August 9, 1999 -- Newsletter #40

By Joe Burns

August 9, 1999 -- Newsletter #40
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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warrior...

Newsletter life begins at 40.

Can you believe I've written 40 of these? While writing this I was startled to see a strange woman in my house. Then it occurred to me: She's my wife! I gotta cut back.

Did you hear...?

>The rebates are coming! The rebates are coming! Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, and Micron have joined the fold and are now offering $400 rebates. But don't think they're doing it out of the kindness of their own hearts. Consumers will need to sign up for their Internet service to get the rebate.

>On July 7, was launched to help Hillary Clinton's possible bid for a senate seat. Apparently a cracker (or crackers) got to the site and performed what some are calling "DNS poisoning." When people logged in, they were redirected to the site, a pro-Rudy Giuliani site (Giuliani, mayor of New York City, would most likely be Hillary's main competition should they both run.) I went to both sites. It all appears to be repaired now.

>iMac to go? Yep. Apple has unveiled the notebook version of their popular desktop iMac and Apple PowerBook combined. It's called the iBook.

Now, on to today's topic...

Are you sporting your Third Voice?

Never heard of Third Voice? You will. Third Voice is a plug- in program that some feel is the banner of Internet free speech. Others see it... well, not that way.

Here's the groundwork. Third Voice is a piece of software that attaches to your MSIE browser and allows you to leave messages on Web pages. Let's say you go to the HTML Goodies site and your Third Voice software is active. You can read a tutorial and then leave behind a post-it note for others to read. When the next person arrives, who is also using the Third Voice plug-in, he or she will see your post-it note and can read what you wrote. In addition, newsgroup format discussions can be started and, as the name implies, Third Voices can discuss the page.

No, the post-it notes do not alter the page's code. Those who are not using the Third Voice software will see nothing. You must be running the plug-in to see the text that others left behind. Anything posted to the page is not really on the page but rather is posted to the Third Voice server. When you are using the plug-in, the post-it notes are superimposed onto the page.

There's a bit more to it, but that's the gist.

On the pro side of the Third Voice argument there's, the home page of the software. The developers are well aware of the controversy and have posted a page proclaiming their reasoning for starting the service in May of 1999.

I am quoting here:

1. Third Voice Promotes Free Speech

2. Third Voice does not interfere with other Web Sites

3. Third Voice is only visible to those who choose to use the service.

The page then offers further discussion on the topic, but requires you to download and install the software to continue reading. Eng-Siong, Vui-Chiap Lam, and Thai-Wey, the founders of Third Voice, make no apologies for their service. In their "Company History" they state that allowing others to leave notes and start discussions will make the Web "more meaningful."

On the con side of the argument, I offer the following site:

The home page proclaims "Third Voice software is a great idea but not in its present form." describes itself as a "group of concerned Netizens who work to provide good, clean information about ourselves, families, and businesses. We maintain websites that do NOT promote pornography, racism, hatred, violence and anything that may be deemed harmful to children" (emphasis on "not" presented that way in quotes).

The basic anti-Third Voice comment is twofold: The potential for misuse of the software is high and the use of Third Voice alters sites, thus infringing on copyright.

The second comment, about sites being altered, is easily explained away by how the software works. The site seems to understand this and focuses mostly on the concept of the software being misused.

The site created its own panel of volunteers to read and categorize the text left behind in Third Voice notes. I will admit that it's not particularly scientific, but it is interesting and gives the impression of ringing true, what we Ph.D. types call "face validity."

Here's what they found made up most of the notes:

32%: Non-Content Related (text about something other than the page)

28%: Advertising (asking to come to other links -- no word on if the links offered more info about the topic or were just for self-promotion)

26%: Content Related (referred to the page)

10%: Self Policing

4%: Links to Pornography Sites

The last item might have easily fallen under "Non-Content Related" or "Advertising." It was broken out on purpose.

Now you have heard both sides. I tried to offer the arguments as cleanly as I could without including any personal opinion. What do you think? Is Third Voice good or is it bad? Does it infringe or does it promote free speech? The loggerheads between the two groups will stand for a long while as the programmers at Third Voice simply refuse to alter or police content. In fact, they are adding more features. They see the software as free speech and are standing firmly behind it.

I have never used Third Voice. I wanted to use it just to see what someone posted on Goodies, but decided against it. I was nervous about what I would read. I'll tell you why.

Since Goodies was first built I have done my best to make it clean as a whistle. I wanted it to be a site where people of all ages could come and never find an ill word. I dislike the thought of someone making it so that someone can read a four- letter word on the site.

I guess when I first read about Third Voice, my reaction was "No kidding, people are posting nasty things. This is Web graffiti." Yes, it is free speech and can be used that way, but can also be used to write nasty things about the site... or about someone else.

So, I am against it, right? No. Over the past few years, Goodies has been the target of some really nasty stuff. One gentleman sent me a question and the answer I gave didn't satisfy him so he posted a page calling for a boycott of the site and calling everyone including my mother nasty names.

I get letters pointing out small errors, or typos, or miswordings in tutorials. Most are very nice. They just point out the error. It gets fixed and we go on. But then there are the letters that berate me for the mistake. My Ph.D. is the favorite target. Apparently I should be error-free because I went to school for an extra three years. I guess there's something to that argument.

One of the things that made me feel better was that this correspondence took place in private. I caught heck without the world watching. No one wants to be told what an idiot they are in front of the class.

So, again, I must be against it, right?

Well, no. After years of running a site, you tend to develop a thick skin. You learn to take the shots and move on. Third Voice is new. Of course people are going to jump on it. All of the nuts will come out of the woodwork. They will go to popular sites and will post four-letter-word-ridden posts. They will post links to porn sites.

But you know what's going to happen? Soon, the luster of that will wear off. I believe that after a short time, even the most ardent fan of this stuff will get tired of reading "---- this guy" and "this site sux." It'll just get dull. Then, maybe the Third Voice will start to be used for what it was originally intended for.

I would like nothing more than for Third Voice to be a helper for my site. I would love for someone to read a tutorial and post a note reading "Try this trick, too...".

I think the fastest way to achieve this is to simply ignore those who bait you with those unpleasant posts. Don't fight back. Don't give them the satisfaction. I love sending letters back to those who tear me apart that read, "Thank you for your comment. I'm glad you took the time to write me." Wow, does that cheese some people off. They want me to rise to their fight. Nope. It's not worth it.

Same thing here. Stop getting upset and maybe the people will go elsewhere to post stupid messages. You're not going to stop it anyway. Let's say people are successful in killing Third Voice. What then? Now pages will be posted about you. Posts to newsgroups will be made. There is always an avenue.

It'll happen. Those who want to use Third Voice correctly will. The nasty posts will never stop, but they will diminish when the debate and the satisfaction level wears down.

If I'm wrong, the majority of people will simply stop using the service. I don't think the audience for four-letter words and post-it notes to porn sites is all that big. If people stop using Third Voice in droves, you'll see changes come quickly or you'll see the site die. People venting and putting fools names and fools faces in public places cannot go on forever.

Just remember that an opinion you disagree with is not necessarily a bad post. That's free speech in action. That's what Third Voice has wanted from the start.


And that's that...

Thanks again for reading. I appreciate you taking the time.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: According to ancestral records, the first record of domesticating an animal for work occurred over 7000 years ago. The animal was the reindeer. Ho, ho, ho.

BTW -- last week I asked you to provide feedback of the smallest word in the English language at contained a, b, c, d, e, and f? The answer was in the text. It was "feedback."

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