Jerod and Adam share their thoughts on Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces, et al, then discuss the value and weight of hosting commentary onsite vs on Twitter, Slack, etc. Let us know what you think in the comments.
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Here we are, we’re backstage… Adam’s here.
Jerod’s here… What’s up?
What’s up, Adam?
You know, man, it’s a good day. I’m excited.
It is a good day… Any day we can record a Backstage is a good day. I’m just looking back - hey, we haven’t done this since October last year.
It’s April of this year.
We’re either having fun, or time flies, one of the two.
What about both?
I’d say you don’t have to choose either or; it could be both. Uh-oh… I’ve got a phone call coming, hang on. It’s gone. They’re gone now. DND, come on.
Do Not Disturb mode. Well, we’re recording a Backstage, we’re not recording a Clubhouse.
Or a Twitter space.
There’s no spaces. I wonder what you think about that. And this is not my topic for the day.
Oh, this isn’t? This is just –
This is the pre-topic I just thought of…
Nice. Okay. Pre-topic.
…because this would be like a normal place to do like a Clubhouse, wouldn’t it?
I think so…
Yeah, definitely. I think Clubhouse, or at least the concept of Clubhouse, is well-suited for a Backstage. But having been podcasters for a very long time, we have a saying going “Always be recording.” So that kind of goes against the grain of Clubhouse and/or spaces. I like the concept, but the idea of the conversation just going into the wind and not being able to be edited, and produced, and distributed - it kind of goes against everything a podcaster stands for, I think. But as a listener, it’s cool.
As a listener, I’ve tried to like it. I actually don’t… But I really gave it the honest go.
Because I just love podcasts, and maybe that makes me just a curmudgeon or an old-school person… But on-demand, listen it faster, skip back, skip forward, pause it, know that the person probably put some production into it, and deleted out the really off-topic, bad parts - to me, that’s worth its weight in gold, as a listener. I get that there’s serendipity… It’s cool to get big names on the same room, that you wouldn’t normally get together on a podcast. I think that’s novel and interesting. But it hasn’t kept me listening. I’ve been on Clubhouse for a little while, I’ve listened to some, and I ultimately have been disappointed by the conversations, and I’ve turned off notifications, and I haven’t thought about it since.
But I do know that lots of our listeners - or some of our listeners; I shouldn’t say lots - have asked us about Clubhouse, what we can do there. And we’ve been told by a dear friend that we’ve gotta be on Clubhouse.
Yeah, it’s the next big thing.
It is. It’s like, “Get on, or get out of the way.” And yet, here we are, just talking into our microphones, in a private conversation… And we’re gonna record it and we’re gonna put it onto a podcast feed.
I don’t know, I think it’s one part where things and paradigms come up, and it is the way of the future, to some degree… But I don’t think the way it exactly is now is the way of the future. I’m with you; at first, I was excited about it. And what got me really excited about Clubhouse or the idea of it was whenever I was – I don’t know how I actually found out about the room, but I’d followed a couple of people, and next thing I’m getting DMs and notifications all the time about different things happening.
[03:58] And Kim Dotcom came on and shared a lot of his story… And for those who don’t know Kim Dotcom, there was a – what was his main thing? Megaupload I believe is what it was… And a lot of the copyright infringement issues… Just a big, big ordeal.
Was he Silk Road, or no?
No, he wasn’t Silk Road, but it was –
…maybe there was probably some things on Megaupload, because you can’t control what people upload and download from these essential public disks to store files on… It was very early days of like file sharing, and all I know is Kim Dotcom was infamous in terms of 1) being a bigger-than-life kind of person in terms of his size as a person; he’s always just been a big guy.
Big guy, boisterous…
And he’s got a big attitude, in a good way. A very big personality. And then to be audacious to do the kind of things he does… I mean, million-dollar homes, very extravagant things… I think now he’s settled down, to some degree. Wife, family, and has sort of calmed down, to some degree, than his earlier version. But he’d done some crazy stuff, and there’s some crazy stories about him. But I’ve never heard Kim Dotcom’s story on a podcast, but I heard it on Clubhouse. So I was sold on the idea then, until it wore off, similar to probably what your aspect is…
Another thing that got me was I’m a big Deadmau5 fan, and I was like “Whoa, I’m literally in a room listening to –” I think his name is Joel, the real person that is behind the brand Deadmau5 and the actual creator… I could be wrong, so correct me, listeners… But I’m like “I’m literally in a room listening to Deadmau5 speak live into his phone, and say words.” It was similar to maybe the early days with Twitter, like “I’m literally tweeting with XYZ personality.”
So that idea was cool, but I think the diamond in the rough aspect of finding the signal in the noise of Clubhouse is something I don’t have the patience for.
Yeah. And what’s interesting is because it was such a simple thing to do, it’s being cloned so quickly, that they haven’t had that much time to establish themselves as the network… Because Twitter already has their clone out, and Facebook is doing one, and Discord added Clubhouse-style features, and now Spotify is adding Clubhouse-style features… And this format is gonna exist on all these different social networks that are already bigger; and because they were building their social network basically off of your Twitter social network, and still using that for coordination to bootstrap that, you wonder – I mean, they’re probably trying to get bought at this point, is my guess… But I just wonder how much is Clubhouse gonna be the platform, versus this new, in-sync, ad-hoc group conversation, audio-only, is actually the thing that’s gonna persist, and maybe Clubhouse is just one of those players. Who knows…? Who knows what’s gonna go down there. But I just thought I’d bring it up because we did talk about doing some stuff on Clubhouse, and one of the obvious things was like “Well, we could come on Backstage for a Clubhouse…” But it’s like, then you’re just doing your podcast on Clubhouse, and that’s not really the point. It’s like, “Well, we could have people involved”, but then we’d have to use their audio, and it’s like “How do we–”
Yeah, how do we do both.
I know there are some people who have recorded their podcasts on Clubhouse and just put that out as a podcast. But now you’re using phone audio, you’re dealing with all of the conversation logistics of who’s on stage, who’s this person, here they are, “Oh, they’ve side-tracked the conversation.” Anyways, it just seems like maybe not the best use of our time.
And a limited time.
I think anything that happens on Clubhouse is very specific to being on the platform. Not that the ideas shared and/or conversations that are had can’t be segmented and compartmentalized and extracted to, say, a podcast, for example. Not that it doesn’t fit, but the nature of having a stage, and having moderators, and inviting somebody up to it, and knowing even who’s speaking… Because even that’s difficult; the avatars seem to be randomly placed in the speaker line-up, and the circle is around the person who’s speaking; and it’s ever harder to find out who – if there’s several people on the stage [unintelligible 00:08:54.11]
So I think it’s interesting, but it’s definitely not, in my opinion, a replacement of podcasting. I think it’s a segment of people who might enjoy listening to essentially audio conversations, which aren’t necessarily podcasts, but they fit the podcast format. It can be an alternative way to enjoy something like Kim Dotcom, for example. You probably wouldn’t see him on a podcast, because he’s more of a larger-than-life kind of person, more drawn to a Clubhouse scenario than a podcast episode.
It’s for more networking –
I could see this being very useful for people who are influencers or leaders, in order to rally their audience quickly around a subject. It reminds me of a couple of years ago now… Remember that thing where everybody was gonna go to Area 54, or whatever it was? What’s the New Mexico place, where it’s aliens…
I think you’re thinking about the Club 54, and you’re confusing it with Area 51.
No, that’s Studio 54… [laughs]
Studio 54, yeah. Area 51 and Studio 54.
Yeah, Area 51. So I’m mixing my geographies together. So there was this whole – and it had to do with Joe Rogan’s podcast when he had Bob Lazar on…
That’s right, yeah.
…and it was about Area 51… And there became this movement, which was supposed to be a movement, and it ended up being kind of a nothingburger, where everybody was into – it was called like “Rush 51”, or I don’t know what it was called. Anyways, I don’t think Joe Rogan tried to get that thing going. But if he wanted to, if that was his deal, it seems like you could very quickly rally your audience around a topic, or a thing we’re going to do, and use Clubhouse in that live, like “Hey, get it on my phone.” “Oh man, Kim Dotcom wants us all to upload our files at the same time”, or whatever… You know, some sort of like synchronized action.
It’d be pretty cool for that, but it’s not something that I’m [unintelligible 00:10:51.27]
Yeah, I think so. I look at somebody like Sahil Lavingia from Gumroad, and some of the things he’s doing around education around unique funding. Are you familiar with the recent round they had done around Gumroad? There was institutional partners…
I am. They’ve raised five million dollars overnight on a new platform called Republic.
Yeah, because of some change in SEC rules around how you raise money. It seems like it’s made it easier to do that kind of a thing, which is interesting.
Right, you can give $500 as an individual, or you can do – there’s like a million, I believe, was institutional backers, and the other four was from just everyday folks… Fans, so to speak. 500, 1,000, 10,000.
I love that model, because I see startups all the time, and a lot of them (so do you) where we’re like “Well, this one’s not gonna make it.” But we see other ones and we’re like “Oh, I’m skeptical of that one.” But there’s other ones where you’re like “You know what - I would love to have a part of that, but I just know that I’m not gonna go work there to get my equity, and I’m not financially in a place where I’m gonna be an angel, or even an early round. I don’t have that kind of money to invest… But if I could get in a little bit, I sure would, because I think this one’s going somewhere.”
[12:08] And we don’t have that opportunity as just an individual. So we miss out a lot of times on things that we see, which is no fun. But yeah, something like this - you could throw $500 or $1,000 into some startup. Okay, small, you’re sowing little so you’re gonna reap little, but still, you’re gonna be a part of it, and you’re gonna see the upside as that thing grows, because of your vision.
So I love the fact that you can get [unintelligible 00:12:34.09] people who’d normally have to wait for IPOs, when most of the gains have already happened. Maybe not most, but the big run-up has already happened, in order to invest in companies that they think can make it. I think that’s pretty cool. I’ll definitely be – I didn’t participate in the Gumroad IPO… Or not IPO… What’s it called? The offering. The Republic.
I don’t even know if it’s an offering. I think it’s just a raise. Some sort of raising/funding round.
Well, they’re offering a chance to invest something…
It’s not a public offering, but it’s a – it’s kind of like Kickstarter… Actually, the way that this platform works (I did check it out), it is a lot like Kickstarter, because there’s tiers; like you said, $500, $1,000, whatever it is, and they give you different benefits for getting in bigger. So it’s built that way, specifically this platform that they used. So you’ll get your Gumroad T-shirt, and then if you go in bigger, you’ll get a hoodie, and if you go in even bigger, you’ll get a plaque you can put on your wall. I don’t know, whatever they decide those things are.
Here’s the downside of this though - and this is the point I’m trying to make with my angst against Clubhouse, and the format, I suppose, and even Spaces… So Sahil is really an early adopter and educator – he’s not the only one doing it, but this idea of rolling funds, for example… I think rolling funds is essentially where you can subscribe to a fund, and you can give x dollars, and this fund gives money out. I’m paraphrasing terribly probably, but the point is - he is educating every day normal folks, what normally would potentially be on a podcast, or a blog series, or a YouTube channel, a TikTok channel, if it even goes there… So all these conversations are happening, from what I understand, in Clubhouse, that doesn’t get recorded. So I can’t go back into the treasure trove of Sahil’s – he’s got some good documentation out there, but you really have to follow synchronously, not asynchronously. It doesn’t seem to favor well for someone who has no time to follow that closely, to kind of got back in, dip my toe in as the information makes sense for me to dig into, like maybe a YouTube channel might be.
If I’m trying to learn how to low & slow some chicken breast, for example, I can hop on YouTube and find that stuff. I don’t have to follow the Sahil drip.
Exactly. On demand.
Exactly. It’s probably a feature flip away though, isn’t it? Like, record this Clubhouse session is probably – I mean, you know they’re recording the audio.
Yeah, I would imagine.
If you’ve got an iPhone… The majority of the conversation doesn’t necessarily have to be high-quality, but I think most of what I heard was listenable, I would say; what we optimize for is listenable.
So I think yeah, it’s a feature flip away. If you can enable the serendipity, and enable the ability to record and pull out – you know, have the real-time, similar to the way we do with JS Party and Go Time, having live shows; still record that, and a produced artifact is rendered from that session.
I love the concept, and I really hope that it evolves…
It’s a lot like talk radio in that way… You know, you’re driving in your car, you flip on and people are talking; you’re half paying attention, you’re half not… Maybe you catch something interesting, maybe you’re just flipping stations… And you’re just kind of feeling that dead air. But I feel like podcasts are such a better form of that, because you can dive into a specific niche, hear only about the thing that you care about, your low and slow… What did you call it?
Yeah, low and slow. Low temperatures, slow cooks.
You can find your tribe of low and slow folks, who just talk about that one thing. And you’ll actually just crank up their signal, reduce their noise, and build up a queue in your phone that you can listen to whenever you have a moment, and you don’t have to listen to it when it’s happening and then feel like you’re gonna miss it.
But hey, there’s different forms of audio for different people, and even different times. Sometimes in the middle of the night I can’t sleep, I’ll wake up at 3 AM, and I’m like “Ah, I don’t really feel like listening to a podcast right now”, for whatever reason. Some of mine are very technical. I’ll listen to our own shows, and I’m like “Ah, it just feels heavy. I just want something stupid right now.” And maybe I’m all out of my comedy podcasts, and I’m like “Maybe I’ll just throw on Clubhouse and just listen to whatever they’re talking about. I don’t even care.” I don’t usually do it, but I could see where there’s a time for that, and a place.
Anyways, not the topic. That’s not the topic. Here’s what I was gonna talk to you about today… Should we turn off comments on our website?
Well, I would say “What probes you to consider this?”
Well, I’ve been thinking about it for a little bit, and I should say that we turned on comments kind of counter-culturally, because there’s this whole “No comments” movement that happened, and it’s been years now, where it’s like “Talk about this on Twitter, or on Hacker News etc. Comment elsewhere”, which was probably led by bloggers like John Gruber, and Marco Arment, and those who are writing on their sites and there’s just no comments there. And I think John Gruber even had comments early on, and turned them off… Anyways, there was a whole no comment movement. Well, we came way after that and said “You know what? Comments!” And we implemented ourselves [unintelligible 00:18:26.05] a discuss board…
It was delayed though.
It was very delayed.
We had the feature of like the news feed out there, so the feature of comments was delayed in terms of when we put it out there.
Exactly. So it wasn’t just like “Hey, everybody has comments. Let’s do comments.” We thought about it, we decided to do comments. Here we are – how long has it been since we added comments to our website?
I was gonna guess two years. Three years probably is right then.
Three years. I would say three years. It was a year after we launched the new site which is in place now, with the news feed…
It was a year later…
…as being the front driver on the frontpage.
Yeah. And I don’t know… First of all, it’s worth talking about what our goals are with that feature, and what were we trying to do… Because whenever you’re like “Well, should I undo this thing?” it’s because it’s not fulfilling the goal, perhaps… Or the amount of investment that you’re continuing to invest outweighs the value that it’s providing. And of course, you give everything time… So we gave it some time. We knew it’d be kind of a slow burn. And I feel like at this point, for me mentally, overhead, it’s more of a cost than a value. And I also look down the road at what even success looks like - I know we had this conversation - and I think even more so today than ever before, it seems like success will bring more pain. So what were our goals around comments? Well, of course we wanted to foster conversation… Right?
Most of our content is not our content, so even in that case, we’re pointers, in many ways. The podcast episodes, of course - those are ours, in terms of we created them… But most of the Changelog News is pointing away. So it’s not that we just want people talking about our content, although that’s part of it as well… But we want people to talk about – we wanna foster a community where people converse, and discuss, and “Hey, here’s the stuff we’re putting in the news feed. Discuss that.” I think that was the goal.
I think getting people habitually returning to Changelog.com - a lot of our listeners don’t know we have a website, or they only get Changelog Weekly, and they just listen to the episodes that they click through, or whatever. And just creating a habit of using Changelog.com more I think was something that we were after for folks. What else? What else did we add comments for?
Well, I think very similar to what you’re talking about, just enabling the opportunity for, not so much that everything could be or needed discussion. I think it’s to give people a place to have a discussion if necessary. And I think if we look down the news feed, 5%, maybe even less of anything we post has comments, or a discussion. So I would say either it’s an under-promoted or under-visually-aware feature and people don’t know it exists, or there just isn’t a need for the interaction.
I think the reason for the comments though was just what you said, especially with the podcast episodes, where the guest(s) we have, they get automatically notified if there is a comment. So essentially giving somebody - our audience, essentially - the ability to go back to the item itself and thank that person, or share their [unintelligible 00:22:33.00] or their appreciation, or maybe even their feature requests, in some cases. It depends. And to enable that conversation to happen.
I think in practice, however, it hasn’t occurred quite as often. Now, there has been some threads where it’s like 10, 15, 20 comments deep… And some of those conversations have been really great. So do you kill the whole idea to never have that 1% or 2% of content get commented on and discussion happen? Also, because we have an open Slack community that’s free to join, I think a lot of the conversation ends up happening in a like-minded atmosphere like Slack even, and less so on Twitter.
We even have a lot more of the conversation that happens elsewhere, or at least around the content, in Twitter or on Slack, and less on our site. So maybe it’s just more like “Hey, if you wanna have a conversation around this, you should be in the main channel on Slack, or hit us up on Twitter.” And there you go.
I almost feel – from a code/no code/deletion of code satisfaction level, maybe that would be–
[laughs] You know I just wanna delete some code…
I mean, that’s always fun, yeah.
Yeah, so that’s a present reality, as you’re saying - a lot of the conversation happens elsewhere.
[24:02] And it’s kind of an uphill battle to be like “Well, please comment here.” I’m like, “Well, I’m talking to you in Slack. Why would I wanna go talk to you in a comment form?” I get that. We’re available, and there’s a lot of discussion that happens in our Slack… Go Time specifically, GoTimeFM on the Gopher Slack is a very active channel in that Slack, about Go Time and the conversations that are had on the show, follow-up, disagreements etc. happen in that channel. Hundreds, way too many comments for me to even read.
8,220 people in the GoTimeFM channel on Gopher Slack.
Yeah. So there’s that. Then, like you said, Twitter is an obvious place where people converse… And the reason why I say it’s becoming more a headache than – or I’d say more mental overhead than value for me is because of moderation. Because people just say things and I’m like “Are you serious?”
So we have moderation – we had to build some tools… Like I said, we’re investing in this, building some tools… Now, spammers have been a problem, of course, because you add more forums to your website, and here come the spammers… So one thing that’s nice is if there’s three people on the show - me, you and our guest… Who was our most recent guest? Daniel Stenberg…
We get subscribed to that conversation because we were on the show. It makes sense. So if you have a question for Daniel, hit him up. Well, every once in a while a spammer would hit that form, and it would email our guest and be like “Hey, new comment on your Changelog episode”, and it’s like “Buy Viagra”, or whatever.
[laughs] Right. “Watch some latest movie!”
Yeah. That’s embarrassing for us. So we had to build in a moderation tool so that that doesn’t happen… So everybody’s first comment has to be approved before any of your comments will be published. Stuff like that. So that gives me peace of mind. I’m not gonna be embarrassed; I’m not gonna have a bunch of spammers on the site. They can fill out the form, but it’s not gonna go anywhere.
But they aren’t even the “problem.” It’s like, regular people – everytime I get an email, like “There’s a new comment on an episode” or something, I just get a little bit nervous to read it. Do you? …where I’m like “I hope this is quality. I hope this is nice.” And it’s not like they aren’t mostly that way, but there’s just enough, where you’re just like “Oh, I hope this isn’t a jerk…”
Well, I would say that it’s infrequent enough that I get excited regardless…
You’re getting excited every time?
Well, I’m describing my layers of excitement… It happens infrequent enough that I get excited regardless of false positive or not, because it’s infrequent. So I’m like “Yes, there’s an opportunity here to engage.” And I go there and I’m like “Oh, bummer.” It’s somebody cussing, for some reason. Or just ragging on whatever it might be.
Whatever it is, you know…?
Not being – what’s the term that kind of moderated this most recent one on?
Yeah, so we have examples of unacceptable behavior by participants… And I won’t read the whole list. You can go to Changelog.com/coc, because we do have a code of conduct; we do think that those are viable in communities, at least to set an expectation level… Even if someone doesn’t follow it, it gives an example of what is desired and expected, which is clear in clarity, which I believe in… It says “Other conduct which could be reasonably be considered inappropriate in a professional setting.” So would you be in the audience as someone that’s giving a talk at a conference and start cussing at them? Probably not. Or even just yelling at them, even if it’s true. Probably not.
Yeah, so these things happen… And it’s just kind of like – there’s an old saying that’s like “There’s two kinds of crazy…” Let me see if I can look that up. Have you heard that one?
No, I’m excited to hear about it though…
Let me look it up, because I wanna get it right, because it’s funny how they actually say it. Maybe that’s not the way it goes…
I’m seeing a reference to two kinds of dumb.
Hm… I might have to switch off DuckDuckGo and go to Google. I do this very rarely. I’m not trusting DuckDuckGo in this circumstance, because I feel like it should be hitting this… It’s probably just me; I’m always the problem [unintelligible 00:28:38.21]
A little [unintelligible 00:28:41.11] There was a movie a while back called “Hoosiers” (1986). This could be a reference - “Two kinds of dumb. A guy that gets naked and runs out in the snow and barks at the moon, and a guy that does the same thing in my living room. First one doesn’t matter, the second one you’re kind of forced to deal with.”
That’s right. So it is two kinds of dumb. For some reason I was thinking it was two kinds of crazy, because I thought the person –
Yeah, Hoosiers. I thought somebody who gets naked and runs out in the snow and barks at the moon is crazy, not really dumb. Anyways…
Yeah… I don’t know why the reference goes back to dumb; I would call that crazy.
Yeah. That person - it seems like they have mental problems. Anyways… So thank you, that’s exactly what I was looking for. It’s like, the one that happens in your yard - that’s your problem. And there’s a distinction… Like, we get spam comments on our YouTube stuff… I don’t really care. I mean, I’ll go there and I’ll delete them, but they don’t give me anxiety. And people say mean things on Twitter all the time, and even about our shows.
There was a very unkind statement about the recent episode of Go Time with Bill Kennedy… And there’s been a lot of high-quality statements about that show, by the way; the design philosophy episode of Go Time, I thought it was very good. But somebody just didn’t like the way Bill came off, and they just said a very mean thing about him on Twitter… And I was like, “Well, that’s mean…” But I don’t have to deal with it as much. Like, I can say that’s mean, but I don’t feel like it’s on me to moderate that content, you know what I’m saying? Our website - to me, it just feels like “Ahh, this is–”
So that gets me to the point where I think “Well, what is success?”
Yeah, I’m tracking with you now. Thank you.
Success looks like a lot of people, right?
And I look at the comments, like – well, if we had Hacker News level commentary, which is hundreds of comments per item there, right? Or Reddit level commentary… I mean, those threads are often a dumpster fire. And it’s like, all those dumpster fires would be in our backyard, and we’d be having to deal with it. Even success to me sounds like “I don’t actually want that to happen.” [laughs]
I see. Okay…
You know what I’m saying?
Yeah, I’m tracking with you now. What you’re saying is that –
So that’s why for me success is like a small amount of high-quality, just the smart, nice, kind, additive commentary just happens on our website. I would LOVE that. And you know, 99% of our audience, and our listeners, and the people who interact with us are that - they’re smart, they’re kind, they’re thoughtful etc. But the one percenters are still in our yard, and it’s kind of like that thing where people can say ten nice things about you, and it feels like “Okay”, and then one mean thing about you and it destroys your day, like where we focus on the negative… That even though these (let’s just call them) low-quality comments are infrequent, it’s enough that it gives me ongoing anxiety about it.
[31:47] I understand your perspective much more now… Because you’re absolutely right - the negative commentary on Twitter, you don’t feel compelled to have to deal with. It may still impact you similarly, but you don’t feel like you have to moderate it and deal with it. And I can say, when it does happen and we have to even enforce a code of conduct, thankfully, it’s on something so simple, and not something much worse. I’m thankful for that, because that’s the reason for a code of conduct, is to set that expectation and to have a place to come from when defending someone else’s harassment rights, or privacy rights, or whatever it might be infringed upon… But it’s a chore to have to moderate. And when I write out any of my job description here, which is - I’m the janitor at lots of different things; I’m fine, I take out the garbage, no big deal.
I do a lot of stuff, same as you. So my list of things I do is vast and many. The one I don’t want on there is “Moderator of negative comments in our comments, and enforcing code of conduct when it’s–” I just don’t wanna have to do it. Nobody does. So if I had my rathers of how to have a winning day, moderating comments and pushing back and having to explain the discrepancies or the infringements etc. is just something I’d rather not have to do. So I’m kind of with you then, and I’d rather – if someone’s gonna bark at the moon, [unintelligible 00:33:18.28] I might have to deal with it, so I’m with you… Because success will eventually lead to that. Because if you take any comment percentage, there’s a certain percentage always that’s gonna be in that, have to deal with code of conduct/moderation aspect.
Mm-hm. What’s funny is this is the reason why all of the people took the comments off their website all those years ago. And we were just like “Nah, it’s not gonna be a problem that we’re gonna have.”
You have pile-ons. You close comments, or “Comments are closed now.” The commentary that was there is still there, but maybe now they’re closed.
Yeah. And even with Section 230 in the United States - it’s under extreme scrutiny, politicians are getting involved, there’s free speech debates and censorship debates, and there’s all this stuff around basically user-generated content on websites, and how Twitter handles it, and how Facebook handles it, and how The Verge and Vox Media handles it on there - these are all things that are becoming political firestorms as well, that makes me think “Stay away from that”, as far away as we could get. But it’s a shame…
Give a quick breakdown of Section 230, just to kind of give context… Give us a layman’s version.
Well, I am not a lawyer… It’s a specific rule in the – I think it’s the FCC, the Federal Communications… I’m not sure which jurisdiction, which governmental organization oversees it, but it’s a specific statute which allows websites to host third-party content without being the publishers of said content.
Maybe a paraphrased version, at least based upon Cornell Law is “Protection for private blocking and screening (censorship, hiding it) of offensive material.”
Right. So if somebody came on our website and they put some hate speech into our comments section, as long as we do some sort of due diligence around moderation etc. we do something, we do not have to be considered the publishers of that content.
So without 230 altogether, you really couldn’t have user-generated content, because everything on my website would be owned by me, and I would be on the hook for it. But 230 allows that, and yet it’s problematic for – you know, there’s debates about this. I don’t understand the law very well, as you can tell with the way I described it, to even know what my thoughts are on it, what’s wrong with it, what could be fixed.
[36:11] There’s people that wanna get rid of 230, they wanna rewrite 230 etc. I’m sure there’s lobbyists on both sides. The point is these concerns, especially around the political climate in the states, and speech laws and all that, they brought comment moderation or content moderation to the forefront of political debate.
And it just makes me sick of it all.
I see. Here on the EFF website, a very credible resource, Section 230 says that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” And it says “In other words, online intermediaries…” -i.e. Twitter, or Facebook, probably all the places we know we commune online, Reddit…
Hacker News even…
…these online intermediaries that host or republish speech, are protected against a range of laws that might otherwise be used to hold them legally responsible for what others say and do.
Yeah, exactly. So if you are YouTube–
And having comments essentially puts you in this bucket.
Yeah, like YouTube… Somebody goes on a YouTube thread and they threaten violence against somebody else. Well, without 230, YouTube is actually on the hook for that. And that’s a huge offense, right?
So with 230, which - I think it was written a long time ago. It was the Telecommunications Act, or something… It’s an old statute.
1995, I think…
I’m pretty sure that’s what it was.
So that would be telecommunications, that would be internet-related… But still, how old is that? That’s 26 years ago.
Well, it’s from the Communications Decency Act of 1996.
Formally codified as Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934…
Okay. So that’s the old one I was thinking of.
…at 47 UCS, blah-blah-blah.
Yeah. So 1934 it came out, and then in ‘96 they probably rejiggered it, so that they could have the internet as a known entity. But still, you’re 26 years ago. Anyways…
That’s near the birth of the internet. I mean, it’s so close… It wasn’t exactly then, but it’s so early days of the internet. It’s not the same as it was… We just talked about that with Daniel.
Curl came up 1998. March 20th, 1998. A very different internet then. It’s not the same. I’m with you though…
Yeah… So anyways, that was what I thought we would talk about. I mean, I don’t think we need to make a decision here on Backstage, but I thought it’d be a good conversation…
I think we can… I think we can make a decision right now.
Oh, you think so?
I mean, I never considered that comments on a website like that – obviously, it’s user-generated content. It’s up for grabs what you get from that.
I never considered the connection of that for us to law. Obviously, it makes sense. It should. It’s a rational connection… But I never considered, with just the dumpster fire that comments can be, and this idea that success - which we want it to be a successful feature - is probably less of a good thing. I’d almost rather those – I guess then if you go so as far to say “Does our open Slack have concerns?”
Well, that’s what’s interesting, because I feel like we have less of a problem in Slack…
…because many people know that you’re right there, reading this. I mean, we have had a couple of problems–
It’s a possibility though…
We had a couple of – they’re not a code of conduct violations, but they’re kind of like “Is this cool here?” And most of it is around self-promotion.
And people have asked that in our channel… And they’ll promote something. So that’s kind of dealing a little bit with moderation… But really, it’s just like saying “Yeah, it’s not that cool here.” And what we tell them, which I stole from Reddit (I liked it on Reddit), there’s a saying they have on Reddit, which is “It’s totally fine to be a Redditor with a website, but it’s not okay to be a website with a Reddit account.” And that’s around self-promotion. I liked that. That does describe it pretty well… Like, I don’t have a problem with people sharing cool stuff they’re working on; that’s part of what we do. But don’t just hop into our Slack channel and be like “Hey! Boom! Promoting.” That’s not cool, because that’s not a community; this isn’t a billboard, or even a corkboard at a conference, where you can just – unless we say “Hey, everybody–” I mean, one time I said “Hey, everybody share their blogs, and I’ll subscribe to them.” And then people shared their blogs. Totally cool. But unsolicited self-promotion… Like, if you’ve been hanging out in a part of the channel and you’ve got something going on - heck yeah, put it in there.
So that’s what I’ve been telling people, and that usually, I think, makes sense. If you’re merely here to promote something, it’s not cool. But if you’re here and part of the community, and you also have something to promote, go ahead. That’s been a little bit of moderation, or setting ground rules… But aside from that, our Slack is pretty cool. I don’t have any anxiety around what’s said/done there…
I agree with that, yeah.
…compared to comments. I don’t know if it’s because in the comment form you enter it and hit Send and then move on with your life, or you feel less connected to the people on the other side, where with Slack, because it is real-time, you’re like “Oh, this person is gonna reply right now”, you know? [laughs]
I don’t know what changes that, but it definitely feels less problematic. I mean, in terms of law and stuff, it’s a private channel.
Right. True, you have to have – that would probably even fall in line with another organization with a much bigger legal budget than we do, which is Slack, to step in as necessary. Like, if we were under scrutiny and we were allowing behaviors, then we would probably be exposed, to some degree. But if we’re pushing back on things being said in our Slack and we have some issues, because it’s on Slack too, their platform, they would probably have the ability to step in.
It would go to Slack.
[42:56] And honestly, if 230 was abolished, we would just remove comments immediately and be done with it. Like, that would be the way out. It’s like, “Well, easy choice for us, because they aren’t huge value.” But what would Twitter do? What would these sites who have just massively user-generated… I mean, Twitter is user-generated, completely. So what would they do in those contexts? Well, that’s why they have lawyers, and lobbyists, and that’s why they’re working on influencing on politicians in this way or that, and talking with Congress and stuff, so that they understand the situation that these huge platforms are in. I do not envy their position whatsoever.
No. We’re never gonna hire one or many attorneys or lobbyists to speak to Congress on our behalf to have comments, or the right to do so… At least at this juncture.
I was gonna say – I was gonna call you out on the never thing…
Yeah, sorry. Yes.
…but I might be with you on that one. That seems like something that we wouldn’t do. I mean, that’s a topic for a different conversation… Just speaking in absolutes.
I have a habit of speaking in absolutes…
…when feeling very strongly about a direction. When I feel very strongly that I’m never gonna go back from that position, and I’m happy to explain and put it out there… But I have back-pedaled. But as [unintelligible 00:44:13.15] I can change my mind. I should just be a little more careful, I suppose, with how I state my absolutes.
Well, let’s ask the listeners… So what do you think? Should we get rid of comments? Let us know in the comments section… [laughter]
And if you get there and it’s gone, it’s because we’ve already made a call.
But we do like to hear from our listeners, don’t get me wrong… We absolutely do.
My closing thought on that is that I think the value ratio is skewed towards lower value on keeping them, personally. I don’t think we get a lot of value from them currently. It’s more like a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have. So if we’re axing features or deleting code, because hey, that feels good, and two, we don’t need it anymore, I think that that would be a decent place to begin, because there’s opportunity to. It’s not that we’re closing off the ability to comment or to have a conversation, it’s in this particular way.
Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Come into our open Slack. Changelog.com/community. Hit us up on Twitter, @changelog. Many different opportunities to have conversations…
I’m down with it, you know? Delete the code.
Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚