43 Things goes Platinum!

April 27, 2007


Today we cross the 1,000,000 registered users mark. In album sales that’s a platinum record, an apt analogy as we often talk about Motown, Subpop and being in a band in relation to what we do here at the Co-op. 43 Things began as an experiment between friends with less than 10 registered users before the design polish (thank you 37 Signals) was in place. We simultaneously built the site while wrestling with the ever unfolding riddle “What Do You Want To Do With Your Life?”. I feel my life is richer for simply having entertained the question and look forward to finding another 1,000,000 users that have a similar desire to find their way through the art of self-directed self-improvement amongst friends. Cheers!

Fighting Spam With Neighborhood Watch

April 18, 2007

I thought I’d update folks on the progress of Neighborhood Watch and the state of spam on 43 Things. A little history is likely in order.

Neighborhood Watch was born when we realized that the vibrant internet community of 43 Things users working on goals and communing with one another in a non-commerical, non-spammy way was in jeopardy. Todd and I were spending our weekends closing hundreds of spam and commercial accounts. It started as a few per day and ended up being over a hundred a day and was on an ever increasing growth pattern. This became an unmanageable task and threatened to erode the spirit and community of the site. We even found a search engine optimization company (aimed at gaming internet search results) selling reports on how to spam 43 Things. This clearly had to stop.

In attacking a problem of this scale, we knew we’d have to turn to our community of users and a few automated tools. Enter Neighborhood Watch and automated spam-catching scripts such as Robotcop and Robotscout. Since Neighborhood Watch debuted, we’ve defeated more than 3,000 spam accounts set up to prey on 43 Things. We’ve also nuked a few dozen creeps and miscreants. Along the way, we’ve had just 2 errors – which happened to the same account. This problem was a result of another user misusing the tools, not a problem with the system itself. Since then, we’ve added additional controls to avoid user abuse of the tool.

Yesterday we ran into another error in the Robotcop and Robotscout spam-catching scripts. This error mistakenly flagged lots of good, long standing users. We fixed the bug this morning (although we do expect false positives to continue). But that error seems to have raised a number of questions, so here are some more details about Neighborhood Watch:

  • When a user is flagged in Neighborhood Watch, it is not a guilty sentence. Instead, Neighborhood Watch is designed to let the community vote on these things. So while upsetting that this bug flagged good users, the system worked in that not a single good account was suspended. Go team!
  • The system is not a simple thumbs up or down vote. It uses a voting algorithm coupled with voter reputation to determine whether or not to suspend accounts. Again, we’ve now suspended over 3,000 accounts with a very low error rate (1 account, wrongly suspended by another user).
  • The Neighborhood Watch tool allows a mistakenly suspended account to be quickly revived.

Hopefully this background frames how we arrived here and the overall benefit of Neighborhood Watch. Rolling out any new feature has some bumps and in this case we realize that these bumps were felt by many established users of the site. Sorry about that folks! I’d also like to thank everyone for helping make 43 Things a great place to improve your life and thanks for keeping the spam and creeps away from the site. We appreciate all your feedback.

Server Maintenance - April 15

April 14, 2007

The sites may be down periodically on Sunday April 15th from 12am – 1am-ish (Central time). Here’s the official word from our hosting company, Rackspace:

The window for this maintenance will be from 12:01 AM to 1:00 AM Central time on Sunday morning, April 15, 2007.

Rackspace will be performing upgrades and routine maintenance in the data center networking infrastructure. Due to this maintenance, there may be several brief interruptions of service while traffic fails over from one device to another. No maintenance will be performed on your specific devices but applications utilizing persistent TCP connections like SSH and RDP may lose connectivity to the internet during the traffic migration.

Hopefully it’ll go without many hiccups. Thanks for your patience.

Robots Love Robots

March 28, 2007

When I tell people I’m working for the Robot Co-op, sometimes they ask if we make robots. I’ve had to explain that we actually make websites, but we got our long-awaited Roomba yesterday, so now I can say we own one at least.

We put it together yesterday, watched it buzz around the office, chased each other with the remote control mode, and asked it to find its way home to its dock. Not to neglect the actual cleaning functionality, we programmed it to run early this morning. The first question we all asked when we came in was “how is the robot?” (answer: it got stuck on one side of the office because we forgot to turn on the Virtual Walls).

Looks like there’s competition for the title of Chief Janitorial Officer.

Welcome to City Hall

March 26, 2007

city hall

Today we launch City Hall, the newest enhancement to the 43 Things community. 43 Things is very much a community of the people, by the people, for the people and in that spirit City Hall is the place where the community gives back and keeps the spirit of the site in balance. We’ve tried to take some common features on community sites and make them more participatory. Here’s what City Hall has to offer:

How To Use 43 Things: where users can ask questions about the site and other users can help with their questions.

Community Guidelines: we wanted to clarify the rules of the road on 43 Things. Let us know if you have other suggestions for this area of the site.

Contact Us: a new form for contacting the Robots.

Neighborhood Watch: for users who have been around a while, a tool for voting on suspect accounts that have been reported as naughty by other users.

We are hoping that this is just a start to make it more obvious what drives 43 Things—it is you. The community here shares goals, writes entries, and cheers each other on, but now they can also report abuse, answer user’s questions, and vote on suspect accounts.

If you have other ideas for City Hall, let us know about them.

We support John Edwards!

March 22, 2007

Well, maybe that puts it too strongly. It isn’t that we are ready to throw our influential endorsement behind John Edwards but we do fully support his campaign’s use of 43 Things. You can see the John Edwards profile page on our site with a list of goals that reads like a political platform (well, actually, that platform doesn’t say much about alternative energy, Iraq, or North Korea, but it is a start). Not only can you see his goals, his Flickr stream shows what he’s up to on the campaign trail.

We never considered how your goals on 43 Things could become a platform to campaign on, but it actually works great. Best of all, limiting any politician to 43 goals is almost certainly a good idea. Instead of letting a politician be for everything, we ought to ask “What are your 43 Things?”

On this day, with the Edwards family in the news, we wish them our best. We hope for a cure and that Mrs. Edwards beats this thing once and for all. We hope too that we’ll see more candidates, from all parties and all levels of government, join 43 Things and make their goals public.

Picnik’s Piecoras pizza party proves particularly pleasing (plus Picnik paid)

March 21, 2007


P for Picnik! We had the gents from picnik over to the Co-op for pizza and conversation. Not only is this a razor smart bunch but the app they’ve developed is super duper fun and intuitive. I was able to whip Buster’s cameraphone photo into shape in a few short moments. As I’m artistically impaired with visual stuff, this photo example does not represent the true power of picnik. It was, however, fun to make. I even used the new “gooify” effect to stretch John’s stomach (in the red sweater). Picnik = free website for manipulating, saving and sharing your photos. Think simplified Photoshop for cheapskates and you’ll get the picture … or just give it a try.

Perhaps the best part of the lunch was that Picnik graciously won in credit card roulette and picked up the Piecoras’ pizza tab.

Laurel & Howdy

March 8, 2007

We’ve been five Robots for a while and it’s been a nice change of pace. But when we recently talked with Laurel about working at the Co-op it was immediately clear it was a match made in Robot heaven. A power user of the sites, an honest to goodness SDE with an Electrical and Computing Engineering degree (the rest of us are liberal arts majors … or simply street smart) and a believer in possibilities . What’s not to love? Howdy Laurel!

Laurel will be taking the title of “shortest walk to work” from me. I’m nine blocks and I believe she’s five. Go ahead and say ‘howdy’ to Laurel. Subscribe to her while you’re at it. Oh – this is a good time to mention that Laurel sits on a ball instead of a chair. Crazy jazz!

43 Email is working … and we can print

February 20, 2007

The last few days email was backed up (notifications, account verification, etc.). Apparently some spammer(s) had a few bogus email addresses that clogged up the pipes. The pipes are now clear and email is catching up. I think we’ll be back on track by the end of the day.

In other news, it’s a magical day at the Co-op. We installed a printer today! After 2+ years of no printer or fax machine we now have more than that: a printer/scanner/fax/copier. We don’t have a phone so faxing is still a thing of the future. If you’re curious, we’re using an HP Photosmart 3180. Things are looking up!

update: Josh has informed me that it’s actually not a fax machine. It’s simply a scanner/copier/printer. Faxing remains as elusive as ever.

Outage Tonight 12:30 AM PST

February 5, 2007

We’ll be taking the site down tonight to implement some database updates around 12:30 AM PST. Everything should be up and running smoothly again by 1:30 at the latest, but we’ll keep the blog updated if we encounter any nasty snags.

UPDATE (12:39 AM) : Sites are back up! If you’re still seeing the Scheduled Downtime page, try hitting Shift while reloading the page or clearing your browser’s page cache. Thanks folks.