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Adding a Dash of Anonymity

Added by Dominic DeMarco , last edited by Dominic DeMarco on Jun 09, 2011 19:21

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Prior to joining PIUG, I watched the PIUG discussion forum for a number of years.  What caused me to finally pay the nominal fee to join PIUG was the openness of the forum and access to a talented group of peers.  Questions were asked in ignorance and answers were provided by knowledgeable PIUG members.  This openness seems to be missing from the wiki.

I know some of the root causes for this lack of dialog (corporate posting policy, permanence of the postings, lack of time, keeping a competitive advantage, etc.).  I will freely admit that my employees do not post for fear of giving our firm a bad name.  For all of us, our professional image is very important and hiding our faults is sometimes a crucial part of that.

All Blogs and Discussion Forums run into the same problems with regard to openness.  Allowing fully anonymous postings leads to 'flame wars' by the lowest common denominator.  But allowing only named members carefully protecting their images leads to a graveyard.

I would like to suggest a middle ground.  I would like to have anonymous posting available to registered PIUG members within the PIUG wiki.

To implement this, we could create a number of user names (Anon User 1, Anon User 2, etc.) that would have wiki log-in information accessible only via the members-only portion of the wiki.  (I've quizzed Tom Wolff about this and without giving approval or disapproval to the idea; he admitted it was technically feasible.)

With the user name and password known, a normally logged in PIUG member could log out of their normal account and log in as Anon User X.  This would allow them to post questions, reply to a thread, and generally say things that would otherwise not be written (for better or worse).

To keep things in control and to keep the log-in and password from being posted for non-members, we could change the password once every week or two.

Is this something that would stimulate discussions on the wiki?  Please let me/us know if this would encourage participation.

Dominic

Examples of possible posts lending themselves to anonymity:  A vendor viewpoint on the Ric V diatribe, the inside scoop on the IRF funding issue, user questions about tools answered by other users, discussions of ideas seen in meeting presentations, and heated discussion on certification and training.




  1. Jun 09, 2011

    Hi Dominic,

    I agree with you.  The ability to post anonymously would be very helpful to me.  Thanks for suggesting it.

  2. Jun 09, 2011

    As a founding but admittedly "fringe" member of PIUG, I also have been disappointed with the apparent trend toward many PIUG discussions withdrawing into corporate shells of protection.  I know that tensions between speaking for the "company" and speaking as an individual information/patent professional have been with us ever since the founding of PIUG (and even before).  When I still worked for someone else 8-5 (and then some) I recall being cautioned by one of my company's patent attroneys (who happened to be an undergraduate classmate in chemistry) that my views on "universal" patents (termed "Nasties" by some at Derwent) should be labeled as my opinions and not those of my employer (I termed them "Morrison and Boyd" patents becasue they often claimed every type of compound and substituent covered in the famous Organic textbook series).  Since I've been self employed for 17 years, I haven't had that problem.

    Last year, I was especially concerned with views expressed by some, after consulting their corporate legal departments, that lunch table topic discussions should be restricted at PIUG meetings since such discussions could be construed as subject to anti-trust regulations (one of the bugaboos that almost thwarted the establishment of PIUG in the first place).  I noted with regret that there was no mention of lunch table topic discussions at this year's PIUG meeting.  If there were any, did they have to be held in secret? 

    I appreciate the need for coporate security and mis-attribution of individual statements to the corporation, but this can provide Draconian oppression to the individual professional.  After all, for decades the Gordon Conferences have, by means of not publishing proceedings of presentations, successfully operated under a partial policy of "What's said at the Gordon Conference stays at the Grordon Conference".  It works for them, why not for us.

    I haven't been to a PIUG meeting in a few years (and have probably been to my last).  Therefore, I look forward to open discussions in PIUG media which do indeed seem to be decreasing.  If this proposal would bring earnest and knowledgable members and their valued contributions out from the woodwork, I'm all for it. 

    Meanwhile, if anyone wishes to communicate any clandestine "gossip" from the meeting, please contact me personally at buntrock16@myfairpoint.net .  I promise security of our personal communications.

    1. Jun 09, 2011

      Hi Bob

      Roundtable discussions were held at the PIUG NE meeting in 2010 and I'm pretty sure we are planning to do them again this year.  I will be publishing the call for papers soon, together with a call for discussion topics, and I look forward to receiving ideas from everyone.   

      Lucy Akers, Chair, Program Committee PIUG NE 2011 Conference

    2. Jun 09, 2011

      I'm sure that the program committee omitted roundtable discussions because there wasn't time for them.  There are so many things to balance - invited papers, contributed papers, organizational announcements, social events, committee meetings, workshops, sponsor presentations, exhibiit time, networking, ...

      That leaves very little time except lunchtime for discussions.  And we really need that time for unstructured conversations.  Let's not forget that one of the reasons PIUG was formed was to give members an opportunity for discussions that were not part of a vendor's meeting program. 

      The discussion forum should also be a place for unstructured conversation, and it does seem that people aren't using the wiki for that as much as we used the old discussion list.  Maybe it's because more people are hesitant to put themselves on record, but it may also be because we have so many other places to go for discssions.  Intellogist, as Kristin mentions, is one of them.  So are all those Linked In groups (but not the PIUG group, which isn't open for discussions because it would compete with the wiki). 

      It would be interesting to see if accepting anonymous postings would work.

  3. Jun 09, 2011

    If one person logs in as Anon User 2, and then another person comes along and logs in as Anon User 2, couldnt the second person change the words of the first person, because the wiki would see them as the same person?

    I guess that's not a major concern but something about sharing a login feels weird to me.

    I don't mean to draw anybody away from this space, but I wanted to point out that the Intellogist discussion boards have always had this element of anonymity.  I was sure that they'd become very popular for exactly this reason.  Though we do see posts on the boards, almost everybody seems to register with their real name!

  4. Jun 09, 2011

    Hi all,

    I agree that having the option to post anonymously could very well stimulate discussion on the PIUG wiki.  Does anyone know of other professional organizations that allow anonymous postings to their discussion lists or wikis?  If so, have they had success? Problems? 

    Thanks,

    Suzanne

  5. Jun 09, 2011

    I have absolutely no doubt that some people are more willing to post anonymously than openly.  I consider anonymous posting to be the equivalent of verbal sniping or, perhaps, verbal cowardice. If one has something of value to say, one should just say it. Knowing the speaker hopefully guarantees that what is said will be said in a socially acceptable way and have some credibility, if professional reputation carries any value these days. If what one wants to say has no clear value, then why say anything at all?

    When I was a child, my parents taught that I should exhibit behaviors that I would not be ashamed of seeing on the front page of any newspaper. This is so much truer of anything posted on the Internet and seen by the world.

    Stupid people do stupid things … ‘nough said. Others build their reputations by acting in ways that bring honor and respect to themselves and their affiliates.

    1. Jun 09, 2011

      Rick, would you agree that "openess" of discussions within PIUG fora has decreased?  I'm not sure either that anonymous postings would aleviate decreased openess but I'm glad that Dominic brought up the situation for discussion and offered a possible solution.

      I agree that anonymous comments on discussion lists have several disadvantages.  For example, I regularly prod name-only contributors to the Chem Info List (CHMINF-L) to provide some sort of afflilication or location so that we can determine where they're coming from, literally and figuratively.  That said, I join most commenters to online discussions on the electronic edition of my local newspaper by using an alias.  This is a fairly small community (Bangor Metro pop. ca. 75,000) and some of the commenters I would not like to meet or be known to (even though I'm fairly civil).  On other comment lists, I'm more identifiable.

      Edlyn, I'm not much of a fan of Linked In or similar groups.  Only my wife is on Facebook and that's an attempt (difficult at times) to keep up with the family who (over)use it.  I think that the ACS Network is over-rated and a step backward from previous discussion lists.  Research Gate through Sigma Xi is a joke.  I have limited experience with Intellogist but I'll have to evaluate it further.

      Hopefully this will prod a full discussion by as many members as possible on 1) do we have a problem, and 2) is there anything we can do about it.

  6. Jun 09, 2011

    Hi Rick,

    While I agree that there's no place for anonymous sniping on the wiki, I think you're missing one of the major reasons that people want to post anonymously - simply because they don't want to post a question that will make them look uninformed. 

    I think there's this fear of posting a question on something that everybody else already knows about. 

    Here is an example.  The other day I was looking for free searchable versions of the ECLA classification other than the one on the EPO's website.  I thought about posting on the wiki, but then I was like, isn't it my job to already know where the searchable ECLA class schedules are?  What if there's a really obvious one that I just can't think of right now?  Won't I look slow and discredit myself as a supposed "expert" on patent information?

    I even wrote a blog post that was sort of on this topic http://intellogist.wordpress.com/2011/04/28/how-i-found-my-way-in-patent-information/

    This kind of thing goes on all the time, and not just with me, I'm sure.

    That's part of what we're talking about here and I think also part of the reason that the mentorship idea hasn't really taken off - maybe it's that some people believe that to admit you're less than an expert on everything means admitting you shouldn't be let loose on important search tasks.

    The truth is nobody in this industry knows it all - it's sort of an emperor's new clothes situation.

    1. Jun 09, 2011

      Hi Kristin,

      I agree with you.  Most people who post anonymously are not interested in sniping.  They just want to ask a question without feeling exposed.  You are right that this goes on all the time. 

  7. Jun 09, 2011

    Kritstin,

    While I understand your empathy with those who are shy, I learned during my many years of teaching and managing (not to mention just plain old learning) that the only stupid question is the one that is never asked. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

    We learn early on that not any one search system has all the answers, not any one searcher gets all the right references, etc etc. Our strength comes in understanding that we are not islands, each with all the answers, and we need each other with different, somewhat non-overlapping areas of experience and expertise. My not knowing an answer that my colleague sitting next to me may know is an opportunity to grow, not a reason to be embarrassed.

    Knowledge is about sharing, not hoarding. Fear to open one’s mouth in the honest pursuit of knowledge is always, in my opinion, a bad thing. Ignorance is not at all the same thing as stupidity, and it should never be mistaken as such. Effective mentorship is about personal interactions with benefits to the clearly identified participants.

    The meek may inherit the world; if so, it may well be a world which they did not create and about which they know nothing. Good luck to them.

  8. Jun 09, 2011

    I hope the irony of discussing the value of anonymous posting in the PIUG Discussion Forum that does not have anonymous posting is not lost on the participants. As we might expect, most of the responses so far have been open from people with prior postings.

    I discussed this matter with a number people at the PIUG Annual Conference last month after the idea was broached to me by Dominic and others. One important factor is that some organizations have very strict restrictions about their employees posting on social media. These people presumably are not posting on the Intellogist discussion boards, LinkedIn forums or anywhere else. I don’t know how many of them would take advantage of anonymous posting since anonymity does not get necessarily get to the root of the company policy. On the other hand, some people whose companies have “guidelines” rather than strict rules might post anonymously if possible.

    While I agree with Rick Williams that posting openly is preferable, the drop-off in participation since PIUG moved to the wiki strongly suggests that we are losing the battle. If generic usernames were available, we might see increased overall discussion activity as well as increased comfort levels for some others to post openly. More irony is that the PIUG Discussion List (PIUG-L) archives are still available so that even PIUG-L postings were never hidden or private.

    In response to Suzanne Robins, when the PIUG wiki was first set up for anonymous access for posting content, it very quickly drew junk content. Users who “watched” the wiki received alerting email messages when the content was posted and (unavoidably) when I deleted it. I quickly switched to the sign-up and access system we have had ever since. I anticipate the limited anonymous access under consideration would work well for our community.

    As Dominic conveyed, we could create a few generic usernames for “anonymous” posting by registered PIUG members only. Having multiple usernames would help avoid collisions when different people want to post at the same time. I anticipate we would post the passwords for these usernames on wiki pages accessible by login only, change passwords periodically, and count on registered PIUG wiki users to avoid sharing these usernames and passwords with others.

    This discussion has been wonderful even without anonymous access. Thanks.

    Tom Wolff
    PIUG Admin

  9. Jun 09, 2011

    I want to add my $0.02 to Tom's final comment above. I've really enjoyed following this conversation by reading the alerts on my phone. This is the kind of exchange (but at a larger and broader scale) we hoped for when we migrated from PIUG-L to the Wiki

    This anonymous posting idea sounds like a worthwhile experiment; we should try it if only to see whether it increases participation on the DF.

    The one question I have to ask is this: Were postings to PIUG-L really anonymous? I don't know whether they ever really were (at least while Tom and I were admins). As Bob Buntrock mentioned with respect to CHMINF-L, I vaguely recall instances on PIUG-L where posters were prodded to identify themselves more fully. On the other hand, I can't recall a time when anyone was flamed - or even lightly teased - for asking for help on the list. Someone was almost always willing to lend a hand. This "virtual collegiality" was an aspect of the list that I think we all hoped would transfer to PIUG-DF.

    Well, let's give this limited anonymity a try. What do the members of the Board think?

    Tom - can we email or talk about the admin tasks that might be either increased or added (meaning existing or new tasks, respectively) as a result of this new activity?

    AJD

    1. Jun 10, 2011

      AJ, I recall at least one instance of flaming on PIUG-L but it was not in response to a request for assistance.  The perp either was excluded from the list or chose to drop out on their own.

      I also agree with Rick that the only dumb question is the one not asked.  Lord knows, I've asked plenty myself on a number of lists.  However, I agree that if one is supposed to be an expert, some unenlightened clients might count your quests for information and preceive them as goofs.  Hopefully, they aren't on the Wiki (or list) and they'll never know (and we in PIUG will never tell them nor look down on you for asking).

  10. Jun 10, 2011

    Thanks everyone above for making this an interesting discussion.  It's too bad that seemingly 70% of our membership isn't allowed (or maybe just isn't willing) to chime in.

    I have no idea whether anonymous posting is a good or bad idea.  I know some of my own people would like it to keep from looking ignorant so they can ask questions!

    All I want is to for this wiki to be a more active and informative forum.  As Kristin noted above, her employer LandonIP has put together a very useful site with Intellogist.  It blows away anything PIUG has with regard to conveying useful information to patent information professionals (kudos Kristin).  But as much as I love her personally and value her input, that site is a marketing vehicle for my competition (though it's a mouse to elephant comparison).  I cannot willingly contribute to that site or use it as a learning tool for my employees or even my clients.  PIUG, on the other hand, is a neutral site.  I think we should be trying to woo any eyeballs that Intellogist is receiving to better situate PIUG as the single best place for patent information professionals to learn and talk.  (No offense intended, but it is far far from that for us engineering types.)

    Things I'd like to see more conversations about are legal changes for example.  Most of us are not attorneys, and we know enough law to keep our mouths shut about legal rulings.  I was hoping that having access to anonymous log-ins would let us discuss the searching ramifications of legal changes.  Just this past week we've had a trifecta of Federal Circuit and Supreme Court cases that pertain to patents.  How does this effect us?  No 1000 page IDS forms (i4i)?  Does raising the inequitable conduct bar mean more pre-filing searching will be performed in the US (Therasense)?  Even the dreaded PTO's obviousness has been given a chink in the armor (Klein).  Yes, there are fantastic attorney driven sites discussing these things, but many of us are the flunkies supporting attorneys.  We need to talk it out too, but we're all smart enough not to put our name next to anything resembling a legal opinion!

    Dominic

       

    1. Jun 10, 2011

      Like Dominic, I too would like to see more discussion on legal issues.  Since I'm not an attorney (nor Patent Agent nor patent searching expert for that matter) I'm probably not tuned into the right sources (if any).  Most of the stuff I've seen on proposed revisions to US Patent Law have been in the news press (about as technical I've seen is C&ENews).  The issues has gotten very polarized and political, Big Guys vs. the Little Guys, one political party vs. the other, etc.  Virtually nothing I've seen (except a for a couple of futile pleas for discussion by me here and elsewhere) have pointed out the advantages of the US System like detailed examination rather than the more cursory examinations often done elsewhere.  The US system is, as far as I know, the best regarded Patent System in the World and probably the primary reason for the continued upswing in foreign applications (although the size of the US market has a lot to do with that also).  I'm not convinced that those who have been doing the studies and drafting policy have any real knowledge of the product and service they're revising nor any idea what statistics to look at and interpret.  I'm worried that we'll be throwing the baby, i.e., a very well regarded system, out with the bathwater.

      However, due to the polarization and politicization, everyone with some knowledge of the situation is running scared and isn't saying anything.  I can appreciate the difficulties since I often had to pull in my horns within my own organization (for those who know me know how tough that is for me to do) in order to avoid unfortunate repercussions, especially in times of downsizing/reengineering, etc.  So, it's probably to late to do anything about it, but will the new law wreck a very durable system?  Is all that's left is damage control?

  11. Jun 10, 2011

    If you think posting anything via the internet is truly anonymous, talk to the teacher in Atlanta who was fired after her PRIVATE facebook pictures of drinking alcohol (btw, she was well above 21!) were seen by her employer.....

    1. Jun 10, 2011

      Kim:

      There is a big difference between "private" and "anonymous." Clearly personal pictures eliminate any semblance of anonymity. People thought that the defunct PIUG-L was private, which it never was because of the online archives. PIUG-L was never anonymous either.

      I believe the proposal for generic usernames for the PIUG wiki would allow anonymity. I am not aware of Confluence storing user IP addresses, but users could take the additional step of using software that obfuscated source IP addresses.

      I certainly would caution against posting any sort of content that would get people fired. We don’t want that sort of content on the PIUG wiki anyway.

      Tom

  12. Jun 10, 2011

    The purpose of being anonymous is to do something you want without being held accountable. It is the heart of the poison pen letter, gossip and whispering at a dinner table. We work in a profession that is one or at most two steps removed from the most ethical specialties of law, regarding confidentiality, duty of candor and a clean record. People: who among you has not worked within a law department or at the PTO? Maybe sit this one out…

      If you go anonymous, you'd better hope your vapor trail is like something from out of the universe-- ask Rick Frenkel. And if you blog freely and your company thinks less of you for it-- do you think just maybe they're justified?

    In no way can I support anonymous blogging; it's catty, sloppy and would lower our standards. We're a professional organization: think of the liability of the AMA posting harmful material of an anonymous blogger. This is not a chat room: so get a room.

  13. Jun 10, 2011

    Thanks to Dominic for raising the issue. If easily feasible, it may be interesting to pilot the idea on a separate space on Wiki

    One suggestion is to allow people to have dual identity on the wiki - i.e have Avatars (Pseudo Identities) to allow more room for open discussion and allow them more control over their dialogue (as opposed to anon 1, anon 2 etc). At some point, if it is determined that it is not working, it can be shut down.

    Yateen

  14. Jun 10, 2011

    Dominic raises an interesting point with regard to Intellogist.  I know from experience that Landon IP as a company has always wanted to approach any apparent conflict-of-interest between the PIUG wiki and the Intellogist wiki with sensitivity, and that is evidenced by the partnership between the two organizations with regard to a future analysis knowledgebase.  When two useful source of information are established, it is more realistic to expect that people will utilize both sources rather than favor one over the other. 

    I understand Dominic’s position, but I actually believe that Intellogist already benefits him, and all independent searchers.  Consider that Intellogist exists in part to educate laymen about the difficulty inherent in patent searching.  In doing so it promotes the value of the patent searching profession in general. It has raised the bar on patent search vendors by making their systems more transparent to non-subscribers and to each other, and given the individual user a very visible platform to voice their opinions about the quality of these products.  Finally, Intellogist has now generated thousands of pages of free information about patent searching for anyone (even Landon IP competitiors!) to read and benefit from. 

    I should also point out that the site is separately branded from Landon IP, and as it has a wiki/blog format, there is always plenty of room for comments from those who wish to express differing opinions.  Rather than hoping PIUG will flourish at Intellogist’s expense, I think it’s more realistic to expect both to grow.  Since Intellogist already has the eyeballs, some may feel it’s worthwhile to establish a presence on the site (and/or in the blog comments) to promote their personal expertise.

    Dominic, I appreciate your kind words about my input.  Maybe it's a good time for me to clarify something on this point.  Having worked on the site for a number of years now, I know that some have seen me as an appointed social media spokesperson or Landon IP mouthpiece.  I’m very grateful that the situation is very much the contrary – I have been fortunate enough to be allowed to pursue my own professional interests as part of my job on Intellogist and now as Landon IP Librarian, and the opinions I post on the PIUG wiki are simply my own.  

  15. Jun 10, 2011

    I do have one other response to Bob's comment that people who aren't on the wiki won't know about questions posted - unfortunately I think the wiki and even the list archives are indexed by Google, so that stuff can be found by a wide audience.

    And to Kris and Rick, on websites that usually require handles or nicknames, I've posted under my own handle (in non-professional contexts).  I don't feel that I've violated my own sense of integrity by doing so.  Maybe I'm a product of the internet age, but withholding my real name and using an avatar to ask an innocent question doesn't bother me.  In general it seems like a common sense level of protection against people with really bad intentions who can use the net to gather information - and although it sounds paranoid, believe me, they are out there.

    I think your point that we are all obligated to be very mindful of ethics in this profession is of course very valid, but I don't think the integrity of those wishing for anonymity should be called into question.  I'm not coming down in favor of anonymity, just saying that it's not necessarily wrong to consider it as an option.

    1. Jun 10, 2011

      I've seldom if ever worked directly for an attorney so I'm probably sterotyping if I express doubts that many of them would ever read the likes of the PIUG Wiki (unless of course they were also PIUG members).  Do a significant number of managements take the time to continually monitor all communications of their employees?  Sounds rather Draconian (and scary).

      That said, I'm sure that many managers, up-tight or not, consider everything coming out of the company as "corporate line" and demand control over such communications.  So, some sort of screen alias is probably necessary for some.  I agree, we should try some workable method for such communication and see if it increases contributions to discussions.

  16. Jun 11, 2011

    I strongly agree with Kris Atkinson and Rick, that professional discussions, at least as it started in this group. should not be anonymous for the majority of topics (with an exception, for example, for poll-like questions).

    Addressing the issue, if wiki users do not wish their posting attributed to their employee, they could use alias by signing the post. An alias would be linked to the user’s profile and could be viewed by any registered PIUG wiki member, not only by PIUG members (for example, in order to contact the poster privately). PIUG wiki users should abide the rule not reveal alias on the wiki. Apparently, if a user decides to use an alias instead of a real name, his/her image would be stripped.

    I have not consulted a wikimaster (already used alias) if my suggestion is feasible for the current wiki platform - I have just outlined a "legal" scheme which provide a desired dash of anonymity keeping members responsible for their words.

    Alex

  17. Jun 14, 2011

    I agree that there could be hesitation to post in case something got back to your company. Last week there was someone fired in Allentown PA just for mentioning that her company had Friday hours on her blog.

    Instead of anonymous posting, how about letting everyone choose their own "username"/ alias? You would still have to register with your full name, but only the wikimaster would know whose alias is whose. If you wanted to sign your name on your post, that would be optional.

  18. May 25, 2012

    This is a case of better late than never. Great idea, Dom.

  19. May 25, 2012

    Hopefully this will foster discussion, spread knowledge among PIUG-ers and lead to new vendor offerings and improvements. Thank you Susanne Hantos for supporting this!