Christopher B. Browne's Home Page

3. Why Filter?

3.1. Spam

Spam is "legally" the name of a pressed meat product sold by Hormel Foods. Folks that survived on the George Hormel "pressed meat product" during World War II may have special feelings for this product.

As used on the Internet, Spam takes its origins from the Monty Python "Spam" sketch, where people are told that they need to have some "Spam" whether it relates to what they want or not. Excite search for +Monty +Python +Spam

Spam is the term generally used for undesired or otherwise irrelevant mail and/or news that is "carbon copied" in profligate fashion to enormous numbers of users or news groups. "Spammers" consider this activity to be "valuable marketing." Most of the rest of us recipients consider this rather to be very annoying. I don't buy from "spammers," and encourage others to refrain from supporting their actions too.

It describes messages posted gratuitously across many newsgroups that are irrelevant. The typical news server is getting filled up with undesirable messages relating to:

3.2. Flame Wars

Mostly seen in news; as soon as a discussion touches any of the following topics, discussion degrades instantly:

Most of these issues are not of particular "personal" importance to me. I've used every one of the languages listed, and have no problem with someone preferring to use a particular one.

But some peoples' preferences are based primarily on some personal bias. They should add in the following "disclaimer" at the bottom of their postings: " ...and hence I'm right in my opinion that xyzzy is the best. Anyone who disagrees with me is obviously a know-nothing idiot with **** for brains..."

Watching a vigorous "flame" thread can sometimes be quite cathartic, but it's not valuable in providing useful information.

You may have the correct and rational answer to one of these issues. THAT DOESN'T MATTER THE SLIGHTEST BIT. All rational thought will be lost in the flames.

A common convention is that discussion stops upon the first mention of Adolf Hitler or Nazis. See Godwin's Law on the mention of Hitler on the Internet

I used to keep a copy of William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich close at hand at home so I that could make correct statements about Nazi policies and claims rather than the puerile and irrelevant comparisons people typically make. Suffice it to say that there aren't many city councillors or software developers who have set up policies involving the deaths of millions of people...

A most appropriate quote I recently saw: "There are parallels to be drawn between the FSF/GNU/Linux and Marxism, but if you've shown one thing clearly by your post, it is that even the mention of Marx is too politically charged to allow any such parallels to be profitably discussed. "

Rewriting this as a generic template: "There are parallels to be drawn between Foo and Bar, but if you've shown one thing clearly by your post, it is that even the mention of Bar is too politically charged to allow any such parallels to be profitably discussed. "

Things that can reasonably be filled in as substitutions for Bar would include:

Note also the essay How should I react to crackpot messages? This is a discussion of how to deal with "crackpots" on Usenet.

The author assumes that certain sorts of beliefs are "crackpot beliefs," which some might consider controversial, should you happen to regard some of those beliefs differently. But the suggestions of how one might try to react seem quite sound, the essence of the matter being Don't feed the Troll.

There are indeed topics on which attempting rational discussion has proven futile on a forum like Usenet; notable examples would be The Abortion Debate, cosmology, numerology, and a wide variety of other "counter-scientific" theories. There are also people that have peculiar positions on taxation and legal theory (commonly leading to conspiracy theories involving Evil International Jewish Bankers) where rational arguments seem futile.

The critical point here is not that it is inherently impossible for people to have rational arguments that happen to differ; the point is, instead, that it is futile to pursue rational arguments on such matters on Usenet.

3.3. Trolling

There are people that either innocently or in a desire to start a fight make rash statements/claims that result in great controversy with little useful dialogue. This is normally called trolling. "Heh, heh! If I ask the right dumb question about some bug in MacOS and crosspost to some a mixture of Linux, MS-Windows, and Macintosh newsgroups, I can get 20 people to flame me publicly, and then 500 people will flame them. I'm a K00L D00D, aren't I?"

It may cause a certain kind of entertainment, but isn't terribly "k00l," and certainly isn't useful at communicating useful information.

3.4. Uninteresting News

Spam and flames eliminated, we're still left with a lot of uninteresting news to go through. With millions of possible participants, someone is likely to say something:

3.5. Ill-directed Discussions

Sometimes the entrance of newcomers can disrupt ongoing discussions, particularly when the discussions are highly directed towards action.

For instance, discussions on Linux newsgroups concerning the continuing development of improved C libraries (GLIBC ) were plagued by the repetitive rehashing of issues by newcomers, along with the flaring of politicized opinions. The technical facts about GLIBC have proven to be relatively unimportant in the flaming/discussions.

Discussion that actually matters has moved to mailing lists so as to avoid anything that doesn't relate to how the code is being written.

Kent Pitman (of Common Lisp fame) has written an essay on Why Crossposting is Generally a Disaster

The basic thesis is that crossposting exposes posts to the union of the respective sets of newsgroup readers; it is only the intersection of those sets, that surely represents a minority, that represents interested readers. Thus the vast majority of readers aren't interested in the crossposted articles, and if they misunderstand the cross-disciplinary discussion by directing it towards their preferences, discussions degrade.

3.6. The Classification Problem

I also have large quantities of desirable email to wade through:

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