The Web Hostess: Article Comments, Top Online Timewasters, More

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Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 2, 2009; 1:00 PM

A weekly chat about the best ways to kill time online. Our Web Hostess, Monica Hesse, sifts the Internet so you don't have to, searching for meaning, manners, and the next great meme.

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Monica Hesse: Hey Everyone,

Thanks for joining. I'm newly back to Internet access after seven days away. Quick, someone tell me what I missed. What sites and videos did you forward, snort at, or otherwise waste time on?

A couple that I've been mesmerized by since my return: the eerily fascinating time lapse videos that users are posting on YouTube of the California fires. Complete devastation in 30 seconds, and spreading like wi-- like viral videos online.

Lighter side: I'm a closet Jon & Kate fan, so I've found the increasing library of Match.com profiles for the characters completely hilarious. New: Hailey Glassman!

What else?

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DC: I have the most boring receptionist job in the world. My friends are jealous that I get to surf the web all day long, but after a couple of hours on TMZ and Gawker, that gets boring too. Someone help me structure my time. How can I fill eight straight hours of Interneting?

Monica Hesse: Ooh, yes please. Let's give this guy/gal some help. Nominations for best "Wow, two hours of my life I'll never get back again" site?

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Watsonville, Calif.: One of the most original sites I've ever seen (and I've been on the web since 1992!): Tag Galaxy

Recommended in Kevin Feldman's literacy listserv as a resource for teachers to find visuals to illustrate vocabulary words, but the possibilities are vast.

Monica Hesse: This might have just replaced A) Thesauruses (thesauri?) and B) Standing up and yelling over my cubicle wall, "What's the thing you do with the thing in the place?"

Brilliant find.

Now I'm curious. When I went to test it out, I couldn't come up with anything specific that I wanted to search for. Just like when I go out of my way to test out a new search engine, I can't immediately think of anything to type in. What have you used it for?

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My link of the day: Blender Defender

Monica Hesse: First poster: You've got 45 minutes killed right there.

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Some historical perspective: From Pauline Kael's capsule review of the 1977 movie "Citizens Band":

"Paul Brickman, who wrote the screenplay, had an idea worthy of Preston Sturges: that the psychology of those who operate CB radio units might be like the psychology of crank phone callers and breathers and obscene phone callers, too -- that as disembodied voices, with identities borrowed from pop fantasies, and signal names to confirm their new self-image, people could live another life on the public airwaves. In the film, the CB users are secret celebrities, eloquent on the air, or, more often, aimlessly loquacious. But they dry up when they actually meet. CB functions as an authorized madness; it allows the characters to release their inhibitions while keeping one foot on the ground."

Do you think this applies to the Web, specifically the anonymity of chat rooms and forms? I've found that I'm more comfortable in such forums than on Facebook.

Monica Hesse: Absolutely. Most people have different modes of communication they find most freeing. And many people still find it disturbingly easy to forget that there are always people behind avatars and usernames. See the next post...

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Washington, D.C.: Do reporters read the comments section of the Post? Your Ombudsman recently wrote that the comments are basically a "cesspool" of mindlessness but went on to say that editors set a high bar for removing comments. Just curious how reporters view them and what if anything, you do in response.

And, are reporters evaluated based on Web hits and number of comments?

washingtonpost.com: When Is an Online Comment Inappropriate?

Monica Hesse: I read the comments through my fingers, like I was watching a scary movie.

There's an interesting hierarchy of how people feel comfortable treating other people, based on what a mode of communication they're using. Phone callers are usually pretty civil. Emailers vary, depending on whether they're using a real account or a throwaway. Online commenters make me want to cry.

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For the receptionist...: FAIL Blog, Overheard in New York, passive-aggressive notes, You Suck at Craigslist, STFU, Marrieds, Awkward Family Photos, PostSecret, The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks, etc.

Just steer clear of the NOM site...

Monica Hesse: I'll vouch for FAIL, PostSecret, You Suck at Craigslist, passive-aggressive notes, and Overheard in New York.

Haven't checked out the others, but I'm eager to.

People, y'all really need to send me this stuff to hessem@washpost.com during the week. Part of my job is to waste time online. I'll share the good stuff.

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websites that kill time: postcardsfromyomomma.com

awkwardfamilyphotos.com

cockeyed.com

thesneeze.com

cakewrecks.blogspot.com

xkcd.com

Monica Hesse: Another!

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Smoke Town, Los Angeles: Hi Monica,

I have a new obsession (OBSESSION!)

There's a Web site and podcast called the memory palace.

Each week or two (the only problem is they come out too infrequently) this guy posts these incredible (INCREDIBLE!), moving, funny, twisty, turny little history stories set to music. It's like a miniature "This American Life." LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT (I told you I was obsessed...)

Just needed to share. It's the only thing getting me through the inferno out here in Los Angeles.

Monica Hesse: I just did a quick peek over and it looked so intricate that I didn't want to take up chat time with it now. But I'll savor it later. Receptionist, take note.

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Whitney Houston: On YouTube for her GMA appearance. Owww.

Monica Hesse: I think we have someone writing on this for tomorrow. Interesting that her official appearance wasn't until this morning, but we all got a preview of the terror a day early because of YouTube. Poor Whitney.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: This has driven me nuts for years, and I feel this is the proper forum where it can finally be addressed: Could you please assure everyone that it is completely unnecessary to write "Submitting early because of . . "?

The WaPo was years ahead of Twitter in this sharing of useless personal details. If only you could have capitalized!

Monica Hesse: I must, sadly, disagree. If someone is submitting early because, say, they are heading off to go set up a blender contraption to scare their cat off the counters, then that personal detail will assure that I answer their question.

Seriously, it does help sometimes, because what it means is, "I won't be at the chat, so I won't be able to respond to your follow up questions, just FYI."

But your nut-drivenness is duly noted.

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How can I fill eight straight hours of Interneting: Read books on line. Project Gutenberg, or U. Penn's The Online Books Page, are fantastic sources of those classics you never got around to reading in school. I got through tons of Anthony Trollope just by downloading a file, keeping it in a text file on my desktop, and reading a chapter or two when I needed a break from my work.

Or, if the classics don't interest you, educate yourself on public issues by reading the Post's daily Politics chat at 11. Read Slate Magazine or another online mag.

Search for local events. Once I got familiar with a few sites, I was able to keep up on what was happening the next weekend and make plans with friends.

Take an online class. There are lots out there.

Does that help?

Monica Hesse: This poster's time-wasting kicks my time-wasting's butt. But I love the online class idea. In a previous job, I built up a slew of useless Spanish vocab that way. El nino esta corriendo.

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Geat You Tube Idea: We need a good political debate between Fran Drescher and Al Franken.

Monica Hesse: All it takes is one dedicated person with time on their hands (Receptionist? Listening?) to comb through their repsective public appearances and do a mashup.

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Most people have different modes of communication they find most freeing.: Oh yes. Think of all the writers of wonderful letters in the past who were stiff and reticent in person. Or people who write interesting letters but are tongue-tied on the phone.

Monica Hesse: Like Cyrano. Or like Roxanne, if you prefer the Steve Martin version. Or like Gossip Girl. Bet Gossip Girl is totally unsnarky in real life.

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Baltimore: Re online comments: My Post ID consists of the initials of my first and middle names, plus my real last name. It seems quaint, but anonymity used to be the resort of stalkers and nut jobs and folks writing ransom notes. Back in the days when there were only "letters to the editor" you had to sign your real name and give contact information in order to be published. There are wonderful things about the Internet (I couldn't plan a vacation anymore if it vanished), but anonymity ain't one of them. If you have nothing to be ashamed about or to hide, just put your name on what you write.

Monica Hesse: Do all the non-nut jobs out there agree with this poster? Or are there some of you who prefer anonymity even though you're not posting anything inflammatory? Why?

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Houston: I know that ALL CAPS has been completely dismissed as a style that any thinking person would use to communicate with. What about people who refuse to capitalize at all?

I have seen a number of thoughtful posts online that were properly punctuated, spelled, and composed, but had no capital letters. I have the feeling that this saves time, and it is probably much more convenient with hand held units. However, I want to respond: HERE ARE SOME CAPITALS, USE THEM.

Why do people do this, and should I just get used to it?

Monica Hesse: You don't have to like it, but you should try to separate a person's capping preferences from their intelligence or thoughtfulness. Web Hostess is a proper punctuation kind of gal, but knows many people smarter than her who eschew not only caps but vowels.

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Monica Hesse: Referring to myself in the third person there was creepy.

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anon: Submitting online because I'm here...

LOL! sorry.

Monica Hesse: As long as you're not submitting late...

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Bethesda, Md.: Found a great Web site Academic Earth. They offer full video (& mp3) lectures on classes from Yale, MIT, etc. on subjects such as Political Science, Engineering, mathematics, and others. Would like to see a bit more material, but it's a great start. Plus, you're not really 'killing time!'

Monica Hesse: Further enriching time wasting.

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For the Receptionist: He or she (I don't remember, or, I guess, care) likes Gawker and TMZ, so they should probably read the girls over at Go Fug Yourself. Whether or not you care about fashion at all shouldn't matter, they're just very good writers that could probably make anyone laugh.

Monica Hesse: Likewise, Jezebel.

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Arlington, Va.: AnyWho provides the address of any home phone number and vice versa.

Monica Hesse: The fact that you suggest this as a time waster is a wee bit scary.

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MySpace: I was wondering if you wrote an article or had an opinion about the girl who committed suicide because she was being bullied on her MySpace by a fake boy (another student's mom). There is such a fine line between Internet trolls and something that is really over the top.

Monica Hesse: And some might say trolls are already over the top...

I didn't write about this but someone else did. I'm blanking on who now, but will see if we can find a link.

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"because what it means is...": People do this because they are uncertain about what time the moderator or filterer or whatever you call the person who sorts & forwards posts -- what time they begin and how much they sort through. I think a lot of people think that if they post too early, they don't have a chance at having their submission looked at and considered for the chat.

And of course it also means what you said, "I won't be there to answer follow-ups, but please..."

Monica Hesse: Just so you know how the sausage is made, I don't see posts with a time stamp, just in the order Producer Paul sends them to me (I have no idea what he sees). There's no penalty for publishing early.

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For the receptonist...: Try the History News Network for a historical perspective on current news. Very interesting. HNN originates locally at GMU.

Monica Hesse: Thanks!

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washingtonpost.,com: A Deadly Web of Deceit A Teen's Online 'Friend' Proved False, And Cyber-Vigilantes Are Avenging Her

Monica Hesse: Here's the piece, a great read by former Post writer Tamara Jones.

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Submitting at 1:36: Don't these questions come to you with some kind of time stamp? I assumed you could tell which questions are already in the queue and which come in during the chat. The "submitting early" questions always bug me too, because it doesn't make any difference to me when it came in since I don't get to read it until after you post it. (Actually this doesn't occur as much as it did in the early days of the Post chats.)

washingtonpost.com: Nope, no time stamp.

Monica Hesse: No time stamp, no names, no email addresses. I can tell which ones were submitted before the chat, but only as Paul feeds them to me. I usually log in about 20-30 minutes early to see what's already there.

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To the receptionist: Celebritology

Liz Kelly posts twice a day, then we Liz-ards (get it?) snark away at all the vapid celebs. Come join us; it's best to just lurk at first till you get the hang. But then come on in, the water's fine!

washingtonpost.com: But of course!

Monica Hesse: Posting...

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Re: The trolls are over the top: Back around '92 when "the net" meant Usenet, there was a Usenet group called alt.syntax.tactical whose denizens waged organized trolling campaigns against other news groups. As I recall, they were particularly abusive to the gentle folks over at rec.pets.cats.

With the advent of social networking, this kind of behavior has only gotten worse.

Monica Hesse: Thanks for the trolling history.

Poor rec.pet.cats. But could we have possibly discovered the very beginning of the Internet's obsession with cats?

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Kingstowne, Va.: Just go to Wikipedia and keep clicking "Random article" until you find something interesting to read.

Monica Hesse: Like?

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Harrisburg again: I knew I came to the right place. Thanks for enlightening me. If only the early-submission reasons were as interesting as your example!

Monica Hesse: In the future, we will all try to submit early only if we have TMZ worthy reasons.

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Wait, THE "Producer Paul?": He's my favorite!

As for uselessly fun Web sites, My Very Worst Date is worth a look...as well as Avoid This Job and the (constantly updated) Neatorama

washingtonpost.com: Remember to always flatter your producer.

Monica Hesse: I'll also throw in http://www.fmylife.com/. Can't type out what it stands for, but always worth a visit.

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Time-filling website where you actually learn something: www.snopes.com

(Debunks urban legends, viral emails, etc., has daily weird news updates)

Monica Hesse: I wrote on the folks who run Snopes.com last year. It's a married couple who works out of their living room and met in a chat room for people obsessed with urban legends. Best geek love story ever.

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Anonymous: This is why you're fat.

www.imdb.com

jezebel.com (for the ladies)

consumerist.com

or, if you want to find new topic-specific blogs, check out who was nominated for the last round of bloggie awards at http://2009.bloggies.com/

Monica Hesse: Posting...

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Killing time on YouTube: My friend has this time-killing game where he watches one YouTube video, and then he can only watch a video linked from that video, and so on. So what he ends up watching in the end is completely unrelated to what he started out watching in the first place.

washingtonpost.com: Is there a YouTube video of him doing this?

Monica Hesse: When he comes full circle, does the world end or is it just the plague of frogs?

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washingtonpost.com: Too Good To Be True? It Usually Is. Snopes.com Sniffs Out What You Can Believe

Monica Hesse: Here 'tis, the good people of Snopes.

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Monica Hesse: Now that we each have enough time wasters to last for, oh, the next millennia, I think it's safe to sign off. Thanks for chatting, and see you next week!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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