to edit abuse or posts that are legally risky.

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