Communicating with the irc Community

For most of my professional career, I worked in the international arena. I’m not sure why I have always enjoyed that so much – perhaps as a result of having lived overseas for a portion of my life. There are, as a result, a lot of things that I take for granted in dealing with others, and I’ve recently become more aware that others often don’t think or don’t realize there is a bit of an art to dealing with folks from other cultures, countries, backgrounds and who speak other languages. On irc, there are so many different people, languages, cultures, it’s important to realize the need to do things a bit differently than we normally would, even though many of the traditional issues that arise when you’re face-to-face don’t exist.

The most obvious example is, even though the vast majority of us communicate on irc in English, a good number speak a different native language. This can cause all sorts of interesting (and sometimes humorous) miscommunications. Regardless of your native language, below is listed a few things that might help you to communicate more clearly with others.

To avoid causing miscommunication:

  • try speaking in full, clear, concise sentences. Due to the nature of irc and the speed with which some time, it’s often tempting to write quickly, abbreviating, using acronyms and partial sentences. However, this can be, and is often, confusing to a non-native speaker.
  • realize that “geek speak” is confusing enough for less technical native speakers and can be impossible to decipher for non-native speakers (even if they are technically inclined)
  • remember that not all irc clients use the same commands. This is especially important if providing assistance to another user. For example, some clients will accept “/cs” for “/msg chanserv”; some will not.

To avoid misunderstanding others:

  • if you don’t understand another person, ask them to state what they said in another way. Often if they repeat themselves with different words, formatting, etc., you can decipher what they want/need/said.
  • assume the best possible meaning. Sometimes someone will say something, that might seem harsh or offensive – realize that it may be that the person simply doesn’t know the words (or syntax) to state what he/she means.
  • look at the context. By looking at the channel you are in, or the topic that was discussed when the other person started speaking, you might be able to glean what the person intended.

Finally, there are a lot of resources on freenode – many people are more than willing to translate when necessary. Ask what language the person speaks, and then try to find another who speaks the language. If all else fails, come to #freenode and ask for help or message a staffer (“/stats p” lists all staffers on duty).

The fact is, irc is a fantastic way to get to know other people and to learn more about other cultures – and at a great price! I challenge and encourage each of you to up your level of communication.

So much is happening…

Today has been an interesting day in ‘freenodia’, a day of reflection, and a day where both myself and my incredible staff got a feel of what it means to be surrounded and embraced by so many large and vibrant communities as those who choose to use the freenode network. We are proud and happy to host the projects we host, and we are tremendously grateful that by using freenode you allow us to get a peek behind the curtains on how your project operates, which is always refreshing.

We also appeared in the news today, when NewsForge and linux.com broke the news (though, old news to our blog readers!) of freenode and OFTC exploring further collaboration.

And we saw some changes to the structure of the PDPC board.

As of the board meeting on May 22nd 2007 a few changes have been made with immediate effect. David Levin has stepped down from his position as President. Christel Dahlskjaer (freenode Head of Staff) replaces him as President by unanimous vote, while David retains a position on the PDPC board.

Phil Stracchino follows in Christel’s footsteps, assuming her previous position as secretary pro tem.

Joining the board we have Richard (RichiH) Hartmann in the position as treasurer pro tem, representing freenode staff, and David (cdlu) Graham as a community board member.

All members of the board are excited to be working together to provide even better services to the communities we serve and look forward to a interesting future for PDPC and its sub projects.

We would like to thank all the freenode staff volunteers, server sponsors and users who have helped build up the organization and the projects as they are today. We could not have done it without you and appreciate your continued support and enthusiasm in helping us in our efforts to lay the structures for building vibrant peer directed communities.

Congratulations to the additional board members of the PDPC, both of whom were voted in unanimously.

The corporate officers of the PDPC are as follows:

* Christel Dahlskjaer – President
* Phil Stracchino – Secretary
* Richard Hartmann – Treasurer

The PDPC board of directors:

* Christel Dahlskjaer – Member (Head of Staff, freenode)
* Phil Stracchino – Member
* David Levin – Member
* Richard Hartmann – Member
* David Graham – Community Board Member

In unrelated news, it has come to the attention of freenode and the PDPC Board that certain users of the freenode network have been propagating unfounded rumors concerning the status of PDPC board members and freenode staff, claiming to represent or acting on behalf of the President of the PDPC Board. The Board wishes it to be clearly understood that these users do not speak for or represent either freenode or the Peer Directed projects Center in any capacity, official or otherwise. We politely request that you disregard any rumors about Freenode or PDPC obtained from sources other than official Freenode/PDPC communication channels.

We thank you for your attention, and assure you that PDPC will continue to operate freenode to the best of its ability in the best interests of the network and the F/OSS community.

On behalf of the PDPC board,

Christel Dahlskjaer – President, Head of Staff – freenode
Phil Stracchino – Secretary
David Graham – Community Board Member

The above is copied from the news announcement made here.

I hope you are all having a wonderful day.

All roads lead to #defocus

Some time ago I used to work as a special projects mentor for a large international company, one of the things I were to try purvey to the people I trained was ‘Change is good, change is great’. It took a long time for me to change my internal thought process and face my own fears of giving up security of what’s familiar, and as such it took a long time for me to be able to stand there in a room full of people and utter those words while actually believing in and meaning what I said.

This past week the phrase has played on my mind a lot, in regards to our changes to the official freenode help and social channels.

We are certainly hoping that this change will turn out to be good — and feedback so far has been primarily positive, though, that is not to say there hasn’t been those unhappy with the change.

I will try and speak of some of the reasoning behind closing down #freenode-social, and replacing it with respectively #freenode for help and #defocus for social chatter. The below quotations may help you understand some of the reasoning behind changing the way we operate our social channel, these are just some and not all of the observations made.

Over the last little while it has become apparent that running #freenode-social the way we currently do is not working for staff or users, and as such is not working for the network, the community or the visions and goals we possess.

We (freenode staff) propose to close down #freenode-social and replace it with #freenode (focused on user/network support ala #tapthru) and #freenode-offtopic (for general natter), in this regard we would like to extend an invitation to the tapthru staff to come on board and co-manage #freenode with us.

The list of items below should be considered a starting point for conversation rather than any definitive pronouncement of how the world should wag. It’s not complete (no such list can ever be) but tries to hit most of the major issues we’ll face as we embark on this project. Be blunt about your likes/dislikes of the various suggestions and about suggesting changes/additions/removals! Please note that there is no significance to the ordering of the items in the list below; that’s just how they came out. They have numbers only to speed the referencing of them during discussion.

1. What is wrong with #freenode-social? (This isn’t the finger of blame! Just a way to get a handle on what we are trying to fix.)
1. No defined topic (so no way to say: “that’s offtopic”)
2. No defined rules
3. Lack of regular chanops (we got scared and ran away)
4. Chanop behaviour is sporadic and hard to predict
5. Voicing/devoicing system has holes
1. Voicing is random. This can cause various behaviors:
1. People want to capture voice and hold it forever, against the time they might want to speak
2. When someone has waited hours to be voiced, (s)he may already be quite frustrated
3. By the time you’re voiced, you forgot why you came
2. We can’t remember why a person was devoiced
3. Access list too long to meaningfully evaluate
4. No system for ‘devoice for xx minutes’, so devoices either get forgotten and remain forever, or someone is re-voiced sooner than the devoicing staffer wanted them to be.
6. We used to say ‘be a catalyst in #freenode-social and maybe we’ll ask you to be staff someday’ … is that still true?
2. Some scenarios for the new #freenode channel (things people will come to say). ?? Categorize as (O)OK, (N)Not OK, (P)Private ??
1. Nick issues
1. Help me register my nick
2. Cloak me!
3. Someone took my nick
4. Lost my password
5. Help me admin my nick options
2. Client issues
1. Help me with my client
2. How does $somecommand work?
3. Cannot connect to freenode
3. Channel issues
1. I need help with my channel registration, modes, etc
2. They banned me in #foo!
3. #foo is offtopic/offensive/criminal/other, whatcha gonna do about it?
4. #foo has mean chanops
5. We are having a disagreement in #foo, please come and mediate
6. Explain primary/about channels for me again?
7. Does #foochannel exist?
8. Everybody come to #foo, it is the ubar-greatest!
4. About individuals
1. $somenick is PMing me and I don’t like it
2. $somenick is spamming/trolling/racist remarks/other on #foo
3. $somenick is spamming/trolling/racist remarks/other on several channels
4. $somenick is an asshole, kline him now
5. $somenick’s nick offends me
6. My friend $somenick was klined, remove it already!
5. Group issues
1. GCF approvals
2. Explain groups to me
3. I’m a GC and I need something done
4. Who is the GCF for $somegroup
5. $somegroup has no right to exist, we are the rightful owners of that group name
6. Freenode issues
1. $somestaffer treated me unfairly
2. I want to be a staffer
3. Teach me to be a catalyst
4. Announcements by staff
5. Donation issues
6. I want to host a freenode server
7. This wierd thing just happened, is it a network issue, help!
8. Help me understand the Freenode policy about $whatever.
9. I disagree with Freenode policy
10. Freenode should do this wonderful thing _______!
11. Freenode should endorse my campaign to save the world
12. I hate Freenode, rant-rant-rant.
13. I love Freenode, love-love-love.
7. Other
1. I need help with something not in 1-6 above
2. Let’s talk about my life issues/problems/whatever.
3. My political/religious/societal views
4. spam
5. random invective
6. http://somelink is funny/offensive/interesting/whatever, let’s all talk abut it
7. well, all sorts of stuff not found in 1-6 above
3. Escalating help. We all have different freenode-admin privs; some of us have none other than ‘helpful person’.
1. General SLA for the channel: “#Freenode tries but does not promise to solve your issue; if you are still unsolved here, talk to staffer via /stats p”
2. Try to identify things that should happen privately (in PM) and move there as soon as possible.
3. If you haven’t the privs to resolve an issue, send them to /stats p or /who *freenode/staff* asap
4. Suggestions?
4. #freenode discipline
1. What do we discipline for?
1. Offtopic
2. Tone/attitude
1. Ontopic but rude
2. Note- how to handle “I was not being rude, I was joking!”
3. Personal attacks/characterizations/judgements. (Suggest: we simply avoid all observations of a personal matter)
4. Giving out bad advice on the channel. Again, the issue of “I was joking” should be addressed.
2. Possible discipline escalations:
1. Catalyze in-channel, never ban or mute
2. Catalyze in-channel, ban or mute after x lines or minutes if it doesn’t work
3. Mute immediately and catalyze in PM; unmute when they understand
4. Ban/mute for x minutes on first offense, y minutes on second offense, z minutes on third offense
5. Replace ban/mute with redirec to #freenode-offtopic; perform all catalyzation in there
6. Some combination of the above
3. How to handle leftover bans/mutes?
1. leave forever since no one wants to override another chanop’s actions
2. periodically flush any ban/mute more than x days old
5. #freenode-offtopic discipline
1. none at all
2. same as main channel
3. relaxed rules
4. different rules entirely

Having spent some time discussing the situation and mulled over the above channel thoughts it was decided to move forward and start working out some clearer guidelines for the new channels. The name #freenode-offtopic was also replaced by #defocus, we considered keeping the #freenode-social name but decided that it was better to start afresh and sculpt something from the ground up and so we decided to re-name.

The guidelines for the two new channels are far from set in stone, and we will continuously evaluate them and we ask for your help in ensuring that we choose a set of rules which are of the most benefit to the community at large. In this regard I highly encourage you to e-mail staff at freenode dot net with any concerns, comments, questions or ideas you have. We love hearing from you and your feedback is crucial to making freenode what it is.

Like Rome, #defocus won’t be built in a day and we expect some fumbling while we try work out which way suits our community best. We’re trying something new and we are all learning on our feet.

I hope the above helped clarify some of the motivation behind #defocus and I hope that you will come join us in the channel.

A Re-/De-focus

freenode is pleased to announce a few changes effective May 12, 2007 at 12:55 UTC:

  • the (re)formation of #freenode, which will be an official help channel for the freenode network. For more information, please review the #freenode channel guidelines.
  • the closing of #freenode-social. While#freenode-social has served its purpose for the last couple of years, it has really outgrown itself and is being closed.
  • the opening of #defocus, the new social channel for freenode. #defocus is being launched with anticipation of more to come in the near (or mid-) future. It will differ from #freenode-social in a number of ways, including: (1) like #freenode, has its own set of channel guidelines, which should help clarify what is on/offtopic in the channel, and (2) unlike -social, #defocus will be -m, which means you won’t require voice to talk.

We truly hope you enjoy these changes and look forward to serving you under this new structure.

Silence is Golden: Handling trolls and spammers

The Issue

Over the last few months, it’s occurred to me that many people aren’t quite sure how to react when a spammer or troll joins their channel. There is always a tendency to react, to do whatever is necessary to get someone’s attention to kick the spammer or troll. As a channel op, many of us face challenges in that even if we know how best to react, our peers on the channel tend to get riled up anyway. The result? The troll or spammer has done significant damage to the channel – disrupting “business” or conversations, changing the focus of discussions, etc.

First it’s important to understand what motivates most trolls/spammers. Simple: attention. They want your attention – whether it’s “good” or “bad” attention is unimportant. They simply want to change your focus from your customary topics to one thing: the spammer/troll. Consequently, reactions to trolls and spammers (other than a simple kick/ban, as may be necessary) tend to do one thing – encourage the troll/spammer to continue his/her behavior.

So what is to be done? There are really two groups of people to address at this point – channel operators (people who have the ability to kick/ban someone from the channel) and channel users. Since users vastly outnumber operators, I’ll address them first.

Channel Users

As a user of freenode, let me first say thanks! freenode is unique because of its users! We appreciate all of you and rarely get a chance to say so. So how can you help freenode and your favorite channels deal with the issue of spammers and trolls? The key is your reaction (or better, lack of a reaction). Since trolls and spammers are seeking to disrupt business and get your focus on them, the best thing you can do is NOT respond to them. Do not respond to their spam. Simple? It seems to be so – and in theory it is. In practice, it can be a bit harder – especially when a spamming or trolling attack is going on. Think “Catalyst“.

Here are a few ideas of how you might be able to express your frustration or communicate necessary information without encouraging the trolling or spamming behavior:

  • Take conversations to a private forum, channel or a private query message. This is true even if you’re trying to get the attention of someone who might be able to kick/ban the troll/spammer. Your lack of reaction on the channel is quite boring to the troll or spammer and will only make them lose interest more quickly.
  • Don’t discuss the situation for hours after the situation occurred. Many trolls have “legitimate” or alternate identities and will sit on a channel, not disrupting things, but watching the carnage they caused.
  • There are many ways for channel operators to address the issue of a troll or spammer, including changing the channel modes. If your favorite channel has suddenly gone +m (moderated) or to some other mode you’re not familiar with, don’t make a big deal of it. Ask one of the operators in a private message if you simply can’t stand to not know what happened. But again, keep it off the channel.

Channel Operators

As a channel operator, you have a tougher job when your channel is attacked by trolls or spammers. You have a responsibility to the channel to block/stop/end the attack, as well as keeping everyone else calm! Remember to catalyse throughout the process. Take heart – a little forward thinking will help a lot!

Dealing with the Troll or Spammer

There are a number of ways to deal with trolls and spammers. Of course, you have kick, ban and remove available to you. But you also have the ability to set some channel modes:

  • +r requires people to be identified with NickServ to join
  • +R requires people to be identified with NickServ to talk
  • +m moderates a channel, requiring +v to talk
  • +q is similar to a ban in that it won’t allow you to talk or to change nicks, but you are free to join the channel
  • +z will make ops (+o) able to see what a person that is neither +v nor +o says in a channel that is +m

Dealing with the Channel’s Reactions

First, remain calm. You set the tone for your users. If you get upset or excited, they will too. Secondly, you can help a lot by educating your users before any attacks occur. Let them know how trolls/spammers work and what they are seeking. Provide them with a clear understanding of what they should do and who they should contact in the event of an attack. Inevitably, people will react to some degree. Use the attack as an opportunity to educate – but do it in private; you want to keep reactions off channel and you also are more likely to be successful, avoiding embarassment by discussing the issue privately.

Rob Levin, a man who will be greatly missed

As previously announced last week, Rob Levin aka lilo, the father of freenode, passed away on the 16th of September. He had been in a coma after being hit by a car while riding his bicycle.

Many of our users and sponsors have asked how they can help Debbie and Benjamin, Rob’s wife and son, during this difficult time. We can now inform you that financial aid may be sent to his family using their personal paypal account, [email protected]

Condolences can still be sent to [email protected] and will appear both online in our book of memories as well as being professionally bound and passed on to Rob’s family.

Although for many people Rob personified freenode, we would like to assure you all that the network will continue to run. Over the years lilo built up a large body of staff members, including a wide variety of people from all backgrounds, countries and ages. We have ex-NASA employees, psychology students, ham radio enthusiasts and Debian, Gentoo and Ubuntu developers to name but some, all with their own unique qualities and skills. Combined with a passion for the FOSS community, this made them Rob’s number one choice to run the network with him, and we believe that they are also the people he would want to continue to run the network in his absence. Together we will ensure that freenode keeps running, and in a way which would ultimately have made Rob proud. We are currently working closely with the PDPC board and Rob’s family to make sure that all loose ends are tied up and that the great service you have come to know and expect will continue as normal.

Questions can as always be directed to [email protected], or feel free to /msg christel or LoRez on IRC.

[Announcement] Rob Levin has passed away

On the 12th September Rob Levin, known to many as freenode‘s lilo, was hit by a car while riding his bike. He suffered head injuries and was in a coma. Rob was being treated at the Neuro Trauma Intensive Care Unit at a local hospital in Houston, Texas where he passed away on Sept 16th.

Our thoughts are with Rob and his family, and we ask that you respect their privacy during this difficult time.

Condolences can be sent to [email protected]

[Announcement] Group registration and fundraising.

A quick note on a few current topics. First, new manual group registrations have been, if anything, slower than before. We apologize for this; we’re working on ramping up the freenode-registry project and concentrating on coding for the moment. The code is in the early prototyping stage and is going fairly slowly, though it’s beginning to pick up speed. However, the current manual group registration process is suffering while we work on the code which will eventually automate our processes. We’ll try to pick off some of the more active projects in the group registration queue and get them moving again. Thanks in advance for your patience.

A new social channel, #freenode-groups, has been set up for current holders of primary channel group cloaks. If you’re not in that category, the channel will forward you to #freenode, the old network staff social channel, which is actually currently forwarded, in turn, to ##bookmark (on a temporary basis) while we sort out which channels the network project is going to use.

Also, you may have noticed that the 2006-2007 PDPC fundraiser has not yet begun. Preliminary budgeting suggests that we’re very much on track for 2006-2007. We’ll likely have one or two small fundraisers during this fiscal year rather than a single large one. We’ll keep you posted, and you can help us stay on track by making a donation now instead of later.

Finally, the staff of freenode and PDPC want to thank you for using the network. We’re grateful that you continue to use the network in record numbers, and we’ll keep doing our best to help things run smoothly. Have an excellent week!

Open Projects is now freenode!

As of today, Open Projects Net has changed its name. We are now freenode!

This does not represent a change in philosophy or direction for the network. It will, however, provide us a short, memorable name which will help keep us in people’s minds as we continue to grow. It should be a very positive change.

For more information on the change, please take a quick look at the FAQ. Welcome to freenode!