The Travails of Our Jellicle Cat

Posted 7 Apr 2000 at 20:04 UTC by jlbec Share This

Recently we've had a lot of discussion concerning this site. The different features and conventions, the various ways we interact. I contend that our cat is doing excellent. Advogato is certainly successful.

In recent days a lot of fire and flamage has ensued regarding the fundamentals of Advogato. The secureness and use of the trust metric, the quality of the front-page articles, and the diary wars have all brought up issues worth discussing.

Trust Metric

The trust metric works rather well. When raph first mentioned Advogato, this was the part that interested me most. How fair and resistant to attack would it be? We've all seen SL/.SHDOT karma and moderator points abused horribly.

I think it has worked, and worked impressively. Yes, there are weird things, as raph pointed out. Some folks are certified a little higher or lower, and some trust calculations have a strong effect from one person. But overall, we're all certified about where we should be. I haven't found too many folks who aren't around where I'd think they belong.

As far as the deliberate use of certifications to insult another member or "review" that person's writing quality, I think it is out of place. One article does not a contribution to free software make. In the end, I'm not sure it even matters. Yes, we had some "Dimwit" wars, but those certification levels have leveled out since, and almost everyone is happy with where they have ended up, regardless of their opinion of the particular article/reply. The trust metric is still surviving.

More often, if someone appears to be less than or greater than their "certified" level, perhaps the issue is the names and what they mean. This point has been brought up in other discussions, and is a valid one. The current terms, "Master" and "Apprentice" especially, denote skill and experience far more than they describe contribution. As the feline himself states:

The certification levels are for contributions to free software, and are
not supposed to measure intelligence or even talent.

Even so, there will be some measure of talent. If a person writes 1,000,000 lines of useless code, their contribution is not great, whereas someone who writes 1,000 of essential code, they may have made a priceless contribution. But the basic point still holds.

Think about documentation. For example, dria. She does a lot of documentation, which might never get done otherwise. We're notorious at not documenting things. When I want to choose my MTA, I'll grab every one I can find, build them, play with them, configure them, and then decide which I prefer. Your average user doesn't even know what an MTA is. How are they to pick one, configure it, and use it if there is no documentation. The same goes for any other piece of free software.

Here's another way of looking at it: How can you tell someone to RTFM if no one has written it?

How about bug reports? Hackers know the best thing on the planet is a good bug report. "It's broke" doesn't cut it. People that provide quality bug reports are priceless. Ask any GNOME developer about Telsa and you'll get a groan. She is constantly bombarding them with bug reports. But ask the developer if they would prefer not to have her input, and you'll get an emphatic "No!". No one likes getting bug reports, but they are infinitely preferable to leaving bugs in.

These sorts of contributions are huge. Many folks do recognize this, as is evidenced by the "Master" ratings that dria and Telsa hold. But does the term "Master" accurately describe this contribution? I'm not sure it does. This is something to think about.

Front Page Articles

I'm amazed people are so upset at the perceived quality of the front page. The biggest issue anyone has had so far was whether an article or two belonged in a diary. Yes, some reply fests have turned sour, but nothing like other sites.

The quality of articles has been good. We have had no stupid jokes, no flat-out trolls, and no hate fests. Considering there is no moderation on the front page, this is impressive, and speaks well of the community.

Of course, this leaves the front page open to being "boring", as jwz put it. Fine. I'm not looking for entertainment, I'm looking for community discussion. I found the recent Byte Order and Vorbis threads very interesting, and Advogato's Number is always well written (yes, fishing for a purr a bit :-). You won't find these sorts of posts and discussions elsewhere. This is my first contribution to the main page, and I can only hope it measures up in quality.


In my opinion, the diaries have been egregiously successful, far more than I ever expected.

Most people know about alan's diary. Many folks have been reading it for years. The idea of hacker diaries is not new. However, alan is a special case, as his diary is often a place to see Linux kernel news early, and what he does directly influences some major development.

Certainly there are other folks on Advogato with as much influence. That's guaranteed. His diary makes a good example because of its entrenched popularity. But who the hell cares what I'm up to? I'm not shabby (IMHO), but I'm not great either, and I've been trapped in a non-GPL world for a bit. My contributions are mostly the small patch type. Why would anyone read my diary?

This is the mind set I expected to pervade Advogato's diaries. Most folks would post to a readership of no one. That's fine, venting is good in-and-of itself, but it is still small potatoes.

Imagine my surprise to find that everyone is reading bunches of diaries. There are threads going on in diaries. Full conversations even. I suspect this was beyond the dreams of Advogato even. In the beginning, I read the diary entries of people I knew. I was interested in what they were up to. Now I find myself branching out. There are some smart folks here, and even their random musings can be interesting, entertaining, or thought provoking.

Advogato is not only working, it is working well. Yes, there are problems, and there certainly be more growing pains as people join. So far, the site's design has handled these issues as well as they probably can be. I hope it only gets better.

One small oversight, posted 7 Apr 2000 at 20:28 UTC by mnot » (Journeyer)

Good points here. Advogato is definately onto something unique and with a lot of potential, but it's young; it has some growing to go through. Fortunately, Slashdot and the rest have gone through the hard bits, so we can learn from them.

I couldn't find an appropriate admin address to send this to on the site *hint*, so this article seemed appropriate enough. One small problem with the trust metric - who's to say that people represent themselves genuinely when they create an account?

I just saw (through certification of someone else) that ESR just applied for an account. I was about to certify him appropriately (the meaning of 'appropriately' is left as an exercise for the reader) when I thought: what's to stop a dimwit from signing up with his (well-recognized) handle? They get to speak with his voice to advogato until caught, which might be a long time.

The simplest way to fix this would be to display an e-mail address for the person alongside their profile, and send an e-mail there upon signup.

How to tell if someone is for real, posted 7 Apr 2000 at 20:51 UTC by raph » (Master)

There's a very simple answer to this question: simply call them up on the phone, ask them "hey, did you create the account ee ess are on Advogato", and use that as the basis of whether to give a certificate. Posting on this site is not the only form of communication, you know.

If a person turns out to not be legit, then the people that certified them can always revoke the certs later.

One feature on my list is to allow people to reveal their email addresses publicly, including the option to reveal it only to other certified members. But since people can just put that info in their notes field, it doesn't seem particularly urgent.

Indeed, I had no idea that the diaries would take off the way they have. Graydon and others have suggested adding inter-diary links. However, I think that would change the flavor of the diary system pretty dramatically, I'm hesitant to make such major changes to a system that is, after all, working pretty well.

Similarly, I'm not seeing any consensus on an alternate set of rating levels, and a fair number of people satisfied with the current set. So it looks like we'll be keeping the current set for the time being.

Another thought: since the diaries have largely overshadowed the "front page" content, perhaps there should be the simple cosmetic change of putting a chronological list of recent diary entries in the main, left column, and relegate the articles to the right. At the very least, this might help the defense of the lawsuit :)

Don't change the diaries..., posted 7 Apr 2000 at 21:08 UTC by kelly » (Master)

I don't think there should be any change in the diary system for the moment. Maybe when the volume gets so large as to be completely unmanageable, or we start getting seriously spammed....

A "download my diary" would be kinda nice, though.

I think I'm going to spend some time this weekend fiddling with the mod_virgule code, perhaps adding anchors for replies.

Diary Export, posted 7 Apr 2000 at 21:17 UTC by raph » (Master)

Take a look at The corresponding import feature has been planned for a while, but just hasn't gotten around to being done yet.

Identity spoofing, posted 8 Apr 2000 at 01:25 UTC by kmself » (Journeyer)

We've now got a linus user registered. Doesn't appear to be everyone's favorite Finn, either. I'd argue that the system is working, for suitably broad values of "to work", as current certifications all read "Dimwit" -- the system hasn't been schnookered, yet. However potential for abuse is clearly present.

My question is whether this shows that the system does or does not require administrative intervention in the such cases -- is the proper action to deactivate the account, or to allow it to stand. What then when another Linus decides he wants to join the cabal?

diary overload, posted 8 Apr 2000 at 02:01 UTC by Ankh » (Master)

It does seem to be working pretty well. A rating system where yuo can say whose diaries you like/don't like might still be worth trying, especially if it sometimes shows you ones you wouldn't expect, so that new writers or people who change still get a chance. I know I'm having difficulty keeping up, even with the "recent" page.

I notice that most people who go to my web page from Advogato then go on to look at pictures, either of me or of one of my socks or whatever. So people are interested in the people, and I think that's good.

Before long, no-one will be able to keep up with the diaries, especially as they get longer. How about something to show 10 random diary entries posted within the past day?

Re: Identity spoofing, posted 8 Apr 2000 at 08:35 UTC by henrik » (Journeyer)

There is more than one Linus in the world, you know. While it (probably) isn't a common name in the US, it's not unusual in Scandinavia. Just because he registed the account name linus doesn't mean he's trying to impersonate *the* Linus B. Torvalds, more likely Linus is just his name.

And you can't blame a guy for using his name..

Would like a longer diary history, posted 8 Apr 2000 at 18:11 UTC by rwatson » (Master)

I notice that if I come back even 16 hours later, I'm not longer able to see a list of new diary entries for some window of time. While limiting the length on the front page makes sense, it would be nice if there were a way to view chronologically the past diary history. This isn't a suggestion to change the current diary format, which I like, just to make it more accessible.

I'd also like to see the edit->reorder issue resolved somehow. Maybe editing should be removed? But at the very least, an edited article should not move to the top. Maybe it should just be marked as edited with a flag of some sort in the history.

It might also be nice to be able to jump to a list of the person's comments on articles from a personal page, but that's a little more of a stretch.

Re: Identity spoofing, posted 12 Apr 2000 at 06:31 UTC by lkcl » (Master)

This site is experimental. There should exist the possibility of adding digital signatures as an option (PGP keys, whatever is trusted. *irony* - trust metrics and identities on advogato not being trusted enough to require digital signatures to lend weight to the metrics' authenticity.)

Hey, I like that. particularly in view of the concept of "Negative Ratings" (see other articles). Then, it is not only the standing of your Trust Metric that is at stake if you start being stupid, but your digital signature (as linked to the Trust Metric on, not the digital signature itself)

How to tell if someone is for real, posted 12 Apr 2000 at 06:33 UTC by lkcl » (Master)

Raph has a point. I only started on advogato last week, but started taking it seriously enough to ask around before certifying someone. I emailed grog asking who he was. I asked other peoples' opinions around the office on mbp.

New Advogato Features

New HTML Parser: The long-awaited libxml2 based HTML parser code is live. It needs further work but already handles most markup better than the original parser.

Keep up with the latest Advogato features by reading the Advogato status blog.

If you're a C programmer with some spare time, take a look at the mod_virgule project page and help us with one of the tasks on the ToDo list!

Share this page