Rediscovering the Pal-Item forums, without the trolls

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This post is about one way to have a more enjoyable experience in online discussion forums in general, and I'm going to use the forums at the Palladium-Item, a local daily newspaper in Richmond, as an example. I'll show you how to rediscover the pleasures of online discussion by simply blocking out the posts by people you don't care to hear from...all in three easy steps.

Right now, the Pal-Item has a troll infestation. Ewwwww. And it's not just the obvious kind either (though there are plenty of those). They've also got the kind that like to spread negativity, hate, oppression and self-referencing, oversimplified explanations of how the world is and should be, all under the guise of participating in some sort of great online community experiment. Which means it can take one or two reads of a post and a few seconds of brain processing time that you'll never get back to realize that you're dealing with a troll - who has the patience for that?

And so you're just reading along looking for interesting conversation or news, and all of the sudden you spot a troll offering up its bait!

The Troll offers up its bait!

A-ha! Maybe if you were a forum newbie, you would try to respond with some positive perspective, a plea for civility, or some other retort. When you've been reading online forums as long as I have, you become jaded and bitter (or you just realize you have better ways to spend your time, like tending a garden or adoring your sweetheart), and you don't bother with that any more. The instinct becomes to look for the button that says "IGNORE ALL POSTS BY THIS USER." That's the nice thing about trolls - they tend to be consistent in their ability to offer up nothing of value.

The issue is, a lot of forums don't have that "Ignore" button available. Sometimes it's an actual policy issue, and other times they just haven't gotten around to it or there are other barriers. And then there's the awkwardness and privacy issues of having your "ignore list" visible by the administrators of the forum - faux pas galore!

Enter the power of technology to help you reclaim your forum browsing experience. Here's what you do:

  1. Make sure you're browsing the web using Firefox, one of the best web browser software packages available. It's fast, free, secure and regularly updated and improved. Wow.
  2. Install the Greasemonkey plugin for Firefox. It's free, easy to install, and allows you to do some mighty cool things (though it doesn't do much on its own).
  3. Install the phpBB User Ignore script for Greasemonkey. Also free, also easy to install.

Now, remember our silly little troll friend? After you follow the steps above, the next time you pull up the forum page, you get a little [X] next to its name:

The Troll trembles before Zod!

When you click the [X], the Troll is added to a list of forum users on your computer who you never want to hear from again. And when you reload the page, you experience blissful peace and quiet:

The Troll vanishes with a poof of smelly smoke

Of course, if you REALLY want to see what they're saying, you can toggle that easily. And you can always take them off your blocked list if you need to. This system works for most any forum that is powered by phpBB, one of the most widely used forum packages out there. People have even begun to adopt it for use on other forum types as well.

Perhaps not surprisingly, once I built up my Troll-inventory and browsed the Pal-Item forums, I enjoyed the wonders of largely empty pages, ghosts of pettiness and provocation fading into the background as a few gems of halfway coherent comments popped up now and then.

In all seriousness, I'm sure some of the above sounds a little harsh at times, and the discussion about whether or not it's kosher or helpful to just wipe other people out of your browsing experience is certainly one worth having (um, without the trolls). In most cases, I'd rather not be using an online forum at all - real human interaction can't be beat. But for those times when you want to keep up with a virtual conversation and your box of Troll-B-Gone hasn't arrived yet, I think this is pretty handy. Let me know how it works for you.

6 thoughts on “Rediscovering the Pal-Item forums, without the trolls

  1. Chris,
    So when someone disagrees with what someone else has to say it becomes trolling. Well I guess that puts a different outlook on what you have to say.
    I thought that forums were about discussion and dialogue.

    Please show me one clear example of trolling from the PI during this infestation.

    The example you used seems no more than someone voicing an opinion about Richmond. So to get this correct someone voices an opinion other than your it is trolling.


  2. Nick: sometimes it's not about whether or not I agree with what someone thinks, sometimes it's just about whether or not they've presented it in a way that's useful to me. It's possible for people to present viewpoints that are valid and/or that I might agree with, but to do so in a way that is completely unhelpful or even harmful to the spirit of true dialogue.

    I'm a very open-minded person and I have a high tolerance for viewpoints I don't agree with, and even for viewpoints I do agree with that are presented in unhelpful ways. But from my perspective, if someone does that on a regular basis in this kind of setting, it's trolling, and I don't have an interest in reading it or engaging it.

    That's the nice thing about the technique I demonstrated - it lets each individual define what they do and don't want to block out, and so no one has to define trolling or "inappropriate comments" in a way that applies globally to all forum users. So I don't need to show you an example of trolling, because it's really up to you to define it for yourself. Now, if the Pal-Item and its forum users decided that they really wanted to participate authentically in a community, there would have to be some common definitions, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards right now.


  3. Lets talk about the example you used in your presentation.
    How is the comment you high lighted 'trolling'?
    It appears simply that someone asked the question why come back to Richmond.
    Yet you see fit to show it as "trolling"

  4. Oy.

    It seems to me that any conversation, online or off, works best when the participants have similar expectations for the experience and similar conversation behaviors. Encountering a participant whose behaviors and apparent expectations differ markedly can make the experience rather bumpy and unproductive. For a social species, sometimes I find it sad and remarkable how few of its members demonstrate fundamental skills of social interaction.

    Thanks for the script hint.


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