28 May 2004 10 am est

Someone posted a comment on Joshua Kaufman’s unraveled blog, signed it “zeldman,” and included my URL. As far as anyone reading unraveled could tell, I was the author of that comment.

It is an easy and obvious prank to pull. Go to a blog, write a silly or offensive comment, and sign it Jakob Nielsen or Instapundit or Kottke. Voila: instant controversy.

Identity on the web is a gossamer construct, easily spoofed. With the unwitting help of Google, you could injure reputations in minutes by posting forged comments at heavily linked sites. Many sites encourage discussion; few have any way of verifying that you are who you say you are.

Sites could take Draconian measures to ensure the identity of every poster, but such measures would tend to discourage participation, and participation is their lifeblood.

Faked identity is not the only risk inherent in free and open online discussions. All kinds of behavior can reduce the effectiveness and pleasure of virtual conversations, as anyone who has ever stopped participating in a once-favorite discussion community can attest.

A few weeks back, the ALA staff considered asking the magazine’s readers to register before they could post a comment on any of our articles—and holding any registered reader’s initial comments until we had reviewed them.

We pondered taking these steps because a single ALA reader considered it his life’s mission to trash the magazine, respond insultingly to every other reader’s post, and conclude each of his comments with a link to his site in an attempt to gain traffic via ALA/Google network effects.

The guy’s behavior was annoying, but squeezing all our readers through the eye of a needle would have been even more detrimental to the site experience. We decided to ride it out and wait for him to settle down—which he did. He now contributes meaningfully to the magazine’s discussion forums.

The rules of netiquette beg to be broken. You could post in a children’s forum and sign Michael Jackson’s name. You could write a pro-Bush letter and sign it Michael Moore.

It’s not strange that a few people would amuse themselves this way.

What’s remarkable is that, despite the ease of achieving such pranks, few people indulge. The web depends on trust, and most people are worthy of it.

21 May 2004 11 am est

Another Friday, another scratching of the itch that is A List Apart, For People Who Make Websites. In this week’s double issue:

Onion Skinned Drop Shadows

by Brian Williams

Animators use onion skinning to render a snapshot of motion across time. Now, web designers can use this technique to create the truly extensible CSS-based drop shadow.

Print it Your Way

by Derek Featherstone

Because ALA’s readers are web users as well as designers and developers, we offer this tidbit from Derek Featherstone on creating user stylesheets to print articles to your own specifications.

Previously in The Daily Report...

CSS banners “fixed”
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A List Apart 181 + Digital Web
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Three favorites from the May 1st Reboot. These sites might stimulate your creativity.
Bug fix
IE5/Mac users, rejoice. How a single carriage return fixed 47 display errors.
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Now anyone, at virtually any experience level, can own and manage an attractive and standards-compliant personal site. With input from Adaptive Path and Stopdesign, Blogger reinvents itself (and we lend a hand).