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In Defense of Anonymous Cowards 228

Increasingly, on this and other websites, people ask for the banning of Anonymous Cowards and others who flame behind pseuds. This would be a mistake. AC's are a unique sub-species of the Net and the Web, like hackers or cypherpunks. They are part of what makes the Net free, especially in comparison to other media. And they keep information moving, especially from corporations and government agencies, whose employees might not be so free to post messages. AC's the price we pay, the tradeoff. They may mostly be testosterone-crazed adolescent dirtballs, but they're our dirtballs.

In recent weeks, chronicles here of my stumbling (and yes, still ongoing) attempts to grasp the intricacies of Linux have sparked both praise and hostility. As usual, the praise tends to come mostly in e-mail, the hostility in public postings, the most assertive of which have come from anonymous contributors calling me various names, as in "This guy is a moron.." On Slashdot, these posters are given the pseudonym "Anonymous Coward."

First-time visitors and many e-mailers, largely friendly, intelligent and generous people, are appalled by this name-calling - lamenting and even apologizing for the flamers. "We really should stop anonymous posting," wrote Greg. "It's just a vehicle for teenagers to jerk off."

But, singed though I sometimes am, I disagree. Anonymous postings are one of the things that makes the Net and the Web so distinct from TV, magazines and newspapers.

Anonymous flamers, like cypherpunks students of mnemetics or crypto-geeks, are one of the many fascinating sub-species on the Web. People wonder at their almost indefatigable hostility. No other medium permits their equivalent, and a whole language and sensibility has formed around them. There's even a term - "flamebait" the producers and editors of Slashdot use for writings and writers (not just me by any means) likely to draw the small but angry hordes.

Flamers are so familiar to me they're almost comforting. I've written for a number of websites, from Hotwired to Newstolls to The Freedom Forum and Slashdot, and in almost every writing, I've been flamed in public postings, whether I'm writing about the Web, politics, media, geeks, movies, Buffy or OSS.

Anyone willing to venture a strong idea or opinion online should expect to be flamed; he will be. It's as intrinsic to Web writing as a keyboard. I've come to value it, in an odd way; maybe out of self-delusion, I equate flaming with being interesting. Every writer knows, whether or not he admits it, that there's rarely such a thing as bad controversy.

What the marketer of ideas most fears isn't that people will criticize his ideas, but that people won't respond at all. This is especially true online, where it's so easy to measure feedback, in public postings, column hits and e-mail messages. For the writer, a column that sparks 400 posts is a home run; a column that generates 20, even if they're nice ones, is a dud.

I don't write to be agreed with, though praise is always welcome; I write to offer ideas, pass on information and observations, start conversations, challenge thought, and then become the beneficiary of lots of feedback. I rarely assume I'm right. So the flamer is, in a curious way, my best cheerleader, a sign of vitality.

Besides that, anonymous postings do valuable things:

They permit people in corporations, government agencies and other risky environments to post news, messages and opinions we would not otherwise see. Living in the age of the megacorporation - Disney, Microsoft - and the era of impulses like the "Halloween document," that's crucial.

They give shy or phobic lurkers the chance to post messages they might not post under their own names and ID's.

They're a curb on the pomposity, authority and arrogance of people at the top of media chains, from newspaper owners to software companies to columnists. The hallmark of mainstream journalism - on display all year in the Monica Lewinsky trial - is the notion that truth and conventional wisdom is the province of journalism, to be passed down to the ill-informed. Thus journalists have felt free to ignore public opinion all year, since the public has no way to express itself beyond polls and surveys, and since the public is presumed to be too ignorant, greedy and immoral to make rational decisions. Anonymous posters make that kind of top-down manipulation impossible online.

Anonymous posters correct mistakes and challenge opinions. Before the Net, people unhappy with the facts, writing style and opinions expressed in the press had - have - few effective ways to reach opinion-givers and information distributors. That's no longer so. When people like me make mistakes, from factual errors to poor grammar to faulty logic, they are corrected instantly and continuously. The writer is not abused by the process, but improved. He or she can become smarter, better informed.

Even though people often reassure the flamee that the flamers aren't representative, or are simply sensitive about certain subjects, the truth is that flaming is almost never personal. That's what e-mail is for. The open display of hostility is attitudinal, a posture, always having more to do with the fact that's it's public than personal.

That's why I almost never get flamed via e-mail.

And Anonymous Cowards keep sites from getting boring or complacent.

The most difficult issue raised by anonymous posting is the personal abuse by flamers, most of whom are young males acting out one or another form of adolescent hostility. But seen in context, they cause little real harm. Besides, anonymous posting may be a healthy outlet compared to slugging peers or running cars into trees.

Like airport noise or graffiti, they are part of life. People who call other people names anonymously have little real influence. Since they offer no rational criticism, they don't have to be taken seriously and have no influence. The kid who says "You're a jerk, go away" almost can't, by definition be someone who must be listened to. Intelligent and thoughtful criticisms are much more disturbing, because they are harder to ignore or dismiss.

The real damage anonymous posters do is drive away people who have important or interesting things to say but don't want to participate in the digital equivalent of dodgem. Many women, older posters, people with demanding work and newbies in particular are disinterested in or frightened off by tostosterone-charged flamers. This is a real loss, judging from their e-mail, since many intelligent, thoughtful and useful observations are never seen. Some Websites suspend the posting privileges of people who engage in repeated personal attacks, while others provide moderators to steer conversations in more rational, civil directions.

But the understandable impulse to chase these people off ought to be resisted. The right of Anonymous Cowards to sound off under a pseudonym is important, part of the online chemical mix. Their existence, like many things online, represents a tradeoff. They're a symbol of the freedom available online, but increasingly rare off-line. More than the mastery of software, they are a much better test for any writer of whether or not he belongs online. And whether or not he ultimately has anything to say.

You can e-mail me at jonkatz@slashdot.org

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In Defense of Anonymous Cowards

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  • The Term "Anonymous Coward" is meant to be tongue
    in cheek, and at this point, I'm to fond of the term to let it go. I don't mean it as an insult. If it actually bothers someone, they're probably taking themselves to seriously anyway.
    Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda
    Pants are Optional
  • Yeah. If you don't want your (PH)boss/co-worker to bump into one of your posts and realize that you are saying something the company wouldn't like, simply get a cheezy account like I have. Sure, if somebody really wants to, they could probably track me down, but it would be a time investment on their part. So I'm still mostly anonymous.

    If I wanted to be really careful, I could create an account using a nickname and email address that would be virtually impossible to trace to my real persona... but I'm not that paranoid.

    Meanwhile... my friends know that I am Pasc and can still call me on the phone or email me and tell me how insightful/stupid/smart/lame/cool (as the situation warrants) I am.

  • It's 10:30 AM. I'm bored at work. Have fun:



    Here are the rules:

    1) Every time Jon mentions all the publications he's written for, take one drink.

    2) Every time Jon uses a buzzword, like "cypherpunks", "hacker", or "code junkie (?!)", take one drink.

    2a) Corollary to 2): Do NOT take a drink every time Jon uses the word "geek", as you will die.

    3) Take three drinks every time Jon paints a rosy picture of the 'Net. Add another drink if he mentions only the Web specifically.

    4) Take two drinks every time Jon mentions how often he gets flamed. Add another two if he mentions how much he enjoys it.

    Anyone care to add rules?

    - A.P. (who actually enjoys JK, and did this for fun)

    "One World, One Web, One Program" - Microsoft Promotional Ad

  • Click on "user account" and a whole new world will be opened unto you.

    - A.P.

    "One World, One Web, One Program" - Microsoft Promotional Ad

  • Allowing anonymous posts on a popular, unedited site will eventually lead to it being almost impossible to read through.

    Witness what's happened with /. lately.

    Can anyone bear to read through the terrible signal to noise ratio that has evolved here lately? For every worthwhile post, you see at least ten "Aw, that's bullshit, you suck" or "I obviously didn't read the article, but here's my opinion anyway" posts.

    The reason for this ought to be obvious: the real idiots out there can post with impunity; they can use anonymity as an excuse. Realistically, AC's rarely contribute anything of substance. They have no motivation to say anything important or even related to the article.

    There ought to at least be a way to filter out all AC comments so you have a better chance of getting some value out of a discussion. Katz can deal with their crap, I don't want to anymore.


  • Many of the most interesting posts have been from Anonymous Cowards. Particularly when there's news involving large corporations, insiders with lots of information tend to post as Anonymous Cowards, for obvious reasons. That alone is a good enough reason to keep AC posting around.
  • Ok, so you say that Jon Katz isn't part of "our" culture, then say that he annoys you "more than RMS." If RMS is not part of the hacker culture, then I don't know who is.

    I'd rather than Jon Katz than pretentious, elitist idiots like you.
  • I seem to recall some Anonymous Coward posts from IBM employees in the various articles on IBM open-sourcing things, or helping out Open Source projects. They posted anonymously for obvious reasons.
  • If AC's are truly valued on /. (and they have proven to be valuable on times) then Rob should stop insulting anyone posting anonymously by calling them a coward.

    I wonder if subliminally this causes some people to act even more immature than they normally would.
  • See subject.
  • Posted by HolyMackeralAndy:

    No sweat Jon. Keep up the good work. Linux does have a bit of a learning curve which we have and will all deal with. Most struggle in private and comiserate with their friends, colleagues, whatever. Reading about someone struggling with it is another matter, and Geeks, AC's, real people etc., etc., who don't want to hear about will do what they have to do to justify their own feelings. Drive on, Jon....
  • Posted by korto:

    all you said (at the least what i read)was very beautiful...
    but you can't really expect people to fell as free as you write about if you call them "cowards".

    calling people that serve under the big-faceless-fascist-greedy-corporations are probably not really happy about beeing called "cowards" everytime they try to express their opinion.

    by the way, not all teens use anonimous posting for fun purpose only!!
  • Posted by posterkid:

    A DEEP-ROOTED INTEREST? What are you SMOKING? The only "deep-rooted interest" Katz and lusers like him have in Linux is to look k3wl, just like the only "deep-rooted interest" scriptkidd13z have is the ability to run a nuke program that requires root to create raw TCP packets.

    You don't get a deep-rooted ANYTHING until you contribute a WHOLE LOT, aight? This may be the eera of instant-gratification, but not in a meritocracy, you're nobody unless you're good.

  • Posted by posterkid:

    *grumble* need to get that "spawn $EDITOR for textfield" patch into Lynx...
  • Posted by posterkid:

    Bruce, first off, while I agree with you about the meritocracy, it's a little bit different. If more people get the idea from what you said as the idea that I got, we're going to have people putting "I program on (foo)" in their sigs here, and I see that as nothing more than mindless dick-waving. I've tried not to mention the program I hack on, and if someone were to look for it they would find it under my real name with this as my email address. I see Slashdot as more a simple news discussion site, not a policy-making area for the entire open source community.

    I avoid posting my real name to Slashdot and Usenet because of the large amount of people who have a habit of taking things personally and bringing things into real life and off the net (harassing phone calls, etc). I freely use my real name when I hack on code, and I'm credited as such.

    Anyways, what I'm saying in a roundabout way, is that the meritocracy in a discussion group comes from having coherent arguments, not from being Somebody in the community, and that those who feel the need to prove their worth in the community lose a lot of merit in here, at least to me.

  • Posted by posterkid:

    Wow, I guess you know me. *shrug*

    I'm honored, that's the first time I've ever been called a 'hipster'.

    No, I don't think one has an instinctual knowledge of an operating system, I think one should dig around and try to figure things out without bitching about them.

    I don't claim to have anything to do with any culture Slashdot represents, if there is indeed one. That's not the one I was referring to. I was referring more to the generic geek culture.

  • Posted by lnc:

    Please excuse me if this is a repeated suggestion. Simply insert a waiting period of 4 to 12 hours for AC posts. It will cut down on the immediate random traffic and "I'm the first poster" nonsense.
  • Posted by posterkid:

    Actually, it's not my patch, but there is one in progress. Check the lynx-dev archives at flora.org [flora.org] and skim the subjects, it should stick out. You'll need the most recent dev version to apply it. If you find bugs, do report them! (It's pretty recent, so will be under January 1999 posts)
  • What he's trying to say is, click the "Up One" link ;>
  • That's how it used to be: you'd just type a name, and if you didn't, you'd be called Anonymous Coward. However, some people started using other people's names so after a long discussion [slashdot.org], Rob decided to use this system.

    A solution to your problem: use a web based hotmail like email service (try Postmark.net [postmark.net])


  • I was going to suggest that too, but I think the last time I tested it, it also removed non-AC responses to AC posts, so you sometimes lose large parts of a thread, not just the AC posts.

  • The term "Anonymous Coward" is the biggest hypocritical aspect of slashdot. I've even asked Rob on IRC why he doesn't just change it to something less insulting. His answer was "it was tongue and cheek originally and not even my idea" so basically he passes the buck on making any decision. He always claims "this is my site, I'll do what I want" but when an issue comes up that he doesn't want to deal with, he pawns it off on others. That's integrity if I ever saw it. What's next, "PGP Pussies" and "Crypto Cocksuckers"? You defend anonymity then abuse anyone who agrees with you buy practicing it.
  • If you don't have the time to fill out a form, read an automated response, and click "login" just once (ever), you don't have the time to speak.

    On the other hand, I don't care if Rob lets the Anonymous Idiots of the word have their try at trolling, inciting, or baiting his readership. I can simply ignore them, right? Through an easy-to-use scoring threshold, right?


    It doesn't work... or certain administrators are marking up replies from specific Anonymous Idiots. Often these replies will appear with a score of 1, resting between replies from the legitimate contributors (those who have already learned how to operate a web browser and an e-mail client). And it's not like these promoted posts are anything other than the average anonymous content (flame bait or senseless garbage). These are no gems of insight.

    Rob, if you want to keep the Anonymous Idiots around, fix the filtering system. And it'd be great if I didn't have to click "up one" every time I viewed a new article (the top-level page rendering completely disregards the threshold setting in my user preferences for all articles).
  • When I read "Anonymous Coward" I don't think of it like "A coward who is posting anonymously". I've gotten to the point where "Anonymous Coward" is just a name, a label, and I don't think "coward" when I see it. It's the same way with actors' names, like, say, Mel Gibson. I don't break it up and say "Mel". Mel? What an uncommon name. Most people don't think that. The name is the whole phrase and most people, once they get past the novelty, never break it apart again.

    If AC's are really that self-conscious about the name they're given, perhaps they should create an account? It really is a pretty quick process, and they don't have to give ANY information out that they don't want to...
  • You may or may not notice that posts are being moderated... Not quickly, but they're being moderated.

    You should find a lot of good AC posts have scores now.
  • It doesn't take a large percentage of people to abuse something in order to make it go away... While I'm not a big proponent of banning AC posts, she does have some valid points.
  • Take a look at the last thread. Count the number of AC posts that have lowered themselves to using personal attacks, name-calling, foul language and generally abusive text. Then count the number of non-AC posts guilty of the same.

    Do you honestly think you're helping "your side" of the issue by posting this drivel?

    Now before you start frothing at the mouth, let me say that I am also against banning AC posts. There are uses for it and the amount of crap should be (and is, to an extent) filtered by the moderators. Like it or not, SHE HAS A POINT.

    There is a tendency for people to "hide" behind the veil of anonymity for the sole purpose of allowing them to vent, flame, and generally be an abusive nuisance on slashdot without anybody finding out who they are. Her point is that if we required all posts to post from an account (even if that account is JUST as anonymous as the extremely-easy-to-use AC route), the poster would be ACCOUNTABLE. You could look and see that poster XYZ is an annoying twit and could then ignore them. This also makes the idea of using "killfiles" or ignore lists worthy of serious attention.

    Now I'm not saying I totally agree with her, but it just doesn't seem like you're understanding what it is she's trying to say.

    Lay off the coffee and pills and try to write some constructive comments.
  • Ok, so let me see if I got this straight. AC's are so people can post anonymously. Suppose someone posts with the handle of flim-flam-man. I know who they are and I can hassle them because I know what their handle is? I still don't know what their Email/Web address is. I don't know what their real name/address is. How exactly is flim-flam-man not anonymous? I try to follow these long threads between an UNKNOWN number of AC's and I have to give up because I have no idea who is replying to who or even how many people are talking. For all I know it could be one or two people just being really annoying.
  • Don't blame that problem on nt, that's an idiot admin problem you've got there, not an ms problem. Idiot admins abound, in any platform.

    asinus sum et eo superbio

  • That was also back when Rob was considering upgrading to an ISDN. There weren't enough /.ers for too much hostility.
  • How many posts of any type by anyone should you take seriously? Start with zero.

    The benefit of having unique, "owned" identifiers is that readers _can_ take you seriously if you regularly demonstrate credibility. ACs can't do this(demonstrate previous credibility), so you can only evaluate their posts in a local context.

    When you see a post that makes you go "Huh?", if it's identified you can at least check the history and see what else that person has posted. If the past indicates responsibility and credibility, you can look at the latest post, notice that it came in at 0130 and realize, "Oh, he's drunk" and pay no mind. If his history indicates that he's a loon, you can comfortably ignore him without any further consideration.

  • ...but only to a point. I don't have a problem with AC's so much as I have a problem with the verbal (textual?) diareha that spews forth from some readers. It makes the whole site seem amaturish, and reflects poorly on the open source/geek/linux/whatever community, but it is definitely NOT only AC's. Its trivial to log in and be an asshole.

    Its my personal opinion that the moderators should be a little more heavy handed in downgrading posts. Lately slashdot has felt like some teen channel on IRC, and it gets old. I wonder how many readers read the headlines and completely skip the comments. I certainly wouldn't mind missing some of the "choice" comments that have little or nothing to do with the article, and I could especially do without grammar/spelling nazis, but if I or anyone else felt masochistic its simple to adjust one's threshold.

  • Anonymous Cowards are 1) idiots, 2) cowards, and 3) only worth ignoring. If you can't be bothered to fill out a form, I won't bother to listen to you. If you're too afraid to stand behind your opinions, your opinions are worthless to me. Get a backbone, creep.

    Anonymous Cowards have no reputation to protect, therefore they can say anything they want. On the other hand, they have no reputation to protect, therefore anything they say is of no value. I wish Rob had a way to permanently filter out AC postings -- I've never seen one worth reading.
  • so what if he knows/doesn't know about the Dragon Book... Knowing about the existance of the Dragon Book, and what it is about, is of itself nothing. Actually reading and grokking the book is another matter entirely, and not one that is for "hAck3rz" only...

  • AC usually post useless crap. With their posts they draw the whole discussion into a piece of emotional useless mess. There are too many guys out here who get trapped by dumb AC's posting as they try to argue on their comments.
    And most important:The existence of AC's can not be justified by anonymousity. Thanks to many free of charge email services it is still possible to stay anonymous *AND* to have a real /. account.
    Turn off AC Postings and lets go to real reasonable discussion
  • No content.
    No brain
    Think about nobody wants to read your crap.
    Who in hell could trace back an anonymous email account.
    Such cowards like you should definitly *NOT* beeing allowed to poison senseful discussions. Always hiding behind curtain of total Anonymousity. BAH.
    If you have something to say: Step forward if. If not Shut up.
  • The logic behind this is. Creating am email & /. account would be the first barrier for many AC's.
    Some of the AC's are just 2 lazy to create an /. acc, others will afraid from the afford it creates to get anonymous email.
    But the BEST thing is. You could easily identify these guys who tend to post crap and therefore ignore their postings. If these guys would like to stay totally anonymous they will have to create new email and /. accounts over and over again. :-]]]
    Sounds good doesnt it?
  • According to your statement about my masturbation skill.
    I admit my masturbation skills are poor.
    I dont have to. There are enough chicks who love to the job.
    Go and get a girl friend. If you try this since the mid 80's, try to buy a bitch. If even the bitch doesnt want ya.... (sigh)
  • Id would like to fully respect your total anonymousity IF:
    - There would be that much AC's who misuse their anonymousity to post crap, FUD, or even worse direct discussion into emotional driven mud war.

    Here my suggestion. Create anonymous Email acc and forward everything to billy after reading your initial /. passwd.

    I am sure turning off AC posting would raise discussion quality dramatically.
    Best Regards
  • This is what I mean if I say: People get trapped - AC postings direct discussion into emotional mess.
    I am *not* always immune to this.
  • if you truely believe that this is caused by anonymous cowards than i truely feel sorry for your misguided beliefs
    If a nick user posts crap, I will read his stuff once. But *only* once. Thats the big deal.

    You seem to be suffering from the common misconception that all nick users are good and all AC's are bad. the real problem though is your lazynes
    Uhh whats your age? If you would have read carefully: I *never* said all AC's are bad. And how the heck do you conclude "I am lazy"?? Sorry perhaps it is me to be too dumb to follow your args.
  • so why do you seem to think that baning AC's will make you immune to it
    Simple question, simple answer. It wont.

    But I am convinced it will lower "junk/trap rate" in discussions by holding back more people from posting junk. The second time a nick posts trash nobody will read his stuff.
  • Ok, in future AC *only* comments should be allowed, as my predecessor has proven that this will dramatically boost comment quality. (Yawn...)
  • So I create a hotmail account, create a /. account from that, and then ignore the hotmail account forever more. I'm still anonymous, I just don't have 'Anonymous Coward' on all my posts. The benefit of this is..? No, I didn't think there was one

    Pls refer to this link [slashdot.org]

    They get flamed by someone and their immediate response is to ban anonymity, even though it will do NOTHING to prevent flames. Do you even think for a second before you post this crap

    Argh. Warning FUD LEVEL RAISING
    As an advice: I never got flamed.
    On what are your arguments based? A crystal ball?

    anonymous idiots will stop posting anonymously and start mailbombing those they disagree with instead. Your ban will make your situation WORSE


    Where do you take you knowlegde from????? Are you working for a wheather forecast company or something like that or are you a traveller from outer space?? No matter what, you loose. "Period"
    About mailbombs:I dont care if you mailbomb the given account all day and night. Feel free to do so.........
  • yes but you are advocating the banning of all AC's, how is that really any different than blaming them all?

    The problem that as long as AC exist, there will always be some dorks to mess up discussions. I see no other solution than banning AC postings. I am absolutely open to any suggestion to solve the problems AC cause!

    and lazyness because you want all AC's banned, if you dont like them, then ignore them. dont try to get other ppl to do your work for you

    How could I ignore it, as I am directly affected. A messed up discussion is worthless, no matter whether I ignore or not.

  • I rarely read the /. posts because of the high noise to signal ratio. It is not worth my time to sift through unintelligent rants to mine a couple of gems.

    It is the content of the posts, not the sender's id that bothers me. How many of slashdot's readers have ever gone to their boss or boss's boss and said, "You need to read this thread on Slashdot."?

    Darn few, if any, is my guess. I feel comfortable forwarding many of the links to information that I find in Slashdot to managers in my company. And I often do. I have never -- and under the present system, will never -- suggest that anyone read the posts. They should be called Slashdot's Wasteland.

    And that is a shame. I value the experience and intelligence and wit of the slashdot gang -- but finding that beyond the home page is difficult, if not impossible.

    BTW, to an new reader or to your boss that looks at Slashdot at your urgings, CmdrTaco is as anonymous as Anonymous Coward.

    Perhaps the answer is two sites:
    Slashdot, Sr. moderated for the Serious
    Slashdot, Jr. unsupervised recess for the immature

    DC Stultz
  • Is Jon Katz uncool, a poser, a wannabe? Possibly, but he also is more mainstream than most of us. Have you, an AC, been discriminated so much by the mainstream that you now feel it's your turn? I admit that Mr. Katz is probably not the most techiest guy around but he does represent the majority in regards to tech - THEY HAVEN'T A CLUE - but since I braves coming out here with the rest of us to find out; to question the culture of geeks; to try and make some mainstream sense.

    So his writing isn't what you like but considering he does make a living at writing then he's obviously doing something right and it's probably the mainstream people that enjoy more than you do.

    Arrogant?!? Maybe but he doesn't at least sound half as arrogant then you do. You have an opinion and I respect that but why is it some geeks can't respect others opinions and take a holier than thou attitude...so you've been programming and tinkering since birth - BIG DEAL! What are you doing to educate the masses?

    If anything if we could teach Mr. Katz what tech-culture is all about than possibly he'd be able to write better and more factual and maybe more mainstream people will understand as well and have the same take on tech-culture that you do.

    Or like the bigots of yester-year do you actually crave segregation - just in doing so remember we geeks are not the majority anymore on the net.
  • Is it me or is this article similar to the "lurkers" article that Jon Katz did not so long ago?!?!?!

  • The problem is those who must deride others with sophmoric comments. How about a little respect for your fellow man? I've noticed that the ratio of informative and insightful comments to posts that basically say "you suck" or "i don't know what i'm talking about but i like to type" has gotten horribly low.
  • I work behind two firewalls, on a restricted military network. I am not allowed Java or anything fancy. Most log-ons now use Java or even, dare I mention it's existence, ActiveX. If such a log on is involved I cannot log on but I can usually be an Anonymous Coward.

    So it is not always through choice that someone is Anon.

  • I'm impressed. You have the worldly, seen-it-all-at-21 hipster patter right on the mark, even down to that 'sexual climax as metaphor' thing. You don't CARE about other people's experiences. Anyone worth their silicon knows how to run every OS on pure instinct, just like you do, you manly hacker god. And YOU know better than using any commercial software, ever. Only lusers use commercial software. When "Space Invaders" first hit arcades, you were screaming "Free the Source" at Taito. Hell, you were born with the Dragon Book stuffed up your ass, weren't you? You don't even need FREE software! You wrote the browser you're using. You wrote the OS! YOU WROTE IT ALL! And you'd share if only people were WORTHY! Yes, you're definitely a part of whatever culture you think Slashdot represents. Or you're a character in a Bret Easton Ellis novel. Hard to tell these days, you know.
  • Sure, there are some smart people hiding behind an AC identity, but there is also a rather large contingent of pond scum . How do you know which one you're talking to? How do you know how many of them there are? How can you trust what they say about themselves (OK, this is a problem with non-ACs too, to a lesser extent). I think a lot of them me-too their own postings, as well, creating a synthetic contingent of syncophants around a lone ranter.

    Pseudonyms would work better, as they'd give you a chance to learn something about the character of a poster.

    If it were my choice, I'd have it be a meritocracy, at least as far as conversations about Linux and free software. Free software is all about a quid-pro-quo: you return the value you get by making more free software, or contributing to our community in some other way. I'm much more willing to listen to someone talk about where we should be heading when I know they've made a contribution to it, like writing a program or documenting something. That kind of person has paid their dues, and generally wants to be heard using their real identity because they are proud of their contribution. The kind who can't contribute and just wants us to give them stuff, who doesn't really understand the ethos of our community, makes up a good portion of the AC commenters.

    It's not even an ability thing. Most people can document even if they can't program. It's more a willingness to contribute rather than just snipe at others from the protection of anonymity.

    Bruce Perens

  • One of the nice things about speaking at Linux shows is that I get to meet most of the contributors. It's easy for me to differentiate them from the synthetic-nickname folks.

    Yes, synthetic-nickname folks can me-too their own postings as well.


  • Wow. "This is not a flame." Right.

    That exactly fits with Katz little theory. I actually thought they were kidding, but never found the ;). Not nearly as hostile as some I've seen, but not exactly calm, cool, and collected either.

    I think people like this are just blowing off steam, not being able to confront the REAL cause of their frustration, be it their boss, the IRS, or their inability to get it up, or even all the above.

    Flaming actually strikes me as fairly healthy. So bring it, baby.

  • It is a great suggestion!! Hope you read this rob!

  • Ever notice the Anonymous Cowards talking about how they can't be bothered to fill out "another form", but they always have time to tell us that?

    I say people should be held accountable for what they say, the Internet allows too much anonymity. If you don't like being called a Coward, register! Oh no, Rob is going to use that cookie to hijack my credit card!
  • The Law School at the University I went to has a free speech wall that they call, creatively, The Wall. There are only two rules: you must sign (and date) anything you post or write on a post; you cannot remove anyone else's post. Anything can be posted -- newspaper articles, essays, invective letters, anything. It just has to be signed.

    You might think that it gets reduced to personal mudslinging, but it doesn't. Since each poster much take ownership of their post, people think about what they write. It works because there is responsiblity, and the community is fairly honorable; I have not heard of any false signatures.

    That said, I waver about whether I would want to keep or ban Anonynous Cowards. A large percentage of the AC posts are off topic or poorly thought our or just insulting. Then there are some posts which really shine. Some of the best posts I have seen here are from ACs. And some of the worst are from those with a login. You don't need to be an AC to write a "First Post!" comment, and firsties are often not ACs. It is also a simple matter to get a login without giving any real information about yourself (only giving a @yahoo or @hotmail or @dejanews e-mail address).

    I believe in being responsible for my posts. I try to put my name on every post, and certainly my URL and e-mail address work. There are some to whom responsibility is not an issue. As long as ACs are allowed, there can be no limit on them, and they should be allowed to post whatever drivel or gems they care to, just as those with a login can.

    I say keep ACs. Thresholds exist so that you can ignore them if you like; I prefer just to ignore those posts which deserve ignoring.

    Russell Ahrens
  • It is Yale. I haven't looked at the wall since I graduated in '96 (and although I was an undergraduate, I did spend a fair amount of time in the law school library), but I don't remember too much "hyper adolescent" postings. Maybe it has changed.
  • Increase the Threshold to 1, which will filter out all AC posts, except those which have been moderated upwards. I do this whenever there are more than 100 comments, to reduce the amount I have to wade through.
  • Bollocks. No change there, then.
  • I would like to be able to rapidly filter out most AC comments. If there were an option I could set to sort AC's last (in both tree and flat modes) then I would be happier.

    Of course, as evidenced by the frequency of "first comment" posts, I'm sure others would like to be able to sort their comments first.

    So Rob, why not make everyone happier and just add a sort-preference option?

    Enough Said,

    Cimarron Taylor
  • I don't disagree completely with the concept of ACs on /. and other sites, but I do disagree with JK's assesment. ACs usually take the 'no consequence for their actions' stance. They can anonymously interject anything into a reasonable discussion and derail or degrade it into a flamewar and not have to share a bit of identity or responsibility. Does he really think that there is a segment of society that shouldn't be held responsible for their actions in a public forum?

    JK seems to want to celebrate and worship some of the worst of humanity ( the behaviour, not ACs) which leads me to wonder just what kind of guy he really is. He likes to stir things up, dosen't know hardly anything about computers, gets paid to write articles that generate tremendous response... Hmmmm.. do you suppose that he may post many of the AC comments that he is defending here?? Makes me wonder.
  • by jwilloug ( 6402 )
    This has got to be the most surreal Slashdot threads ever.
  • Slashdot was once a cool site. Now it just broke down under it's own weight. The pages are >100k most of the time, viewing slashdot takes ages from Germany, and people who like to jerk off in public, like this Jon Katz guy here, get to post stories.

    Personally, I don't have a problem that people like him are there. Just confine them somewhere outside the Internet. How can someone like him, who doesn't even know the difference between the Internet and the Web, dare to talk down on Anonymous Cowards? At least those guys don't have to leave their name on every corner like dogs and graffitti "artists"!

    And Slashdot will continue to suck, even more so that it sucks now. CmdrTaco does not post earthshattering international events like the ETSI documentation being released on the web, because of some chauvinistic "it's not in the US, so it's not important" attitude, and he does not add the "I don't want to see Ask Slashdot" or "killfile Jon Katz" features. It's time to abandon Slashdot. Now.

    And Jon, it really disgusts me how you always make sure that you mention your incredible credentials, there other web sites where you pissed at the corner. If you had any actual competence, you wouldn't need that.

  • Perhaps you didn't notice that you can post with just a name and nothing else.

    So what if you get flamed on slashdot? There's nothing coming into your mailbox, so who cares? Personally, I feel that most of the "controversial" stuff that's posted by ACs isn't worth reading because the ACs often don't care about putting enough thought into their posts to avoid sounding like idiots.

    Be an adult. Back up what you say with a name. Make the signal-to-noise ratio better.

    (I do realize that there are uses for AC posting, such as insider tips and the like. Good ol' paranoia works as a reason, too, I guess.)
  • All you have to do is set your threshold to 1 and all of those nasty AC posts will magically disappear.

    Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater!
  • Is it really too difficult to remember one username/password for all 'net accounts? If someone hax0rs my nytimes account and is somehow able to post as me on infoworld electric and slashdot, I'm not going to have my world crumble around me.

    Besides, there are plenty of well-known public accounts for those sites (cypherpunks, for one). I don't usually bother to create a personal account if I'm just reading stuff. I get enough spam as it is.

    I get annoyed with people who make dumb excuses. Don't bother. Just say that you don't want to do something and be done with it.
  • Hey buster, who you calling uncool? I did get flamed in an e-mail this morning, but somebody who told me my e-mail organizing skills are poor. This is true. But if I get any less cool, I'd boil over.
  • I know it came from Eric Raymond,but didn't some person at MS send it out? It seems that the personal insults are the problem for people, not the anonymity. On the Well, people who get nasty just get temorarily removed from posting privileges, till they settle down. But who would want to police that?
  • by juuri ( 7678 )
    Another piece of feelgood USA today style fluff from Katz.

    How much longer are you going to let this continue CmdrTaco? Isn't slashdot your livelyhood now? Shouldn't you be worried?
  • Well put! It seems to be almost universally true that those who are most vociferous in their use of free speech, are also those who are most likely to deny others the right to express themselves. Jon does an excellent job expressing himself, and has certainly proven that he does have a thick skin. Many of the flames directed at Jon complain about the length of his articles. Many of the flamers don't seem to be able to rise above petty, one line insults in their attacks, so it is not surprising that they object to a lengthy, thought out essay.

    Keep it up, Jon!
  • $#@)($Sieg Heil)(#@$
    $#@)($Sieg Heil)(#@$
    $#@)($Sieg Heil)(#@$

    Wow, look, I have a nick and.. :gasp: I just posted this message. Its so amazing, wait.. now I click "submit" right? WOooooOo

    And, back on topic for a moment.. good luck convincing people to ban AC postings. Why don't you try making an argument instead of random useless threats? What a concept!
  • It's a lot easier to flame than it is to understand. There's a lot out there on the Net that isn't worth the rise in blood pressure and the degradation of finger tendons in banging away a reply, because someone has to believe you to change their thinking, and that takes choice on their part. /rational_response
    Truth is, it doesn't really stop me or anyone else, of course. :) I get indignent at a lot, including posts from both sides. I think the key here is with the AC posts is....does it really matter who is posting? You're reading a stream of ideas, and unless it truly matters to you to know the name, background, SSN, OS of the person behind the ideas, then it's moot. Someone you disagree with strongly about Linux may have an opinion on music you agree with. The attachment of a name sometimes grants instant and unmerited bias to anything posted by that person. I really believe an Anonymous poster has the benefit of escaping the preconceived notions some may attach to a solid identity otherwise.
    Anyway, this is getting long. :) Katz has a knack for fluidity of perspective without compromising his own opinions, I think. If more people had flexibility, -then- the rational_response I cited above would play a bigger part in posting.


  • They do nothing but decrease the signal to noise ratio. As a previous Slashdot article proved, their behaviour keep more than 90% of people from posting.

    If people must flame they should have the guts to do it under their own names.

    IMHO. :)
  • Right on, Jon. The AC posts are a vital part of slashdot discussions. Forcing everyone to log in to post on /. would be a mistake. The idea of the internet is that it allows many-to-many distribution of ideas and news, as opposed to the few-to-many architecture of newspapers or broadcast TV/radio. If you don't like inane, off-topic, or offensive posts, set your threshold to 1 (or 2 if you have a very short attention span). If you want to hear what EVERYONE has to say (like I do), set your threshold to -2. Banning AC posts will not boost the signal-noise ratio on /. Everyone on IRC has a name, and that hasn't forced it to become a civilized forum. Why would forcing everyone here to take a pseudonym change anything?

  • I'd love to see anonymous cowards axed. They are incredibly bad for the PR image of this site and MUST have a negative impact on site attendance from new visitors.

    Pseudos I'm ok with.

  • Zathras was once anonymous but still a coward.
    Zathras fear no response, very humiliating.
    Alas, Zathras mostly lurk.

    Enjoy AC posting's. You may learn something.
    AC's are always certain ... sometimes correct.

  • by Communa ( 9621 )
    I thought interpersonal problems were a known problem with RMS, and that upgrading to ESR went some way towards fixing them...? ;>
  • if AC's were removed, we'd see pseudo-AC accounts with no actual information on them, false email addresses and url's, and handles that don't refer to the real person. I suppose people in big corporations who want to be anonymous would use those instead of AC if there was no AC. Which is the main practical reason why I think AC is good.
  • exactly, that's why /. is a really free site. if it went down the "need to police posts" road, it'd have to start requiring registration and a valid email address to post at all. then people would use throwaway email addresses just for that (hotmail anyone?), and you'd have the usual race between the ones banning handles and the ones registering new thorwaway ones to flame from. since this is 1) a lost battle, and 2) a sure way to bring sourness to the site, I'm very happy that /. is NOT going down this route, and just letting people post as AC's.
  • Back before ./ had a normal login feature, I posted serveral pro-MS/anti-Linux notes and got flamed when doing so. After I started posting with by nick, people stopped flaming.

    Unfortunatly I find that most Slashdotters are 15-yeard olds that think they are cool because they run Linux.

    Before you flame me about this read the first paragraph at:

  • better than those who flame you openly.

    They are both hiding behind a mask. Afraid to come out in the community.

    The reason you get burned here so much is because your "articles" have nothing to do with news, which is what this page is about. Worse, your articles have spelling errors, grammar errors, and worse you have a tendency to drop a word in mid-sentence... leaving us to figure it out.

    I have yet to one newsworthy item from you, all I see is drivel that explains why you don't write for the other guys anymore.

    It would be best if Slashdot had a special John Katz editorial page. That way the news page would not be cluttered with all the noise. That way we could just forget you exist.

  • The suggestion of using the replace-string command with C-Q C-M as the string to replace and an empty string as the replacement string will, in fact, work. I've used it many times with success.

    One automated way that you might not be aware of is to do the original transfer of the files from your DOS/Windows machine to a Unix box using the Internet. Use "ascii" mode in FTP, and your text files will be automatically converted.

  • Many places on the net allow anonymous postings. However, that does not make them better than publications or TV. You can spout things to the newspapers just as much as you can online, they simply ask for your name, and this is done for good reason. I also think the statement that you can't post anonymously about things regarding the govt or big business is a crock, too. Revolutions have been won by people who stood up, even martyred, than those who attempt anonymous, quasi-guerilla tactics.

    If signing your name to something is enough to make you not post it it, then that's your own shortcoming -- but also a sign to yourself realizing that it probably doesn't deserve to be posted in the first place. Anonymity removes this barrier, and allows the person to post w/o making them rationally think about the consequences of their statements. It's the whole case of freedom and responsibility, they go hand in hand.

    If I have something to say, I'll say it, without fearing the impending outcome of my decision. Jon said, "Anyone willing to venture a strong idea or opinion online should expect to be flamed", and I agree. So what? Put on the asbestos pants and post away... but use your name.

  • I do not always feel like loging in. I think its
    nice sometimes but there should not be any negative
    incentives to logging in.
  • I have no problem with the AC name except that
    it does make it harder to see a commenter you
    can quickly pick out and read, while still not
    having the hassle of logging in. Other than
    that AC is fine IMHO.
  • It's Aho, Sethi & Ullman, Compilers : Principles, Techniques and Tools published by Addison-Wesley and the Amazon URL is
    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/020110088 6/qid%3D917415425/002-2583591-9682245
  • 100% hit. (excluding the flamer description)

    I usually do not give a damn and post with my real name but I understand people who hide behind AC because of their employment... (I have to remind some of the posters that there are US corporations where even the email is considered to be CORPORATE property).

    There is just one minor note on flamers. They are mostly not adolescent mailes, but badly educated people who do not agree with anybody who thinks differently. They also cannot argue for their opinion so they have to shout over anybody who thinks different.

    The discussion around operation " Desert Blow Job... " was a good example of that...

    And what about AC ;-), AC is just a term, let it stay...

  • ... And "Git who can't be bothered to get a Nick" would be too long.

    I wish the flamers who jump on Jon everytime he posts to slashdot would get a life and go somewhere else. We all know Jon, If you don't like his style then don't read his articals!! Noone is compelled to do so. If people can't make constructive critisism then they should say nothing. Personally I wouldn't be at all surprised if Jon is deliberately stringing out his account of his "adventure" just to wind up the testosterone crazed infants on /. It sure seems to be working.....
  • I'm not interested in chasing any of the anonymous folks off; I am, in fact, interested in what some of them have to say. But Slashdot really needs edited discussion threads. Quite often (as is the case with this one) I don't read any of the responses, because there are just too many of them.


  • ...was right on target. congrats, katz!

    one comment, though - you write:
    "AC's are a unique sub-species of the Net and the Web, like hackers or cypherpunks.

    hmm. and i thought hackers (as in 'linux hackers', and not as in 'c00l hackerz') were the prototypical netizens, rather than a 'unique subspecies'...
  • I agree with good old CmdrTaco. It's a joke, it's funny, laugh. It really isn't that difficult to create an account, if you don't like being called a coward, get yourself an account. If you don't make an account, deal with it. People are way too serious about themselves anyway.
  • It IS tounge and cheek, and it is rob's site. If you don't like it make an account, oh wait, you did already. What exactly is your problem? I got sick of seeing "Anonymous Coward" over my posts so i created an account, i never felt insulted though, or felt a lack of respect or anything like that. Deal with it.
  • I think allowing ACs post is wonderful. Having to read them isn't. Registered user accounts should have the option to not read them - only seeing other registered accounts as an option to seeing every Tom, Dick, and -uh; I mean every AC, AC, and AC post. A technical solution that provides an answer without detracting, bitching, or berating anyone.
  • Yes, I am aware of the setting. Now if I wasn't aware of it I certainly would have appreciated you pointing it out with such flair and respect. :b I'm certainly also your able to understand my needs better than I do, and therefore I most certainly don't care about other users posting to ACs. Can I go to the bathroom now? Oh, my shoes are untied, could you please...
  • but WOOO HOOO HOOO HAA HAA HAA HAA HAA OH MY I'm wetting my self while trying to imagine just how much starch gets put in your under-things. As for being uber-fiend/you-think-you-are-right, whatever.

    Oh... something else... it needs to be said... I guess I out use-of-hyphenated-word'ed you...

    PS: ... wow yet another pointless ellipsis! Let's start a dotdotdot war! Except that you'd win; being correct and all.
  • Some people here are a strange lot. They don't want big brother glancing over their shoulders, but when someone else's anonimity bothers them, they forget their own desires for privacy and call for the heads of those they can not identify.
    I posted once or twice as a "coward" before I finally registered as a user here. It wasn't even a desire for anonymity so much as not wanting yet another account somewhere to deal with.
    I know I wouldn't want any of my future employers reading some of what I write. They might consider some of my personal views contrary to their own and not hire me.
    My current employer... well, I can tell you now that you should Never Again Volunteer Yourself.
    But I do know that not everyone shares my "don't give a damn what you think of me" attitude. And still others may be contradicting an ideology pushed by their employer (which may have superiors reading these posts if they are a tech oriented company).
    Anonimity shouldn't be optional, it should be a right.
  • So "Anonymous Coward" is a joke, eh? "Coward" is supposed to make us laugh, ma Taco belle?

    Sure, assholes post using "Anonymous Coward". Assholes often (sometimes more often) post using a "real name", which is usually some stupid made up name (like this one). "Yeah, I'm a responsible macho man cuz I post with my real name and I don't care who flames me; I am a badd-ass mofo."

    A couple of points:

    Our Taco-mac-daddy may think the "Cowards" part is "funny" or a "joke". And maybe other anonymous posters agree. Well hey, let's make it totally hilarious and call them "Anonymous Niggarz", that'll be a hoot. All in jest, you know, and that term hardly offends anybody these days.

    Use of the term "Cowards" implies and perpetuates a certain bias against anonymous posters. Need more proof of this bias? It turns out, apparently, that posts by "real people" are automatically given a score of one, whereas the "Anonymous Cowards" get a score of zero. I never noticed this before setting up an account.

    In the US, anonymous speech is protected by the first amendment. In particuarly, political speech, such as anonymous pamphleteering, has recently been reaffirmed by the courts as protected speech. It is usually the only protection against the tyranny of the majority. This is not to say Rob MUST allow anonymous posting; it's his server, and he can pretty much do what he wants with it.

    What what IS he doing with it? For one, he is recording your IP number every time you post, anonymously or not. (Use the source, Luke.) Why? The better to track you with, my dear, just in case you say something really unpopular, I suppose. You'd have to ask Rob why he'd want to be a target for some sue-happy bozo who decides they've got to know who wrote something uncomplementary about them. I guess if you're really paranoid, you could figure maybe the Feds (FBI, CIA, NSA, MiB) requested that he did do it for "legitimate law enforcement purposes". Hey, what better place to mine for crackers and other new talent?

    So, here is how to really be anonymous on SlashDot:

    First, you can avoid coughing up your IP by using an anonymizing web proxy [efga.org] that strips out your personal info.

    Second, don't create a Slashdot account. Just stick it out with "Anonymous Coward"; It's less work, and you won't stand out. But if you want a name:

    When you create your Slashdot account, you're required to give an e-mail address, obstensively to mail you your initial password. Now it could just tell you right there, or let you pick your own. The real purpose here is to provide another means for Rob to track you down. So, you have a couple of options:

    • Use one of those free e-mail services long enough to get the password. Make sure you use your anonymizing web proxy. HotMail and probably others log your IP, among other things.
    • Use a nymserver [publius.net]. This is the route I chose, to prove a point.

    Third, when using your proxy, use it from a separate account (you have a Linux box, right? just make a new one). It's easier to maintain the settings you need in your browser that way. Otherwise, you need to make sure you refuse cookies from Slashdot. If you don't, the cookie Slashdot sends you when you post will reveal you once you turn the proxy back off (they tend to be too slow to leave on all the time). (Use the "Warn me before accepting a cookie" setting to see what I mean.)

    So, remember this in case Rob has a change of heart and decides to ban anonymous postings all together, and you can still be anonymous.

    Oh, and it wouldn't shock me in the least if this post disappeared, along with my account. If so, you can finger stupid at redneck dot efga dot org for my PGP key. My Slashdot account could disappear, but I won't.

    Katz, I think you earned back a little respect, although the article seems like faint praise to me.

  • Actually, it seems to me that having to accept the denegrating title of "Anonymous Coward" is a subtle, non-harmful way to push those who post towards doing so under their own name. No one who feels a real need to be shielded by the cloak of anonyminity will be disuaded from posting, but some who feel that they have something important to say and that their opinions ought to be heard will be impelled to take a step forward and post them under a name.

    Now all we need is an Anonymous Coward filter. I wouldn't use it myself, but its very existance would strengthen the drive towards accepting responsibility for ones opinions, without prohibiting anyone from posting anonymously.

  • How about a limited menu of choices for anonymous user names, e.g.:

    Anonymous Coward
    Corporate Coward (for posters of sensitive info)
    Anonymous OS Bigot (or *nix Bigot, Windows Bigot, Mac Bigot)
    Anonymous Foul-Mouthed Jerk
    Anonymous Troll

    All intended tongue in cheek, of course, hopefully you get the idea. Who knows, some posters might actually choose appropriate categories.

Experience varies directly with equipment ruined.