[eDebate] archive deletion debate

Ryan Bach solistus
Thu Apr 3 12:55:56 CDT 2008

I read up to Korcok's gold star post and stopped.  If any of this has already been said, I apologise, but I don't have all afternoon to follow an edebate argument.

As a techie, I think a few things ought to be commented on:

1. It is pretty difficult to get rid of something that's on Google.  Simply removing the original post won't get rid of Google's cache of the page.  This occasionally happens quickly, but can sometimes take months, even years.  This doesn't really have much of a bearing on how we choose to deal with problem posts, except to bear in mind that there is no perfect, immediate solution.  Think before you post.

2. Charging for something like this doesn't make much sense.  In IT, the way you deal with problems that may reoccur is not to pay a bunch of money every time, but to streamline and automate the process.  Also, what if someone can't afford to drop a few hundred dollars to erase some edebate messages?  Maybe those at high-powered and image-conscious law firms scoff at $50 a post, but many of us are, well, college students.  If Kerpen isn't willing to do this for free, I bet someone else is.  Kerpen has done an excellent job thus far, BECAUSE HE HAS RUN THIS LISTSERV FOR FREE.  If we're going to start paying for edebate, we could pay Kerpen or someone else a small fee to run the whole thing rather than charging for every post that needs to be removed.  Hell, if this is supposed to be a free market solution, I'll set up a listserv and delete posts for only $40!  What a steal.

3. Someone said a tech pro doing anything for $50 is a gift.  This is silly.  If we were talking about building a website, or doing custom graphics work, or, you know, something that's difficult, this may be true.  Removing a post from an archive is the tech equivalent of stamping a form.  Would you pay $50 for someone to sign for you on the dotted line, just because a handful of other people might make the same request each year and that would be "unreasonable" to expect for free?

3. Building on that, an easy solution would be to build in a new option to the user configuration page (the place you set your password, digest option, etc.) to remove posts by that user.  I don't know how Mailman (the listserv software eDebate uses) is set up, but in most modern web apps, something like this should not be that difficult.

Kerpen - what's the code written in?  If it's PHP, I would be glad to volunteer to try to implement a feature like this.  If it's not, what's the data stored in?  If it's database-driven with something like MySQL, I might be able to write a PHP script not attached to Mailman that could manipulate the archive database directly.  

This is a simple technical problem and should have a simple technical solution.  I'm a little surprised/amused that a community of people who pride themselves on logical argumentation have been debating about creating a per-use fee to do something as simple as to manage previous posts on a listserv.

Finally, if we can't find a easy solution to this problem, here's an idea: why not replace eDebate with a full-featured forum?  Most people I know use eDebate's online archive, not daily or per-message email delivery.  Unless a lot of people are really attached to receiving all eDebate postings as email rather than at a website, forums offer far more features and would make things like this trivially easy - you could simply edit your previous posts.  Also, we could have moderators with varying degrees of authority to make edits in cases where, for example, another party posted something compromising about you.

Also, whether we make any of these changes or not, why not just put a nobots.txt in place to prevent archiving of eDebate by Google at all?  What's the benefit to having the archives on Google?

--Ryan Bach, UofR debate

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