Category Archives: How To

Detailed steps on a particular task, sometimes including screencasts.

How to build link strength for your skeptic web site

Recently a skeptic webmaster who runs more than one site asked me for some advice on driving more traffic to their newer sites. They knew I talk about SEO on this blog and figured I could give them some tips. I’m always happy to help out another skeptic.

One of the first thing I did was look at the number of inbound links to the new website. A key element of any SEO strategy is always inbound links – other sites linking to yours. The more links to your site, the more weight your pages will be given in search engines. And search engine hits are often a third or more of your traffic.

In this post I’ll show how you can measure this, and give some skeptic-specific tips for generating some good back-links to your site.

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How To Edit Wikipedia, Part II: Patrol for vandalism

This is the second in a series of articles aimed at first-time editors of Wikipedia, but also contains tips useful to anyone who spends time on that site. Please be sure to read Part I, here. Come back the same time next week for the next article in this series.

In the first part of this series, you set up your account on Wikipedia, and began to add articles to your watch list. You should be comfortable with looking at the watch list regularly, and recognizing the types of editing activity that typically occurs across the articles you have chosen to watch.

In this second part, you will begin to use your watch list as a practical tool to find places where you can pitch in and help. We will continue slowly building up your level of activity over time, and before you know it you’ll be making very significant edits to Wikipedia.

As I explained in the first part, the reason for this slow build is give other editors a chance to develop trust in you. Or even if they aren’t aware of you, by the time they notice your edits you will have a significant history built up.  That will help them understand that you are not a vandal but someone genuinely interested in improving the quality of information on Wikipedia.

This week, we start to create that edit history.

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How To Edit Wikipedia Part I: Set up your account

This is the first in a series of articles aimed at first-time editors of Wikipedia, but also contains tips useful to anyone who spends time on that site. Come back the same time next week for the next article in this series.

In the three plus years that I’ve been recommending that skeptics make an effort to edit Wikipedia, I often hear objections from skeptics who have tried, failed and given up. Some have anecdotes of factual edits they attempted, only to be slapped down by more experienced editors. Others report they attempted to bring some sense to a controversial article about a particular pseudoscience, and ended up battling with believers.

The common element in many of these stories is that these editors assumed that it was sufficient to have science or fact on their side.  Surely the others editing Wikipedia will see the truth inherent in their additions?

Perhaps in an just, ideal world. But in our flawed, real world the other editors of Wikipedia are fallible humans who are constantly encountering troublesome edits that must be undone. In order to have your work accepted, you have to be aware of this. You have to earn their trust.

In this first of a series of posts, I’ll give you some tips on how to get started on this.

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Case Study: How a notorious spammer was brought down via Twitter

Today the Montreal Police announced that an arrest has been made (in French here) in the “Mabus” case. It wouldn’t have happened but for Twitter. This post explains how.

Twitter has been around for five years now, but there is still much confusion about what it is good for. How can you post anything useful in 140 characters? Isn’t it just people posting what they had for lunch? It’s a massive time waster. Those are typical complaints.

And yet there are several thousand self-proclaimed skeptics actively using Twitter quite effectively as a means of communication and organization. I quite like it myself. Unlike some complicated multi-purpose websites like Facebook, Twitter is dead simple. And you can do amazingly useful things with it.

“Like what?” you might ask. Well in the last week the science, journalism, skeptic and atheist communities on Twitter organized to pressure a law enforcement agency to take action on someone who has been a copious source of spam and death threats on the Internet for at least 15 years. Today’s arrest came about in under 10 days from the first moves.

I think the sequence of events of how this came together are quite interesting, and perhaps an object lesson in online activism. As it was happening I was capturing links to the relevant posts so I could document how it came about. Read on…

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An inexpensive skeptical tool everyone should have

Much of what we talk about here is relatively new stuff like REST APIs, geotargeting and so on. But some skeptical tools have been around for quite some time. This is just a quick post to sell you on a tool that dates from 1976. It is now priced so low that there is no excuse for you not to have it in your toolbox.

There’s much excitement in skepticism these days, in part because Internet technologies have enabled an influx of new people who are enthusiastic and want to be involved. But as Barbara Drescher lamented over the weekend, many enthusiastic folks who have jumped into skepticism have not yet had time to fully familiarize themselves with the years of work that has gone on since the creation of CSICOP in the mid-1970s. As a new skeptic, how do you catch up with 40+ years of work?

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Please Don’t Start Another Blog or Podcast!

Update June 29: Now with video.

My presentation at SkeptiCamp Atlanta 2011 this past weekend was titled “Please Don’t Start Another Blog or Podcast!” I chose that title deliberately to to be a little controversial, of course. It verges on ridiculous for someone who both blogs and podcasts to tell others not to do either.

My real point is to highlight the many other online activities skeptics can engage in that are important and make a difference. Regular readers of this blog (all three of you) will find some familiar topics in this. See below for links to the slides, an audio version and other supplemental information.

The video includes some introductory material from SkeptiCamp, the main presentation starts at 6:26. If you prefer to listen on the go, you can hear the audio for this presentation on the Skepticality podcast #158 “Return to Lake Skepticamp.” The audio of the presentation itself starts at about 20 minutes in to the episode. You will hear in both the video and audio that I originally miscounted my subtopics, I say seven and the audience corrects me. This has been corrected in the slides seen after the break.

Continue reading after the break for my slides and a list of links that to more information (mostly prior posts on this blog) that expand on each of the topics I cover in the presentation.

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How to filter persistent trolls (and spammers) on Twitter

UPDATES: Additional clients Plume, Kiwi, Tweetings, TweetCaster and Choqok were added.
UPDATE March 10: Just added Hibari and Slipstream.

Any new communication medium is bound to attract annoyances. And so it is with Twitter: the trolls and spammers have definitely arrived.

Skeptics are long familiar with pathological behaviors amongst believers online. When you challenge people’s deeply held beliefs, be they about religion or ghosts or alternative systems of medicine, you are bound to get a few of them riled up. And now that there are several thousand self-proclaimed skeptics actively using Twitter, trollish behavior on that service directed toward skeptics has become more common, particularly recently.

In this post I will show you a technique you can use with certain third-party Twitter clients to get more proactive with trolls and block them before they become an annoyance.

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