Scott Hardie | August 26, 2004
Melissa, I hope you don't mind me posting this here. I apologize if you do.

Being in a profession where she is scrutinized by strangers for any deficiency, Melissa wrote to me today asking whether I'd consider changing her last name on this site back to her maiden name. After Anna lost her job for some ambiguous-but-not-ambiguous-enough comments on her weblog, Melissa didn't want to risk becoming the Tragic in the title.

I thank Melissa for at least asking me instead of demanding changes like users do more often. But I have to warn her, and I may as well warn the rest of you in the process, that this is a public web site that keeps a permanent record of virtually everything ever posted to it. With each comment submitted, you should always ask yourself if you could ever come to regret writing these things, should they ever be found by a lover or family member or especially an employer. For those of you in highly polticized, precarious careers like Melissa, that goes double. Because I'm a compassionate guy, I'll entertain requests to delete old information, but I'm inclined not to do it, and like any webmaster I'm under no obligation to remove what you yourself posted. For your own sake, please be careful about the things you write on the web.

To be more specific for a moment, Melissa only asked to change her last name on the site, not to have old comments deleted. In principle, I'm opposed to both. I've explained enough times how I feel about users going by their real names around here, and to use a maiden name that one uses nowhere else amounts to having a fictional handle on the site. I'm opposed to deleting old TC comments because they can unravel whole threads; how silly would a large portion of the Democratic National Convention discussion look if Mike asked me to delete the Ann Coulter column he posted? Over two dozen comments that follow it would be rendered nonsensical. Besides, not keeping a diary or proper weblog, I like to think of TC as a record of my life and all of your lives, or at least the parts significant enough to discuss with each other. Erasing the record of how we felt about a certain subject on a certain day just because of some inappropriate language undermines one useful purpose of this site, and I don't like to see it happen, ever. Please weigh the impulse carefully before you ask me to delete an old comment, and that goes ten times over before you post any risqué comments in the first place.

All that said, let me bring up a possible solution. In Googling Melissa's name to see how high soon this site was listed in the results, I found her weblog, which is password-protected. Unless that's Diaryland policy, I can only assume it's to keep anyone but her friends reading about her personal life. It seems like a good idea to me: How would you feel about putting up a shield around TC, so that only registered users who are logged in can read the discussions? Someone really zealous about investigating one of us could still create an account and start reading, but it would offer some additional deterrence. Personally, I'd prefer not to hide any content, but it sounds a whole lot better to me than a lot of users asking for what Melissa requested today. If you feel strongly about it, speak up and I'll probably implement it on the new site.

And on that note, the decision has been made: October 18th will see the launch of the new site. I remain open to any other suggestions you have.

Anthony Lewis | August 26, 2004
Pooo on President Bush!
Pooo on Tricky Dick Cheney!
Pooo on Ronald McDonald Rumsfeld!
Pooo on "Always Constipated" Condoleezza!

And now I wait for the hit squads to grab me in the night.

Scott Hardie | August 26, 2004
Huh. I already wrote about this, taking another angle on it.

Lori Lancaster | August 26, 2004
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Scott Horowitz | August 26, 2004
And hey, if this site is googled anyways. It's cached. So, if you delete the comments, they'll always show up there. Plus, you ahve the edit link. You can take out something offensive and re-write it, if you care. The thing I like is that if you google my name, it is very hard to find me. A head astronaut at NASA has the same name as me, and for every 1 hit for me, you get 400 for him :)

Lori Lancaster | August 26, 2004
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Anna Gregoline | August 26, 2004
I think Lori has a good point.

I don't see any problem with having TC password-protected either. How often do new members join, a few a year? It's not like it would close the floodgates of the public signing up.

Melissa Erin | August 26, 2004
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Melissa Erin | August 26, 2004
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Jackie Mason | August 26, 2004
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Melissa Erin | August 26, 2004
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Anna Gregoline | August 27, 2004
I did the same thing, Melissa, don't fret. It's distressing. I spent over a year trying to eradicate my name from the internet before really realizing it was a futile battle. Once it's out there - it's out there. I always figured your diary was somewhat safe because you didn't post your last name and it's not included in the address...but you must have put something personal in there if you're freaking out. It'll be ok, I'm sure no one is searching that hard for you.

Scott Hardie | August 27, 2004
On maiden names: I don't have anything against maiden names, honest. I'm confident that if I were a woman, I would keep my maiden name when marrying; as a man, I intend to let my wife make the decision for herself without influencing her. It is an antiquated tradition, as Lori said. My issue with Melissa using her maiden name on the site is only that she use the name she really uses in life. If we were to all have met her in person over the last few months, would we know her by her married name or maiden name? I don't see how preserving her pre-marriage achievements applies to TC, since every comment she has ever written was posted under her married name. My goal is not to preserve the patriarchal tradition of women taking their husband's names, just to be accurate and truthful about our users. Now Melissa says that she uses her maiden name with everyone except her new coworkers and students, so I don't know which is more appropriate here. Melissa, if we were to meet you today in a social context, which name would you give us? (Before you answer, remember your impulse to create an account using your married name this past spring.)

On the difficulty of changing her site name: It's a bit of a pain because her name currently appears in exactly 475 items in the database. :-) But I can write a queries to replace them, so it would take about ten minutes to make the change.

On caching: I don't know how long the caching lasts. There are Internet archives, but they aren't very thorough in my experience, which is a blessing and a curse. Google may store a version of your site, but it will disappear from their records within a few weeks, and the same goes for the other major search engines. If you delete it today, it's unlikely anyone will be able to find it after New Year's.

On a password-protected TC: I'm still considering it, and the two votes in favor so far lean it in that direction. Anybody else?

Melissa Erin | August 27, 2004
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Scott Hardie | August 27, 2004
Well shit, now there's a place where I can't change Erin to B, because this discussion has used each pointedly. :-)I'm glad you're so attuned to TC. Myself, this is the last web site I visit in my daily rounds, because it takes me ten times as long to participate as all the other sites combined. :-)And I do understand anxiety about losing control of your own name. As I dislike being called by my first name, I decided a long time ago that I would only call people by the names they asked me to use, not some nicknames within the social circle or what it said on their birth certificates. But as I already explained, it's site policy to use only each person's real name, and I don't know whether my own personal policy trumps it here. I'm not unwilling to change your name on the site, but I hope the password protection can offer an alternative solution.

Melissa Erin | August 27, 2004
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Anna Gregoline | August 27, 2004
I changed your name, Melissa, in my address book, but I couldn't find your address the other day because I left you under the "B's" because I thought it would be easier for me to find. D'oh.

Sending email to you and seeing the new name helps.

Melissa Erin | August 27, 2004
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Scott Hardie | March 2, 2005
I miss Melissa.

Anyway, since November 1st, when I made TC accessible only to registered users like we discussed, I have noticed a significant rise in A) people registering on the site and doing nothing with their account, and more problematic, B) people registering on the site and then deleting their accounts a half-hour later. Both instances have been bothering me for technical reasons that I need not explain here.

Since Melissa seems to have stopped using TC indefinitely, does anybody else here still care about this protection? What I propose instead is using the norobots method to prevent Google and other search engines from indexing the content of all TC discussions and menus, as well as the user page itself. Someone could still find Melissa's comments if they searched aggressively enough, but her comments would not be indexed/archived anywhere else on the web, and this site would appear much lower in the results if someone searched for her. Anybody want to voice opposition to my change?

Jackie Mason | March 2, 2005
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Mike Eberhart | March 2, 2005
I don't know what the norobots function means, but I don't care if it's secure or not. Do as you wish... Or you could have people request permission from you to access the Message area. Might be too much work on your part though and it could turn into a hassle. Anyway, whatever you decide to do is fine with me.

Scott Hardie | March 2, 2005
Thanks for the support, Mike. Just to clarify (I always forget whether this stuff is common knowledge or not), norobots.txt is a file you can put on your site that lists pages that search engines shouldn't include in their results, such as control panel stuff. Search engines program their indexing tools not to include any files listed in norobots.txt. It's actually a pretty good tool: Even for the search engines that aren't responsible enough to give a damn what pages are "off limits," their index is smaller and faster with fewer pages in it, so almost all search engines obey norobots.

Anna Gregoline | March 2, 2005
Next time I talk to her, I'll ask her if she plans to return. I honestly thought she was just busy with school and a move to a house from an apartment, but now I'm not so sure.

Anna Gregoline | March 4, 2005
Melissa says:

"I may pop on sometime in the future...I'm so consumed with everything else right now, I haven't even done Diaryland since we bought the house. The last time I was on the format was all different and I didn't stick around long enough to get used to it I guess. :o)"

Scott Hardie | March 5, 2005
I made the change: TC is now open for anyone to read, even if they are not a registered user, but contents of TC discussions should not show up in search engines or online archives.

Scott Hardie | January 25, 2008
I resurrect this old question with a new answer: I have suppressed all of Melissa's comments on the site (scroll up), and can quickly suppress anyone else who so requests it. I still believe that A) you should never write anything online that you're not comfortable with people finding later, and B) you should never expect anything you write online to disappear later, and C) webmasters are under no moral obligation to remove things written on their site. But Melissa was good to us and it has bothered me ever since that I repaid her kindness by making her professional life more difficult.

This week, I find myself closer than ever to giving up on real names and switching the site over to anonymous handles. It partly stems from incidents involving our new rocker Chris and an unexpected criticism about my site on another forum, but also from the decline of Tragic Comedy. In the last presidential election, we racked up literally hundreds of comments every day. Now we're lucky to get fifteen in a whole week, and I don't have the free time or personal drive to bring it back to its former level. That means that the site is now mostly about the goo and rock games, and less about the community. How much do we still benefit these days from real names and photos?

What about a compromise that eliminates last name but shows other personal info? Some kind of tag that would be applied like a signature wherever you participate on the site, like:

Allison B.
Dallas, TX
wife of Greg B.

Kris W.
grad student
friend of Anna G.

Each would have a small face attached, of course. There are a few obstacles to figure out, like how to deal with similarly named people like Scotts Horowitz and Hardie, but this could solve the anonymity problem without taking away the feeling of knowing the other users.

All of these are just thoughts weighing on my mind lately, and I'm curious what you think. I have no intention to change anything yet.

Amy Austin | January 25, 2008
Actually, I feel like you're reading my mind on the subject...

I never had much concern when I was unemployed and contributing from my home computer only, but now that I check in on a government computer from time to time... okay, there is a bookmark and very frequently a window opened (and obviously, this is easily tracked and monitored, so that isn't the *real* issue with desiring greater anonymity -- but it is a distinct part of the bigger picture, and the lack of anonymity *is* like a big pointing sign that screams "Look Here!" for anyone, ill will or none, curious enough to Google a name), I have had a lot of thoughts on the subject. And yes... I, for one (with a full name that I *guarantee* to be Completely Unique), think that I would indeed prefer a lower profile.

Of course, I also realize that this has some pretty far-reaching impact -- look at the "Don't I Know You From Somewhere?" goos... many of those names directly correspond to the users (though they aren't always obviously unique or easily tracked/Googled to the individual in question... such as John Edwards!) -- what will happen there?

With the ability to contact other users through private messages, though, there is still the potential to have full name and contact information, and I'm fine with this... count me in favor of "a more secure TC".

Aaron Shurtleff | January 25, 2008
I have nothing left to lose, since I've pretty much put all the crap out there already from my Miracle ASSassin blog. *shrug* I have no strong opinion in either direction. I also didn't know we had any issues with the current policy, nor that we were getting criticized at other sites. Normally, I would say screw the other sites, we don't need their approval, but...

Lori Lancaster | January 25, 2008
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Eric Wallhagen | January 25, 2008
Personally, I'm 100% with Scott on this one. If you value your personal information, delete the internet from your computer, and never touch it again. (Though I bet your name will still appear here and there.) Just like anything else, you have to show some self-censorship. Even hiding behind a completely anonymous handle I would be very mindful of my comments, due to IP tracking and such things. Granted that makes it harder to dig up, but the paper-trail (or electron trail as the case would be) is still there for anyone zealous enough to go after it aggressively.

Long story short, privacy isn't what it used to be, think before you post.

That's my two cents.

Amy Austin | January 27, 2008
I never post anything that I'd be ashamed or embarrassed of... that isn't the point. This reminds me of the ZabaSearch discussion we had a while back -- maybe that will better illustrate the point.

Scott Hardie | January 27, 2008
Thanks for the feedback. The criticism at the other site was no big deal, just a brief comment from a stranger who didn't want to give up her first & last name, which is fine, but it came out of the blue and got me thinking. I'm still thinking.

I very much believe that the trend online is towards less privacy/anonymity. If "Web 2.0" was about giving users new tools for self-expression, then the next generation of websites will pare down the cacophony of opinion into what's really useful. Is it better to surf YouTube seeing 500 dumb commenters saying "that video sux!!!!!" or 1 intelligent commenter articulating themselves? Opinions can't be useful unless they're authentic, and we can't trust their authenticity unless we know the writer's identity. There will always be sites that let you hide behind a handle, but the really useful sites, the ones that you will come to frequent, will be like this one: A small user body with real identities. I guess we'll have to wait five to ten years to see if I'm right. :-\

If I did shorten user names here, I'd conceal them in old TC discussions as well. I hadn't thought about the goos, but I'd probably leave them alone. I ran a database check, and the only active users with the similar-name problem are Scott Horowitz and myself.

Amy Austin | January 27, 2008
Is it better to surf YouTube seeing 500 dumb commenters saying "that video sux!!!!!" or 1 intelligent commenter articulating themselves? Opinions can't be useful unless they're authentic, and we can't trust their authenticity unless we know the writer's identity. There will always be sites that let you hide behind a handle, but the really useful sites, the ones that you will come to frequent, will be like this one: A small user body with real identities. I guess we'll have to wait five to ten years to see if I'm right. :-\

OMG, yes, so much better on the 1 intelligent, as well as a "useful site", etc... but I don't really believe that is strictly due to "hiding" behind a handle -- having greater anonymity does nothing to change the nature of *my* online commentary, and this is because I'm a mature, intelligent person... not because nobody will ever figure out who "Amy A." is. I could be wrong here, but I believe that most of the "dumb commenters" in question are ridiculously juvenile teens & pre-teens who, if they'd been the same age 10-20 years ago (before caller ID and the Internet), would have instead been on the phone telling people to chase their refrigerators or let Prince Edwards out of his box -- or else those who who were that age then and are continuing to act out and pine longingly for "those good ol' days"! It's only that modern crank-yanking is so much more... "sophisticated", what with the Internet and the ability to start "flame wars"... wow, that provides *much* more effortless and long-lasting entertainment options -- just light the match and run (the really dumb and boring ones just can't get any more creative than "that video sux"). And it's only that much more delightful that they can do so without using their names... but I don't think that's really what's enabling them. Like Eric already pointed out, there are plenty of ways for someone to chase your tracks online -- if they're smart enough and seriously determined to do so -- having the real name doesn't help you out *that* much more to do it... it's only a hindrance to those who know you. In other words, I can use my real name online to say whatever I want wherever I want and act like a complete asshole in doing so... but who is it really going to matter to or embarrass me in front of, unless I care who knows to look for me. If you have a name like "John Smith" and like being an online nuisance... well... then you *really* have it made, don't you!

Jackie Mason | January 27, 2008
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Scott Hardie | January 28, 2008
I dislike the mean-spiritedness as well, but just to be clear, my point is that comments like "that video sux!!!!" are useless, not mean-spirited. These days, just about every web site, including this one, allows people to comment on content. Not to make sound great or anything, but have you noticed that most of the comments posted around here are really useful and worth reading, because you know the person (in a virtual sense) and care what they have to say? Even just a quick "lol" means more here than on YouTube, where it means exactly squat. Once upon a time, a search engine was lauded for having the most results for your search, but then Google came along and won market share by filtering out the useless results and delivering quality over quantity. I think the same phenomenon will happen to user-generated content on sites, and online identity will be key to that.

Currently, XQC posts can be deleted up to three months ago. If you want one removed that's older, just ask.

And if you don't know me by now, crank calls are just about the least funny thing I can think of. I completely see your point, Amy. :-)

Amy Austin | January 28, 2008
If, you, don't, know, me, by, nooow... you will nevernevernever know me... oooohhoohhhh

I knew that your point was about such comments being useless. Infinitely true. However, "useless" and "mean-spirited" (not to mention "boring", "unoriginal", "uncreative", "moronic", "juvenile", "pathetic"... the list could go on and on...) are definitely not mutually exclusive. But you're right... "knowing" someone does make a difference -- in the very beginning, I even cared what James Chiappone had to say (I thought he was a known quantity at the time)... so much for having someone's real name, eh! ;-DDD Btw, I refrained from using his name in my example, because it isn't all that common a name (and because I don't want to end up "on notice" by association ;-D), but... he really does illustrate my point better if that is indeed his real name. I know you get what I'm saying... ;-)

Jackie Mason | January 29, 2008
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Allison Bair | January 29, 2008
I understand your reasons for using real names and agree that it probably keeps things a little more meaningful and civil. Y'all have a great community here, which I am glad to (mostly) observe. Obviously I don't really object to using my full name or picture. I'm not afraid of stalkers. OTOH, because it's out there, the level of self-censorship is way higher, at least for me. I don't care either way, but there are definitely things I'd have no problem saying using my less-googleable first name and/or initial but won't here. When the audience is potentially anybody with a computer (future employers, my kids, my sunday school class, nosy neighbor), the conversation is just different.

My two cents, probably worth less than that.

Scott Hardie | January 29, 2008
Amy - Sorry if I overexplained. And that name occurred to me as well. :-)

Jackie - I sent you a private message; click the link at the top of this page or go here. For everyone's info, I just recently lost my old domain, in case you need to update me in your address book or you're just curious. It looks like a cybersquatter has it, but that's just the webhost who I used to have. I might buy back the domainjust for historical reasons, but it's been what, a year and a half now?

Allison - Thanks for the support. We're glad to have you too.

Amy Austin | January 29, 2008
Oh, no worries on that at all, Scott! (And I figured that he had to have at least crept into your mind on the subject...;-D)

I think what Allison said about self-censorship puts it most meaningfully -- essentially, I would never put anything online that I wouldn't say to *somebody*... however, the "somebodies" in question are never the same, are they. I have freely divulged family tidbits here and there without much heartburn, but never mind what I'd think of my family reading those bits (not a huge deal, but not the least of awkward situations, either)... if someone knows my full name, then they can also know who I'm speaking of, even though I haven't supplied *any* information, besides familial role, that would aid in that. This means that I'm not merely the caretaker of my own identity, but of my friends' and family's as well! Of course, the scenario that would provide the bloodhound nosey enough to want such information is a little improbable... but *not* impossible, and if you *do* happen to have stalker experience, as I do (though not first-hand -- but it *did* affect more than one person in my immediate family!), then you tend to take it a little more seriously. None of these things was on my mind when I said, "Sure, I have nothing to hide!" and put my whole name up on here for everyone to see... mostly because it only started out for the purpose of playing the Goo! It's been a constantly evolving set of thoughts that, as I said, have led me to conclude that yes, I would feel a bit more comfortable if I knew that my commentary here was restricted to only those on this forum (who now already "know" me, and that's okay) or those I've invited here. Having a photo not searchable by my full name is also okay with me.

This doesn't mean that I won't continue to participate -- but, as Allison pointed out, it does make "observing" the more comfortable place to be, because what you wouldn't mind saying in front of ALL of those "somebodies" can be very plain and vanilla indeed... especially the more of them there are. Not having kids who might read what I say here, for instance, is pretty liberating... but that doesn't mean it can't happen many years down the road -- I bet those of us without kids don't always comment with *that* on the brain!!! Heck, I find myself a little more self-conscious now that one of our members here is still in secondary school!

And finally, as one of the less muted among us, *I'd* really like to hear/read more of the "different" conversation that "Allison B." might provide, which in and of itself would cut down on feelings of self-consciousness, too... more authors might put more of themselves "out there", and those of us who might sometimes feel a little too "big-mouthed" get to do some more "observing", too -- this makes your comments worth a whole nickel or dime (in my opinion), Allison! ;-)

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