The Real Work

Ridin'

You might think that testing equipment, taking photographs, writing articles, answering emails, setting up photo contests, processing gallery entries, scanning RSS feeds, and updating software (among many other things) make up the bulk of the work we do here. If so, you’d be wrong. The real work is dealing with trolls, spammers, and plain old testy blog visitors who want to use and abuse our discussion area. All of the physical and creative work is a real joy and a labor of love. It’s moderating the discussion area that causes the most stress and strain and sometimes even makes us weary.

After going to full comment moderation approximately one year ago, our discussion area really livened up with a broader range of participants and more friendly and constructive discussions. This indicates to us that most of our readers prefer a controlled discussion environment where they can express themselves without being attacked by other users. We’ve also been told by our sponsors that they appreciate the positive tone and constructive nature of our discussions.

While it’s been a good year overall, things have deteriorated a bit this winter, with higher quantities of spam and trolling, and more people testing the limits of our discussion guidelines. Unfortunately, snarky comments beget snarky comments (I’ve been guilty of this myself), and once the bar is lowered, it’s not long before the entire tone moves in the wrong direction. We’ve been a little lax lately, allowing too much negativity to slip through, so we think it’s perhaps time to make a couple of adjustments.

A couple of things that are sorely missing on many forums and blogs are transparency and accountability. It’s easy to be flippant and rude from behind the shield of an anonymous login, but we believe most people will play nice when their name is on the byline. You know who we are, and going forward, we want to know who you are. So, starting today, everyone participating in our discussions will be required to enter their full first and last name, and a real email address, with every comment submitted (your email address will remain confidential and unpublished as always). Any comments submitted without your full name and legitimate email address will remain unpublished.

Along with this procedural change, we’ll be paying closer attention to our own discussion guidelines and applying them more consistently. What this means is that a slightly higher percentage of comments won’t make it through moderation. Believe us when we say we’d much rather not moderate comments at all, but after fielding nearly 24,000 comments over the past couple of years, we know this is required to maintain a constructive discussion area. Hopefully these small adjustments will help make our already mostly-friendly discussions better than ever.

37 Responses to “The Real Work”

  • Ron Georg says:

    Howdy–

    Right on, Alan. Personally, I’ve always signed my name on forums and groups. Even when I jump into a whizzing match (which I’m slowly learning not to do), I use my name. I vehemently disagree with those that say anonimity allows for more open discussion. Rather, it encourages hate and vitriol. We’re all more likely to throw bombs if we’ve got good cover, but we’re more likely to hold out an olive branch when we’re exposed.

    The dangers of revealing your name online border on paranoia. I was a reporter and columnist for years, with my name on everything I wrote and in the phone book, without attracting stalkers or identity thieves.

    Thanks for all you do,
    Happy Trails,
    Ron Georg
    Corvallis

  • Dan Crum says:

    No problem. I really enjoy the blog and anything that will help to make it even better is good by me. Thanks for your time and effort.

  • Joel van Allen says:

    The spirit of positivity EcoVelo generates and the love of bicycling it embodies make it my favorite place to peek in on over morning coffee. It’s easy as a viewer to overlook altogether the work that must go into site moderation in order to present a “finished” product of the caliber EcoVelo strives for and always, in my humble opinion, achieves. Alan, you’ve never let me down or spoiled my coffee, so I want to say I appreciate the tremendous work you do behind the scenes to make EcoVelo fun, enthusiastic, positive, salient, and above all, meaningful.

    I hope you decided to keep your LHT. I think it would look great suspended from your ceiling!

  • Alan Barnard says:

    Thanks guys – I appreciate the support.

    With so many people sharing their full names and personal details on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks, it doesn’t seem out of line to ask for some accountability here in our little corner of the web.

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Steven Butcher says:

    I appreciate the professionalism along with the “down to earth” style with which you conduct Ecovelo.

  • Roland Tanglao says:

    Have you tried anti-spam commenting solutions like Mollom or Akismet? I use Mollom but both seem to work quite well (disclaimer:I don’t work for Mollom or Akismet or have shares although I do know the founders of both :-) !)
    http://mollom.com/
    http://akismet.com/

  • Andrew Leinonen says:

    Hahah, don’t worry Alan, I will be equally as opinionated and stubborn using my real name as I ever was under shorthand.

  • Alan Barnard says:

    Hi Roland,

    Thanks for the suggestions. We’re running multiple spam filters (including Akismet) and we have a pretty good handle on spam at this time. This change is more about fostering accountability and civility among discussion participants.

    Alan

  • Jon Moss says:

    It’s great to see your stance on this, making it an even better place for everyone involved.

    Keep up the good work!

    Jon

  • John "Bobbyjohn" Ashcroft says:

    Good move on your part Alan. Its easy to be nice and decent but is hard work to be nasty and spiteful. Im all for the effortless easy approach, so long may Ecovelo reign :-)

    John “Bobbyjohn” Ashcroft

    Wigan, England, United Kingdom.

  • Bob Baxter says:

    No change here Alan, I like my name and will happily take the credit or blame for any ridiculous statements I might make.

  • Lee Trampleasure says:

    As another who has always signed my full name, I appreciate the climate this will bring, and support your change.

    Of course, people can still use any name they want :-)

  • Alan Barnard says:

    Hi Lee,

    “As another who has always signed my full name, I appreciate the climate this will bring, and support your change.”

    Thanks for your support, Lee – it’s much appreciated.

    “Of course, people can still use any name they want :-)”

    True enough. We’re hoping people will be respectful and participate in good faith. The reality is, if this doesn’t work, the next step is a semi-closed discussion area that is only open to registered users of the site.

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Don Stevenson says:

    I am happy to oblige and appreciate the positive tone you set and maintain. Your site is an oasis of civility!

  • Alistair Williamson says:

    Alan,
    I like the move. the two other blogs I occasionally get immersed in are both actively moderated.

    The Online Photographer http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com is pre-moderated and has a very high level of engagement. By the way Rivendell is one of his sponsors, you’d like his style.

    Blazers Edge http://www.blazersedge.com (a NBA team sports blog run by a pastor called Dave) is a very informed and remarkably civil. With 500-1000 comments a day Dave post-moderates. He’s clear on the rules, allows users to flag suspect posts, writes the occasional essay on discourse and community, and has a team of volunteer moderators to help out.
    a couple of his posts …
    http://www.blazersedge.com/2007/11/12/22850/866
    http://www.blazersedge.com/2009/7/29/967312/a-gentle-reminder

    Cheers, Alistair Williamson
    (from Portland if the Blazer mention didn’t give it away)

  • Jeff Stewart says:

    I’m in.

  • Dr. Grateful G. Godsman says:

    Alan,

    I too appreciate your diligence. Ecovelo is, by far, the the TOP, (cleanest, nicest, classiest, and most respected), cycling site on the web. I know that it is to your credit and hard work that this is so.

    Thanks for your efforts,
    Grateful

    P.S. Grateful G. Godsman IS my real name. It’s not the one I was born with but the one given to me upon my graduation, by the Master I studied with for 62 1/2 years. It requires MY diligence to live up to it, it sets my bar very high too, and I would not sully it by being less than one would expect of one with such a name. Thanks (again) for your understanding.

  • Andy Goodell says:

    I’m curious about flagging. Would it save you a lot of time to have comments unmoderated, but with certain terms or after it’s flagged it goes back to needing admin approval? Just an idea, maybe that’s just a complication though.

  • Bob Bryant says:

    Alan, thanks for doing what you do and making Eco Velo so entertaining.

  • Alan Barnard says:

    @Andy

    Thanks for the suggestion, Andy. There are a number of different ways to moderate comments, and user flagging may be an option to consider.

    Perhaps I’m being naive, but what I’m really hoping for is that everyone behaves as if we were sitting around face-to-face chatting about bikes in a coffee shop. I know for a fact that 100% of the moderation issues we deal with would be non-existent in face-to-face discussions. Im hoping by taking anonymity at least partially out of the equation, we’ll all remember that there are real people on the other end of the keyboard.

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Alan Barnard says:

    Thanks, Bob!

  • Alan Barnard says:

    Alistair,

    I’m a big fan of TOP. Mike’s approach to comment moderation has been a big influence on what we’re doing here.

    Dave’s “gentle reminder” is awesome. I wish I could write like that. I’m not a sports fan per se, but I’ll be bookmarking his site for inspiration.

    Thanks for the support and the resources!

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Don Bybee says:

    Now if we can only get participants to sign the city where they are writing from. Often it really helps to understand ones comments knowing where they live. No I am not a stalker. It just helps to know that when someone writes, “and in my city we do it this way…” what city they are actually referring to.

    Thanks for the great blog. I visit daily and find it to be one of the best run and formatted, regardless of the subject.

    Don
    Sacramento, California

  • Seth Vidal says:

    I think this is a fine idea. I’ve never much cared for pseudonyms on fora and I’m one of those people who has a unique enough name that you can find anything I’ve ever said just by searching for my full name. :)

    Good idea.
    Seth Vidal
    Durham, NC

  • Jeff Crowe says:

    Just out of curiosity, what percentage of comments get weeded out for not following your submission guildelines? –JC

  • Pete Pesce says:

    No problem here. I’m plenty snarky to people no matter what! :)
    Seriously, I see this as one more thing that continues to distinguish this site from the others. Whatever makes it easier for you to keep providing this incredible service to the cycling community is fine by me!

  • Alan Barnard says:

    Hi Jeff,

    It’s a small percentage really. I’d rather not get into specific numbers, but on many days, 100% of the submitted comments are posted. It tends to go in waves, where the conversations will be quite congenial for a time, then a few sour grapes will come in and drag it down for a time. Usually a friendly reminder is all it takes to bring things back around to the positive. This winter has been tougher than usual (probably due to the bad weather more than anything), so we thought we’d try this approach to see if it helps.

    Alan

  • Chris Engelhoven says:

    Thank you for keeping this site one of the few positive bastions in cycling. I ride not for the competition or what gear I have, but for escape and freedom from a very busy life. Again, thank you.

  • Jeff Lock says:

    Alan
    Thanks again for all the work you and Michael do in providing us transportational cycling junkies with our daily fix. This post reminds us once again of all the behind the scenes work that the two of you put in.
    Reading the comments on your wonderful posts is always informative and enriches the experience. I too like the idea of including the authors towns of residence. It gives a interesting perspective of transportational cycling culture from differing places around the world.
    Jeff Lock
    Port Lincoln
    South Australia

  • David Bolles says:

    My feelings are the same as all the other EcoVelo fans here! Thanks for the love, commitment, and patience poured in to this site.
    *On a side note the paths are clear here in PA and once spring arrives in true form I’ll send some shots of my commute. Of course, with some sky in there too! :)*
    Best,
    David
    Philadelphia,PA

  • Larry Guevara says:

    I originally signed up for this blog with my full name due the nature of Alan’s work; his Recumbentblog site that help me pick out my first rides, and the wonderful Ecovelo style of biking for life. It never occurred to me to try to think up another “handle.”

    I still am trying to figure how Alan fits his work in a 24-hour day.

  • Alan Barnard says:

    “*On a side note the paths are clear here in PA and once spring arrives in true form I’ll send some shots of my commute. Of course, with some sky in there too! :)*”

    Looking forward to the photos, David. We only spent a few days there while shooting the Breezer catalog a couple of years ago, but PA made a powerful impression on us. We particularly enjoyed the area around Doylestown.

    Alan

  • Daniel Mayeri says:

    Hi Alan,

    I had a learning experience on this very site last year when I got into it with a fellow commenter regarding helmet laws. You very appropriately asked us to cool it, which we both agreed to, but it made me reflect on how I could get into an e-shouting match with someone for whom I would doubtless stop and donate an inner tube, tool, etc. if I had encountered him on the roadside.

    What I realized was that it was not my anonymity, but the facelessness of the other person that allowed me to lose my composure at the drop of a hat. Instead of seeing a fellow cyclist, I saw the embodiment of all the forces in society who were conspiring to force me to wear a helmet every time I rode, using an argument that particularly got under my skin. Furthermore, I think the nasty tone of comments on unmoderated sites (i.e. SFGate) made our exchange feel less abnormal than it should have. Your admonishment to cool it was a wake up call for me in terms of online civility.

    My hesitation to use my full name stems from my subsequent Google-ability. I was somewhat shocked that my entry in the most recent photo contest used my full name; it is now one of the first things returned when people search my name. For someone who doesn’t know me, I am happy for their first impression of me to be that I am a competent math tutor or that I once was involved in some published geophysical research; I’m not sure how I feel about that first impression being my waxing poetic about the buzz I feel when riding a bike.

    I guess what I am getting at is that this site is a place where I feel safe expounding at length on my preferences for monster tires and V-brakes, etc. because I know that those reading are fellow bike nuts. Having my comments be the first impressions someone outside of the bike world might get of me, let’s say a potential employer, does give me a bit of pause.

    I think going to a site with registered users/commenters might not be a bad idea. My personal example is athleticsnation.com. People get in flame wars there too; don’t mention Jack Cust if you don’t want to stir things up, but users who consistently violate community guidelines get their accounts revoked. Of course anyone there can sign up again using a different alias, just as anyone here can comment using a nom de plume.

    Many thanks for your continuing work on this wonderful site. I can’t imagine how you find the time to do it all on top of a full-time job and still find the time to ride and take photos, not to mention raise kids.

    Daniel P. Mayeri
    Berkeley, California

  • Charles Raltiff says:

    We’ve all witnessed various blogs on a variety of subjects that at first catch our eye and interest, and then go sour, sometimes temporarily, or maybe permanently (I always wonder why this happens as I un-bookmark these), and so far you all have certainly been up to the task of blog-housekeeping-policing so thanks for that. Concurrently, you’ve provided great content, plenty of interesting links to pursue, wonderful photography and even-handedness in word and deed which all have certainly earned my thanks and respect, and for those reasons and many more I enjoy your excellent site daily.

    Charles Ratliff
    Phoenix,AZ

  • Sally Hinchcliffe (aka townmouse) says:

    Interesting. Even a year ago this would have made me feel quite uncomfortable but recently I’ve been posting more and more stuff under my real name, and I recently found out that googling for me throws up my supposedly anonymous (not that you can’t work out who I am, just that I don’t put my name anywhere in the text) blog as the second hit ( *sigh* Google knows everything) I still feel that my internet name is still one of my names and I don’t think of it as anonymous at all, but I can see why you’re doing this & I hope it works out. Your blog, your rules.

  • Sally Hinchcliffe (aka townmouse) says:

    ps I hate registering as a user on a site. Much better this than a full membership option, imo

  • Michael McMahon says:

    Hey Alan,

    Three cheers for this! I love the blog, it’s one of my daily stops when I have a little bit of down time. I am always appreciative of the friendly and open tone of your posts and the comments. I have learned a lot from the blog and if the tone of it were different I may not have hung around long enough to get these little tidbits.

    So, long way of saying thanks for your good and hard work.

    Michael
    Portland, OR

 
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