Talking rules

Like every community site, Able2Know grapples with the dilemmas of moderating objectionable content – and defining what “objectionable content” is. Some of it is easy to identify. Our volunteer moderators remove unceasing amounts of spam. Rare appearances of gore and pornography are dealt with swiftly.

Other lines are harder to draw. Especially on political threads, discussions can veer off into insult or even harassment. Able2Know errs on the side of free speech, but does need to preempt behavior that harms the community. A glut of personal attacks can make the forum inhospitable to participation and discourage new members.

Earlier this year, Able2Know revamped its content policy. You can find the current policy by clicking the “Rules” link in the footer of the site. Some of the rules are easy to uphold; others trickier. Rule 8, for example: “No personal attacks on other members. Heated arguments are okay; mudslinging and calling each other names is not.

To increase the transparency of our moderation and to encourage members to adhere to the rules, we are going to try out a small change. When a post is removed for reasons other than spam, you might now find a message indicating that it was removed, and why (e.g. “Response moderated: No personal attacks”).

This might be a little jarring at first. We ask you to keep two things in mind:

  • Our small moderator team cannot read everything that’s posted. If we removed one post but left another up, it might just be that we didn’t see it. So if you see something you feel should be removed, use the Report function and we’ll take a look when we can.
  • As our moderator team is small and consists of people volunteering their spare time, we are not able to engage in discussions about individual post removals.

We are keenly aware that any line we draw is going to be arbitrary to some extent. People will always disagree about what constitutes a “personal attack,” “personal arguments ad nauseum”, or “toxic behavior”. A couple of the rules of thumb we keep in mind, however, involve:

  • distinguishing between personal attacks and criticisms of someone’s views or arguments, however harsh;
  • distinguishing between attacks aimed at an individual and generic broadsides;
  • considering whether a post solely disparages another user or has other, redeeming content;
  • distinguishing between hate speech and controversial views.

In the end, we do not claim to be faultless. All the moderators promise to do, in the spare time they devote to A2K, is to try to be fair – and adhere to the rules that apply to their own actions.

One Man’s Meat is Another Man’s Poison

As an open marketplace for ideas, Able2know seeks to support a diverse range of discussion. One of the inevitable results of said diversity is that some of the speech that occurs freely on Able2know is objectionable to some people, sometimes acutely so.

Our preferred way of dealing with such situations is to try to create solutions that allow for the free expression to continue for those who seek it, while providing a way for those who find said speech objectionable to avoid it.

Towards these aims we are introducing a new NSFW feature that allows for members to report posts that are Not Safe For Work through the normal topic and post reporting buttons.  Moderators will mark topics and posts that are NSFW that follow our definition thereof. These topics and posts will not be removed, but will be marked with a “NSFW” flag (and posts are collapsed by default). Anyone who wants to see the content can still do so on a case-by-case basis or members can edit their user preferences if they don’t want to collapse NSFW posts at all.

This NSFW flag allows us to better serve the different portions of our community. For example, no longer will we be editing out graphic images, and replacing them with links. Moderators will simply mark posts NSFW and those who want to see them can, and those who do not don’t have to, problem solved.

If only all the world’s objectionable-content problems were resolved this easily.

Ombudsmen

We’ve created a new position that we’re calling “ombudsmen.”  The purpose of this position is to look for technical problems with A2K, and then report those problems to the developers.  If the ombudspeople learned of a problem because you brought it to their attention, they will follow up with you to let you know when the problem has been resolved by the developers.  (And the developers can continue on their merry developing way without having to deal with the cus… members.)

While the ombudsmen will be looking out for problems all over able2know, if you have a concern, the best way to make sure they see it is to put it on this forum within the able2know group:

http://groups.able2know.org/able2know/feedback/

The current ombudspeople are:

Jespah
Butrflynet
Thomas
Cycloptichorn

Most of this group responded to our call for volunteers — this is essentially the tester position (with an additional communication component).  Many thanks to all of them for their willingness to help!

Note, this is an informal, intermediary position.  The ombudspeople won’t be speaking officially for able2know, or making predictions about when a given problem will be solved, or giving you a sneak peak at new features that are in the pipeline.  They’ll just be making sure that your bug reports reach the developers, and then will be following up with you.  (Please do not send them PMs — they will not respond if you do. Keeping the reports public is better; it keeps everyone informed and reduces duplication.) Sometimes a given issue will be unfixable, or will be put on hold to be fixed as part of a larger project down the line.  But this should be a more efficient way for the developers to deal with most bugs and other technical problems with able2know.

The New Design Is Here

That was quick!

We are putting together an explanation of the changes that will be posted soon.

Robert explains a bit about the new Able2Know group here:

http://groups.able2know.org/able2know/topic/10-1

There is a feedback thread here:

http://groups.able2know.org/able2know/topic/8-1

Please let us know if you are having any issues.  Thanks!

New Design On Its Way!

Able2Know will be down for a little while today.  There will be a new design unveiled soon!  Stay tuned.

Call for Volunteers

We appreciate how many people have offered to help us out at A2K. Here’s your chance! There are two types of volunteers that we need right now, testers and moderators.

Testers are the first to see a new feature before it is launched. They experiment with the new feature, seeing if everything works the way it is supposed to, and reporting anything that does not work well to the developers. The feature that currently needs testing is groups, but we will continue to need testers in the future for other purposes as well.

You are probably more familiar with the concept of moderators. Our most pressing need at this point is for more people in more time zones to see and promptly zap spam. Right now the reporting system works well (thank you to all who report spam!), and we are able to remove all of the spam that is reported. However, sometimes spam languishes for a while (especially overnight) before a moderator sees it and pulls it, and some spam isn’t reported and stays up for a good long time before we are able to find it and pull it — if we find it at all. (Every now and then we come across spam that is months or years old.)

If you are interested in doing one of these things to help out A2K, or would like to know more, please use the “contact us” link at the bottom of the page.

Thank you!

Maintenance from 11 PM to 1 AM CDT

Our host, WiredTree, has let us know that they will be doing maintenance from 11 PM to 1 AM CDT.  They don’t expect that it will cause much of a problem:  “During this maintenance window, there may be one or more brief interruptions while network traffic is rerouted across our providers. We expect overall client impact to be minimal.”

Our Roadmap and Welcome Philosophy Forum!

On June 9th PhilosophyForum.com was hacked (again) through security vulnerabilities in its vBulletin software and associated plugins. We had intended a smooth merger in a few weeks but as you all now know we had to rush this on the 10th to remove the security vulnerability from our servers once in for all and we did so by moving up the merge date to get rid of the insecure vB software from our servers.

Able2know gained many valuable members from Philforum, not just for our existing philosophy forums, which became #1 for “philosophy forum” on the major search engines, but many are branching out into our other many topic areas and the able2know members have, for the most part, done an outstanding job at making them feel welcome.

But this hasty merger caused a lot of predictable consternation that we’d like to apologize for. We’d much rather have done things differently and we’ll work hard to gain your support and become your preferred forum. Here are some of the first things we are working on.

Minor Fixes

  • Usernames/emails with ” phil” appended to them. Duplicate usernames and emails had ” phil” appended to them and we will work with anyone with such an account to either restore their original name or change it to something else they choose. We are proactively doing this where we can but feel free to contact us (through link in the footer) if your account was affected.
  • Some posts were imported with bad BBCode or formatting (often appearing to be missing text until the post is quoted). We will fix such instances in maintenance windows, please send us links (through the help desk in the footer) to any you find.
  • Profiles, signatures, friends, private messages, email update subscriptions, ignore lists, thanks and more are all data we plan to import as we can. In the case of profiles and signatures we will not override any that have be entered on able2know and will only import the data when it is blank on the a2k end.
Major Development
Our current road map is a 3-6 week cycle by our best estimates but able2know is not what pays our bills so please understand if predictions change.
  • Groups – We intend to get a rough beta version of private groups going and we will import the Philforum groups. This will also allow for users to make their own forums with their own structure and rules if they do not agree with how we run things.
  • Read Tracking – One major feature vB had that we don’t yet is read tracking, so that you can jump to the first unread post in a thread or so that your new posts list can only display what you haven’t already read (with topics reappearing if they have a new post). This gives users the ability to much more efficiently manage the new posts lists, and given that our activity levels are so much higher this will only help users deal with all the extra activity.
  • Forum Filtering – Some users want the site to only be about philosophy, others don’t want the site to have so many topics about philosophy (or word games, or whatever) so we are going to implement a solution where you can subscribe/unsubscribe from forums. By default it will just learn from what you do, so if you only posted in philosophy forums that is all you will see, but users will also be able to manually intervene and view all forums or manually select what they want to see. This way users can better tailor the site to their interests.
These are the shortlist of improvements we seek to make in the next few weeks. This is by no means the full list of improvements we will make and things like blogs, albums and other missing features from Philforum will come as soon as we can build them. We just need time to develop them and do them right but give us a chance and we’ll work hard to improve this site and earn its place as your preferred forum.

Contest: Want a free a2k hat?

Here is how:

1) Follow @able2know on twitter ( http://twitter.com/able2know ) and send us a tweet guessing one of the countries (other than the Vatican City city/state) that a2k has not received any visits from in the last year.

OR

2) Fan us on Facebook ( http://www.facebook.com/able2know ) and post on our wall guessing one of the countries (other than the Vatican City city/state) that a2k has not received any visits from in the last year.

The first person to name one (hint: it won’t be easy!) will receive your choice of a retro-logo a2k baseball cap or one with our new logo. Limited to one guess per day per site (facebook or twitter) to qualify.

A faster able2know. We are now using a Content Delivery Network

Some of you may have noticed some missing images today for a brief period, and what you were seeing was a transition where we began to use a content delivery network. To the non-techies among us what we did was move all our static content (images, JavaScript, CSS, etc) and host it with a distributed Content Delivery Network.

This should help to make able2know a bit faster by removing the need for the static content to be served by the same servers that serve the application content. We can also make those files download more quickly by using a network optimized for download speeds where the files are hosted around the globe in order to bring them closer to the users around the world.

We are using Amazon’s CloudFront network for able2know’s CDN, and this means our static content is now being served out of the following locations:

United States

  • Ashburn, VA
  • Dallas/Fort Worth, TX
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Miami, FL
  • Newark, NJ
  • Palo Alto, CA
  • Seattle, WA
  • St. Louis, MO

Europe

  • Amsterdam
  • Dublin
  • Frankfurt
  • London

Asia

  • Hong Kong
  • Tokyo
Hopefully this made browsing able2know a little faster for you, and even if you don’t immediately notice things like that they add up and we will continue to work on making able2know even faster (hey, we are hardcore web performance geeks, this is what we do). Let us know if you notice anything amiss from the CDN roll out and here’s to hoping the changes bring about a slightly speedier able2know for you.