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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

For Tomorrow

The folks at Tomorrow.sg explained its linking policy. Looks like I'm late to the party. I was actually notified via SMS at 5:30am. (Thanks, nilsinelabore!) So I'll post my $0.02 worth, and if I have time and am feeling more wordy, I'll post a few more cents (or dollars) worth.

I've managed to read all of the trackbacks and comments (as of this writing (see this entry's timestamp)). Let me see if I've managed to grasp the issue:

Some bloggers are unhappy that their blogs are linked freely by other websites outside of their control, in particular, Tomorrow.sg. As a result, these bloggers suddenly lose their perceived and much valued privacy because readers follow the links to their blogs. And they complain about the loss of privacy. Some eventually move their blogs.

Correct so far? What happens after readers follow the links, like writing nasty comments, is a result of the following-the-link, so that's another matter entirely.

In their rebuttal, the editors of Tomorrow.sg have stated the following:
  1. The Internet is, in general, a public area, therefore everything that can be found there is implied to be consumed freely.
  2. Linking, whether deeply or not, is acceptable use generally due to point (1).
  3. If something is contradictory to (1), then (2) must be denied to that thing, e.g. with a password authentication system, or, in Tomorrow.sg's case, a clear warning label.
They also detail how Tomorrow.sg works (which depends on the three points above):
  1. Internet users contribute public links to Tomorrow.sg.
  2. Links from (1) are published only when approved by Tomorrow.sg's editors.
  3. Tomorrow.sg's 13 editors have varied backgrounds.
  4. At least two editors must approve the publishing of a contributed public link.
  5. As a result of (3) and (4), there is little to no chance of prejudice in carrying out (2).
Did I miss anything? I think that's the gist of their argument. Everything else follows from these points.

If Tomorrow.sg must be villified, I can see only two ways:
  1. What is available on the Internet is not implied to be consumed publicly.
  2. The approval process at Tomorrow.sg is flawed in some way.
To prove (1), you'd have to argue against the entire Internet audience. Or if you believe in geographical jurisdiction, then you have to argue with the thousands of Singaporean Internet users. In general, you will find yourself at the losing end. The Internet has been around for more than 10 years and accepted as a venue where one can consume anything publicly if it can be found.

Therefore, the phrase "there is nothing private on the Internet" can be taken as true... for the most part. As I mentioned, resources can be made private through a variety of systems. The problem is that, with regards to blogging, many bloggers are unaware of these schemes, therefore whether they planned it or not, what they blog is made public, and therefore available to be consumed publicly. This should not be Tomorrow.sg's fault. It is simply the nature of the beast.

So it seems that it is difficult to villify Tomorrow.sg on point (1). That leaves point (2). Remember their two primary defences: links are contributed by the public (not them), and it takes two editors to approve the publishing of a link.

Aside: I don't think "editors" is the right title for them. Given the nature of their work, I think "approvers" or "publishers" is more apt.

Tomorrow.sg's editors have no power over what is sent their way. Therefore, the only other alternative is that they are biased in some way. But it takes two out of 13 editors (which is slightly more than 15%, but still a minority of the editorial board) to approve the publishing of a link, therefore the chance of biasness is reduced (although some may argue that it is extremely easy for a link to be approved than denied if only two votes are required). This argument stands even stronger if each editor approves an approximately equal number of links.

Being the guy that I am, I counted the number of approvals from Great Singapore Sex Show Exhibition (when the two-editor policy came into effect) to romance in rome. Here's the breakdown:
  • Cowboy Caleb - 45
  • jseng - 39
  • Agagooga, ssf - 21
  • shianux - 13
  • la idler - 10
  • preetamrai - 9
  • LMD - 7
  • mrbrown - 6
  • tinkertailor - 5 (with 1 extra as a third publisher)
  • Mr Miyagi - 3
Notice the disparity in approvals? And notice that two editors (popagandhi, Xiaxue) never approved a single link?

I can think of only one reason why Cowboy Caleb approved 45 times while Mr Miyagi languished with 3. Remember the gameshow, "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" Before a contestant takes the "hot seat", he has to go through the "fastest finger" round, i.e. when he competes with the other contestants to get the right answer in the shortest amount of time.

The way I see it, there are 13 contestants and two hot seats at Tomorrow.sg. A contribution comes in and the 13 see it at the same time. popagandhi and Xiaxue are busy doing their things and can't play the game. That leaves 11 editors. Mr Miyagi and la idler take a longer time to decide whether to approve or not. Meanwhile, Cowboy Caleb and jseng come in for the steal. And before anyone can blink their eyes, the link has been approved. mrbrown shrugs his shoulders and goes back to play with his kids.

I'm not saying that's how it's done (I don't have any insider information), but that is one perception, and a very powerful, negative one. After all, given the numbers I provided, the casual reader can't help but feel that it seems like the approval process is really just one big game behind the scenes.

So this "our editors have varied backgrounds" defence fails terribly because there is an unbalanced number of votes cast per editor. One workaround would be to give each editor a quota of votes, but this unfairly limits what an editor can vote for, e.g. what if a deluge of contributions come in that Cowboy Caleb and jseng absolutely love but the others can't be bothered about, and the former have used up their quota?

...

Oh wait, that's good, right? Because if 11 editors don't approve that deluge, then maybe those contributions aren't really up to standard, and it's Cowboy Caleb and jseng who have been wrong all this time.

Holy cow, I've unwittingly come up with a potential solution to the perception problem. I honestly did not see it coming. Oh, and no offence to Cowboy Caleb and jseng. I'm just using you as examples.

Here's another suggestion: one man, one vote. Whenever a contribution comes in, each of the 13 editors must vote "yea" or "nay". If there are 7 or more "yea"s and 6 or less "nay"s, then the link is published. If less than 13 votes are cast, the link remains in limbo. This won't work if the editors are busy doing their thing. So a link can be approved with a simple majority, i.e. as soon as 7 "yea"s are received. However, if some editors continue to vote more often than others, then we're back at the same problem.

Okay, that's about all I'm going to write about. I've used up my $0.02 and the gears need to be maintained.

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13 comments:

Tym said...

Your suggestion of a one-editor, one-vote system assumes that that's the type of editocracy that Tomorrow intentionally wants to promote. But it's not, based on the comments made by the editors on the Tomorrow webpage and other websites discussing this. They seem quite happy, for now, with a system where any two editors, regardless of quota, can click "publish" at will and the contribution goes out.

The system you're proposing is very typical of many groups and organisations that want to adopt the semblance of democracy. I don't think that is, strictly, how Tomorrow is run or wants to be run at this juncture. But just because it's not purely democratic or doesn't appear to be so, means that it's some kind of fascist or oppressive regime, either.

As I've said elsewhere, it's a group blog. Within the group, the members sort it out. This is how they've chosen to sort themselves out.

Janice Tang said...

Have you also noticed the personal blogging patterns of the editors?

Cowboy Caleb is one of the most prolific and consistent bloggers around. His output on his own blog is at least 2-3 posts per day.

Compare that with Xiaxue and Popagandhi who only update every other day.

Also take into account that Cowboy Caleb runs other side projects like the Cowboy Bar, while working for Tomorrow.sg and working a fulltime job.

If there is one thing that defines the Cowboy, it is dedication to whatever he chooses to work on. So he moderates a large portion of the posts on Tomorrow.sg - have you considered that perhaps it's because it's a labor of love? Most of the posts he publishes are interesting to the general public.

Of course Tomorrow.sg is not perfect. But I do think it's good that people like Cowboy Caleb, James Seng, SSF are in charge because otherwise the lunatics would be running the asylum.

The Legal Janitor said...

Janice Tang:

But I do think it's good that people like Cowboy Caleb, James Seng, SSF are in charge because otherwise the lunatics would be running the asylum.

I take offence to that!

No one person is in charge (unless you count the fact that James is code-guru and therefore God on the server).

Each editor has an equal voice. And more importantly, your statement implies that the rest of us are lunatics.

That's not very fair is it?

Yee-Wei Chai said...

Walau ... bro I read halfway your 2 cents i blur liao ... more like $20 dollars

anyways .. i jump to the last part about your suggestion? Walau .. introducing too much processes into this will surely slow down the services of tomorrow.sg. Everyone want news fast and swift and efficient.

Really, what's their problem with linking? If those guys are not happy tomorrow linked it, then too bad lor. Can always ask tomorrow to "remove the link" but keep the post there :P .. ask them to sue google for having their link appear in other people's searches lah ... Google will say .. siao har ...

ssf said...

more importantly, your statement implies that the rest of us are lunatics.

Or that those named aren't lunatics, which I would take offence to, except that I'm busy braying at the moon.

Cowboy Caleb said...

Me, jems and SSF are not running the asylum although there are rumours we will be running the Stand Chart marathon next year.

Tomorrow.sg is a collaborative effort.

My name just appears more often because I moderate every single post when I go through the moderation queue. And I do this twice a day. And when I see something I like, I vote to publish immediately.

Yuhui, Nice post btw. You uncovered an angle I never realized was there in the first place.

Tym said...

Cowboy Caleb --- run the marathon (in either sense of the word)? Hyeah, right!

Anonymous said...

Does that mean that if a blogger pisses off Cowboy or James personally, they will never get Tomorrow'ed?

Rhonda said...

Not true. Even after James and Nick's famous fallout, Tomorrow.sg has featured Nick on a few occasions.

This is a good thing. The editors are not holding grudges and thinking with their heart instead of their head.

paddychicken said...

Reference your last point on quotas.

I think it might be interesting to implement some sort of ratio between the maximum and minimum posts approved between editors.

Then when we come to a situation such as you highlighted, the only way to move forward is
1) The prolific editors cut down (and hence give others more say)
2) The MIA editors do more moderation, or quit (bow out with good grace if they are not that keen on the role, maybe others can fill)

Tym said...

paddychicken --- You're assuming all the editors desire equal say in the number of articles posted. I get the feeling that's not how Tomorrow is operating at the moment, and that they prefer the current more laissez-faire system.

paddychicken said...

Tym: and you're assuming that what the editors want is what is best for Tomorrow.sg, or development of the Singapore blogging scene.

First and foremost, it is their creation, and they can do whatever they want. But it would certainly be nice to take into account feedback from the public to further improve.

And since Yuhui's post, it seems (I didn't count) that the approvals are more balanced.

Kevin said...

Yuhui did a fair analysis of Tomorrow.sg's editorial process and has shown that it is biased towards the views of the more prolific bloggers. Thus, to say that Tomorrow.sg is flawless is an overstatement. It is better (and more humble) to say that such processes adapt to new circumstances, that is, refining the rules as part of the learning experience.

The editorial process had natural flaws (some editors contributing more than others), which has recently been realized by them and the "editors" have now changed they way they work within their own rules (others learning to pick up the slack).

Don't mistake my intentions for I believe that Tomorrow.sg is a good thing. But like a good friend, I will tell you what I think is the right from the wrong. That said, I'm on the same boat as Yuhui, who's "check" has served to "balance" Tomorrow even more!

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