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Reddit founder aims to build bat signal for the Internet (forbes.com)
212 points by alagu on May 25, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 62 comments

This is a great idea, but on the off chance they read this, it must stay focused.

A very common mistake on the internet is to see a group interested in some topic, and to mistake the group for the mass of individuals that make it up, to think that the group itself has some sort of individual ontological existence, and that the individuals are somehow stuck to this "group" thing. If this experiences any success at all, calls will be issued by the hundreds to take this platform and group of people and get them to do something else. Perhaps even something nice sounding. And if you give in, you will in mere minutes destroy the entire thing, because there isn't actually an entity that can be led around... instead, there is a whole bunch of individuals who will rapidly and correctly conclude this thing is no longer what they signed up for, if they wanted a general advocacy group they'd do something else, and the whole thing will dissolve in a puff of smoke.

It's a great idea, but it needs to stay laser-focused on the Internet freedom issues that created it, and nothing else. No matter how tempting. You can not take the resulting group and use it like a handle to move people's opinions around in any direction.

I could imagine allowing users to opt into certain kinds of campaigns -- an "I'm interested in: [] Internet freedom [] Reproductive rights [] African warlords," or alternatively allow certain organizations / sponsors to control usage: "I'm open to issues promoted by: [] ACLU [] EFF [] NRA"

This is a potentially huge idea. Allowing users to create and choose topics of activism they care about, and voluntarily sign up for email alerts, provide ways to promote their topics, etc. - this could be something people really want.

Not really new - facebook has causes, I'm sure every other social platform has something alike. The problem is that most people don't care enough for most issues interest groups promote. SOPA was an exception because it was exceptionally bad idea. However as soon as it turns from exception to politics as usual, it would get the same amount of attention politics usually gets. No less, but also no more. Whoever is politically active/involved already gets such kinds of alerts from the sources he is affiliated with. Whoever is not, won't read them except in, well, exceptional cases.

We have that already with regular email and websites. Or Facebook groups

I'm not generally a fan of image replies, but the top comment on reddit really does nail it:


What's the 17 for?

It's a play on iOS notifications. They show a red number in the top right corner to signal how many notifications are unchecked. See: http://img.ehowcdn.com/article-new/ehow/images/a04/pb/9e/rem...

Looks more like Facebook notifications to me:


It doesn't look anything like the notification in that image. It does, however, look exactly like the G+ notification thing.

I remember it floating around when G+ launched.

This was one of the first things I thought when reading this. It is so easy for this to become another situation where oversaturation makes it a flawed platform. The reason the protest against SOPA worked is because everyone jumped on board, and it seemed important. This is really the strength of lobbying groups. If bills are fed through with small pieces of a intrusive laws bit by bit, SOPA may return and be in place before there is even time to react. The moment the protest system becomes spammy and we start seeing messages about protests for unimportant topics, the movement will fail. This should be saved and used only in the most dire consequences and focus only on Internet freedom related topics.

This is definitely true and evidenced by reddit's various user driven charity campaigns always being followed by me-too-ers with "We did this great thing so while I have your ear here's my pet project..." This was especially bad after the Haiti- and Katrina-related drives.

I also hope it gets done right. Look at Avaaz.org if you want an example of how to do it wrong. I signed one of their petitions and was put on their mailing list, but they send out email for some of the dumbest things, which makes me go numb to the idea of getting involved. I unsubscribed when they sent out a notice saying they wanted donations because they were being DDoS'd... and then sent a second email the next day. Annoying and irrelevant to the organization.

I agree completely. The more things you stand for, the more beliefs a person has to share with you in order for them to join. Pick just a few widely held beliefs if you want a large, influential organization.

> It's a great idea, but it needs to stay laser-focused on the Internet freedom issues that created it, and nothing else. No matter how tempting. You can not take the resulting group and use it like a handle to move people's opinions around in any direction.

Well said. This is not so much different from targeting a product brand - first you need to deliver on something that your audience wants. Then you might expand... cautiously.

Delivery is key. If you don't deliver something useful in a meaningful time period - throw the brand away - it's already useless. Pivots are more successful if you already have some traction.

If you do get lucky and delivery something useful within a meaningful time period, then you must keep delivering. You can expand scope, but never waver on the original promise (or an underlying principle on which the promise is based). Dilution is a big risk here.

More successful is to create separate brands and weave them together. This takes great skill, but forges an even stronger presence.


> Optional code that activates automatically according to criteria you specify (e.g. SOPA returns).

I think Facebook has a similar thing called "causes"?

Farcebook is no substitute for real websites


I hate you guys :-(

It doesn't seem to be in the News Guidelines any longer, but the prevailing opinion on HN is that comments that simply say "I agree" or the like:

1) Add nothing to the conversation. Just upvote if you agree; also commenting to that effect adds nothing.

2) They clutter up the comments, so they are actually worse than not commenting at all.

I seem to recall a previous version of the style guidelines actively encouraging us to downvote such posts in order to train newer accounts to stop doing it. But I might not be remembering correctly.

In any case, I can pretty much guarantee that's why you were downvoted (and I didn't downvote you, personally).

Which feels a bit dated now. Expressing that you agree isn't only valuable to the writer of the comment, and since the number of upvotes-downvotes isn't shown anymore the only way to express that you agree is to write an "I agree"-comment.

Yes there are advantages and drawbacks of showing the upvotes-downvotes but one drawback is that you create a need for "I agree"-comments.

you have to be careful with downvoting of new accounts, if they make a useless first comment and get heavily downvoted, the account will end up hellbanned, which is extremely frustrating for a new user.

Creating an account to post a useless comment does not bode well for the quality of that account's future contributions.

Exactly my thoughts.

"With great power comes great responsibility," etc.

Being from Britain, the term "Internet Defence League" just conjures up images of the "English Defense League" :/


Yeah, I don't live in Britain, but as a European, it still has some really bad connotations.

Being a graphic novel fan, I thought of The Avengers for the Internet

"He cites an idea that he attributes to Cheezburger Network chief executive Ben Huh, that every Internet user should have their legislators’ phone numbers saved on their cell phone and ready to use on a regular basis."

@jasonrr and I built a (free) app for this (http://shipordie.com/post/15463322294/contact-congress-talk-...). I can confirm that once you have your congress critters on your phone's speed dial, you wonder why this wasn't always the case.

Oh look, a more convenient way to commit slackivism! Now you don't even have to pay attention to what's going on in the world, just wait to receive an email with instructions!

I expected better from someone in his position. Why not use his influence to galvanize people into effecting change by getting involved in the political process? This slackivist crap isn't going to work every time a major bill is on the cusp of passing in either legislature.

Do we all really need to devote our entire lives to following bullshit politics?

Can't we just give some people we trust for now a little smite authority? Then when they see government colluding with big business to take away our liberties they hit the big red button?

In the meantime, is it really that evil for the rest of us to get back to our friends, families, hobbies, spiritual pursuits, and such?

I say this as a person who spends his non-working time watching political news shows... but that's because it interests me. Seems a shame that the default economical/political/internet framework isn't one that gravitates toward liberty and eschews those who try to grab power over our lives.

If one doesn't want to follow politics, one should not complain that people who do follow politics beat you at it and make it according to their interests. Somehow people have no trouble following latest exploits of some Hollywood starlets, latest developments of TV soap operas or the intimate details of the careers of their favorite sports personality, but when it comes to things that directly influence their lives, their prosperity and their liberty - they don't want to know shit, just give them some red button and let somebody else decide when to push it, anything more is demanding too much. That doesn't work if you want to have liberties. Society of free men can not be built by only delegating your civic responsibilities to somebody else. Otherwise pretty soon it would turn out you are not free anymore but completely dependent on those to whom you delegated your responsibilities.

> can not be built by only delegating your civic responsibilities to somebody else

I'm not suggesting we "only" delegate our civic responsibilities. I'm saying that every citizen shouldn't have to make politics his life's study and sole devotion in order to not get screwed out of his liberties.

Otherwise, our society's only point is to bicker endlessly about politics. What a sad society indeed.

"(s)elected representative" I believe is the traditional term here.

Power corrupts. Sad but true.

Maybe you're fine with other people dictating how you should think.

I'm not.

That's kind of inflammatory, don't you think?

Giving someone temporary authority to act in your interests based upon opinions they've expressed and behavior they've exhibited is hardly allowing them to dictate what I think.

We abdicate authority to people all the time: doctors, lawyers, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, weathermen, etc.

Extending a reasonable amount of trust to those who devote all their time to a particular subject isn't allowing other people to dictate how you think.

What's bad about using all available tools? Worked pretty well for SOPA/PIPA, the way I remember it.

It's more of a pet project than a start-up, so I don't imagine it will take up too much of his time. If it does, it's going to feel a little vain and put the people behind more in the centre than the cause.

Banging pots and pans by blacking out websites worked well the first time, it most likely will not a second time.

But then again, who knows. If it does galvanize enough people to call their representatives each time another SOPA comes along, then good I guess, for the time being? Regardless, it's only a tiny battle won in a war with no end in sight and can't be resolved through blacking out websites each time.

The blackout or 'bat signal' page can contain all the relevant information, reaching out to a lot more people. Many people would miss out on that page because of lazy webmasters.

A lot of politics is based on people not actually knowing what's happening. There's a reason the approval rating for Congress is so much lower than the approval rating for any individual congressman - people pay attention to a few major decisions which make the news, and that's it.

I'm glad the internet is finally taking advantage of their position to get average people informed about what's happening.

Honest question: Does calling your representative not count as getting involved?

Let me guess, you work for the RIAA...

It would be a more credible initiative without the insular, indignant reddit circle jerk attached to it. yaddyadda-Defense League? Bat-signal-in-the-shape-of-an-internet-cat? Really, take this seriously? No.

We are living in times where comic book movies dominate popular culture. It's a great and prudent way to engage younger people. You call it insular, but "serious" organizations such as the EFF already signed up for it.

By the way, the stalwart of free software named his pet project after an African antelope. Linux uses a penguin as a mascot, BSD a cartoon devil. Github has a cartoon "octocat", half octopus, half cat.

Piano cat plays. Prepare for battle, soldier. Evil is afoot!

I would like to suggest that he looks at how real immune systems [0] operate: layered, decentralized, innate and adaptive immunity, ... Some of these properties already conflict with the comments in this thread.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immune_system

Immune systems are also prone to serious problems - see autoimmune diseases, for example, or problems with transplants, organ donations, etc.

If he looks at his bat-signal is a synthetic immune system he'll be able to anticipate common pitfalls. I fear that in a few months/quarters the bat-signal will be gamed or beaten by a mechanism that could have easily be avoided. Meta-moderation, for example, is also a primitive immune system that is prone to auto-immunity issues.

On the conversion side seems like they should include a "What will the alert look like?" or let us know if we can customize the alert itself on the site up front.

I get why they're using the cat but lots of sites that I think would host this may be turned off by the format?

This seems ironic. In protest of internet censorship legislation (some of which intends to create an "internet kill-switch"), website owners can opt-into a system where their website can be temporarily blacked out (albeit, with a protest message).

That was the original point actually.

It was a way to make the dangers of the law immediately tangible to regular internet users.

If we instrument it ourselves, we can use it to galvanize action before its too late. Human nature and technology.

But I can also fully understand why other commenters here at HN have opinions about how Reddit builds community.

It's a common trope, and has been around forever:


Also, People vs Larry Flint: http://i.minus.com/ibfNdJy39bLELF.jpg

Interestingly, most of the items on that ISERP are internet-related.

My response (I'm signing swombat.com up to this "even though I'm not american"): http://swombat.com/2012/5/26/bat-signal

I think a better approach is killing core routers.

Governments won't listen to a few people whinging unless it costs them something.

It will cost them a lot if people cannot access their online services.

Footnote: ACTA is in fact older than SOPA.

Why link to Forbes and not the original source?

Because Forbes gives a lot of additional background and external validation to the story...

Why link to a story about the latest SpaceX exploits rather than directly to the SpaceX website?

All that will accomplish is to dumb people down even further. Automated activism, isn't activism. If you sign on without knowing specifically what you're fighting for in any given instance, all you've done is prostitute your voice.

Am I the only super-internet-nerd who hates cats?

Looks like he's giving them the finger! I assume not intentional but still funny.

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