Trust and the pink ghetto

The Napoleon-Clarke Law:

Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice

Paul Ciszek

It’s amazing to me how much wordpress.com has grown. what used to be the realm of a few geeks in need of akismet keys has turned into a real competitor to livejournal and typepad. Along with that come users who aren’t as forgiving of glitches, because they’re not just geeking out, they’re writing down their lives. Which means i’m finding out about “the cult of matt” from The Pink Ghetto, which isn’t something i read for geek news.

For instance, i’m willing to accept that apparent contradictions between stated policy and specific blogs that exist around wordpress.com is the effect of there being more blogs than the members of automattic can actively police. I’ve found this by reporting blogs, despite fundamentally disagreeing with the mature/non-commercial policy. Since making certain of this, i’ve attempted to warn users before they get nastygrams from mark.

most users aren’t this forgiving. They see their blog getting blown out of the global tag pages, while other blogs that depart farther from the ToS are allowed to stay. Naturally, this only matters because the global tag pages drive such good traffic. The automattic defence is that nowhere in the terms of service do they claim to provide blog owners with a workable tag search engine. (this causes most people consternation when they find out their categories don’t link to their own content). Nonetheless, they provide this search engine for most people. Intentional or not, it is a slight to not provide that engine to everyone. Especially the ones who want it.

It seems especially malicious, when the global tags and top blogs are built from the ashes of blogs of the day(.com), which allowed users to self regulate, via the NSFW tag. if you used it, your post was only listed in the mature section. As much as there’s a precedent for keeping the christians children from accidentally stumbling upon porn, there’s a tendancy to misinterpret all sexual information as porn. which is what automattic seems to be doing.

2 Solutions:

  1. mark shouldn’t be choosing which blogs are actually mature or commercial. that job belongs to a lawyer. that lawyer should be actively policing. the global tag pages are reasonably good at crosslinking blogs. it’s not hard to find the ones that violate the ToS.
    Then mark can continue giving real support, and have the all-important disconnect with the policy makers that will allow him to be his friendly self. and have a few fewer expletives and insults hurled at him.
  2. increase the ability to self-regulate: letting users use the NSFW tag to kick themselves out of the ‘all-ages’ tag pages means people won’t be as shocked when they get ‘de-listed’. allowing users to put up an under 18 warning, that stores a cookie (so new readers always see it, and regular readers never see it) would keep people from being offended when the click the ‘next blog’ link.

there’s a whole lot more thought that needs to go into this. sex in the public square is taking it on, but automattic needs to do more than drop by to leave their one comment that pretends they’re listening. this is way more important than adding kewl new video features.

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19 thoughts on “Trust and the pink ghetto

  1. that girl again

    I’m surprised something like this took this long to blow up, actually. I’ve been saying for a long time that the ability to code a blogging service in no way confers the ability to deal with the sometimes vociferous community that will spring up around it. We seem to be hitting that wall now.

    The whole culture of encouraging your users to snitch on blogs they find unpalatable because you don’t have the resources to do your own policing really isn’t that great.
    It’s clear from Matt’s comment that they’re basically making up policy as they go along, despite the fact that there are dozens of bloghosts out there who have already had to work through these issues and formulate coherent policies. Why the refusal to look at and learn from other sites’ experiences? Why don’t we have to make a COPPA declaration that we’re over 13, like we do on lj and every phpBB install out there?

    The more I think about it, the more I think that wordpress.com has got this the wrong way round. It’s not the blogs that should be flagged as mature. It’s the users. I should be able to tick a box that says I am over 18 and do not need wordpress.com to censor its content for me. Similarly, if I’m going to be offended by such content (or am at work) I can ask wordpress not to show it to me, based on flags by myself and the site owners. Individual filters make infinitely more sense than global ones.

  2. adam Post author

    i couldn’t agree more. i think the COPPA thing comes from this ‘common carrier’ idea. it sounds good on paper, but i think refusing to collect information about their users is only going to lead to more of these issues.

  3. that girl again

    You can be a common carrier refusing to take responsibility for what’s on your servers, or you can be a moral guardian denying a full service to sites you consider beyond the pale. Both positions have their pros and cons, but you can’t be one when it suits you and another when it doesn’t. That kind of inconsistency is only going to end up pissing off your users.

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  5. JanieBelle

    but automattic needs to do more than drop by to leave their one comment that pretends they’re listening. this is way more important than adding kewl new video features.

    Though I have refrained from comment lately to give the boys a chance to do something I find I’m losing patience quickly.

    I agree that a lick and a promise isn’t cutting it, especially while other trivial little things seem to be getting done.

    Kisses

  6. adam Post author

    sadly, i’ve found that if you leave the BBQ boys to their own devices, they lick their wounds, and go back to writing code. policy stuff like this requires repeated abuse to get even a little movement.

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  8. Elizabeth Wood

    Adam, I’m intrigued by the suggestion that “Under 18” warnings and cookies could solve this problem. Since the WordPress/Automattic folks do seem to be quite good at coding a wonderful blog system, would it be relatively do-able to code such a thing? A practical solution seems to be what we need. What we don’t need is a system that arbitrarily screens some material out of global tag pages and not others.

    Also, if there was an NSFW tag, do you envision that allowing material to show up on global tag pages for, say, “Erotic” and “Sex”? Or would it only show up on an NSFW tag page?

    That Girl Again: I really like your idea of flagging users. That would certainly cover we WordPress folks. But would it cover outside readers? How would that work? Perhaps in combination with an “18+” warning page on the blog?

  9. adam Post author

    IIRC, the way botd.com used to work, you had the choice of browsing regular tags, or NSFW tags. so there would be 2 versions of each tag page, an NSFW version, and a regular version. i’m guessing the SFW version of erotica would probably be pretty barren 😉

  10. Elizabeth Wood

    Adam, if you do remember correctly that would seem a rather elegent solution to the problem. It also avoids the euphemism of “mature.” “Not Safe for Work” is also a euphemism, of course, but it avoids so many problematic connotations.

  11. adam Post author

    indeed, NSFW has the advantage of being purely regulatory, and completely content-agnostic. it meshes well with this ‘common carrier’ ideal they keep falling short of.

  12. that girl again

    But would it cover outside readers? How would that work? Perhaps in combination with an “18+” warning page on the blog?

    The fact that nothing is currently done to block people coming in from outside wp.com suggests Automattic aren’t bothered about outside readers. If they do get random complaints from outside, I guess they just use the ‘common carrier’ argument and point out that they’re hardly responsible for what Google spews out.

    The whole ‘mark as mature’ thing seems to me to have been a response to the concerns of a sub-section of users, rather than stemming from Automattic’s paternalistic care for our moral well-being ;). Either it didn’t occur to them that this would alienate another sub-section of users, or they didn’t care about that particular part of their userbase as much as the others. Presumably ‘family-friendly’ plays better with the investors or future potential buyers.

  13. Elizabeth Wood

    So what do we do next, then? Should we draft a letter to Automattic? I mean, they can’t be expected to be reading all our blog conversations.

    How do people feel about attempts to move this forward? What makes sense as a logical next step, activism-wise?

  14. adam Post author

    hmm… how to proceed…
    well, this week, most of them are gallivanting at SxSW, and mark is too overloaded to remember some basic principles, maybe next week we can organize some sort of meme.

  15. adam Post author

    i don’t know how to crystalize the issue for people. crap like this keeps getting syndicated into everyone’s dashboard, and there’s no simple sloganized explanation of what’s wrong with equating sex and ‘extreme political views’.

    things like an under 18 warning plugin, i can make, and beg to be implemented. but i’m not an activist leader.

  16. JanieBelle

    Y’know Adam, I clicked on the link you gave there and read the post and the ensuing comments.

    Here’s what came to mind and what I considered asking the blog owner:

    “You’ve spent so much time figuring out if it could be done, you never stopped to consider if it should be done.”

    That guy and most of his commenters were certainly hung up on the idea of “sanitizing” the web and whether or not it was feasible or practical. Didn’t seem like a single one of them from either side of the issue ever really quite made the leap to whether it should even be attempted or why.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly that its unfortunate so much time and effort is wasted on crap like that (OMG! R rated avatars!), and I think the issue again hearkens back to the discussion on Elizabeth’s blog about our culture of sexaphobia.

    Exactly why again is it that a 15 year old shouldn’t be exploring his/her natural curiosity about sexuality?

    Sorry for the stream of consciousness effect, I guess I’m just thinking out loud.

  17. Elizabeth Wood

    What I’d like most, I think, is something that a blogger could use to mark her blog and that would make it filterable by the parental controls on browsers. Parents who support their teens’ access to sexually explicit material wouldn’t have to filter. Parents who wanted to restrict their teens’ viewing could do so. For that matter, anyone — parent nor not — who wanted to avoid such material could filter it out.

    What still bothers me is that there are global tag pages that clearly identify material as sexual in nature. The Erotic tag page is one example. And yet blogs that have been marked as “mature” don’t show up there. I still don’t get that. Just logically it doesn’t make sense.

    So, Adam is not an activist leader. What if I put a letter on my blog that requests Automattic/WordPress.com to make a more logical policy. We could then direct bloggers — or others — to it, and could ask that it be sent to WordPress support and to Automattic itself.

    Is that a good starting point?

  18. adam Post author

    What I’d like most, I think, is something that a blogger could use to mark her blog and that would make it filterable by the parental controls on browsers. Parents who support their teens’ access to sexually explicit material wouldn’t have to filter. Parents who wanted to restrict their teens’ viewing could do so. For that matter, anyone — parent nor not — who wanted to avoid such material could filter it out.

    that’s a interesting idea that belongs in firefox’ bugtracker. (the API has to exist before websites can use the format). That’s worthy of a letter/post in and of itself.

    The glitch with ‘mature’ tags not displaying ‘mature’ content, needs to be fixed by having an additional flag on each category. once categories have that extra field (admin side, not user side), a lot of the other problems we’re having can be solved.

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