I got slashdotted –…

I got slashdotted -- though since I don't keep track of server traffic, I don't actually have any idea whether my general traffic went up. What's funny are their responses to the question: they either address it in technical terms, from the user pov (which is fine for them, but obviously not for the majority of users, who would have no clue how to do what they describe), or they appear completely anti-work-surfing. Which makes me think most of them aren't office workers with long stretches of dead time at their desks when nobody cares if they surf the net and shop. :-)

Odd tunnel vision of geeks. But I suppose geeks are the Slashdot audience. None of those who have posted so far are interested in the broader questions at all; they're not about engaging to effect social change on this issue (or even debating whether it's necessary), they're about either avoiding engaging with the societal rules entirely, bypassing them, (presumably because they shouldn't apply to those technically savvy enough to get around them), or blithely obeying them. Funny.

I'm not particularly worried about the issue raised, btw -- I figure plenty of people manage to find me anyway. But it's interesting, in an abstract sense. There was a bit there about dynamic blacklisting that did sound like it might offer a technical solution eventually, but I didn't really understand it.

(I feel like I should note in case any of the slashdot people make it over here to the journal that the word 'geek' above is not intended in a pejorative sense. I live with a mathematician. I am a certified geek groupie, even if I am utterly inadequate in geekiness myself. A broken computer makes me want to huddle in a corner and cry, rather than try to fix it. But I do hand code most of my HTML, and I use pine for my e-mail, and I can even barely navigate my way through the man pages. So I'm not utterly hopeless, I hope. :-)

11 thoughts on “I got slashdotted –…”

  1. You asked a question and you received some free advice, so you shouldn’t complain about the quality of the advice you’ve received. If you want good advice, perhaps you ought to look into hiring a consultant.

    Also keep in mind that Slashdot is a community you’re not a part of — as a result you don’t understand it as far as what’s acceptable and what’s not. The way the question was written, by including multiple links to your site, made it appeared to be nothing more than shilling this site. The question could just as easily have been written with only *one* link to the site, or even none — and the issues wouldn’t have been affected. Additionally, there are so many ways that any half-competent geek can think of to bypass web filters that the subject itself is rather boring. In a word, the end-user solution to your problem is “proxy”. Once you’ve understood the myriad ways to implement a proxy solution, you’ll have answered your own question. If you want an answer to what *you* can do to stop a web filter from blocking your site, then isn’t the answer obvious already? You don’t need to be a rocket scientiest to figure out that mixing porn (or erotica, whatever euphemism fits) with normal content is probably what’s causing your entire domain to be blacklisted. Solution? Put the porn on a different domain. Again, this is a topic so trivial and un-interesting I’m surprised it even made it as a story. Want an answer from a geek? Go ask one. But don’t be offended when a community which you’re not a part of sees things differently than you do.

    And what’s the slam about engaging social change? You state “they’re about … avoiding engaging with the societal rules entirely”. Upon what evidence do you base this accusation? Slashdot has some over 700,000 registered users (a lot of those are inactive though) and probably millions of other people who haven’t bothered to get an account but who read from time to time. In other words, it’s a community of likely a million people. You’re forming an opinion of a huge community based upon a sample of only (as it stands now) 47 total postings to that story? Funny how you’re interested in making sweeping generalizations about a site you likely don’t read having a community you clearly don’t understand.

    Look, those questions have nothing to do with societal rules. A company has chosen to filter the content its employees see while at work. That is the company’s right. The employees can always choose to go home and surf whatever the hell they want on their own time. Or they can find a different job — it’s a free country. This has nothing to do with society, because the issue affecting a company which *chooses* to filter web content does not affect society as a whole. I’m not sure what high horse you’re on, but perhaps you need to get a slightly broader perspective on the whole thing.

    If you want to see how the Slashdot community engages issues affecting society, why don’t you head over to http://yro.slashdot.org/ and read and learn first. Want to learn a good basic tenet to follow if you’re interested in effecting societal change, or even just having a dialogue with a community of geeks? This piece of advice is completely free. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Somehow, I think you missed a couple of those steps.

  2. I think you missed the bit where I neither posted to Slashdot initially, nor attempted to participate in the following conversation there; I was notified that I’d been slashdotted, so I checked out the initial responses. This commentary here was directed at my journal readers, whose focus is clearly rather different than yours. Speaking of communities.

    And the question of what prevalent corporate policies are appropriate is actually a general societal question. You may think their policies are entirely appropriate, and that’s fine, but it’s still taking a social stand. And if you don’t think the policies are societally appropriate, offering a technical solution that the vast majority of readers and content providers will neither hear about nor know how to implement is not actually helpful to them.

    As said above, I don’t actually think it’s that noticeable a problem, personally. But apparently that reader who posted did; you should be addressing further comments to him.

  3. And by the way, you took what I said as much more of a slam than I intended. What I was really trying to point out is the tendency of geeks (and I do think this is a frequent, observable phenomenon) to tend towards workaround solutions to social issues (route around the problem), rather than direct engagement.

    This is noticeably different from the tendencies of academics, for example, who tend to confront the problem head-on and then get bogged down in the details of defining their terms and not get anything done.

    Or the tendencies of social activists, who sometimes focus on fixing the problem they see without taking the time to discuss whether it’s a problem that actually needs fixing, or whether the method they’re trying to impose to fix it is actually the most functional.

    I tend towards those latter two camps, myself. 🙂

  4. I don’t know, Mary Anne. I think the original question was narrowly focused enough that the “don’t web surf at work” responses make sense in context. I mean, I know a lot of jobs have a lot of down time, but I don’t think that means there’s social injustice implied in an employer’s restriction of leisure activities while on the company clock. It might mean your employer is a pain in the ass, but that’s a different problem.

    I think also that my reaction to this is colored by the (admittedly small amount of) time I spent at computer security conferences back when that was my job. If you’re at work and using company computers, your employer is perfectly within her rights to not only limit your internet access but also monitor it. There are procedures and standards and processes to be observed, but you’re at work, not at home. I mean, you wouldn’t just take out your knitting during a slow period at work, right? (well, you or I would, because we work at home. People in offices, I mean.)

    Also on the topic of narrow-focus: the post in question wasn’t a main slashdot post, I think, it was an advice-column kind of post. That’s why no one was particularly interested in wide-ranging social dialogue, not because slashdotters are tunnel-visioned.

  5. There are a whole bunch of separate questions here, and I think part of the problem is that they’re getting conflated. (All answers below are simply my opinions, of course, not Absolute Truth. Absolute Truth costs more.)

    1. Q: What can ordinary non-geek users do to view blacklisted sites from work? A: Probably nothing. There are websites that are set up as basically web-page forwarding sites, to allow people from China, for example, to view content prohibited by the government. But if those sites are blacklisted as well by your company’s blacklist, you’re out of luck.

    2. Q: What can geek users do to view blacklisted sites? A: If the blacklisting server’s setup allows it, set up a proxy; there are a variety of ways to do this, all of them requiring either more technical knowledge than most users have, or a friend who can set it up for you.

    3. Q: Should companies be allowed to blacklist sites? A: This is a philosophical question and has different answers depending on your beliefs.

    4. Q: Is it ethical for people to surf non-work-related sites on company time? A: Again depends on your beliefs; also on whether the company allows users to do this, explicitly or implicitly.

    5. Q: Is it a good idea for people to surf non-work-related sites on company time? A: Aside from the ethical question, it’s worth noting that (a) if you’re not using a proxy, companies can monitor traffic, so they can see what you’re doing (if they care); (b) many companies have an explicit policy that what you do on company equipment is not private; (c) some companies have an explicit policy that you may not use company resources for personal use; (d) point being, in many situations you can actually be fired for using company resources for personal use. A friend of a friend was fired last year for receiving a sexual explicit email from a lover at work — the company’s spam filter had caught the message, the employee went to the sysadmins and asked why it hadn’t reached him, the sysadmins looked into it and found the message in question and reported it.

    6. Q: Should we change society to be more tolerant of people doing personal stuff on company time? A: Another interesting philosophical question.

    7. Q: Do geeks try to route around problems rather than engage with them? A: I would say some geeks do, in some circumstances. On the other hand, I would say a fair number of geeks do take direct action. Look at the EFF, or Lessig, or the people (including several Swarthmore students) who engaged with Diebold over the voting-machine memos. And for that matter, it’s sometimes hard to draw a clear line between social activism and routing around a problem. Were the people who wrote DeCSS (to make it possible to read encrypted DVDs) and distributed it (in violation of the DMCA) routing around the problem, or engaging in civil disobedience of a bad law? What about the people who wore T-shirts with encryption algorithms printed on them and then flew out of the country, in intentional disobedience to US anti-encryption-export laws? A lot of things geeks do seem to me to map pretty closely onto standard civil disobedience.

  6. Yah — I think part of my confusion is that my default response to such questions is to think about the social structures that set up such systems, and I agree, looking at the post now, that it really was looking for a technical solution, rather than a talk about the issues thing.

    I suppose the interesting issue (to me) is not about whether employers have the right to tell you not to surf the net — they totally do. But if the employer *is* fine with you surfing the net, but not with you looking at porn (because they’re worried about liability), whether there’s a valid reason to agitate for them using alternatives to throw-the-baby-out-with-bath services like Webwasher. That was how I read the question; it’s clearly not how most of the slashdot people did…and I’m not even sure it’s what the original poster was looking for.

  7. I really loved your ‘gentle man’ story. Wish it was more complete though and you told us how all the described conflicts were resolved and everybody came to live happily ever after! I’m happy you were slashdotted; would never have chanced on your site otherwise.

  8. Thanks for the kind note, Seun — I really appreciate it. That story is part of my novel in progress, Bodies in Motion, which I’m just finishing up now, and hoping to sell soon. I should warn you though — since I follow two families over three generations in this book, I rarely actually wrap up anyone’s lives. What you do get is further perspectives on the characters from other people and other times in their lives.

    The father, Suneel, for example, appears as a young man in “Seven Cups of Water” (which will be in much-edited, somewhat less erotic, form for the book). And the daughters and son appear in their own stories (not yet published): “The Emigrant” follows Riddhi, “Tightness in the Chest” shows Raji soon after she marries, and Raksha shows up in “Lakshmi’s Diary” (soon appearing in Oasis literary magazine).

    Oh, and you do get a tiny bit of Raji, noticeably later in her life, in Minal in Winter. Or you could just wait for the book, and read them all together. 🙂 A few of them do get to live happily ever after, as much as anyone ever does…

  9. I was the one who posted the slashdot story, so I wanted to make a few final remarks. Hey, companies have a right to decide what websites employees look at. But I was rather shocked at how sloppy the Webwasher company was in how they applied their filters. They don’t even provide a method for content creators to appeal their being blocked. That hundreds of companies around the world use these same default filters really alarms me.

    The idea that Mary Anne (or others) should just put controversial content on another domain just doesn’t seem reasonable. It places the onus on the individual to self-categorize. I confess I cannot do that. For example, occasionally I link on my weblog to “adult stuff” (although I also link to a lot of literary and cultural content). By doing this, do I run the risk of having a content filter program just blacklist my entire site? Reasonable content filtering is appropriate for a business network. However, I want some assurance that the filtering software is sophisticated enough to be able to tell the difference between say, a page with erotic fiction and a page with fiction and explicit images. Or between an erotic story and a mainstream story. Or between a weblog containing links to essays on Freud and a weblog about Buffy or Star Trek. If a content filtering program can’t do that much, then why are companies buying it?

    One more note about academics v. slashdotters: I confess to belong to both camps. It may be that slashdot geeks are more cynical about changing the system, and so the system must be circumvented. (That actually is a pretty good way of effecting social change). Tenure obsessions notwithstanding, academics are more optimistic when they advocate social change (especially because they can view the problem as an outsider and don’t need to be the one to do the changing).

  10. On the topic of communities, I was responding of your analysis of the Slashdot community in your commentary. You’ll note that I never once talked about the community you have reading your journal entries and other works, as I’m not familiar with it. Imagine if I visited your site for the first time and then posted some sweeping generalizations about what I thought on Slashdot without first engaging in *this* community. That’s what I was getting at.

    I do understand you didn’t participate in the Slashdot discussion, however it would have been much more interesting had you done so, even if you didn’t register for a free account. Rather than merely observing the discussion then coming back here and reporting on what you saw, imagine the level of engagement you could have engendered had you participated. Perhaps you could have directed the topic more towards the kinds of issues you are now raising in your journal entries and comments above.

    Speaking of which, on the topic of what the employer allows the employee to do… I do see that there is some valid discussion regarding the impact to society as far as how separated your private/work life should be. Though it goes into the realm of armchair philosophy to a certain extent.

    Myself, I tend to take a capitalist approach to the situation. The employer pays the employee to perform a certain task. The employee gets the benefit of $X per hour or month for the work, and the employer gets the benefit of the work being done. If I hire a cleaning company to clean my home and they charge $30/hour per cleaner, I’d get rather upset if they started using my computer to surf the net when they’re getting paid to clean. The only time I would find that acceptable would be if they were looking up something specific to the job at hand — eg: how to get dog crap out of a shag carpet.

    As to how this extends to society as a whole (break out the armchair) my view is that a prospective employee should find out what is and isn’t acceptable to the employer before accepting a job. If the work conditions are to your liking, then take the job. If it’s too restrictive for you, then find another job. If no jobs meet your level of comfort, perhaps you can find other like-minded people and start your own company and let your employees browse whatever websites they choose. That’s the wonderful thing about most countries these days. You have those options available to you and nobody is forcing anyone else to work at a particular job.

  11. I forgot to mention that you should do a search on http://yro.slashdot.org (yro = “Your Rights Online”) for related topics. One such search on Google came up with this article:

    WebSense Patents Censorware System — talking about alternative methods of filtering web pages.

    Also:

    Hotmail: Not Safe for Work? — this is fascinating and talks a lot about companies and whether they should or should not be able to monitor what you do.

    So a community of geeks *can* look at the social side of things from time to time. 🙂

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