// Internet Duct Tape

Why Google Chrome Isn’t My Default Browser

Web Browser Tips & Tricks

Google Chrome has been public for all of about 30 minutes now. I am very impressed with how fast it downloads and installs, with almost no need for user prompts (except to close your web browser so it can import bookmarks/passwords). It’s fast as fast can be.

I can’t get over how fast it is. If you type “about:memory” into the address/search bar you’ll see a memory comparison between Chrome and any other web browsers you’re currently running. It uses so much less memory than Firefox.

Lifehacker has a good round-up of what’s “new” in Chrome, as well as ways to tweak Firefox to get the same features. But I can’t switch to Chrome because of my dependency on multiple profiles and my Firefox extensions.

Profiles?

Multiple profiles let me log into Gmail with different user accounts at the same time, and keep my browsing history and bookmarks separate from my girlfriend who shares the computer with me.

Heck, I keep my blogging related bookmarks separated from my Joe Public bookmarks for my day-to-day email, Facebook, and job related stuff so I can be more productive.

Plugins?

  • I can’t log into my accounts without Password Hasher. Not only do I not use the same password for every account, I don’t even KNOW my password for most accounts.
  • I don’t want to surf the web without Ad-block.
  • I’ve written so many custom Greasemonkey scripts that are unavailable on Chrome.
  • I don’t want to even think about doing any kind of web stuff without Firebug at my beck and call.
  • I’m missing my Delicious tag button for bookmarking.

RSS?

There doesn’t seem to be any RSS auto-discovery in Chrome. I hate how painful it is to subscribe to feeds in Google Reader using Internet Explorer, it looks like it’ll be even worse in Chrome.

Chrome looks very cool, but I think anyone who has been reading Lifehacker for the past few years is going to find they’re missing too much of what is “essential” to them. It’s really too bad, because I’d love to run some Greasemonkey scripts inside of Chrome with it’s better memory debugging. I’m hoping that one of the big brained Googlers figures out a way to transparently run Greasemonkey userscripts so we don’t have the same Firefox vs Opera vs Internet Explorer vs Safari development sinkhole.

On the other hand, Chrome might be the best thing ever for people who use Internet Explorer and aren’t co-dependent on all of Firefox’s wonderful extensions.

To Jott or Not To Jott

In my efforts to actually get off my ass and get things done, the Remember the Milk (RTM) to-do list software has been a life saver. Two weeks ago I decided to try out a bunch of 3rd party extensions to RTM like Jott.

Jott is a speech to text service. You call up a phone number, say something, and what you say will be emailed back to you (along with the voice message), send to a contact, or send to another service like Twitter or Remember the Milk.

My first experience testing the RTM integration blew my mind. I could call the number and say “job interview tomorrow at 9am” and it would show up in my Remember the Milk todo list as “job interview” with the due date set as tomorrow at 9am.

!!!

But all good things must come to an end, and after less than a week of trying out the free service (that admittedly, had been around for over a year before I tried it) Jott switched to a pay service. You can still record 15 second voice mails for free, but to get the Remember the Milk intergration will cost $4 a month (well, $3 a month if you were using the service while it was in beta).

Is it worth $40 to $50 a year worth it to be able to Jott my to-do list to Remember the Milk?

Judging by the way my girlfriend rolls her eyes every time I try to Jott something, the answer is no. When you add to the fact that I’m likely paying airtime fees when I Jott from my cellphone [1], then we’re talking around $150 a year for a service that isn’t even my main to-do list application.

It might be my cellphones fault, but often Jott would have trouble understanding me. Having to prefix my messages with “me” or “remember the milk” gets old fast when I have to say “remember the milk” five times before I can start recording. Why can we set up a speed dial hotkey for services so we can hit a number instead of saying a name?

One of my non-tech friends summed it up well when I tried to explain Jott to him over breakfast: “isn’t that something you can just do with an app running on your cellphone?” Yeah, or with a pen and a piece of paper.

Social Media — What is it Good For?

Posted in Technology, Web 2.0 and Social Media by engtech on July 24, 2008

Social Bookmarking and Social Voting

I took a three month break from blogging and social media sites so that I could focus 100% on a critical project at work. Strangely enough I didn’t miss the flow of information; I was still able to find interesting links for coffee break time by browing Hackers News. Here’s a break down of my experience from leaving for so long and rejoining it.

Blog

Blog traffic went down -26% (vs -12% for the previous period).

Feed subscriptions up 9% (vs 12% for the previous period).

My blog email address is inundated with press releases and the very occassional question about an old post or tool.

My blog comments are a horrible nightmare of spam that I still have yet to wade through. WordPress has an annoying bug that when you click “Mark As Spam” it always returns you to the start. There’s been 20 pages of comments. It’s likely that most are spam.

It makes me wonder how much time a day I was spending on blog maintenance. The time sink in blogging isn’t writing posts; it’s all the related activities.

News

Surprisingly, I didn’t miss out on much by not having my lips attached to the news firehouse. Some crazy PM is trying to put me in jail with a new Canadian copyright bill that someone needs to question him about how it benefits his constituents. The iPhone is finally available in Canada, and the data plan is almost-but-not-quite liveable. Facebook has a redesign in the works. Xbox has some cool ideas for release next fall.

I’m sure there were plenty of things happening that I could have gotten worked up about, but nothing happened that directly affects my life that I would have found out about on the Internet.

LinkedIn

I’ve had a strict policy of only using LinkedIn for people I’ve actually worked/went to university with, and it’s been a good tool for contacting ex-coworkers years later about new job opportunities. Spam free.

Facebook

I try to keep Facebook to “real life people only”, and that works well for me. I only use it for group emails, and for photo sharing. Spam free once you get rid of those people who invite you to use applications.

Google Reader

I’m oversubscribed still. When you check your RSS feeds once a month, it becomes much more about the people who consistently keep you thinking or providing good information. Of course, information is only useful if it has impact on your life.

We, the information overloaded, collect new information but I wonder how much of it is retained and has lasting impacting on our lives?

Twitter

I didn’t feel any pain of Twitter downtime because I didn’t log into it. I need to cull my friendslist to make it more useful. But I found Kathy Sierra on twitter and if that’s the real thing then it’s a good sign for twitter having the potential for making me think vs phasing it completely out of my life because of the constant self-promotion.

I still like twitter for chatting with other bloggers that I respect.

Friend Feed

Still not sure if I like rooms or not. The Friend Feed hacking community is kicking even harder lately with a ton of new greasemonkey scripts thanks to Hao Chen. It looks like Lou Cypher is getting involved in Friend Feed as well which means even more cool little hacks.

Nothing new has been happening with ffapps or friendfeedwatch though.

Delicious

It might be time for me to abandon delicious for something new to use for bookmarking. The future does not look peachy for delicious with Josh leaving Yahoo. Maybe it’s time to look at Google Reader shares as an alternative.

Last.FM

I’m still using it, still finding great music because of it. I do like The Filter for making lastfm-esque playlists of my own music collection.

Real Life

I’ve been enjoying the summer and having more time for family, friends and non-Internet hobbies like reading, movies, and games. I really appreciate the knowledge I’ve built up with the programming I’ve done. I plan to continue that in that direction: releasing useful free software and delving into creating my own web apps. I want to spend less time participating and more time creating.

Filtering Reddit and Hacker News

Posted in Firefox and Greasemonkey, Reddit, Technology by engtech on May 23, 2008

Social Bookmarking and Social Voting

Giles had a fantastic rant this week that cut to the heart of what’s wrong with all of these “social web application sites”:

People who waste their own time have, in effect, more votes than people who value it – to elevate bad but popular ideas and irretrievably sink independent thinking.

It’s analogous to what’s wrong with the entire massively online roleplaying game genre (eg: World of Warcraft) in that success is a greater factor of the time invested than of skill or talent. Many social web applications add extra features to keep the users interacting with the site, even if this interaction offers dubious value to their lives.

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Really Simple Syndication

Lifehacks and Productivity

What is RSS and what can it do for you?

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Lifestreaming 101 – Don’t Cross the Streams

Posted in Technology, Web 2.0 and Social Media by engtech on April 22, 2008

Social Software and You

History has a tendency to repeat itself, mostly because the inventors weren’t old enough to have been around the first time. Having a blog is the same as having a BBS twenty years earlier; using Twitter is the same as using IRC. Of course there are differences [1], but progress is built on the shoulders of giants.

Like how 2007 was the year of microblogging, 2008 is the year of lifestreaming. People are becoming more comfortable with the idea after learning to swim in Facebook’s pond [2], and they’re ready to start swimming into the raging rivers of the public Internet. But before these neophyte tadpoles start eating flies, there’s one thing they need to learn:

Don’t cross the streams.

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How to Import Your Twitter Contacts to Friend Feed

Posted in friendfeed, IDT Labs Software Development, Technology, Twitter by engtech on April 21, 2008

Social Software and You

I’ve commented before that Friend Feed makes for a really sweet Twitter client because of the way it threads replies and how easy it is to reply to another user. The only problem is trying to find all of your Twitter contacts on Friend Feed.

I’ve written a program that uses Google’s social graph to find the links between Twitter users and Friend Feed users. Download the program, run it, enter your passwords and watch it find and subscribe to all of your Tweeps on Friend Feed.

It keeps track of who it has added over time. If you unsubscribe from someone using the web interface, they won’t be added again by the program.

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Delete It – Tips for Managing Information Overload

Lifehacks and Productivity

We’re deep into the beginning of the Information Age, as you can see from the propagation of information aggregators like Google Reader and the meta-aggregators like Friend Feed. There’s only one tip for handling information saturation that has any success: delete it.

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Friend Feed Scripts: Unsubscribe, Who Are You and Better By Service

Posted in Firefox and Greasemonkey, friendfeed, Technology by engtech on April 10, 2008

Web Browser Tips & Tricks

It’s another week which means I have more Friend Feed scripts to share with you all.

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How to Get an RSS Feed for your XBOX 360 Gamertag

Hacking RSS with Yahoo Pipes

My geek want of the day is getting an RSS feed of my Xbox 360 game activity so that I can use it with lifestreaming services. For once I’m not the only person who feels this need. There’s at least two of us! :)

badger-tweet.png

I’m not sure why Microsoft doesn’t make an RSS feed of your Xbox Live activity available. The information is all there, they publish it as a gamercard. But they don’t give you access to the raw data to do with as you please unless you’re a member of the Xbox Community Developers Program. Here are the various ways you can access your Xbox 360 Gamercard to use with other websites.

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Greasemonkey Scripts: Friend Feed Auto-Pagerization, Resharing Links and Even More

Web Browser Tips & Tricks

It’s the last day of my week of Friend Feed and I have 5 more Greasemonkey scripts for you (for a total of 8). I think I’m done writing scripts for Friend Feed for the next little while. I might put together something for importing your Twitter contacts as friends (update: here it is) but if I wait long enough I’m sure they’ll do it as an official service.

As usual you’ll need Firefox and Greasemonkey to use these scripts.

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Greasemonkey Scripts: Friend Feed Twitter Client and Remove Visited Links

Web Browser Tips & Tricks

“Friend Feed” week seems to be continuing at IDT. But don’t worry, there’s a team of trained attack Bonobo monkeys prepared to take me into a dark alley and beat me up and make me suffer if I don’t stop talking about Friend Feed. What can I say? This is what it looks like when a web app gets people excited. I’ve put together two more Greasemonkey scripts to add features I want in Friend Feed.

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Crunching the Friend Feed Stats to Find the Most Popular Web Apps

Posted in friendfeed, Technology, Web 2.0 and Social Media by engtech on March 26, 2008

Social Bookmarking and Social Voting

One of the nicest things about the Internet is that if you sit on your ass for long enough, someone will code up whatever little side project you’re thinking about starting. In my case, I was interested in finding out general statistics about Friend Feed as a tape measure of how popular certain social bookmarking sites are. Enter Friend Feed Stats. Thank you, lazyweb.

What Is the Most Popular Web Service?

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Greasemonkey Script: Filter FriendFeed by Service

Web Browser Tips & Tricks

I’ve sipped the Kool Aid and I’m really liking Friend Feed as a lifestreaming aggregator. One feature that is a bit hard to find is filtering by individual services. I’ve created a Greasemonkey script that sticks a huge bar of icons at the top of the page to make this accessible.

  • It remembers the context you’re in.
    • If you’re browsing within friends, then clicking on the icons will filter by that service on your friends.
    • If you’re browsing within a specific user, then clicking on the icons will filter by that service on that person.
    • If you’re browsing the public timeline, then clicking on the icons will filter by that service for the public timeline.
  • It returns 100 results per page instead of 30.
  • It will automatically update itself if I update the script.

Let me know if you have any problems in the comments.

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The Fragmentation of Identity and Discussion

Connect with your readers

I’m a social web app junkie. Where most people use a few on a regular basis as a consumer and only a couple as a producer I am an active user on far too many sites. I’m not a beta junkie to the point where I try out every web service (especially not the ones spamming my blog contact email), but I do try out more than my fair share and manage to get involved before they reach the tipping point (like Friend Feed is reaching now).

The sheer amount of web apps out there leads to fragmentization of our online identities, but that isn’t a bad thing. The people who read my blog aren’t necessarily people I’m interested in talking to on Twitter, and none of us might share the same taste in music on Last.FM. For a while there I was talking about the Ruby programming language like crazy on this blog, but now I’m using a niche tumbleblog so that I can post more often on that specific technical subject without alienating my existing audience.

But it isn’t only our online identities that are fragmenting: it’s also the discussion around content. Once upon a time the way someone would comment on something you wrote would be to write a blog post of their own in response. Then blogs got a comment section and people could write what they had to say directly on the post. Now the discussion around a post has completely fragmented: people are saying stuff about your content on Twitter, Delicious, StumbleUpon, Digg, Reddit, Facebook… pretty much anywhere except for the post where you originally wrote it.

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Building an RSS Templating System

Hacking RSS with Yahoo Pipes

The blog posts might have been slow lately, but that’s only because there’s been an accumulation of interesting projects piling up on my hard drive. Here’s a few things that are in the pipe (which I’m talking about to stop my procrastination and force me to release them):

  • Sandbox Theme for Tumblr so that you can use Sandbox CSS themes on tumblr.com
  • Tumblr Theme Templates to make it easier to develop themes for tumblr.com without having to upload your theme to tumblr.com
  • Tumblr automatic backup + restore
  • WordPress.com automatic backup
  • Twitter There Will Be Followers – program to automatically follow back anyone who is following you on Twitter
  • PostMaster html2blog – automatically post formatted HTML to Tumblr, Blogger or WordPress
  • rss2html – powerful templating system for converting an RSS feed into HTML

It’s the last one I want to talk about. I’ve gotten tired of using Yahoo Pipes + Pipe Cleaner to build digest posts. It’s kind of a pain in the butt. So I want something that can take an rss feed, convert it to html so that I can use another program for automatically posting it to the blog. I’m not going the plugin route because of WordPress.com’s inability to support javascript or PHP plugins.

This is what I’ve come up with.

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How to Explain RSS to Normal People – 2008 Edition

Posted in Building a Community, Facebook, Humor, RSS Syndication, Ruby, Technology by engtech on February 28, 2008

Social Software and You

As a geek who enjoys spending too much time on the internet, I like RSS almost as much as delicious toast. As a blogger, RSS is the shiznitz because it lets you consume a lot more information and it makes it easier for other people to read your blog without having to drop by every few days to see if you’ve written something new.

For something so useful, it’s pretty hard to explain why people should use RSS. Lots of people try to do it. This is my take on it. It’s 2008 and explaining RSS should be much simpler because if you’ve used Facebook, then you’ve used RSS.

RSS for Normal People (who use Facebook)

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Book Review: Everyware by Adam Greenfield

Posted in Book Reviews, Software, Technology, Web 2.0 and Social Media by engtech on February 11, 2008

Book Reviews

Adam Greenfield is a writer, NYC-based consultant, and professor at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunication Program. He’s also the guy who coined the term “moblogging” for blogging from your cellphone. He’s got a knack for inventing terms because “everyware” is such a simpler name than unicomp or “ubiquitous computing” that is used more often. This book is about the future, when software will be everywhere in our consumer electronic devices. It also touches on the other side of continuously connected devices and the social networking phenomenon.

The book is set up as a series of short essays (1-3 pages) on different aspects of the emerging future of consumer electronics. I’m a cynic when it comes to the subject — just look at the Yahoo Answers forum for iPods to see the problems real people have with what is arguably one of the best designed devices of modern times — and I found myself violently disagreeing with Greenfield within the first few pages of the book. But that was only because he begins with the promise of everyware before he delves into the harsh reality.

everyware ubicompHis conclusion is one we can all take to heart: technology doesn’t seem to improve the fundamental things that bring us joy in life. From start to finish he covers what ubicomp could be, to what it will likely be and all of the design issues in between. While I didn’t find myself learning very many new things, the book did a great job of stimulating thought. Everyware won’t give you any answers, but it will lead you to many questions which might be a better gift in the long run.

Footnote: I have to agree with the author that the printing company did a bad job of presenting everywhere. The book is missing a bibliography (that Adam Greenfield has since added to the online website), the cover art is too subtle to express what the book is about and the chosen font seems more appropriate to emails from my mom than a printed book.

Yahoo Pipe: Sub-Reddit Feed Filter

Posted in Delicious, Reddit, Ruby on Rails, Technology, Yahoo Pipes by engtech on January 28, 2008

Hacking RSS with Yahoo Pipes

Popular social bookmarking site Reddit has announced a great new feature: users can create their own sub-reddit. What does this mean in English? Users and communities can create their own social bookmarking sites around specific topics: blogging, wordpress, specific programming languages, etc but still use their regular reddit account for submitting links and voting.

You can see a full list of all the new reddits here, sorted by popularity. Of particular interest to me is the new Reddit created for Ruby/Rails related posts.

Of course, it’d be nice to be able to subscribe to a filtered version of these links. I’ve created a modified version of Dave S‘s “reddit popular on delicious” Yahoo Pipe that works with Sub-reddits.

  1. Click on the link
  2. Enter the name of the sub-reddit you’re interested in
  3. Enter the minimum number of saves on a delicious before a link is included in the feed
  4. Enter keyword inclusion/exclusion filters if you want to limit what you get
    • ie: include only rails-related posts or exclude all rails-related posts
  5. Click Run
  6. Click on the subscribe to RSS button

I’m using the Ruby sub-reddit as an example, but this is a great way to track links based around any topic there is a sub-reddit for. Even lolcats.

I’m looking forward to when this Reddit feature comes out of beta and it’s possible to create a few new sub-reddits like blogging, wordpress and lifehacks.

Related Posts

Online Survival Guide: 9 Tips for Dealing with Idiots on the Internet

Social Software and You

My first experience with online communication was bulletin board systems in the early 90s. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The experience of running a blog is almost exactly the same as it was running a BBS 15 years ago. The only difference is the sheer number of channels available for communication.

Where there was once up to 100 to 200 local BBSes there are now so many online forums for communication that it might as well be infinite., New forums for communication are being created all the time. Mainstream sites like the New York Times let you comment on articles, and each person has their own discussion forum thanks to sites like Facebook and MySpace.

“When I was involved in the BBS/IRC scene as a teenager I was surrounded by flame wars; one-upmanship was part of the attraction. I thought it was because of the immaturity of the participants, but now I think it is a natural offshoot of digital communication. We lose all the visual and auditory cues that are a normal part of human dialog and instead focus on words that can be easy to misinterpret (especially if looking for a reason to fight).” quoting myself

Winter is one of the worst for flame wars because environmental conditions make people more irritable and more likely to spend more time online. Here are some tips for navigating online discussions from someone who has been participating and managing public forums for over 15 years.

Tips for Administrators

Tip #1: Disemvowel

From Wikipedia: “In the fields of Internet discussion and forum moderation, disemvoweling is the removal of vowels from text either as a method of self-censorship, or as a technique by forum moderators to censor Internet trolling and other unwanted posting. When used by a forum moderator, the net effect of disemvowelling text is to render it illegible or legible only through significant cognitive effort.

Xeni Jardin, co-editor of Boing Boing says of the practice, “the dialogue stays, but the misanthrope looks ridiculous, and the emotional sting is neutralized.”

This original sentence:

In the fields of Internet discussion and forum moderation, disemvoweling (also spelled disemvowelling) is the removal of vowels from text.

would be disemvowelled to look like this:

n th flds f ntrnt dscssn nd frm mdrtn, Dsmvwlng (ls splld dsmvwllng) s th rmvl f vwls frm txt.”

You can disemvowel any text using this tool. There is also a Firefox extension that lets you disemvowel comments if you’re a WordPress administrator. The same guy has a Firefox extension for handling religious trolls.

Tip #2: Temporarily disable comments for that post

This works well if you’ve been linked to from another site and it’s bringing a lot of tolls (IE: Digg, Slashdot). You can turn the comments on after a day or two without having to wade through the 100+ comments telling you how much of an idiot you are because they don’t agree with some minor minutiae of your argument.

Tip #3: Take the discussion to email

Nothing kills a flame war like removing the audience.

Quoting myself: “There is a different between scrawling messages on a public site and having a one on one conversation. The flame wars that are routine on some sites rarely exist in personal email. People stop being disembodied words and ideas and you remember that there is a person behind all of that typing.”

Comment Ninja is a handy Firefox extension for WordPress blog administrators that makes it easy to respond to commenters on your blog by email.

Tip #4: Never post personal information

Because you are an administrator, you have access to a commenters email address and their IP address. This information is usually enough to find out anything else you want to about who they are. (IE: put their email address into Facebook to find their real name, use their IP address to find out where they work)

It can be tempting to deal with a troll by removing their anonymity, but making it personal can change a one time nuisance into someone with a grudge that won’t go away.

Tips for Anyone

Tip #5: Let it stew

If something really gets your goat, then sit on it. Come back and re-read what bothered you later on and you may find that you were reading between the lines and interpreting an emotional undertone that isn’t there. The human mind is great at adding missing context, but it can also trick you into reading what you want to believe.

Revisiting something that filled you with rage days latter can leave you scratching your head trying to find what it was that pulled your chain.

Tip #6: Leave it where you found it

As I said earlier, it is ridiculously easy to collect personal identifying information about someone and find other parts of their online identity. Other than bringing a public argument to a private means of communication, you should leave the argument where you found it. Letting it spill over to other websites, or worse, following the person on to other aspects of their online identity makes you look like a stalker or a crazy person.

It doesn’t matter how justified you feel your actions are, the simple act of not being able to let go of things hurts your credibility.

Tip #7: Social proof is important

No matter how well reasoned your argument is, trying to convince someone of something they vehemently disbelieve in is next to impossible when they don’t know you from a hole in the wall.

From Wikipedia: “Social proof, also known as informational social influence, is a psychological phenomenon that occurs in ambiguous social situations when people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior. Making the assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation, they will deem the behavior of others as appropriate or better informed.”

Every online forum is an ambiguous social situation because you don’t know who you are communicating with. The social proof of who you are in that community will play a bigger role than your actual argument.

Tip #8: Always let a fool have the last word

Slant Six Creative covers this in depth: “Healthy argument and debate only work when everyone’s a willing participant, and no amount of reason or good sense is going to convince someone whose only goal is to throw a monkey wrench. At the same time, trying to dismiss that person or shut him up will usually just make him go that much harder. That and it makes you look like a dictator, which you never want to be.

So, give him the last word on the point and move on. Doing so might mean a short-term hit to your pride, but in the long run it helps you build credibility with the people you’re really trying to talk to.”

Tip #9: Walk away

Communicating online has some clear benefits because you can take as much time as you want to develop your arguments and it is easy to re-read past points without falling into a rehashing of who said what. But it can also be time consuming and pointless when there is no resolution in sight. There’s a big difference between debating a subject and a flame war in the emotional response you feel and the benefit you get from the discussion. The only way you can win a flame war is by turning off the computer and getting on with your life.

Online discussion is easily archived and searchable, so who knows if this discussion will be dredged up years later. Is it really worth it?

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