What’s my problem with lists of best websites?

Last week I received a link submission for The Map Room: a list of 50 best blogs for geography geeks. The Map Room was ranked 15th. There wasn’t anything wrong with the list so far as I could tell — I’m modest enough about what I do that I don’t care what my own rank is — but it didn’t quite smell right, simply because a site named Online Engineering Degree was an odd source for such a list. It wasn’t the first time I saw that kind of disconnect; usually I saw it as a way to gain incoming traffic to boost a site’s ranking — in other words, search engine optimization, which for me is a dirty, dirty term. So I ignored it. I can’t post everything, and I’ve let far better links get past me.

The list was then reprinted in full and verbatim on Mapperz, a map blog I rather like. It’s important to say that I like it, because Mapperz is a little annoyed with me right now, for reasons that will become clear in a moment. It’s also important to say that it was well within Mapperz’s rights to post it. There are more than 100 blogs in my map blog directory, and it would be stupid if we all agreed on what was and wasn’t post-worthy. The Mapperz link made the rounds, on Twitter and elsewhere, and ended up on MetaFilter (where links make the big time).

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On anonymous commenters

Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory (Penny Arcade)

The problem with getting your news online is that there’s a real danger you might be exposed to the comments section. Now, I’ve been online a long time, and I’ve mixed things up on Usenet, mailing lists, hobbyist discussion boards, and blog comments, and I have never seen anything as ugly, as unintelligent, or as bigoted as the comments I’ve seen on places like The Globe and Mail’s and CBC News’s websites. Comments on news sites, as someone said in reply to one of my tweets, are “mostly whitenoise and claptrap from politicos and other nutjobs.” It’s almost enough to make me stop reading the articles themselves.

The problem seems to be the usual one: what happens when you let people sound off anonymously (see the classic and pertinent Penny Arcade comic above). It’s bad enough that some news sites are reconsidering allowing anonymous comments; in more than one case, they’ve been forced to disclose the identity of a commenter so that they could be sued for defamation.

But who are these nutjobs — these people who seem to spend their entire lives spouting invective online — anyway? The Boston Globe’s Neil Swidey explored the issue by interviewing a number of their website’s “heavy users.” Problematically, none of the outright trolls wanted to be interviewed: “But here are the people I didn’t hear back from: the screamers, troublemakers, and trolls (Internet slang for people behind inflammatory posts). Not a single one. The loudest, most aggressive voices grew mum when asked to explain themselves, to engage in an actual discussion. The trolls appear to prize their anonymity more than anyone else.” Because they’d turn to stone if they did, that’s why.

Browser usage and coding for Internet Explorer 6

Internet Explorer 6 has been the bane of my existence as a web designer for years, particularly since (a) I have no computers that run Windows at home, so IE 6 is not readily available, (b) IE 6 does things in a stubbornly different fashion compared to other browsers, and (c) I’m not that good a web designer. So I can test my designs against Safari and Firefox, and occasionally a more recent version of IE, like IE 7, that does a better (i.e., more standard) job of rendering web pages, but IE 6, not so much — except when I have a spare moment at work. And, a recent check shows that, once again, web pages that look fine in the browsers I do have access to look like crap in IE 6.

It’s Netscape 4 all over again: that old browser did a horrible job of rendering CSS, but its installed base meant that it took years to go away. The question is: has IE 6 gone away yet? Are there few enough people still using it that it’s safe enough to ignore compatibility problems?

Using Google Analytics, I had a quick look at my visitors’ browser usage. The answer is: a definite maybe.

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