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Thread: A discussion board "buyer's guide"

  1. #1
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    Default A discussion board "buyer's guide"

    I'm not sure what's more amazing: the power of the web to facilitate communication or the wide range of quality of that communication.

    Discussion boards, for instance, hold great promise as a forum for communication. Unlike most public conversation of days-gone-by, however, some Web discussion boards allow anonymity, often to the extreme detriment of the conversation. Listed below are discussion board features that people might look for as the consider where to gather.

    1. Identification
    Hiding behind anonymity brings out the worst in a conversation. Discussion boards that require people to identify themselves yield much better results. This doesn't mean that you can't browse anonymously, just that you identify yourself when you post.

    2. A central, permanent location
    Discussions that are attached to articles or letters work "in the moment," but don't facilitate an easy look at a broad range of conversations. One of my favorite discussion boards, bigsoccer.com uses a format similar to Wayland eNews that puts everything within easy reach. And not only that, no worries about posts disappearing when the original work expires.

    3. Formatting and quoting
    Being able to format a post, including the ability to excerpt from a prior poster's writing, makes the discussion much more reader-friendly. (from Kim Reichelt -->) Sometimes it is useful to make your point more easily understood if you use special formatting such as:
    • with bullets!
    • in color
    • in bold , italics, and underlined!


    4. Previewing
    Proud of that perfect notion or response? Crafting it with care? Submitting it? Only to find you've mixed "its" for "it's," or worse, left out a key "not." Why shouldn't you be able to preview your work before submitting?

    5. Editing
    Even with careful previewing, it's possible to make a mistake. Why not be able to edit it? One reason is that an edit might hide something important to the resulting conversation. Look for a system that lets you edit, but that requires a note to be made so that readers can tell when something is in its original form or has been changed.

    6. Email alerts
    Can't wait to learn what other people think of your remarks? But also don't have the time to continually check, or can't remember to check, or even where to check? Consider discussion boards that provide email alerts whenever someone has responded.

    7. Search
    Do you remember submitting or reading that perfect post, but can't find it? Insist on a robust search function.

    8. Ability to include attachments
    Need to attach a file to help make your point? The ability to include DOC, XLS, JPG, or other files is important.

    9. Handheld access
    Can't wait to get back to your computer to read or post? Make sure you choose a discussion board that can be accessed via a hand-held device.

    10. Proper functioning
    This one was so obvious I overlooked it when I first started this thread--a discussion board doesn't do much good if it won't accept posts (from Kim Reichelt--> including copied text from elsewhere) or is otherwise unavailable.

    11. Ability to include links (from Kim Reichelt)
    Like attachments, it can be useful to be able to provide clickable links to reference sites to make your case.

    Any I've missed? Feel free to add below, then I'll fold into this post so the complete list exists in a single place.
    Last edited by Jeff Dieffenbach; 07-18-2008 at 04:24 PM. Reason: Added items suggested by others, for "compactness"

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    Default Attachments

    8. Attachments. Need to include some additional information? Include a JPG, MP3, DOC, WAV, XLS or other attachment? Wouldn't it be nice to be able to include attachments as well?

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    OK, so Jeff added to his original post, and obsoleted my prior post.

    So let me add a few other other obvious ones -

    11. Ability to copy and paste successfully into your posts. Sometimes the want to quote text from elsewhere, and it's nice to be able to copy it in.

    12. Ability to include links to other websites. Like attachments, it can be useful to be able to provide clickable links to reference sites to make your case.

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    3. Formatting. Expanding on Point 3 above, sometimes it is useful to make your point more easily understood to use special formatting such as :
    • with bullets!
    • in color
    • in bold , italics, and underlined!
    Last edited by Kim Reichelt; 07-06-2008 at 09:16 AM. Reason: to list as part of point 3

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    Interesting article in today's Boston Globe West section about a potential peril of posting anonymously. That said, it's not clear that identity would necessarily spare the alleged culprit.

    Hmmm, think there will be a big smile on my face if Southborough proceeds and prevails?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Interesting article in today's Boston Globe West section about a potential peril of posting anonymously. That said, it's not clear that identity would necessarily spare the alleged culprit.

    Hmmm, think there will be a big smile on my face if Southborough proceeds and prevails?
    There are so many things to say here, I don't know what to say first.

    On a supportive note, I'd say I'm all for eliminating anonymity on boards. It allows bullies and 'fraidy-cats' to throw bombs without taking responsibility for their actions.

    That said, I find it highly ironic that Jeff would be excited about the potential outcome of a lawsuit that would force the identification and release of a person's identity when he has spearheaded a multi-year, money-wasting, failed effort to block the release of comments related to a Gary Burton's evaluation by identifiable members/ex-members of the SC. Then, when that effort failed, he then proceeded to further block the release of comments by redacting dozens of lines from the documents.

    Now, I can see the response already. One thing is about comments and another is about personnel evaluations. Apples and oranges, blah, blah. IMO, you either support openness or you're against it. It appears that in Jeff's case, you support it when it suits you and look to squelch it when it doesn't.

    BTW, I'm still wondering, Jeff, what your thoughts on my replies toy uor last post here (http://www.waylandenews.com/forum/sh...uting-Settings) are.

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    Interesting statement in the Globe article by Boston College law professor Mary-Rose Papandrea, a board member for the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union:

    There is a First Amendment right to engage in anonymous speech.

    I don't think that I'd ever thought about parsing the right to free speech into identifiable and anonymous speech. Nothing in the First Amendment suggests that one or the other might not be protected.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Baron View Post
    IMO, you either support openness or you're against it.
    This is absurdly simplistic. It's like saying "you either support freedom of speech or you're against it", without taking account of the many nuances that have given rise to so many Supreme Court decisions.
    Last edited by Steve Perlman; 04-02-2010 at 12:07 AM.

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    Steve - one must consider the source when evaluating the utility or validity of a comment. The absolute disrespect and harshness that Mr. Baron uses when addressing Jeff D. is "legendary", and his inability to consider that Jeff D. might have something valid and worthwhile to say is in fact absolute. Nuance does not enter into the forum when Jeff B. is referring to Jeff D. Personally, I don't agree with everything Jeff D. has said, but I do respect him and value his opinion, which in my opinion has always been well considered.

    Cest la vie.

    -C

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    Quote Originally Posted by Carl Rosenblatt View Post
    Steve - one must consider the source when evaluating the utility or validity of a comment. The absolute disrespect and harshness that Mr. Baron uses when addressing Jeff D. is "legendary", and his inability to consider that Jeff D. might have something valid and worthwhile to say is in fact absolute. Nuance does not enter into the forum when Jeff B. is referring to Jeff D. Personally, I don't agree with everything Jeff D. has said, but I do respect him and value his opinion, which in my opinion has always been well considered.

    Cest la vie.

    -C
    Poor Carl. You must not have read my post before jumping into a your judgement of me. The first thought of my post ("On a supportive note, I'd say I'm all for eliminating anonymity on boards. It allows bullies and 'fraidy-cats' to throw bombs without taking responsibility for their actions) was supportive of the point I thought Jeff was making. He went on later to say, I think, he's OK with anonymity.

    That being said, I did see the irony in hoping to have the law defeat anonymity while also fighting with my tax dollars in a failed attempt to protect it. Unlike Steve's quick assertion, I was not making a broad-brush statement on the 1st amendment. I was commenting in relation to two issues. I will add, however, that there are extremely few instances in which I am against 1st amendment privileges. Even thought I decry anonymous posts for the reasons I stated above, I still support their right to exist under the 1st amendment. As my journalism professor once said -- "supporting the 1st amendment means standing up for the person you hate the most to speak freely." That always made sense to me.

    Hey Carl, don't be so quick next time to throw bombs directed just at me. There are plenty of folks who have made it their sole/close to sole mission on these boards to go after me at every single turn. I'd count your thoughtless post as one of those instances.

    But, Cest la vie.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Perlman View Post
    This is absurdly simplistic. It's like saying "you either support freedom of speech or you're against it", without taking account of the many nuances that have given rise to so many Supreme Court decisions.
    Steve's right. There are nuances involved in openness and Freedon of Speech, just like anything else, so it's hard to say in b&w that you're either for it or against it.

    On the other hand, the phrase "a little bit pregnant" comes to mind. To say you're in favor of a degree of openness or a certain amount of FOS (freedom of Speech), is in a sense, saying you're not in favor of it, at least not completly.

    It is intriguing that Jeff D is taking an interest in this however, while carefully avoiding all posts that have anything to do with the great lengths his board went to, and the thousands of dollars of taxpayer money that has been spent defending the position of keeping public documents out of the public eye. When the Town Crier sued and it went through various courts for 5 years and utltimately these documents were released, only after many, many lines of text were blacked out so that the pubic still could not see much of what was written.

    Gary Burton recently commented at a School Committee meeting that they have received more Freedom of Information Act requests in the past few months than they have in 10 years. What does this say about "openness"?

    Whatever nuances there may be in openness, I think that the ongoing behaviour of this school committee and administration represent an abysmal record of transparency and a blatant disregard for the public's right to know.

    Back to the topic at hand, while I loathe the mean-spirited approach that many anonymous posters employ, I support their ability to post anonymously. I personally know a few (and I'm sure there are a lot more than that) who will ONLY post anonymously, as they fear the retribution that is sure to come from a small but vocal number of unscrupulous residents who have said and done some very shameful things in the last couple of years in their efforts to make their point, get their candidate elected or get their article past.
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    It is intriguing that Jeff D is taking an interest in this however, while carefully avoiding all posts that have anything to do with the great lengths his board went to, and the thousands of dollars of taxpayer money that has been spent defending the position of keeping public documents out of the public eye. When the Town Crier sued and it went through various courts for 5 years and utltimately these documents were released, only after many, many lines of text were blacked out so that the pubic still could not see much of what was written.
    I've responded to this misleading attack on a more appropriate thread.

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    Default This is a dangerous situation and there should be a very high bar to do this

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Interesting article in today's Boston Globe West section about a potential peril of posting anonymously. That said, it's not clear that identity would necessarily spare the alleged culprit.

    Hmmm, think there will be a big smile on my face if Southborough proceeds and prevails?
    Jeff, thanks for pointing this out.
    If a person anonymous or not makes slanderous statements then there is a basis for pursuit and IP unmasking... freedom of speech does not protect all types of speech (ie. the fire in the movie theater example or slander) but slander is itself difficult to prove and the best defense against slander is the truth. You can say the truth and even if the truth is unflattering but true its not slander.

    It seems to me that Southboro would have to prove a likelihood of slander first or provide a solid basis for why they would deserve to get a court order to unmask the IP address or have a case against the discussion forum.

    This is what the article stated:
    Marty’s posts questioned whether certain search committee meetings held in executive session, behind closed doors, violated the state’s open meeting laws. The posts insinuated the committee had unfair partiality toward the police force’s interim chief, Jane Moran, during the search process. The longtime department veteran was hired for the permanent position in November.

    So Marty is questioning .... is he stating something is a FACT? It says he is questioning. You can question something and not state that it is a fact and it would not be slander. For example; "I am questioning whether a particular meeting was not in violation of the OML or Is is possible that the executive session was not held under permissible circumstances?

    Neither of these two statements are slander and I have a right to question.

    If I said that selectman X was in violation of the OML and I know this for a fact and he wasn't then that would be slander if it were not true.

    Just because the police or the municipality doesn't like what is written doesn't give them the right to take away privacy from a person who has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

    This is why we have grand jury's.... a grand jury would decide if there was probable cause to reach the threshold to deprive the privacy of someone.

    It would be dangerous for the law to allow willy-nilly the unmasking of anonymous posters just because they didn't like the content. There should be a very high bar to be able to unmask.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    Jeff, thanks for pointing this out.
    If a person anonymous or not makes slanderous statements then there is a basis for pursuit and IP unmasking... freedom of speech does not protect all types of speech (ie. the fire in the movie theater example or slander) but slander is itself difficult to prove and the best defense against slander is the truth. You can say the truth and even if the truth is unflattering but true its not slander.
    ....

    Just because the police or the municipality doesn't like what is written doesn't give them the right to take away privacy from a person who has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

    It would be dangerous for the law to allow willy-nilly the unmasking of anonymous posters just because they didn't like the content. There should be a very high bar to be able to unmask.
    I agree that we all have a right to question, and that the bar for unmasking should be high. We don't really know what Marty said, and the article provides little in the way of specifics. The website in question does not make searching of comments easy, so I'm not sure I'll be able to find it. (This might be it: http://www.mysouthborough.com/2009/0...-police-chief/)

    However, check out this discussion at MySouthborough.com (the site where the post in question was made): http://www.mysouthborough.com/2010/0...cted-to-write/

    One of the commenters says:

    "Free speech *should* also include the ability to confront one’s detractors, don’t you think? And how can you do that if you don’t know who those detractors are, or what their biases might be? The loons can be and will be loony anywhere. Why do you need to let them do it in your blog? (If it’s just for the traffic, then you’re not the one to take the high road.)"

    Great point.
    Last edited by Kim Reichelt; 04-03-2010 at 09:54 AM. Reason: to add the link to a possible "Marty" posting

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    This is what Marty wrote on at least one occasion

    Marty August 21, 2009 at 11:41 PM
    I read in the Villager that the Police Chief Search Committee met in executive session with members of the police department to seek their input.
    I am a bit confused here. Does “executive session” mean they met in a session that was not open to the public? Is that allowed under the state open meeting law?

    WHAT?????

    This is not slander, he's asking a question, he's not even accusing... he's raising the question.
    Now if Marty had said that 'so and so' was a wife beating, alcoholic, drug dealing, money laundering, women philadering, child molester .....
    Then I might see the point of a town paying an attorney to send a letter to the owner of the discussion board... but this?

    Sounds to me like some Southboro citizen needs to send a public records request to find out how much the town spent on legal bills to pursue such a frivolous endeavor and then post that information.

    As for confronting the poster.
    First, in the reading that I've done, the courts view blogs and discussion forums as the lowest level or lowest priority of written speech. That is, its self mitigating.

    If Marty says... "Is it true that there was an illegal use of the executive session?" Then the town admin could simply post, "Marty, we assure you that the rumors you heard are baseless and here's why.... blah blah blah"

    That would be a form of confrontation and an appropriate one.

    Here is not an appropriate one....

    Given that Marty's right to privacy is just as important as Marty's freedom of speech.
    So, threatening the discussion board owner is nothing less than an ill conceived strong arm tactic. In fact, if this is true then I conjecture that this is a more serious violation then if they had actually violated the OML or executive session protocols.

    No wait Kim, now that I've said this Southboro should be coming after me and you.

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