May 23, 2009


Yesterday I was telling my graduate medical students about a very unfortunate administrative SNAFU.
When I booked my forthcoming holiday (back in January), it started after this semester finished. I discovered only yesterday that the University had changed the academic calendar since then, and to my great distress I now find I will miss the last 2 weeks of tutorials, which is very unfair for the students, who will have to have a fill-in tutor leading up to the exams.

I was being so apologetic that it took me a while to notice the puzzled faces. It turned out they had no idea what I meant by SNAFU. I then tried them on FUBAR - same incomprehension. What a gap in their knowledge!

So the tutorial on bone cancer was briefly delayed while I explained these extremely useful acronyms. I was pleased to see a couple of them taking careful notes, because they will soon be working in SNAFU-rich public hospitals.

For readers similarly bemused by the terms, I can't do better than point to the Wikipedia article for an explanation. I particularly like this prim comment:
"It is sometimes bowdlerized to "Situation Normal: All Fouled Up" or similar, in circumstances where profanity is discouraged or censored."
Indeed, but the original version is far more descriptive.

The article on FUBAR is shorter but no less instructive, and as usual leads to all sorts of unexpected discoveries, like a very clever parody called The SNAFU Principle, which will ring bells with anyone involved with large organisations, particularly those with a number of different "management" levels. Here are the first and last verses, to give you the idea:
"In the beginning was the plan,
and then the specification;
And the plan was without form,
and the specification was void.

And darkness
was on the faces of the implementors thereof;
And they spake unto their leader,
“It is a crock of shit,
and smells as of a sewer.”
"And so it was that the general manager rejoiced
and delivered the good news unto the Vice President.
“It promoteth growth,
and it is very powerful.”

The Vice President rushed to the President's side,
and joyously exclaimed:
“This powerful new software product
will promote the growth of the company!”

And the President looked upon the product,
and saw that it was very good."

Of course I can't end this post without the obligatory reference to DMOZ/ODP, which fills all the criteria for a fertile SNAFU breeding ground: it has a vast community of volunteer editors doing the actual work on the directory, and a small, largely absent, and determinedly out-of-touch management team. Communication between the two groups is sporadic, and rife with misunderstandings due to the very different priorities involved. Every now and then a brave editor will try to point out some of the more damaging "foul-ups", but such impertinence is poorly received, and no changes ever result, despite a bewildering procession of New Staff Members who arrive with great fanfare, announce all sorts of improvements, and then vanish without a trace.
SNAFU, for sure, but at least it keeps going. I only hope it doesn't decline further into FUBAR.

May 11, 2009

DMOZ Editor Corruption Shock

We interrupt this blog to bring you the latest news from the Open Directory Project, where thousands of volunteers from all over the world spend their own time helping to make the internet a little more useable.
Or so they claim.

But in news just to hand, it appears that all these so-called "editors" are actually engaged in a systematic attempt to undermine civilisation as we know it!

So who are these "editors", exactly?
Masquerading as slightly obsessed and order-loving hobbyists, they meet in darkened forums and pass secret messages to each other using codenames and an indecipherable language, including arcane words such as "catmv", "reorg", "keditall" and "meta". This last term used to carry all sorts of fearful connotations, calling up images of big sticks, slashed permissions, and super-secret cabals.
But bureaucracy has extended its grip even into the subterranean caverns of DMOZ, and metas are now no more awesome than the average middle manager. Instead, a new overclass has emerged in recent years ... the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful Admin, although for reasons which are poorly understood, they seem to have some sort of inbuilt regulatory system which continuously limits their numbers, regardless of new additions.

OK, so what's all this "corruption" about?
Well, this is the really scary part ... nobody actually seems to know for sure, but it definitely happens. A lot!
Oh yes, it does, because lots of people say it does, and they wouldn't lie, would they?

Besides, you can read it all over the internet, which is further proof that it must be true!

According to these "reliable sources", most editors are getting paid by webmasters who are understandably anxious to have their sites included in this prestigious directory, even though the DMOZ Social Contract promises that there will never be any charge.

All these corrupt editors are apparently making an absolute fortune by selling something which is actually free, and what's more they are managing to do it without ever being caught!
Hundreds and hundreds of them!
For years and years!

Hang on, that doesn't sound possible!
Well no, you are quite right. Of course it's not possible.

For a start, there are strict guidelines about editorial Conflict of Interest, and any volunteer found to be requesting or accepting payment will instantly and permanently lose their account. One bribe, and you're out. No second chances.

Secondly, any webmaster who tries to bribe an editor risks having all his sites permanently banned from listing in the directory - hardly worth the risk of even trying to pay for something which is already free.

Thirdly, there is a prominent link on every DMOZ category page called "Report Abuse", so that anyone can report any breach of the ODP policies and guidelines (with the necessary evidence, of course). Needless to say, the people so stridently claiming abuse never have enough evidence to submit such a report.

Fourthly, many of the more experienced editors have excellent detective skills and a passion for finding the occasional "bad egg" that inevitably shows up in a large community.

And finally, it is clear that some of the more hysterical and slanderous claims made about widespread DMOZ corruption come from the following groups:
  • former editors who have previously lost their own accounts due to abusing their positions
  • webmasters who have tried and failed to bribe an editor, and who are therefore bitterly disappointed
  • owners of websites which do not meet the criteria for listing and therefore blame DMOZ for having high standards.
A credible bunch, to be sure. They probably have some unclaimed lottery winnings they'd like to discuss with you too.

ADDED in March 2011: Before you click the Comment button, please read this post. Thank you.


Related Posts with Thumbnails