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Freedom for X is denial of privacy for Y

I'm a great believer in the internet offering an ability to communicate - a freedom - and on that basis the various web sites that I run start off with an "allow all" premise. Even if someone's views don't match mine ... if they want to express them on a board such as opentalk or save the train, or follow up on entries such as this via the comment button, or email me personally, then I think that's great.

Alas, with the ability to communicate on topic comes the ability to communicate off topic, the ability to continue a communication when one party considers it closed and the ability to bulk communicate, including to parties who aren't interested. At a low volume, and when sent to responsible adults, such communications are not really any big problem. As the volume rises, and if the recipients may be minors, it can be another matter.

Nearly 5,000 email messages hit the Well House Consultants server yesterday - the number's very high because we have email to a whole lot of domains that we look after all coming through our central account - and over half of those are clearly marked as being unsolicited bulk email according to our stats page. In fact, I lowered the hurdle that a mail has to jump to be regarded as 'spam' some 24 hours ago, so less traffic of this type is now reaching us - but this is a tricky one as there's always the chance that an advert-like email from a friend or contact could get trapped too and I would regard that as a wrong side failure.

Emails aside, what do we do about off-topic posts on the forums? At their simplest, we've got a clutch of moderators and administrators and a larger group of good friends and contacts who can delete such messages, or inform someone quickly if inappropriate messages need to be deleted. And such messages end up - with our "must be an adult to sign up" rule - as being little more than a nuisance. Occasionally a net newbie will read one before it's deleted and get offended by what we're publishing; a quick explanation usually clarifies things. "Blaming us for the content would be rather like blaming a bus operator for running a scheduled service that happens to take a thief away from the scene of his crime"

One of the great features of our boards - and other boards too - is the ability to send personal messages to another member. After all, everyone might be concerned with / want to read about the reliability issue with the 18:09 - cancelled 3 times in a week - but if John and Jane are arranging to meet on the 21:34 tomorrow night, that's probably not a public meeting. But personal messages can be abused ...

Yesterday, at around 5pm, my mailbox was hit by around a hundred emails within a minute of two. That's as against a regular 5 to 10 an hour. What had happened? A newly signed up member to a board had used the "personal message" system to write to everyone. And, I understand, the picture was pornographic (there's some speculation that what was shown was plastic rather than real, but it's hard to tell these days!). And the "pm" was notified to all 350 members of "save the train".

My 100 initial emails were all "bounces" - emails returned from addresses that were no longer active - and it gave me my first clue that something was up. They were followed within a few minutes by the first emails from real users letting me know that they had received the notification / message out of the blue - mostly good humoured, thank goodness. And this is where I realise what a valuable team and great friends we have; before I had even had time to take appropriate actions, Leah had done the job - removed the parallel posts to boards, turned off the member's ability to contribute in that (or any other way) and was onto the damage limitation. Thank you, Leah. And others were posting on the main board on the subject, helping me to make it very clear to all that "this is NOT our message".

I started off by saying that I believe in freedom, but one (wo)man's freedom to post such a message to everyone is another's denial of freedom from receiving unsolicited messages that may offend. What's the answer? I looked at 'intended use' of the personal message system and asked myself 'is there any way that I can add a restriction here that will allow intended and good use but trap issues like the current one' ... and I've come up with a configuration that only lets people send personal messages once they've made a handful of public posts on the board.

With the new scheme, anyone who receives a "pm" from someone they don't know can look back and see a little of how their correspondent stands on things. Their correspondent will have shown a clear, repeated interest in our main topic and will already have been vetted by peer pressure on the board. And people typically don't sign up just to send legitimate messages without making a contribution to the community as a whole - so I think our solution is a good one.
(written 2006-11-09, updated 2006-11-12)

 
Associated topics are indexed as below, or enter http://melksh.am/nnnn for individual articles
G903 - Well House Consultants - Running and moderating forums and social media sites
  [4492] Almost so wrong, but perhaps it's right for some? - (2015-05-11)
  [4403] The unbalanced relationship between customer and provider - (2015-01-21)
  [4315] Welcoming genuine forum posters quickly - but turning away off topic advertisers - (2014-11-16)
  [4307] Identifying and clearing denial of service attacks on your Apache server - (2014-09-27)
  [4283] Can a legitimate forum post become illegal a year later? - (2014-07-11)
  [4239] Facebook marketing - early experiences - (2014-01-19)
  [4234] Change to Libel and Defamation laws from 1st January 2014 - (2013-12-31)
  [4065] Handling requests to a forum - the background process - (2013-04-17)
  [4025] Backups, Codebase, Strategy and more - dealing with forum incidents - (2013-03-03)
  [4017] Acceptable User Policy / vexatious interacter - (2013-02-24)
  [3910] Identifying your real customers and keeping them well informed fast - (2012-11-02)
  [3479] Practical Extraction and Reporting - using Python and Extreme Programming - (2011-10-14)
  [2820] Netiquette for forum newcomers - (2010-06-20)
  [2781] The 500 pound question to get you started - (2010-05-26)
  [2569] How to run a successful online poll / petition / survey / consultation - (2010-01-10)
  [2527] Flying tonight - (2009-12-05)
  [2526] A reluctance to move from old shoes to new - (2009-12-05)
  [2386] Computing under the influence of alcohol - (2009-08-29)
  [2254] Forum membership - a privilege not a right - (2009-06-22)
  [2177] Preventing forum spam - checks at sign up - (2009-05-12)
  [2162] Admins thoughts on banning a member from a forum - (2009-05-09)
  [2156] Stopping forum spam - control of the signup process - (2009-05-04)
  [2116] Why do we delay new forum members through authorisation? - (2009-04-03)
  [2103] Ask the Tutor - Open Source forum - (2009-03-25)
  [1972] Pettifog and forum boards away from public view - (2009-01-03)
  [1923] Making it all worthwhile - (2008-12-04)
  [1759] While the world sleeps ... - (2008-08-19)
  [1678] Software - changes and delays. But courses must run on time! - (2008-06-15)
  [1595] First Great Western Weekend - (2008-03-30)
  [1578] Please don't shout at me! - (2008-03-16)
  [1569] I dont care - goodbye - (2008-03-09)
  [1563] Guidlines for posting on a forum - (2008-03-04)
  [1539] A forum is not always the best vehicle - (2008-02-14)
  [1532] Comment spam blocked. Please comment via Forums - (2008-02-05)
  [1523] Ive just received an email from myself. Should I be worried? - (2008-01-29)
  [1485] Copyright and theft of images, bandwidth and members. - (2007-12-26)
  [1472] The Horse goes on and on - (2007-12-15)
  [1362] No Thank You - (2007-09-23)
  [1190] Save the Forum - A regular clean sweep - (2007-05-17)
  [1088] Why use BBC code not HTML? - (2007-02-21)
  [948] Running an on line campaign - (2006-11-27)
  [923] Why shouldn't I spam? - (2006-11-13)
  [841] Forum help - a push in the right direction - (2006-08-21)
  [828] Freedom of speech and freedom to post - (2006-08-10)
  [806] Check your user is human. Have him retype a word in a graphic - (2006-07-17)
  [651] Please Register with Opentalk - but just once! - (2006-03-19)
  [516] Open source questions? Anyone can ask. - (2005-12-03)
  [424] How not to run a forum - (2005-08-24)
  [248] Use me, but use me effectively - (2005-03-16)
  [231] Feedback as lifeblood - (2005-02-28)
  [204] The confidence to allow public comments - (2005-02-06)
  [130] Spelling and grammar - (2004-11-25)
  [115] Expiration dates or times on web pages - (2004-11-12)
  [29] Silence is Golden - (2004-08-26)
  [22] Falling out over the silliest things - (2004-08-21)


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This is a page archived from The Horse's Mouth at http://www.wellho.net/horse/ - the diary and writings of Graham Ellis. Every attempt was made to provide current information at the time the page was written, but things do move forward in our business - new software releases, price changes, new techniques. Please check back via our main site for current courses, prices, versions, etc - any mention of a price in "The Horse's Mouth" cannot be taken as an offer to supply at that price.

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