Blake's blog

"You've Got...Descriptions!"

You may or may not have noticed the Journal feeds now has full descriptions that include the entire posts. I may need to cut it down a bit, assuming I can figure out how to do that, because some of them are quite long. It was actually a suprisingly easy hack, and I didn't even know it was working until someone said thanks. I think I also finally fixed LISFeeds.

I just logged into the postmaster account on the new server and there was almost 20,000 bounces from spammers sent to various accounts on the server. I guess I should've made that "catchall deleted" when I first set it up.

Quick update on the fund drive, we're more than half way there, so I think I won't go broke this year by leaving the site on it's own server, I'll write something better soon, but I'm rather busy this week, I'm movng to yet another new address, working my day job, trying to keep up with support on LISHost, and, increasingly, babysitting LISNews. This latest round of political crap is sucking all the fun out of the site. I hate to be put in such a stupid position, behave yourselves.

Click On Those "Ads By Google!"

The High Cost Of Hosting LISNews

Today was the last day I had to get LISNews moved over to the new server, and though today isn't over, the fat lady has sung for the month of May. This puts me in a bad spot, financially. Here's the long version of this story…

LISNews was on a big shared (Sun OS) server at Pegasus Web Hosting for a few years, until December of 2002, when I finally felt confident enough in my Linux skills that I'd be able to maintain my own server. The idea was I'd move LISNews to a dedicated server, and sell space to a few other folks to cover as much of the $180 a month as I could. That idea did actually work, the server pays for itself (I'm not counting the time I put in). 2 months ago I bought a new server (Red Hate Enterprise) because the operating system on the old server (Red Hat 7.3) had reached the end of life from Red Hat, which means no more official Red Hat updates. The new server should have updates for a few years to come, so I shouldn't need to make any more moves for quite awhile, which is great, because the move was a royal pain, and took way too long to finish. So, I moved everyone from the old server, to the new, except me, LISNews is still running on the old server. It turns out Slashcode does not play nice with Apache2, and RHEL, which means even if I can figure out how to get Slashcode to run on the new server (which I am very unsure of at this point), I'd still be paying for 2 servers ($360/month) for at least another month, which really puts me in the hole. I love LISNews, but I need to draw the line now, and start begging for money, or I'm going to need to sell a kidney to pay for this soon.

What I'm currently thinking is see if I can raise enough money (by just asking for donations from the LISNews readership) to pay for the second server for the remainder of this year (9 months counting April @$180 a month) and just leave LISNews sit on it's own server, which is where Slashcode really likes to be anyways (does not play well with others). Maybe by the end of the year there'll be some updates to Slashcode and I can easily move it over to LISHost, or maybe I can just leave it be, and try to raise enough money to again pay for the server next year.

So, here's my question... can I possibly raise $1620.00? Would you kick in a buck or two? That seems like a heck of alotta money to ask for, but I think I've reached the point where I can no longer afford to pay for this all on my own. So, anyone think there's enough good will amongst the LISNewsterz to get the server paid for through the rest of the year? At this point it's only an idea, but one I think I am going to go with. Even if I can raise part of that, it'll buy me more time to get things moved to the new server.

(footnote: The googleads will help defray that cost a little bit, but click through rates are almost 0, so it's not something I can count on. I often think I should just take them off the site, but I suppose even $20 a month is something)

Google, SEO, and Other Shallow Thoughts

It's very important to most people, well, most commercial sites, hell, all commercial sites on the web to know from where their visitors are coming. As a webmaster you need to know this kind of thing to know where to focus your advertising. There's an entire Search Engine Optimization (SEO) industry that has sprung up to sell people better search rankings. Most of this Optimization is aimed at optimizing google search results. I can attest to the importance of google, the VAST majority of people who come to LISNews with a referral listed came through one of googles many domains. Let's take April '04 as an example. Urchin tells me 75% of all people who came for a visit did so without a referral. Of those that did come through with a referral, google was responsible for about 18,000 of them, and that's out of about 160,000 total for the month. So google was responsible for greater than 10% of total traffic, but no one was responsible for 75% of all LISNews visitors, that is, assuming Urchin is correct, I could put up a robots exclude tag, and most likely loose very few visitors, since search engines make up a good percentage of the total visits. So why so many people from google? Does that mean google works much better than the other search engines? Was everyone coming from google looking for something we had at LISNews? Or, is it just that "everyone" uses google and we happen to be on the first page of search results for a few searches, and those people click through to LISNews and are disappointed.

This all got started because I was thinking on sending updates to various librarian lists as a better way to make sure that everyone knows about LISNews. I have no way of gauging how much name recognition we have in the library community in general. If I was to stop 10 random librarians at ALA in Orlando next month, how many of them would know what LISNews is? My guess? 4, is the sample was good. Maybe 6 if they were mostly younger, or very web focused. So anywho…. A few other things I've been thinking on:

1. "PDF me" feature for al the stories we post, it would be a little button integrated within the super-secret-and-exciting admin pages that when we post a story it would automatically archive the story. I guess it would pull out the URL and fetch with LWP or something and write it to a PDF file in some PDF directory. This obviously raises lots of legal issues, if that directory were to be made public, so it would be more for our archives, just so we can go back and refer to them at some point if need be.

2. "Label me" As part of the zoo plugin maybe, or just as part of the users table, everyone could label themselves as being, for example, conservative, liberal, special librarian, academic, etc.. It'd be like having little clubs I suppose. That might involve separate discussions and journals for those who labeled themselves alike.

3. News alerts plugin. Probably doesn't need much a description, though I think it could apply to comments, journals, and stories, so it would be more than just a news alert, it would cover whatever we have to offer.

4. Regular updates to lists. Gary and Tara have always done it, and done a great job, but for some reason I've always avoided sending "What's new on LISNews this week" out to any library listservs. I remember thinking at some point that I wanted the site to grow on it's own, and plenty of people will just find us, and those who think LISNews is useful will stick around. I didn't want to do anything that could be thought of as marketing, probably just to see how we would grow without it. Well, I think we've grown now, and I suffer no delusions of grandeur, I think for the most part we've grown as much as we're going to grow. I'd be very surprised that if a year from now I was writing about how we were getting 8,000 visitors a day. We're more of a nitch (or is that niche?) site, and there can't be that many people out there that would be interested in a regular LISnews visit. But I digress… I was thinking that it might not be a bad idea to send out some weekly updates to a few different lists. That'll be the easiest one to pull together, the other three, all I can say is, someday. Label me would be the most fun, news alerts the most useful for the most people, and pdf me the most useful for us. I need a team of dedicated Slashcode programmers dedicated to LISNews.

5. Cleaning up the HTML. It's just a mess, and that's well known amongst us Slashcode devotees. That's also something that should be handled as part of the project, but I know there is some of my own HTML in there, and it could really use some work.

Best Comment I've Seen In A Long Time

From an AP:

We should coin a variant of Godwin's Law: "As a LISNews discussion of Internet filtering grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving religious fanaticism or child pornography approaches one."

I say we call it Carver's Law ;-)

Waxing Poetic On My Short Attention Span

One things blogs (LISNews included) are not very good at is keeping any sort of continuity going on a topic. It's partly due to the format (the medium is the message), and partly due to how the people who run them tend to move into new topics readily. No small part of the blame should fall to blog readers (myself included) who seem to be out for the latest news, with little regard to much in the way of long term follow ups. There's little continuity, and little follow through most of the time.

The way blogs are set up makes it difficult to keep any one story on the front page, which is usually the most read page, for any amount of time. Keeping things "above the fold" for more than a hour on a busy blog is next to impossible. I often find myself wondering if we posted too many stories in a given day, if we are sacrificing quantity for quality.

It's not really what we've posted that always seems so important, but what we else we can find to post next that's really interesting. Are we suffering from information overload by posting so much? What's too much?

For regular blogaholics like myself I'm not sure there can be too many stories. Fark must run 50 stories a day, Slashdot, maybe half that, and LISNews, maybe 15 or so on an average day, but on occasion we've gone over 30.

So the question I guess I'm asking is how can we find a format that would follow a single story? It needs to be easy to read, and easy to update, and it also needs to be part of the larger site, and allow people to follow as many stories as they want independently and simultaneously.

LISNews: The numbers for April 2004

April was a rather busy month. We ran 364 stories, which were tagged with 1130 comments from about 180 different people. We're over 2900 user accounts now. The most popular journals were once again the usual suspects: shoe, nbruce, slashgirl, Fang-Face, Daniel, birdie, tomeboy and Rochelle. The top 35 journals had a total of about 30,000 reads, with the top 10 accounting for most of that.

Here's What Urchin has to say for April:

Total Sessions 160,661.00
Total Pageviews 465,089.00
Total Hits 1,968,473.00
Total Bytes Transferred 12.39 GB
Average Sessions Per Day 5,355.36
Average Pageviews Per Day 15,502.96
Average Hits Per Day 65,615.76
Average Bytes Transferred Per Day 422.84 MB
Average Pageviews Per Session 2.89
Average Hits Per Session 12.25
Average Bytes Per Session 80.85 KB

Compare those to last month (March '04), most everything is up a bit again.
Here's What Urchin has to say for March:

Total Sessions 158,044.00
Total Pageviews 446,587.00
Total Hits 1,953,724.00
Total Bytes Transferred 12.41 GB
Average Sessions Per Day 5,098.19
Average Pageviews Per Day 14,406.03
Average Hits Per Day 63,023.35
Average Bytes Transferred Per Day 410.00 MB
Average Pageviews Per Session 2.82
Average Hits Per Session 12.36
Average Bytes Per Session 82.35 KB
Average Length of Session (HH:MM:SS) 00:10:08

So, how can off-topic be so popular?

"How can off-topic be so popular" was an interesting little read that got me thinking. It bothers me that people question why we post something. Most days not much else bothers me around here, but when people start to question why we find something interesting I get bothered for some reason. I think Fang may be right when he wrote "information being somehow relevant to be permitted is a factor in what we can call low-grade censorship." If an article appears to be not pertinent to you, you are under no compunction to read it, but may pass it by with asking any one else "by your leave". Better yet, slashcode gives you many options to filter our stories that you're not interested in, or just afraid to read.

But, I'll also agree with kctipton that the post was not really about libraries, and I'll also admit that I probably wouldn't have posted it, BUT that really doesn't mean it shouldn't be here. I'd love to outline the careful steps we all take in deciding what to post, but there really aren't any, at least for me. I find something interesting, and then I post it, that's about all there is to it. There is almost no offtopic for LISNews, we should post what we find interesting, while trying to keep things fair and open. There are A LOT of people who have author access to the site (actually, too many people have author access to the site now that I think about it) and they all have the ability to delete a submission, or post something they find interesting. I ask that they try to keep things on topic, and try to be "fair and balanced" in what they choose to post. I think they do a wonderful job %99.99 of the time.

Fang also got me to thinking about the LISNews numbers. Do more visits (hits, sessions, page views, how ever you want to measure it) really mean that we're doing a good job. Does popularity equate to admiration, agreement and participation? An average weekday now shows 5500+ visitors (73000 hits, 16000 page views), does that mean we're doing a good job? Was I not doing a good job 4 years ago when there were only 100 people a day stopping by? Are we on topic? Are we popular? Are we doing a good job? I've always wondered what the numbers really mean.

Someone asked me to delete a comment last night because they felt like they were being stalked by people who went on the attack. I've seen a lot of that over the past few months, a very vocal, small group of folks are really taking the fun out of reading the comments. It's not that I often disagree with what they say, I disagree with how they say it.
Personally, I try to use the comments as a place to expand and explain a story, to share something and to give something back. Unfortunately there is a growing number of people who use them as a place to act like 13 year old girls arguing over the cutest backstreet boy. I saw this coming years ago, and that was the #1 reason to move to the new code, moderation should be taking care of stupidity. There are days I just want to turn the comments off completely.

So, how can offtopic be so popular? The more comments a story receives, the more hits it gets. People are clearly coming to the site to read the stories we post, and read the comments on the stories, and read the journals.

I've whitelisted my mail now. Anyone I've sent an email to in the past few years is on my whitelist, everyone else in the world gets tagged as spam, unless they come through the contact us form. I'll be out of town and more often than not out of touch for the majority of the next week.

On email, UCE, brain-dead liberals, and the server

LISNews receives some odd email. We regularly get reference questions, requests for the new Harry Potter book, homework help requests, and assorted other oddities. Last night I got one chastising me for not having permalinks and a blogroll. This person actually went so far as to make fun of the site, and said it's time to update, time to "join the blogoshpere." My actually reply, and what I wanted to write were 2 different things. I wanted to write, if you're too stupid to figure out how to link to a post then perhaps you shouldn't have your own web site, and I really have better things to do than make a blogroll. If you think I need to be IN anything you're probably the kind of person that spends too much time in front of the mirror… My actual reply was much more cordial.

But this did make me realize, we've been mostly absent from the newer social sites, probably due to me not signing up, or signing in, or whatever. As someone who blogs, and blogs a lot, at relatively busy site, I'm remarkably out of touch with all the latest blogging trends. I'll admit to knowing almost nothing, and not caring at all, about the following:

Kinja, blog rolls, trackbacks, RSS Readers & aggregators, Dave Winer, linklogs, moblogs, permalinks, Technorati, typepad, warbloggers, and most all of the "A List"

I get the concept behind all of those things, I understand what they do, but for the most part I can't figure out why I would spend time on them. I think the best way to run LISNews is to post stories, and work on improving the code. (LISHost also takes up a large part of computer time for me) Maybe we're missing out on some visitors by not being part of all that other crap, but I can't seem to muster the interest to care. I figure those who are interested in the site will find it, and stick around. My attitude has always been that if what we're doing is interesting, then others will find us without any kind of marketing.

Posting stories is now just part of my everyday routine. I don't think we'd be better off if I add a "permalink" button, or a blogroll, or any of that other stuff to the site. There's nothing wrong with those things, but really, this in not an MT site, it's not a one person operation, and people don't come here to read about my personal life, well, maybe they come here, my journal, but not to the LISNews homepage. For me having the ability to blog, is just a small part of the fun, this is why I don't use Blogger, typepad, or anything else I can't hack. I like the challenge of maintaining the server that LISNews runs on, I like the challenge of learning how the slashcode runs, and I like to write. These are all equally important to me, and they're why I do what I do. Blogging is a technological, programming, social, academic and fun endeavor for me. It's not a popularity contest. All that other stuff is just filler that, for me, would take away from what I really like about the site.

In other email news, that won't result in a huge tangent, I got asked why 90% of librarians are so often "brain dead liberals" because someone apparently can't tell the difference between someone who left a comment and an "editor at LISNews." So if you're reading this, and you're a brain dead liberal, please stop. I'm not sure if you need to stop being brain-dead, or just stop being a liberal.

I'm also starting to realize that spamassasian is quickly becoming useless, and the only way to stop spam will be to go to a white-list only email system.

In server news, all domains have been moved to the new server, EXCEPT LISNews, which means LISNews is alone on a $180/month server until I can figure out how to get it to run on the new server, which is proving to be a huge pain in the ass as expected. This could really be troublesome for me because I can't afford an additional $180/month, nor do I really want to maintain 2 separate servers. Not sure what's going to happen, but I hope I can work it out before May 12, which is when my next payment is due.

The Cool Kids

I was poking around looking for ways to spice up LISFeeds and I noticed LISNews absent from all the "most popular feeds" lists I ran across. We don't show up on any of the most popular RSS feeds lists, which is kind of odd, since we were really way ahead of the curve on the whole RSS thing, and our RSS feeds are all hit like crazy. I can also say that our feeds are hit more than other sites that are on many of those lists. Why we aren't one of the cool kids I don't know; story of my life.

Another thing that really surprised me was just how many librarian sites show up on all those lists. Librarians sure do love their feeds. There must be a billion sites with feeds, and to have so many librarians so popular really says something about how well respected librarian sites are in the blogosphere.

So anywhoo... if you're wondering about LISFeeds, I'm working on it. It's not a big priority at this point, I need to get everyone else moved over to the new server first. I expect it'll be back in action before too long.

Primary Sources

On a rare occasion I've had the opportunity to view how many people click through a link posted on LISNews. Frequently, I've found the numbers were much lower than expected. Though I have had a few people tell me that a link from LISNews to their site resulted in a huge number of hits, I think that's not the case with most links, and I could never figure out why. Now, I am ready to make a guess. People come to read. This thought crossed my mind as I was reading Jessamyn's librarian.net, and then jessamyn.com. I thought, I come to one to read, and the other to find places to go. For me most blogs are a place to go to find other places to go, blogs are a place to find primary sources.

So my guess is most people come to LISNews to read, maybe it's more of a primary source for most people. They come to read the stories, and they come to read the comments, and recently they've started to come to read the journals. Most posts to the main site tend to contain enough of the story so that it's not usually necessary to click through to have a good idea of what the story is about. My guess is people don't come for indepth reading on every issue, but rather to keep informed, and just get an idea of what's going on We post a brief outline, and for me at least, that's enough most of the time, I don't feel the need to go on reading more. When we do post a link to a new site, or something that is worth viewing, then I think we have a mini-Slashdot effect (emphasis on the mini). Am I wrong, is this arrogant? I don't mean to overstate the importance of LISNews in anyway, I just think it fits the "good 'nuff" model of what most people need to stay informed.

I keep thinking we'd make a good primary source if we had reporters, and more original writing. How to ever do that eludes me.

The LISNews Numbers For March

Total of about 158,000 sessions, that's about 5,100 a day.
Served about 446,000 pages, 14,400 a day.
That totals up to about 2 million hits, 63,000 a day.
Which meant about 12 gigs worth of files were transferred.

Most popular pages where, as usual, article.pl, index, lisnews.rss, comments.pl, and article.php3. It surprises me how much the old php files still get hit.

Journals:
Along with being the most prolific writers, shoe and nbruce are also the most widely read. The two of them account for about 10% of all the journal hits. The are followed, thoguh not very closely, by me, ChuckB, slashgirl, Rochelle, Daniel, rudimeyers, moneygirl, and tomeboy. The more you write, the more you're read. I'm guessing that an LISNews journal would be read more often, to start, than if someone just started blogging elsewhere. There's a good number of people @LISNews who read all the journals.
Journal RSS files are fairly similar, with shoe being the most read by a wide margin, followed by zamiel, nbruce, me, slashgirl, Bibliofuture, Samantha, Daniel, ChuckB, and tomeboy.
The top journals were hit a total of over 26,000 times last month. The top 10 accounted for about 25% of that total.

Referrals:
The big news from last month was Slashdot. They sent about 3,500 people our way, most in one day. The server held up just fine, I think I was more worked up about it than the server. The rest of the months referrers were, google, radio, yahoo, bloglines, aolsearch, and msn. "No referral" holds steady at #1 with about 75% of visitors not reporting a referral.

With well over 2800 accounts now, all the other numbers I can pull out of the Db are up again as well.
1044 comments from about 200 folks. AP's are hard to count, but my educated guess is about 90. I do know for sure, 108 different users posted at least one comment.
57 people moderated 152 different stories. Just 12 people metamoderated.

If I have some time this weekend I'll make some quarter one stats available as well.

Anonymous Patron Account: Help or Hindrance?

Let me preface this post with the following caveat: I am in no position to make anything even remotely close to what I am proposing here happen. I don't have the time, or the PERL skills to put a system like this in place… This is really just me riffing, I have no answers, only questions...

Rusty has made an interesting move over at K5. It's almost like he's going to combine Orkut, and K5. He's going to mandate all new users be sponsored in some way by other, current members. I wonder if that kind of thing could be used in the Slashcode? Would it be worth it to shut of the AP account, and make LISNews invite only?

First, let's look at the numbers:
LISNews has 2808 user accounts, of those accounts, 345 were active this month in some fashion, that is to say, at least 345 were logged in this month. So let's say that means we have about 345 active members.
Anonymous Patron left 112 comments, and my guess would be that's about 80 distinct people (and that's a very educated guess).

So, let's round things off, 350 active users, and 2500 others who could invite others to become a member. Is that enough people to keep LISNews interesting? Metafilter has been in "slow growth" mode for years now, and I'm not sure it's been hurt at all. I still make frequent visits. But with signups closed, there's not much of a chance of any big changes in what gets posted, the same people post the same things most of the time. I've seen some changes in LISNews over the years, some turnover, and that makes things more interesting. What do we lose if things are no longer Anonymous? Does locking people out make those on the inside more important? Does locking people out make an LISNews account more desirable?

What I've always hoped to gain with the AP account is the occasional user who doesn't have the time or inclination to bother with getting an account, but who has something to contribute once a month, or maybe just twice a year. It's those folks we'd be locking out by turning the Anonymous account off. Would we just be losing noise, and leaving the signal?

So how would the site grow, how would we manage new accounts, and who would control this? We could do it like Okrut, all current users can invite friends to join. We can sell new accounts. We can limit AP to one post a day. We can allow one new account a day. We can have us authors decide who gets an account. A random lottery? Accounts as a reward for submitting a story? Maybe only add new accounts when the number of comments falls below a certain level? Could active members be rewarded with accounts they can sell?

So far I don't see the need to shut off the anonymous account, or limit new accounts in any way, but it's worth thinking about as we go forward, because we may have the same problems K5 has. I don't think we appeal to such a wide audience, but I do think our audience can grow a little more. I keep thinking we've topped out, but it hasn't happened yet.

So that's the theoretical stuff, what can I really do at this point? I can turn off the Anonymous Patron account. It's just a click away. I've had several people suggest it, but I can't say that I really see any need at this point. Anonymous Patron comments seem to be, on average, less useful that Non-Anonymous Patron comments, though not always bad. This week has been especially bad, and if things keep up, or get worse, I may start to consider turning off the AP account.

I have no idea how I'd begin to program any kind of system to control new signups, but maybe that's something I can think about down the road. I'd still like to keep LISNews as open as possible, for now.

LISNews Gets Some Print Coverage

Robin noticed we got mentioned in the Jackson Citizen Patriot for our Story on the Jackson District Library's web site being cracked.

"A Citizen Patriot news story about the incident was picked up by the Librarian & Information Science News, a Web site featuring news of interest to librarians. The story, "Cyber vandals strike library," had gotten nearly 500 "hits" by the time we checked. It also had sparked a debate among librarians on political speech. One person began the debate with a partisan comment: "This is anti-Bush hacking, so it should be OK. Shouldn't it? I'm just so confused by which stand to take." Others replied that, while Jackson's hack could be defended as free speech, it was also cyber vandalism.

Oh, the moral dilemmas of library science! Librarians have struggled with computer filters as a free-speech issue, and now hacking."

[Note: crack and hack, should not really mean the same thing, though they seem to be used interchangeably.]

It's interesting to see how this story traveled from print, to web, and back again.

Fresh baked cookies!

I've reworked all the cookie settings, so your best bet is to delete any LISNews cookies, and log back in. You should only have to login once now for all sections/areas/journals, whatever, they all use the same settings now, so I think I've fixed the long running cookie problems. If you have any troubles with being asked to login after you've already logged in, let me know.

Speaking of fresh baked, I'm hoping to have LISNews.org up and running on the new code today. I've got a 50/50 shot at gettin it running today I think.

You are stuck with what we find interesting on any given day

Thanks for all the kind feedback I got last week. I can't begin to tell you how nice that was.

I've noticed a couple "why is this on LISNews" comments for the first time lately. For years the LISNews about page said:

"You are stuck with what we find interesting on any given day, if that happens to interest you, then today is your lucky day." And I always wanted the rest to say: "If not, then tough shit, you're not paying for it."

I can't remember exactly why I took that line out. I guess it just never felt quite right being there, but I still think it sums up nicely what we do here. For the most part LISNews works like this:

Someone has an interest in becoming an author at LISNews.
They contact me, I give them super secret and exciting author powers.
They find a link, story, site, or something they find interesting.
They login, and post it to LISNews.

I've always worked hard at keeping LISNews as open as possible, without going completely metafilter, because I believe that having more people involved with the site makes it more useful/interesting/informative/exciting/etc… Lately, the number of authors, coupled with my time off, has meant there's been a noticeable change in what gets posted. I've posted the majority of the stories over the past 4 years, which means, by default, I controlled much of what was seen around here. That's not really something I ever wanted, you know I've been begging for more authors since day one. I've been begging for more participation in general since day one. I'm trying to avoid the echo chamber, and I think we do a pretty decent job most of the time.

So, to answer your question, that is on LISNews because someone thought it was interesting. It's there because we want it there, because you might learn something, and because we decide what to post. Your feedback is always welcome, but we do this because it's fun, and because we find it interesting. We don't need to worry about ratings, or readership, or offending people.

I'll need another week or so to get the new server finished up, and all the domains moved over. LISNews is going to go last this time, because LISNews is going to be such a huge pain to move I don't even want to think about it until I have to. Keep your eyes on LISNews.org. That's where I'll be testing the new code before I dump all our old data in. You can expect some serious down time and general messiness at LISNews for a while as I make the transition.

Tough Day On The Web

The reactions to my call for RIGHT librarians has been quite puzzling for me. First, let me digress…

The LISNews search engine is even worse that I thought. I did a search for RIGHT and another for right, and was returned zero results. The original title of the story was Are you on the RIGHT side?, so I would think a search for one of the 6 words in the title would return that as a result. Ths is more than a little frustrating. I don't know how I'll fix it, but I'll try to figure something out. I'm in the middle of setting up the new server, so I'm a bit preoccupied for a few days, or maybe a week. On that same note, expect LISNews to be a mess for a few days next week as I move the code to the new server. I expect LISNews is going to take more time to move than all the other 30 domains combined.

So anyways, like I was saying, I got a lot of email responses to my query, more than I expected, and they were also much nastier that I expected. The comments left on the story were actually better than I had hoped, with some people for, and some against. Someone actually understood my incoherent and rambling writing as well. It was the email responses I got that puzzled me, about 12 in total. Normally when I propose a new idea, or write for responses I get 1 or 2 if I'm lucky, so 12 is just a landslide for me. At least half were from people I didn't know. They were some pro, some con, and some just wanting to know more. A few others were from folks who I would consider acquaintances (or Ecquaintances) and where not anything to write home about, but 2 really stuck out.

They were both from people who I've fully supported in different ways in the past. They're both people I'd consider well know, smart, and very active in the profession. They're both people who are unapologetically left sided as well. And they both pretty much ripped my head off for even proposing such an idea. One was not really against me exactly, but more of a rant against the right in general, but the other was aimed squarely at me. This person was insulting to me and LISNews. I've gotten some nastiness from this person in the past, so I probably shouldn't have been surprised to see it again.

So, these emails, coupled with the general tone in the comments this week, the shear volume of comments & stories, and a few other things have left me feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and rather negative towards LISNews. The current version of LISNews is just barely over 4 years old, and it's running pretty well without me now, so I think it's safe to take some time off, rethink what I'm doing with the site, and just focus on the server. It's going to be a significant amount of work to get all the LISHost members sites moved to the new server, so even if I wanted to I'd be short on time to devote to LISNews.

Keeping Up With The LISNewsterz

Yesterday morning I decided that would be the day I would read every single comment left on LISNews. I've been slacking lately, letting a lot of comments slide by, unread, even on quite days. I picked a bad day.

For years it was easy to read every comment, we just didn't get any, so it was not much of a challenge to keep up. That may be changing, or it may just be the top of the bell curve. I'm not sure what the record for comments in a single day is, but I know the average for last month is 26 comments a day, January was only 16. We're only 2.5 days into March, and we've already got 85 comments, 55 of which were left yesterday. Yes, these are numbers that a busy site like Slashdot would laugh at, but they're pretty darn high for little ol' LISNews.

Now it may not seem like much to read 55 comments in a day, but just try, go ahead, see how long it takes. I've got a much different view of the site than most folks do; the super secret back end code lets me keep an eye on things from above. It lets me watch the comments come in, see what's being moderated, and keeps an eye out for abuses, which, luckily, we don't have much of at this point. So even with my super powers it's still no easy task trying to keep up. It's also not easy moderating sometimes.

One of the super powers that comes with an author account is the ability to moderate freely. On most days most people get somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 moderator points. That is I manually update the Db field that gives points to people. Slashcode is designed for Slashdot, and it doesn't really scale down very well. For those people who do participate frequently, the code frequently grants them points, for the vast majority of the people who do not, they'd never get any points. It could be argued they don't deserve the points, but I do my best to encourage participation from everyone, and hopefully that helps. I'd like to think it helps avoid things like this comment from an Anonymous Patron:

"Why am I so completely unsurprised by the moderators rating Conservator's comment as flamebait? Fang-Fang's streak of ad hominen attacks against opposing views remains unbroken, and remains a hit with moderators."

I've seen comments like that on Slashdot for years, and I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to see them here as well, but I am. There is no great moderator conspiracy here @LISNews. There may be one @Slashdot, I just don't know, but I do know there isn't one here. This comment in particular was moderated as flamebait by one person, and that was the only time it had been moderated. As a matter of fact, it's one of the very few comments in the past week that modded down at all. And to be fair, Fang-Fang has gotten more than his fair share of negative mods. In general, the vast majority of moderations are up, this one comment was an exception, rather than a vast left wing conspiracy. The moderation system is not perfect, but for the most part I think it does a good job, and I like it.

So to answer your question, Anonymous Patron, I don't know why you are so completely unsurprised by the moderators rating Conservator's comment as flamebait, take a look at all the other comments, I think you'll be surprised. And, by the way, that was me that moderated your comment as flamebait.

The LISNews Numbers for February

This one will be sans my spiffy little charts and graphs due to lack of Photoshop here at work.

So last month...

~126,700 sessions, that's an average of about 4,400 a day. We served ~371,000 pages, which is about 12,800 a day. All that added up to a daily average of about 61,000 hits, a total of around 1.7 million for the month. All of those numbers are a bit ahead of the previous month. We posted an amazing 443 stories from 33 different authors this month, which is the most impressive number, for me at least. That's almost double the numbers from January. Is more always better?

The journals got hit a lot last month. Shoe & nbruce being the most popular, both had well over 20 reads a day. I was a distant third, followed by birdie, Rochelle, Daniel, AshtabulaGuy, tomeboy, djfiander, Bibliofuture, Samantha, and Aaron. If you write, it gets read. It looks like for most people, having the new entry show up on the LISNews index page leads to most of the readers. The more popular writers also have a significant number of people scraping their rss feed as well.

Referrals continue to be all about google. Though only about 25% of LISNews readers even use a referral, those that do came in from one of googles sites more often than most by a large margin. Yahoo, MSN, and Aol were all in the top 10, but msn and AOL were both beaten by Radio rss users. The most popular search terms tell me most folks are not finding what they had hoped for @LISNews. I often think of just adding a meta tag to exclude the entire site from search engines all together just to see what happens. An experiment in web stealth.

Last month we also saw a record number of comments, and moderations. We now have well over 2700 members, and a rather vocal minority are commenting frequently, with a decent number of people jumping in from time to time as well. 763 comments last month, compared to 495 the month before, and 291 back in December. Those comments came from 88 different people [this is an undercount I just relized. It counts AP's as just one, when it could've been hundreds, I'll work on that for next month]. 55 people moderated 456 of those comments. Just 17 people metamoderated last month, which is up one from the previous month, but still rather anemic, which leads me to believe maybe I should just shut that off.

I keep hoping to get some development work done to the site, maybe that will happen this month. I'd like to add [not ass] an Atom feed, as well as a feed that shows all the journals at once. There's also a few other bugs floating around out there as well.

Friday Rambling Thoughts

The "Must Read Stories" topic has bugged me since the day I made it. I can't remember what I was thinking exactly (though I probably could figure it out by looking to see what the very first story was in the old LISNews Db), but it must've seemed like a good idea at the time. It's not used much, and seeing it on the homepage today kind of surprised me.

It's not that I'm against other authors calling something "Must Read," it's just that I can never seem to find a story important enough to apply such an honor. There've been some good stories over the years, Sony Barari, the Questia marketing thing, the interview with Pat Schroeder, and a few others, that I think everyone should've read at the time, but I just never feel that confident. I hate to "cry wolf" and use it too often, though never using it makes it equally useless I suppose.

Usually I think most of what I post should be read by everyone. Taking a quick peak at today's stories, yes, I'll stand by that statement. It was an eclectic mix of loosely library related stories that I think many people could learn something from. I know I took a bit away from everything I posted. The non-Blake stories were even better. Grades=driving, a nice google piece, a pro-filtering, book banning… all over the map, and that's just why I love reading LISNews, I never know what to expect next (Yes, obviously this can go too far). That's why it's not just my site, it's ours, it's not a meblog, it's a weblog. The past few weeks have seen a huge jump in the number of authors, or at least a huge jump in the number of people with the potential to be an author. I've added close to 30 new author accounts, though few have posted yet. In the 4+ years we've been around a lot of people have come and gone, very few have stayed on for more than a year or 2. The collaboration between all us authors, and all the other LISNewsterz is what makes the site so much fun, often the comments are often as interesting as the story itself.

I've been criticized in the past for not taking a more active role in editing LISNews. People have told me I should think of myself as a journalist, an editor, and act like it by forcing the LISNews authors to fall in line and focus the site. I have always waved my paw and said "bah" to those suggestions. It's all about collaboration, and I don't think we need more control at this point. I do think of LISNews as being journalisticISH, but I've never felt it fits the traditional definition of journalism. It's darn close, but we're not there yet, we're missing the originality that I would expect from a true gang of journalists (a gang of journalists come together and form some form of media outlet, which generally sells ads, and therefore becomes an advertising company). As the site matures I hope we do start to do our own original reporting, interviews, and whatever else we can come up with. Weblogs have not yet revolutionized journalism, but they may be causing some small amount of change, and that could lead to something. The day my mom tells me she read something on a blog is the day I think blogs have really caused a shift.

Weblog: You soaking in it
Meblog: One person's weblog
Post: Add a new story to the site; a story on the site
LISNewsterz: People who participate @LISNews
LISNews authors: People who have secret powers to post stories
Stories: Things that appear on the index page
Thread: The resulting discussion that sometimes ensues
Journal: Something every LISNewster has to write in/on/with
El-Eye-Ess-News-Dot-Com: LISNews.com

On Moderation

The LISNews Moderation Reasons are unchanged from the stock Slashcode reasons:
Normal
Offtopic
Flamebait
Troll
Redundant
Insightful
Interesting
Informatice
Funny
Overrated
Underrated.

Normal really isn't a reason, it's just a nothing, Over & Underrated can both be applied to any comment previously moderated as something you disagree with. Offtopic & Flamebait both seem useful, and are usually well used.
But what about Troll, is there really a big difference between a Troll and Flamebait?

The three I really have troubles with are the three I's Insightful, Interesting and Informative. Insightful things are very often interesting and informative. Interesting things usually have some insight and information.

Funny seems good, except humour is so subjective, but there's not much we can do about that.

For those few of you that moderate comments, I pose the question to you… can we come up with new and better Mod Reasons?

Here's some ideas that've crossed my mind.
Pointless: -1
Silly: 0
Stupid: -1
Great: +1
Wonderful: +1
Saklad: -1
Hilarious: +1
LeftWing: 0
RightWing: 0
Moron: -1

Rob Malda has been writing about completely rewriting the moderation system, which could be neat, I just hope they keep us little guys in mind when they're thinking things through.

The question that can't be answered, and which comes up often in my mind is: How can I moderate this as 2 things. One recent comment comes to mind where the comment made such a good point, and, at the same time, was a Troll. How can the moderation system ever cover a situation like that?

LISNews has 2708 user accounts, and 60 different people have moderated at some point. 25 have moderated 10 or more times, and 5 have done it more than 100 (one of those 5 being me). I'll try to run some detailed numbers at the end of the month on some different areas of LISNews, I love watching the numbers.

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