Survival In The Online Trenches
Posted on 23 Jun 2004
by Chris Heilmann (codepo8)
Rated 3.5 (Ratings: 6)
- More articles in Commentary & Society
The Internet is an amazing thing - as a media it was and is arevolution. Everybody can participate, publishing and amending content is a matter of seconds and a lot of it is free. Let's take part, shall we?
Fame, fortune and great feedback await us, so let's put our work out therefor people to find and enjoy.
Alas, it seems as soon as you publish something and allow people to comment on itor use it, you're in for a rude awakening.
Stay with us and hear a tale of the foes we have on the web. All of the upcomingcharacters are purely non-fictional.
Meet the army of spoilers
The professional spammer
His job is to find emails to send important things - like penis enhancementproducts or drugs you cannot get that cheap in the pharmacy - to them.
The clumsy spammer
Links make the web work. Links also make Google recognise and rank our pages.That is why some people tend to sneak in links pointing to their web sites into comments by turning random words and punctuation into links. It may or may not be that Google does follow links that have a dash or a full stop as their textual content, in any case it is a clumsy and rather pathetic try to raise awareness for your web site.
Either disallow links, or display them as full text. That way the commentswill be named and shamed and you can see the spamming immediately and remove the links or the full comment.
Religious debates about Unix vs. FreeBSD vs. Windows aside - your server isconstantly open to attacks by hackers or hacker wannabees. The argument "but the stuff I publish is free and I am not an evil corporation" doesn't work any longer. A server is a server and if I can hack my way into it, I can use it as an online hard disk to store data on.
Don't do the server maintenance, if you don't know what you are doing. Makesure to use complex passwords and change them regularly. If you install scripts and extensions on your server, follow the instructions and do not leave scripts with names like "admin" unprotected. If the script allows it, rename them, or secure them with a password via .htaccess or equivalents.
The citizen of me-oh-me-ia
This dysfunctional breed is prone to fill comment facilities with off-topicmessages pointing in their direction, an example would be: "Wow, cool article about accessible navigations. I think my web site about making little furry animals from dental floss could need it".
Furthermore, the citizens of me-oh-me-ia also have the perception that theirsetup is the world's: "Your script works fine on all common browsers, but my browser XYZ does not support it. Therefore it is useless".
This type is more annoying than really destructive. Therefore you can eitherjust counterargument in the comments, or, in case of serial offenders, deletethem. People like these keep us from really improving our sites and adding new content, as we have to spend all that time on maintenance.
The "My help request right or wrong" user
This type has the impression that you are either all-knowing, or that you dohave the inclination and time to help out no matter how unrelated the request is."I have seen your PHP script, and I like it, how can I set up a server to run it?" or "I see you publish a lot of articles, can you tell me what laptop is the best" are typical examples. They most likely don't mean to be annoying, they just think you like helping people, and you do, but surely not with everything.
As stated above, this behaviour can be due to not knowing better and misreadingyour nice texts as a "come on all, I'll sort you out". Therefore punishing is not really a good response. Better point them to example pages. For more on this, read "How to help and get help online". Try to be nice, breathe in and out 10 times before answering something like "Have you tried this very secret web site called Google" or "RTFM".
The bad implementer
If you publish scripts and you thought you made them idiot proof, rest assuredthat someone will come up with a better idiot. Either your documentation is bad,or just too extensive. A good documentation does not help, as, sad but true, people do not read them. That is why you end up with people using your scripts,failing to secure them properly and come complaining to you about "being hacked".
You can even point out 10 times that you made a template and a user does notneed to know language XYZ to re-skin it, you'll still get people telling you that they can't use it as they don't know XYZ.
Again, a user that you don't want to annoy too much. They are not evil, theyare misled (or lazy). Point out the documentation again, if inclined, help them hands-on. Write your documentation concise and short (Step by Step examples provedto be helpful) and make your scripts check if they are insecure (is the file still called admin? Can it be written to?).
Dr. Test and Mr. Hello
This dynamic duo is always on the hunt for innocent form fields, like sign-upfields for newsletters, guestbooks or even contact forms, just to fill them with "test" or "hello" and send them off. There is no name for this fetish yet, but it seems to give them a lot of pleasure.
Simply make sure you review the guestbook entries before they get published,check fields for the words above and don't submit them when that is their only content.
The all-knowing developer
This kind will comment on anything you do with a confident "I have donethat years ago" and accuse you of being inefficient if you don't apply technique XYZ to the problem ABC. He will also claim having had the idea years before and didn't "feel like writing about it&34;
Point out that an example is an example and that there are many ways toachieve the same goal. Also point out that less optimised examples may be necessary to explain certain techniques. Congratulate them on their greatness and tell them to start writing themselves. They'll soon realise it is not as easy ascreating a perfect code solution.
The worst of the web. Trolls are people that post only to annoy and attackothers. They offend for the sake of offending and are very likely to cause long-winded,off-topic discussions if their baits were successful.
Delete posts, block if possible. Keep the lid on the jar of trollnip and callHarry Potter.
"Fame's a fickle friend, Harry"
The more success your site has, or the more you publish, the more likely it isthat you will encounter one or more of the above. It seems as if free speech is a nice enough concept, but only a chosen few know how to use it wisely, whereas the people abusing it are legion. The reasons might be of various nature: envy, boredom, unhappy childhood, inability to communicate in real life - you name it.
You end up using your time maintaining the comments and the contacts you get,and doing less and less for the site, unless you are lucky enough to be able to delegate that job.
Why we do it despite of all these issues? Because we can, and because we haveto, to keep this wonderful new media alive.
Every comment and mail needs to be checked and tended to, so next time youfeel the urge to write something about an online text you saw, think of the consequences, and try not to fall into any of the above categories.