A few of you may know I tend to jump into public hangouts from my mobile, this week as I was coming home I joined the G+ hangout dev teams hangout, I talked to them for about 10 minutes on my way home and told them I had a few ideas and observations I'd share when I had a chance to write. Here that is:
One of the main problem any open forum on the internet is trolls or disruptive users, hangouts are not exception.
When I first joined and realized there wasn't a moderation function I was pretty surprised. During the hangout with the developers I learned the reason behind this, that is creating an environment that promotes free, open and fair discussion. Commendable, but unfortunately it doesn't represent the reality of the situation. The harsh reality is that there will always be disruptive users often unintentionally
Got the dollar store microphone with the built in hum
Has a very loud mic with a loud environment
Doesn't realize we are hearing EVERYTHING
Is playing music
Have people in the room talking
Then comes the malicious users, those who knowingly disrupt if only to anger strangers in a strange land. Without the proper mechanisms, the trolls are winning in hangouts. Today I started 2 hangouts public. The first one, 5-6 people came in, 2 of them made so much noise the one person person I know left to open a new hangout. I joined that, within 10 minutes and 20 users later I abandoned it. Hangouts really NEED to be public without that, you're going to be preaching to the choir more often than not and you're not going to be utilizing the most attractive benefit - meeting new people.
Currently the only way to deal with this is for everyone in the room to block someone. I don't think this is conductive to developing a community
Blocks tend to be permanent, even for non malicious users, or a user new to hangouts that may not quite have a clear understanding of the environment.
Blocks leave the person in the hangout, unable to see if the others are talking. If the person doesn't voluntarily leave, you have at least 2 people prone to speaking over each other.
Blocks leave malicious users in the hangout allow them to use social engineering to disrupt the conference further. They can sit in the room blocking others, preventing them from re-entering the hangout and they mine the user names blocking them and preventing them from possibly entering in other rooms.
Anyone can block. The problem with this is that it turns over control over functionality to people who did not create the hangout. For example, I create hangout, Bob, Bill and Betty join. I'm friends with all of them yet Bill and Betty don't get along and Betty blocked Bill. She won't leave, neither will Bill and unless I block them both, Bob and I can't carry on a conversation since Bill and Betty will be talking over each other.
The block form leaves the user with the impression that google will take some for of action, which they may not. The overhead of reviewing block reports would be reduced.
The idea that a block is required by everyone is difficult to organize, resulting in one hangout I have joined that has a ready recorded message used as a cue to ask everyone to block someone. I understand that the blocking was to become 3 people in a room that blocked someone booted them from the room.
While that's going to be better than the current situation, in the 20 user hangout I was in today, we would have more time figuring out who was making noise and agreeing to block them than we would having a discussion. In the hangout today, I really only had one ally, so even this won't work.
Here's the problem, even if you made it so that just anyone could boot a troll, the trolls would simply join the room then leave. Even in moderated forums, jumping in and out of a room is often enough of a disruption to gratify the troll. I bet on slower computers, a stream of users joining and leaving would increase the cpu usage on the client system creating a frozen interface. Speculation, but I bet it could happen, it's happened to others. This problem affected Skypecasts and I've seen the hangout slow during multiple entries and would bet it could be done easy enough. ( I am running an 8 core machines with 16gb, someone entering slows the hangout for 2-3 seconds) The trolls are always going to find a way to disrupt regardless of what you'll do. No automated system is really possible and distracting the users for administration roles is a real detractor.
I mentioned I have been an administrator and developer for 20 years, I developed a mouse driven gui interfaced served by AIX for my universities mail system before MIT developed mosaic. I've worked on major networking projects and understand policy making and think I have a pretty good grasp on best practice.
My suggestions are:
Instead of blocking as the mechanism, /boot $time $message or /boot -ban $message
Booting stops the interference instantly, explains the problem and is temporary. The current system require you to select a reason and take your attention away from the hangout.
A boot + ban would be best for the hangout instance being abused and expire when the hangout ends, this doesn't require blocking yet prevent the user from joining and in IRC this process is well know for rehabilitating people.
I imagine that bans require extra processing time so minimizing them would be advantageous.
A hotlink to the users profile in chat would allow for users jumping in and out or truly deserving of a block be blocked even if they are not in the room ex post facto.
By providing the initiator of the hangout with the ability to moderate you are not limiting free speech or democratic discussions as they can not be programmed but are the result of fair leadership. I understand that the hangout team feels that having all users as equals prevents the role of a dictator, but it should be clear that MOST of the hangouts I join have a leader or a group of core individuals with a following.
The current situation doesn't actually promote free and fair speech since quite often one bad egg is enough the the likelihood of such an encounter on a public hangout is substantial.
True free and fair discussions will be the result of true moderators with rational attitudes. In every forum I have observed there has been people taking moderation roles for a wide range of reasons. Many of them do a poor job at promoting free exchanges of ideas but at the same time the users themselves will recognize this and certainly not fault Google. Good hosts will also appear and since these types of communications tend to form tight communities, these personalities will become known. A sort of free market for the exchange of ideas will form with the community recognizing quality hosts completely organically with no need to interfere.
This tendency was observed on the 3 years Skypecasts were available. The community quickly recognized branded conferences as consistently being quality and certain hosts as being democratic in the exchange of ideas.
I truly feel that hangout must be viewed somewhat as a separate community if at least in regards of active users. Skype had 60-100 million users, 25 million users online and yet Skypecasts only had 5000 users online at any given time. From observing hangout canopy, the current user group for hangouts is also relatively small in comparison to the total G+ subscriber base.
Certainly, Skypecast can not be directly compared to G+ hangouts. There where several critical issues that prevented Skypecast from becoming truly viable. As someone who developed with the Skype API and found several flaws, one of which eventually became partial reason for closing skypecasts I can can say many of the potential issues are not present in hangouts. Some of this was architecture related and other security flaws. I will be happy to explain in a private medium since Skype did not correct the issues after I presented them with the exploit and publishing it would feed trolls.
Since hangouts use a central host, scraping hangouts for IP addresses is not as easy as peer to peer conferencing systems like Skypecasts and others. However, I have observed trolls posting URLs to match profiles to IP addresses. A URL posted in the chat followed by a port scan seems to be the way IP addresses are being harvested, I haven't seen any other exploits attempted and this reflects quite well on the infrastructure's integrity.
I don't envision the suggestions above as being anything but a options during the creation and I certainly support the idea of unmoderated rooms and believe they a purpose to serve.
Some of the other suggestions I have are as follows,
Expand the chat window from collapsed automatically if someone is +mentioned in the chat.
Hotlink +mentions in the chat window
Create a “lecture mode” without the “bling” sound of someone entering and having new users muted on entry with only the moderator able to unmute someone. Once someone is unmuted by the host, they are free to mute and unmute themselves at will unless muted again by the host.
Create a push to talk option, with a keyboard hotkey
Present a user definable welcome message on the “check your hair” entry page that allows the host of the hangout to to convey information regarding the topic, protocol or format of the hangout.
Create a how-to video for new users. People don't seem to read anymore on the internet.
Make a I'm Feeling Lucky button that tosses users into a room with other users. When I mentioned this I was told that there is a listing of suggested hangouts. I feel this is a bit different since it eleminates the stigma of entering a room of people who might be discussion a certain topic or who may not like you. There are a lot of people who don't want to feel as if they are intruding on a conversation, tonight I heard one gentlemen say he always felt like he was eavesdropping when he comes into a room he wasn't invited to. Other users simply don't want to face a decision making process or simply enjoy the chance meeting. I heard some speculation that there might be patent infringement on chatroulette with something like this, but I don't think introducing a random conference is anything but “Too Obvious” as patent laws is concerned.
All in all I think hangouts are outstanding and represent a real value that has yet to be recognized by many of the G+ users, I think that success of the effort will be the result of the smallest details and most insignificant impressions of it's users. I wish you continued success and that you for the many hours I have used this exceptional creation.+Mat Langley +Chee Chew +Ridwaan Carregosa +martin shervington +Linda Dee +Peter G McDermott +Trey Ratcliff +George Doscher +Dan McDermott +Yifat Cohen +Hangout Conversations
(there are too many folks I'd like to hear what they thought to tag them all)