Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Pluck of Florida Today.

Pluck (Noun): Courage.  

Jane likes to grow plants...not just any plant...she likes to grow cabbage. Her family and friends all tell her she should share what she knows with the local community.  Jane joined a local gardening club, and they asked her to write about growing cabbages for their website. Jane is happy as a cabbage.

Jane is encouraged by the outpouring of support she receives from the community.  Jane decides to begin posting her articles about cabbage on Facebook.  Everyone loves Jane, before long she has hundreds of avid readers.  Jane is happy as a cabbage.

Jane notices that her local newspaper offers people the opportunity to post Blogs.  Jane decides to post her blogs about cabbage on Florida Today.  Shortly after posting her blog about "How to Prune Your Cabbage" it disappears.  Jane's son explains that her blog will not stay in the "rotation" very long because of spam...he explains what spam is..and that if Jane gets enough "recommends" her cabbage blog will stay at the top longer. Jane thinks people should be able to have more time to see her blog so she asks friends and family to recommend her articles.  Soon Jane's blogs about cabbage are always at the top. Jane is happy as a cabbage.

One day Jane goes to Florida Today and notices her blog about "How to Find Babies in the Cabbage Patch" is not number one.  It has been replaced by Gertrude's blog about "Growing Gourds in a Bath Tub". Jane is happy to see her fellow garden club member getting out there.  Jane is happy as a cabbage.

Everyday Jane checks the status of her blogs on Florida Today.  She notices that Gertrude is always #1 in the Recommended Blogs List.  Jane is slightly upset.  Gertrude beats her by one recommend every day. Jane decides to drum up some help from fellow members of the garden club to put her blog back on top.  Jane is happy as a cabbage.

The next day Jane checks her blog's position on Florida Today.  She had just posted a blog on "The Cabbage Juice Diet".  It was a big hit with the local garden club.  Jane had gotten some of the information from The Cabbage Juice diet a magazine article from "You Are The Cabbage".  Jane is confused...maybe she hadn't hit the Publish button...could be...she has done that before. Jane sees a message that says "Jane's profile is currently under review". What does this mean?  Her son explains that someone complained about the information on her profile.  Jane is not happy as a cabbage.

Soon all of Jane's stuff is back where it belongs.  All Jane can think is that Gertrude was behind all this nonsense.  Jane begins asking her grand daughter about some of the buttons on the Blog...she is very interested in the "Report Abuse" button.  Her grand daughter explains that if someone posts a blog or a comment that is vulgar, or might violate copyright pushing the "Report Abuse" button will get the blog or comment deleted.  Jane is happy as a cabbage.

Jane goes into Gertrude's latest blog titled..."How to Make Gourds Happy".  She hovers the mouse pointer over "Report Abuse"...she clicks it.  She sees a list of things she can complain about...She decides that Gertrude has violated copyright in her article.  She types in the reason she feels that way.  Safe in the idea that Gertrude will never know who reported her...she clicks "Report".  Jane is happy as a cabbage.

Faster than making cole slaw...her abuse report flies across the Internet....a message flashes on a distant computer screen in the distant land of Pluck...an Internet God of sorts is now looking at Gertrude's blog about Gourds...this God is not that interested...they click delete..and the blog is forever sent to the land of archived data...soon to never be seen again.

Gertrude sees that her blog...which see saw with her own eyes at number 1...is now...gone. She calls Florida Today...they tell her someone reported it as a Copyright Violation. Gertrude knew this had to be Jane's doing.  A flurry of abuse reports are sent back and forth...Jane and Gertrude end up banned from posting...Gertrude returns with a new name...So does Jane...the battle of the Cabbages and Gourds continues to this day.


What is wrong with Florida Today...the newspaper...not the State.  I could write an entire book about the sad state of American Journalism...the lack of investigation...the lack of reporting...the sad state of writing.

That is not the point.

This is about the Blogs, Forums, Article postings and comments on Florida Today.  This article is about the mystery deletions, the freaky bans, the odd behaviors.  I have conducted experiments, investigations, and actually talked to people who know.  Although this article may contain some educated "guessing", it is accurate.  Unlike a real journalist I will tell you when I'm guessing.

Jane and Gertrude exist on every form of interactive media on the Internet.  Sadly, Jane and Gertrude are the least offensive of these. Jane and Gertrude are examples of the nature of humans.  The need to feed their ego, and the desire to be number one.

Any social media that is overrun with Jane's and Gertrude's will soon find that itself in trouble. Company's spend millions of dollars just trying to control the Jane's and Gertrude's of the Internet.  Where does Florida Today stand on this issue?

Gannett, the parent company of Florida Today has contracted with Pluck Solutions to provide and help manage their social media. Pluck is an interesting company.  In addition to setting up the technical end, they also manage the social issues. Managing social issues means moderating and seeding.  The first you see, the second you don't.

If a company is to be serious about social media, moderation is necessary.  Jane and Gertrude create too much noise.  Noise is a problem.  How do you manage this noise?

Moderation begins at the front door. I was a Security Specialist for my entire military career. The truth about security is this...nothing is 100% secure...the more secure something is the harder it is to use.  Those are facts.    There must be a balance based on what you perceive to be the threat.

The threat to Florida Today is spam.  Spam is the case of social media is mostly advertising. Florida Today counts on advertising to make money...spam has the potential to steal that money.  Spammers also are more computer literate than the average user.  They have software that allows them to automatically fill out the registration forms and create accounts while the spammer drinks coffee and surfs the latest sports news.

Gannett, and Florida Today have a wide open front door.  There is little to stop a mediocre spammer from walking in the front door.  Simple methods for spam control are available and they are relatively inexpensive.  Will you achieve 100% security...no...but it is far better than what exists. Even if the spammers disappear there are still the Jane's and Gertrude's of this world.  How do you make people behave themselves?

There are three ways to moderate posts. The first is real time moderation...you pay someone to read each blog, forum entry, or comment.  Real time moderation is expensive...very expensive. Even with sophisticated software to help,  a real time moderator is going to be a busy beaver.

The second way to moderate is pre-post moderation.  When a user posts a blog, comment, or forum article it does not appear until it is approved by a moderator.  This method may be slightly less expensive, but only marginally so.  It also slows the pace of the conversations. User's will quickly tire of waiting to see a response  to their posts and move on to another site.  I belong to a site that uses this type of moderation...what I post is not of an urgent nature, and I can wait.

The third type of moderation is Community Based.  This is the type promoted by Pluck, and used by Florida Today.  Community Based moderation takes advantage of the community to help police itself.  They also use moderators to scan the system from time to time.  Less expensive, and least effective in controlling the Jane's and Gertrude's.  In Fact, this type of moderation creates issues that otherwise may not have existed before.

Community Based moderation, as promoted by Pluck, and used by Florida Today works on the principle that people will vote for the articles, blogs, and comments they like the best. If people were not involved this would work great...but people are involved.  People screw up the best systems.

For instance, When you post a blog, a reader has several options.  They can do nothing at all, this is what most people do.  They can comment on the blog.  You won't see many of these. They can recommend the blog..some people do this...but it is still relatively few.  They can report the blog as abuse....this is, in a normal world...not done very often.  I can say I have reported maybe 4 blogs for abuse...ever...and I read hundreds of blogs per month...most of them technical and very boring.

Comments are seldom an issue for me.  People can say what they want.  I learn from some...laugh at others...and the really stupid ones are obvious.  I let em all stand.  Sadly, Florida Today and Pluck moderate them and I have no say on what gets deleted.

Recommends, now who would complain about people who recommend something they wrote?  Unfortunately, Pluck's Community Based moderation turns it into a competition. Why is that bad?  Jane and Gertrude is why.

Reporting Abuse...now this is a sticky one.  You can report a blog/comment for Obscenity/Vulgarity, Hate Speech, Personal Attack, Advertising/Spam, Copyright/Plagarism, or Other.  This is where Pluck, and Florida Today actually become involved.  The report is flagged and sent to a moderator.  They are supposed to review the entry and make a judgement.  This counts on the moderator's intelligence, experience, and the guidelines set out by Gannett. Moderators are people...people screw up the best systems.

Moderators are people...they are probably overworked and under paid....they are prone to mistakes...they are prone to being lazy....they might just be in a bad mood....hitting delete and explaining why is easier than not hitting delete and explaining why. That is life.

So what is wrong with Florida Today.  I talked about their system...and in my opinion there are two things that are wrong that can be easily fixed.  The first is the wide open front door, the second is the method of Community Based moderation.


I only have a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science, and 35 years of experience in security. Pluck and its parent company employs PHDs and MBAs.  To quote one of my favorite computer programmers "This ain't rocket science...We just make it look that way." (DocDoom). With that in mind I will make some recommendations that may cost too much for Florida Today to afford...and one that should cost nothing.

Put a lock on the front door. That does not mean lock it down tight...but by adding Capcha or similar technology you will reduce the spam noise.  It is fairly inexpensive..and it comes from Carnegie Mellon University....I know these people...and they are damn smart.

Stop the insanity of competition.  Recommends as a way of determining community approval is silly at best...stupid in practice.  If the community likes an article they will bookmark it..and pass it on to friends.  They will do this without saying a word.  That is a true recommend.  By extrapolation it gives me an insight into the number of visitors to the blogs.  Not flattering.  Other Gannett sites do not use the Recommends and have far fewer issues. 

Train and Supervise Moderators.  At the risk of making some moderation slug angry...it is obvious they need better training and supervision.  When blogs about flowers...simple comedy...and people telling about personal experiences are deleted then a real issue exists with the moderation staff. Someone will have to pay for this...and in the end...the customer pays for everything. That's business. 

Stop being a Jack Wagon. Reporting people's comments because you don't like the comment is not how adults...or even teenagers are supposed to act.  If you believe that world peace can be achieved through Government control...Florida Today is a prime example of how that will not work.  The Real Problem with Florida Today is....... YOU. 


Florida Today has Pluck....not the company...but courage.  It is dangerous to open your paper up to unknown readers, and allow them to post their opinions on your website.  I believe that newspapers...printed on paper will die...just like Sanskrit written on clay did. However, there is no reason to believe that the newspaper printed on 1's and 0's needs to follow suit. The offering of online content created by readers, and others is an excellent way to generate views...and views generate income.  Its a brave new world, full of possibilities in communication that have not been thought of yet.  Do you, my dear reader, have Pluck? 

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