Say What?

The Times Union launched reader comments for news stories and other content this week. Some people think comments are pointless, but if it’s good enough for the New York Times, it’s probably good enough for your local paper.

Unlike the paper’s blog comment system, users must register for an account — and their registration actually requires quite a bit of personal information. This doesn’t mean you can’t have an alter ego, just that your alter ego will need a working email address and some other details attached.

Paul Block, the TU’s online executive producer, said in response to a reader’s feisty jabs, “Let’s hope for some positive discourse on our stories in the days to come.”

That’s an interesting statement from the people who built the area’s most abusive and corrosive online community. For years, the Times Union’s blogs were polluted with terrible comments — and the worst of all showed up in the blogs run by Times Union employees.

Recently they seem to have started weeding out the worst comments, which is encouraging. This is especially interesting since they’ve also stopped warning readers that comments with profanity or personal attacks will be rejected. Could it be that they are finally walking the walk, not just talking the talk?

Well, included in the item about the new commenting policy is this juicy tidbit: “Previously, commenting was limited to our blogs, and for now that system will remain unchanged and separate from the new website system. In time we plan to merge the two.”

Requiring registration will not fix blog comments completely, but would go a long way toward putting the cover back on the cesspool.

Poll Position

Quicky web polls are everywhere these days — particularly on blogs. You know the ones I’m talking about, and I’m sure you’ve taken them. They ask some topical question and seem to have no actionable purpose.

So why all the polls? Because it’s cheap, mindless content? Writers have run out of things to say? It gives the appearance of being interactive with your audience? All of the above?

I think it may be because somebody read that they’re popular with readers; since I have no research to back that up, I offer you this quicky online poll:

[socialpoll id=”2177452″]


Thinning the Herd

As of this morning I had 283 Facebook friends. Next week at this time I’ll have fewer.

Facebook has value and provides some good things. I’m genuinely interested in much of what my Friends post, but lately I’ve noticed there are lot of people on there that I was never really friends with — and honestly, I can’t imagine they’re very interested in what I post there.

So, one by one I’m picking people who have to go. It’s not personal, just that I don’t care much about them and they seem not to care much about me, so why not?

For the others, I make it a habit to hit the Like button  a few times a day. It’s important for people to know that you’re interested in what they’re posting, especially is you want to carry the title Friend.

If not, it’s like that guy you meet for coffee who can’t stop talking about himself. You say something interesting and they act as if they didn’t even hear you. That’s what Facebook can be like, as hundreds of people go on about their favorite subject: themselves.

This century’s existential crisis is posting things online and wondering if anyone has bothered to read it. If you’re going to take the time to fool around with Twitter and Facebook, spend a moment to let people know that you’re not just talking, you’re listening.

One Dollar a Month

Under what sort of crazy business model do you give away your product and expect to make any money?

How about in local tv and radio.

At a time when newspapers are struggling to survive, broadcasters continue to chug along. No, they don’t make the kind of cash they once did, back in the heady days before cable and the internet, but TV has adjusted to the new economics. And just like in the past, they’re profitable. How? They have a product that people like — and advertisers know that TV and radio spots are still the most effective way to reach their customers.

I don’t expect free content. For example, I gladly shell out money for my digital subscription to the NY Times. In return I get more news than I can possibly read in a single day. So, how much would I be willing to pay for a paper like the Times Union? Compared to what the New York Times provides? I’d say it’s worth about $.25 a week.

One dollar a month may sound harsh, but if you don’t agree, take a hard look at what you get every day. A handful of local stories and… what? Goofy snapshot photo galleries? Blogs? I’m not going to pay for that stuff.

In short, if you want my money, you’d better start providing more content. A lot more.

Meet Wade Gratton

Wade Gratton is 71-years-old, a graduate of Union College, and a devoted naturist. He is also among the millions of fake people on Facebook. Recent news stories detail how Facebook hosts as many as 83 million “illegitimate accounts.”

 Gratton’s persona was manufactured several years ago as part of a marketing campaign at my former place of employment. We needed to make the fictional “Henry Hudson Nudist Camp” seem like a real place, so we concocted an online presence complete with web page and Facebook pages. It was convincing enough to even generate a modest amount of media attention.

 Anyway, sorry Facebook for ignoring your terms of service and all, it was just in the name of good fun. But here’s the thing: it was so easy to become real on Facebook. We were just up to something harmless, but it’s scary to think how it could be exploited for evil purposes by creeps and criminals.


The internet has changed everything — even the way we cook. Recipes were once analog and earthbound, printed in books and magazines, scribbled on index cards, or passed on like oral history from one person to another.

Now you have a million recipes at your fingertips, but this can lead to very modern problems.

After braising a cut of meat all day it was time to finish the pulled pork egg rolls and coleslaw I’d seen on a TV cooking show. That’s when the Internet crashed. Thanks, Time Warner!

So what now? The recipe is locked in cyberspace. I jumped in the car with with my laptop and headed to Panera. Too cheap to go in and buy a cup of coffee, I lurked outside and leeched off the free WiFi in the parking lot. Recipe copied, it was back to the kitchen.

This got me thinking of another incident that also involved sitting in your car, stealing wireless service, and yes, even pulling pork.

In Queensbury recently, a man was arrested after allegedly sitting in a hotel parking lot using their WiFi signal to watch porn on his laptop. Police say they received complaints that the was man “committing lewd acts.”

Yes, the innovations we’ve seen in our lifetime are a tremendous thing. Who would have figured twenty years ago that you could sit in your car and look up recipes — or watch porno for that matter? Ah, progress.

Gratuitous Cat Photo

It’s estimated that there are between 60 and 70 million cats in America — and all of them have their picture on the internet. Not all of them, however,  are doing something interesting like Mia.

She enjoys getting in the bathtub after we shower and staring at water dripping from the faucet. Look! Isn’t that amusing?

Last Night I had the Strangest Dream

I had a dream last night that I misspelled something in a blog comment and couldn’t change it. A brief moment of panic ensued and I woke up.

For as long as there have been dreams, people have dreamed of bad things happening — but only very recently has our sweet slumber been interrupted by nocturnal typos.

It’s interesting that these days our subconscious is haunted by poor grammar and spelling, rather than marauding bears, starvation, and barbaric invaders. Nightmares are fueled by what we know.

It sounds trivial to be woken up by hitting the submit button and not being able to take it back. But maybe there’s a lesson lurking in there somewhere.

But this is not a day for lessons, is it? This is a day to celebrate.


Enjoy this video before the copyright cops catch up with me!

Running with the Angry Mob

Today’s angry mob does not show up with pitchforks, pikes, and torches. They arm themselves with keyboards and light their way with glowing monitors. You won’t see them storming through the streets, but doing their dirty work in the comment section of news websites.

Some media outlets are trying to get the e-mob under control. In June, the Buffalo News clamped down on anonymous comments on news stories, and just last week, Mormon owned Deseret News actually shut comments down completely.

It’s not an easy decison. On one hand you want lots of comments,  but on the other you’d like people to be civil and reasonable. Unfortunately, many of those who moderate comments say to hell with decorum. Decorum doesn’t sell advertising.

It takes some guts to insist on civility. Last week,  All Over Albany ran an item about an employee of a local supermarket chain who’d made a bad decision when dealing with a customer. Did she make a mistake? Sure — but did that mean she deserved to be ripped apart online?

To their credit, All Over Albany closed comments when things started getting ugly. Ugly sells, but they feel it’s more important to be decent and responsible.

It’s always nice to balance the heavy with some light — and this video perfectly captures the atmosphere in most comment sections: