If you're a forum moderator, or (as I do) have an enquiry page
, you may have noticed how the tone / approach of your members varies at some times of day. Occasionally, it's that the messages are terse in the morning and late afternoon, but longer at other times of day - that's explained by the use of a mobile device while travelling, but a regular keyboard at work at home. But more usually it's the messages in the evening through to those 'early hours' times where you're not sure if the poster has had his / her night's sleep yet, or not, that look different. And the behaviour change can often be explained by the use of recreational drugs, in which I'm going to include alcohol.
"Sorry, Graham - I'd had a couple of jars of ale ..." said a personal message that I received the other day, after I had contacted a forum member to point out that one of his posts could be read as a personal attack on another member. It was in contravention of our Acceptable User Policy (AUP) and the policy of almost every other forum (even if some pretend otherwise), and whilst we all enjoy a drink from time to time, that doesn't make allow us to then post to a different rule set.
Identifying the species
There seem to be various forms of behavioural changes when 'computing under the influence'.
• The honest
. The guy or gal who shoots his mouth off - in many ways saying what others may be thinking about the attitude of another member, but going so far as to express that view in a very personal way so that it becomes (technically) a libel. There's a subspecies too, where the honesty comes out with regard to the disclosure of their own personal data. "Where did you learn THAT" they say the next day. Answer "you told me last night!"
• The confused
. Some people's posts are hard to follow at the best of times ... but come to the REALLY incomprehensible one and have a look at the time it was posted. There's likely to be a further clue sometimes along the lines of "this came up in a pub quiz". Yeah - right ;-). And unless our confused drunk also falls into one of the next two categories, some really interesting threads can follow.
• The critical
. I recall a local woman I used to know for whom there were two ways of going about any task - there was HER way, and there was the WRONG way. But she was quite the exception in that she was like that when sober (well - I don't THINK she was always drunk). There was a degree of validity in some of her ways - they had their merits - but they also had flaws. And we had to waste the most extraordinary amounts of time when she reported us to the authorities for doing things the wrong way which ... after long investigation ... turned out to be perfectly valid. There are those people who will post, or email late at night or fill in web enquiry forms telling you what is wrong with your site. They're always worth reading, but always with a pinch of salt and a strong spread of balance too.
• The aggressive
. The woman or man who picks a fight on a forum or by email. Not intend with being critical, they'll threaten you with the law if you 'curtail their freedom of speech', or they'll threaten to 'get you' in a bullying way. Enough said ... very distasteful. Some will just 'moulder' - refuse to do anything (and perhaps not even answer when they get a polite message back), but then look for an opportunity to get their own back on their next binge.
• The ballistic
. From time to time, a member's patience snaps on a forum. They get tired of waiting for a fix to technical issues, they get to disagree with the behaviour of other member(s) so strongly that they 'go ballistic'. When you're sober, you send a single email if you want to complain about things, but these Dicks will send 12 copies of the same thing by email, or paste the same block of text, perhaps with different subjects, all over a forum. Oh - and that block is very likely to show them to be honest
too - it's unlikely to be an advert for the local Carnival. The ballistic drunk's salvo usually backfires ... the 'self destruct' button that forces the web site admin to ban them, and they can be observed for weeks or months thereafter pathetically knocking at the door in case their ban has expired.
• And finally you have the quiet
...the person who you won't see as a problem, who won't waste the moderator / support person's time, but potentially needs and deserves more understanding and support - in serious cases - than all of the others. There are times I can see people hanging around forums / reading blog entries, without comment, for hours on end. And perhaps they then quietly disappear.
How to handle the species
So there you have ... some thoughts (from experience rather than theory) on identifying 'the beast'. What if anything can / should you do?
When I told one batch of rough diamonds that they were making life for everyone else uncomfortable, and taking up a lot of the moderators' time in sorting things out, they suggested that we should simply forward all the emails / messages of complaint to them so that they could answer. That is not an idea that I could go along with!
Another suggestion was made that serious posting breaches should be forgiven for a certain member "because he was drunk at the time". Again - that is NOT one I go along with. In fact, if I were to agree with that, I would be suggesting that drunk driving was OK if the person driving was so drunk he didn't realise he was a danger. It's an abhorrent concept.
I don't think there's any 'one size fits all' solution; 'confused' and to some extent 'honest' and 'critical' can be accepted / even acceptable, and 'quiet' needs no immediate attention but - I have one possible person in mind - is important not to forget. Other cases, perhaps, need a more careful look, and a studying of 'why' to decide how to follow up if at all.
A case study
Let's face it - with over 14,000 visitors to our web site each day, there are bound to be people in all sort of places, at all sorts of times of day, in all sorts of clothing (or perhaps unclothing), hungry and full, rich or poor, and sober or not. And it really doesn't matter to us until they contribute, or pose a threat - and that is only about one in a hundred thousand - rare, but not that
rare. Here's a case study
At 21:22 in the evening, a message pops up in my mailbox from someone who I've never corresponded with before, let alone met on a professional basis. He writes: "Thus I now can't help but wonder exactly why you chose to publicize a bit of code that contains large amounts of terrible code patterns? (lack of strictures, warnings; indenting pattern, size; non-scalar filehandles; lack of use English; use of and to emulate if pattern; unclear variable names; flaky use of parens)"
. Ah - critical, and the time of the evening has me wondering about his state of mind. His message goes on "While this post contained exactly one novel concept for me, the whole rest of it, as it is now, is more than enough to not only steer clear from your services, but also recommend any acquaintances who might consider making use of your services to do the same."
OK ... honest, confused and aggressive too.
Part of the tragedy of the confusion is that my correspondent was too confused to have read the bits that say that our examples are reduced in size to demonstrate how mechanisms work (thus - no strict, no warnings, no error handling, no traps for huge input data files ....) and are written during the course to show the type of code delegates will have to maintain
rather than some sort of perfect code which few of us (and I suspect not my correspondent "C") would even write. Truth be told, I'm rather surprised that someone who (it later transpires) claims to a be a Perl Guru would find even one novel concept in the code - it was after all a teaching aid and he should have known all of this already
I wrote back the following afternoon, explaining these things in rather more depth than I have done above And I added I have gone back to my article as a result of your email, and adding a brief comment to the above effect - and it's probably something I will expand on in coming days. I would also like to invite you to see what we do for yourself one evening - our delegates come from far and wide, and so we also offer accommodation. Your room will be complimentary for the night - please do arrange a mutually convenient date ahead of time, though, so that I can ensure that I am around and that a room is available.
And I have heard nothing since.
But I do have my server log files to hand ;-) so I went back and reconstructed events
This is what happened - in order
C's very first arrival on our site was at 21:00 on 25th August; his 'referer' was not defined - so it was perhaps a link in an email someone sent him, or he pasted the URL or has set up his browser to hide referers. I don't know about that latter, as there were referers in following URLs.
After looking at a couple of pages, he called up the ask me a question page
and 21:12, and took until 21:21 to complete and submit it. He got the "retype this word" (Captcha)
right first time ...
After the had written to me, he called up my blog and probably had a good read, as he linked on from it to a course description at 21:47, then all went quiet.
Had he gone to bed?
No - he was back again at 01:30, following a link from a forum where he'd posted a link to our page, and his criticisms too. Hmmm - if I had written to someone to criticise their page, me thinks I would have the good grace to await an answer before slagging them off in public. But of course, if I was a critical drunk I would have probably written a stinging post, secure in the arrogant confidence that I was right .
And again, at 4 O'Clock in the morning he's following the same link. Looks like a long and lonely night. A completely hypothetical
suggestion ... the activity would fit with a falling out with a girlfriend early in the evening, getting drunk and aggressive with friends, and coming home looking to find people to pick on online!
Chronologically, the next events were my adding to the post to make it clearer what it was (and was not) intended to be, and to take some time to explain to C, and to invite him round and clear the air.
I can be pretty sure he got my email - for 30 minutes after I sent it, there was a visit from the same IP / browser to exactly the two pages I had mentioned in the email. Not entirely surprisngly, he didn't bother to acknowledge my email - and that helps me make a further personal judgement of the sort which is against my normal posting policy.
Follow up actions - case study
Will I follow this up further, perhaps posting onto the forum where we were slagged off? No - it's yesterday's story - looks like we were clicked through to about 100 times, and one sad guy's opinion, expressed at a time and in a way that leads me to believe he may have been 'under the influence. But then his story seems to have disappeared, leaving debris of just one comment from A.N. Other - so I suspect that the moderators jumped on him, or perhaps he did an "oh sh*t - what did I do" and tidied up himself. Whichever, he has provided himself as an excellent research subject for seeing just how much you can learn about people on line - it's been a fascinating, and relaxing 'game' or 'puzzle' of the sort I enjoy.
The program that all the fuss was about? It works well, tells me where the biggest file is within a big directory structure - exactly what it was supposed to do. After all, Perl IS the "Practical Extraction and Reporting Language", even if there are some folks under the mis-apprehension that the "P" stands for "Perfect".
Follow up actions - in general
Most of us have "a jar of ale" from time to time - yes, I do as well, and we mostly know our limits when we have had a drink. I will certainly post very little once I've had even a glass of wine, but there have been evenings where a critical issue has left me little choice.
What rules would I want applied to *me*? How does the boot look on the other foot? Well - it calls for an understanding forgiveness the first time for newer members (ballistic excepted?) , and a similar understanding foregiveness for regular members who step over in an unacceptable way
just occasioanlly. I'm against a "three strikes and you're out" rule as it seems very biased - excluding the longstanding member who has made 3 errors in 1000 posts, but forgiving the newer member with 10 posts who personally attacked in his 8th post, was guided by the moderator team, and did the same thing in his 10th.
At this level, the problems / issues raised are eminently discussable and resolvable with good humour - sometimes good gets better as well as bad getting worse, and I'm very happy with som eof the loosening effects of alcohol.
But ... once it goes ballistic, once it's agressive then it has to be "sorry - but we have better things to do with our time". An apology can help - something that indicates that we're not just going to go round the same loop next Friday night. On the other hand, threatening emails rather confirm a ban - and a permanent one. But you still have to watch your back. "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" they say, and I still smile when I think back to the days I found a grahame
posting on another forum, somewhat along the lines of what I would write but grotesquely extrappolating my views. 6 trains a day to Melksham would be sensible. 6 an hour, 24 hours per day - err - is getting a bit silly! (written 2009-08-29)
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