Hanging out online for days at a time does funny things to a girl's social skills. After another seven days of wandering about online (and remember, that's 150 years in Internet time), I've got to ask if there's a permanent full moon somewhere in the matrix.
Wherever it's located, it shone brightly on Slashdot.org this week. Slashdot (for those of you who don't know it, but if you're a geek I'll bet you do) is the premier techie news-and-views site. A superset of Ziff and CMP and pretty much every other tech-related site, it combines news digests, links to articles, and fantastically frenetic discussion threads.
Slashdot's discussion threads are open to all comers, but if you want to be taken seriously—if you want to build a good reputation—you have to get yourself a user ID rather than be an Anonymous Coward (the generic term for those who post anonymously). That way, you're taking responsibility for your posts; people can check out your archived output and decide what to make of you. Slashdot even uses a rating system that lets you block out postings from (almost all) Anonymous Cowards, if you believe that only those willing to sign their name to their words have something worthwhile to say.
In the online world, reputation is hot. Slashdot's ratings are user-administered, as are those at places like eBay. Researchers at the University of Georgia have adapted the Turing Test (which attempts to differentiate between human and artificial responses to questions) to allegedly discern who's "really" male, female, or whatever online. (Yes, it is both easy and fun to beat, proving once again that gender is a construct. But I digress.) Last week the system failed, as some code kiddie vomited Linux-bigot venom all over a thread mourning the death of computing expert W. Richard Stevens. (And I don't just mean the usual "linux r00lz!" stuff— this was genuinely nasty.) The kid had enough time on his hands to build a number of fake IDs to spew with—slipping the ratings net (since having a user name on Slashdot gets you a higher rating for responsibility) and forcing Slashdot's keepers to develop a new meta-rating system to curb him.
In other words, he didn't just screw up one thread; he screwed with the Slashdot community's process of acquiring and judging reputation.
The new system rates the current user ratings. Eventually, someone will slip through that system. Another level of ratings will be required. So a formerly efficient, free speech-friendly system now stands at the brink of a slippery slope, and all because some sociopathic little nose-picker had too much time on his hands and no sense of responsibility.
I feel for CmdrTaco, the guy who worked out the new system; he's a good egg and has worked hard to make Slashdot the addictive, pernicious productivity-destroyer it is today. Jerk-proofing the site surely took time away from other mission-critical errands in his life, and when you've just gotten your fine self bought out by a company that'll actually pay you enough money to get out of your student loan debt, life has to be (at least for a little while in late summer) about more than diapering the verbally incontinent members of your merry band.
And so with heavy heart I wandered off to check out epinions.com, the new reputation-based site so faaaabulous it got breathless New York Times coverage (from none other that the similarly faaaabulous Po Bronson—see Po'nography) before they had a business plan, much less a working site.
epinions is predicated on the idea that everyone's got opinions, and that somewhere in this world there's someone who wants to read them. (I was with them until we got to the comma.) It's Slashdot Lite—you post opinions, but there are no discussion threads.
Which made it irresistible. A little fake registration information and I was free to post various political screeds that needed airing—and then to clamber off the soapbox and leave the site, never to return. And that's what I did. The site's owners might be able to figure out which posts are mine, but you never will. And I won't check back to see other's epinions; I don't care.
Why did I do it? My lack of commitment to the epinions "community" let me care more about my point of view than about the viability of the site. Net-phobes might argue that so much time online has screwed with my sense of responsibility, but I'd claim the opposite: My sense of social responsibility overrode, for better or worse, my concern for the online community. I screamed out my opinion and moved on under the light of the full moon.