The Web Hostess: Online manners, memes and must-see video

Sep 14, 2011

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.

Afternoon, everyone, and thanks for stopping by.

This week on the Internet, a new site was launched. is a site created by Barack Obama's campaign, aiming to dispel untruths about the President.

Have a look. Knowing what you know about the Internet, and about what the design of a site might communicate to you about  the site's content or the people running it, what does this site say to you? What impressions do you take away from it?Would emotions does it cause you to feel?

These questions are obviously a little leading -- I have my own thoughts -- but I'm interested to hear what you think.

I am also interested in any Liger or Tiglon videos that people would like to share, as well as anything else happening on, or related to, the Internet. Or to dorkery.

I recently encountered, for the first time, someone who referred to doing some work activity "offline." It struck me that the default has changed from most activities being conducted in my work place on a face-to-face basis--or over the phone--to now being conducted online. In fact, so much is done online that the term "offline" describes the rare activity that doesn't occur via a keyboard and screen. This is particularly true for the under 30 crowd. I just wonder if others are experiencing the same thing.

Was this term used in the course of an online email exchange? As in "Let's continue this discussion offline instead of just shooting emails at each other." Because that would make sense. However, if it was just two people chatting in the stairwell, and one was saying to the other, "This is an offline conversation that we are currently having," that would be kind of weird.

Online/Offline, anyone?

Noam Chompsky. Thanks internets.

I feel like this works especially well if your pet is a parrot. Or a hamster. Don't ask me why.

Hi Monica - I'm catching up on last week's topic of using a public computer where the previous user didn't sign out. About five years ago before in-room internet access was widespread in hotels, I went down to the Business Center about 11:00 pm to print out my boarding pass. No one else was there. As I sat down at the computer and moved the mouse, up popped a screen showing a bunch of guys dressed up like little girls. These guys looked like they were seriously into it. So what did I do? I moved over and used the next computer and left the "girls" for someone else to discover. Ha!

This was absolutely the correct move. I am glad that you realized this.

 I would die if there were videos of me trying to figure things out, but these two are so dang cute.

"I can do Mrs. Doubfire, too!"


It seems like it's trying to be edgy. It actually reminds me of the Rock The Vote site from 2008, which probably helped the Obama campaign some, only like they hired one not-too-great freelancer to copy the Rock The Vote site. And so instead it's just got too high contrast making your eyes hurt and looks a little less than professional.

Edgy -- interesting. So do you think it's edgy in a way that would entice younger voters -- as Rock the Vote was intended to? Or in a way that a designer would think would entice younger voters? Or does age have nothing to do with it?

It made me feel panicky. Like I'd accidentally gotten onto a questionable website that was about to harm my computer. I don't like websites that aren't very immediately clear about who is the author of the content. Looks scammy.

Yes, I think that the lack of identification does make it a little virusy. Or Big Brothery. Oceania is at war with Eurasia, etc etc.

"So what did I do? I moved over and used the next computer and left the "girls" for someone else to discover. Ha! " Even better if somebody saw you leaving the business center, entered after you, and went to that same computer. Now they think YOU were looking at that site and forgot to log out.

That is a chance this person was willing to take, and I think that it was a boldly American risk.

I personally like the fact that they give supporting evidence and links to it. Seriously though, are we still talking about the birth certificate?? Sigh.

Question: If I had not told you that the site was created by President Obama's campaign -- if you did not have surrounding information about the site and had just landed on it through a random link -- do you think you would have the same reaction?

I definitely have heard this used in our office more in more, including my boss being reprimanded for saying she would be "offline" during vacation (as in, not checking emails through blackberry or reachable) which our senior leadership has deemed unacceptable.

Wait. Has your senior leadership deemed it unacceptable that she would be OFFline, or that she would be ONline.

InstaPoll: How many of you are expected to be available via email and Blackberry/iPhone even while you are on vacation?

>; ] ;-) ;) *-) *) ;-] ;] ;D, >:[ :-( :( :-c (that's how I read your question)

You do not spend enough time offline.

WOW!!! Black, white and red. Very bold. Not a site I would associate with Obama. Interesting though to see him stand up to the untruths. There are many out there.

"Not a site I would associate with Obama."

This is the impression that I had, too. I wonder if it's intentional, or no. Got to be intentional, one would think?


The black background immediately turned me off because it hurt my eyes. Ick.

Yes, the login makes me feel like we are all about to embark on an MMPORG together.

My childhood dog was named Chomsky (due to the fact my mother was studying him at the time we got the dog), and EVERYONE misspelled it as Chompsky.

Or everyone spelled it exactly how it should have been spelled.

I am normally "anti" spraying children with water bottles, but this is just great.  It may be old, my apologies if you have already seen it.

Though it does kind of make you wonder how the parent thought of the whole spraying-directly-in-the-face thing anyway.

(P.S. I once used this trick on my dog while training her. She did not giggle.)

Umm, no. I personally like to get my news from independent journalism, and the site just looks like something Colbert would rip on ;)

...or that Colbert would create. As a testament to truthiness.

If I didn't have the background info from you, I would 've agreed with the poster who thought it was a somewhat dodgy site. Also agree that you can't tell who is sponsoring it/paying for it immediately.

Thanks for writing back.

Unacceptable that she would be OFFline. We're expected to be checking our emails over the weekend, at night, on vacation, etc. (It's brutal.)

And your industry is...?

We all do that here, I think, but I get that for journalism.

Have you seen this comic-tribute blog at ? With judicious use of tabbing, you can click on the single-page images and quickly read whole comic books printed before you were born. Yes, I am an adult, and probably wouldn't write this if not for anonymity.

Oh, this is lovely!

And you have come to the right place since I just finished writing a story about a new comic book celebrating the life of RICHARD FEYNMAN. Eeee!

because I first heard the expression "he's off-line" about 30 years ago, working in a shift operation at Defense, referring to someone being away from their position for the moment.

And plus, there are the parts of the country where people refer to standing "on line" instead of "in line."

And in certain counties near where I am from, people will say "7 of the morning" instead of "7 in the morning."

Always throws me.

I think it was trying to be edgy, without really being edgy. It looks like a low budget site (or virus site) for that matter. Not sure it's going to appeal to younger voters, or anyone who wouldn't already be voting for Obama -- it just seems like it's trying too hard.


My first impression: this looks like an anarchist website. Perhaps it was the color scheme and font. In any case, though I sympathize with their intent, I have no desire to poke around the site. Too much text too close together on the "more info" pages, and the colors hurt my eyes.


It looks like a website left over from 2006 but with better flash. That font is horrific too. And the black background? I they chose it because they want to look severe but, it just makes the site look old.


Edgy? I think it's like what some Nazis would put together. One thing I always liked about Obama was he seemed like a voice of reason, a person who wanted to pull people together. This does not give me that image. This looks like the work of someone who wants to censor any negative comments about him on wikipedia. If the look was more professional and the language less inflammatory I'd think differently. I have no problem with a website designed to answer stuff other candidates have said.

Yes. This is what I think is so fascinating about choosing to go with this site. It seems like Barack Obama is taking one of the things that has always been a selling point -- his calmness, his rational behavior -- and tossed it in favor of something that comes across as scare-mongering and alarmist. It's a really unusual move.

So I browsed around a bit. Here are my impressions: The color scheme gives me a really negative impression of both the people who created it and the people its trying to "attack" back. I think the idea that it is promoting truth is sort of misguided, because it seems to be addressing only things that candidates or more extremist pundits (ie, Glenn Beck) are saying. Even if I didn't know it was a campaign grab, I would immediately think of it, because of the colors and the tone. I think a better way to do it would be a more neutral color scheme, instead of one that makes me think of hunting and targets, and a much more basic presentation, such as CLAIM (with whoever said what, and a link to it), then RESPONSE, with back up materials and links, charts, etc. The way it's set up is really antagonistic, and even though I KNOW that it's going to be, going in, it turned me off.

What you just described -- the CLAIM and RESPONSE tactic -- is what I would have expected from President Obama. And you reaction -- being turned off -- is what a lot of people have been saying.

I'll be really fascinated to see whether they keep this site as is.

It occurred during a conference call, if that makes any difference. The reference was to how we were going to communicate certain information and the assumption was that everything would be done online. Then someone said maybe there were merits to sharing some of the information "offline" which indicated that they thought we could just talk to people about what we were doing.

But "offline" has so many fewer syllables. I guess?

They have a section to "report an attack." Are we still living in America here?


Because they like to nom and chomp! Nom nom nom. Chomp chomp chomp. Gimme more lettuce.


My roommate/boyfriend and I both have laptops that we leave lying around the apartment. We've gotten in the habit of using whichever one is closest and then leaving fake google searches for the other to find. Any suggestions?

Yes. My first suggestion is that you invite me to move in with you.

Chatters? Give the lady/gentleman some assistance please.

I love the fact that I have a mac, because our IT guys do not have a way for us to remote access the network from macs--only windows. And I do not have a blackberry or smart phone. I like to be, ahem, 'off'line when I leave the office. If people REALLY need me, I'm reachable, but I don't like the idea of being constantly on call. (I work in communications so it's not life or death)

Unless you are a reporter on deadline. Whenever we can't reach communications people we act as if it is life or death.

Surely you must be joking. BTW, I'd like that potato cutter if it's available publicaly.

I jest not. It is many many pages of adventures of a curious character.

Nah, not a hamster or parrot -- needs to be a biting animal, like a pet alligator.

Too obvious. Like naming a bulldog "Biff." You need to name a Chihuahua "Biff."

Except now I think that's gotten overdone, the whole 7-lb "Killer" dog naming trend. So maybe a bulldog named Biff would be surprising after all.

New Yorker here! I do that, and never realized there was anything weird about it until I read an article about the quirks of the "New York dialect" and went, "But how else would you say... oh, wait." I did some research and came across a great theory that we say it that way because we don't consider ourselves to be an active member of the line. The line is yet another obstacle we are FORCED to endure before getting on with the rest of our busy days filled with Very Important New York Things.


Okay, this randomly reminds me of Richard Feynman's favorite joke, which I just learned yesterday and will now proceed to butcher. I cannot remember the correct cities, so I'm just going to make up some cities, okay?


Two old men are on a train. One says to the other, "Where are you going?" The second man says, "New York." The first man says, "If you were going to New York, you would tell me you were going to Boston. But I happen to know for a fact that you ARE going to New York, so why are you lying?"

It was really funny when I heard it on the phone.


Ummm, if you are checking work email on "vacation", then how can you call it vacation? And by extension, if you are checking work email on your fake vacation, I certainly hope that you don't have to use personal leave, since you are, after all, "working." Shame on you, Nefarious Nameless Senior Leadership!

Catch 22. Catch 22.

"Attack watch"? Maybe I just live too close to NYC, but my first thought before clicking through was that it would be a social media site dedicated to reporting possible suspicious behavior, via Twitter or similar. Not a catchy name at all.

Interesting -- you're right, it might cause some people to think that it was the place to email if you saw a purse left on the subway.

"undetectable poisons"


You could leave pages up that shows what you'd like to do that night...

"How to clean a bathtub," in other words?

2 words: Ninja Buns

I hope that's a recipe. I would make it.

I'm going to chime in with those who mentioned the font. I can't identify it off-hand, but the kerning is just atrocious - everything is cramped together, and it's hard on the eyes. It's something a graphic designer would never use for that purpose, but an amateur might pick it because he thinks it looks cool and striking without factoring legibility into account.

You used "kerning" and I swooned.

Following up the general impression that the site's tone, voice and look & feel are out of sync with the President's style, I think the mere word "attack" suggests a combative attitude that I don't typically associate with him, for better or worse. I'd expect him to approach this from the angle of promoting truth, not defending against "attacks." I think it would be better if it were presented as a factual resource for anyone, not just Obama supporters who need ammo to fire back at those who disagree. (for the record I'm a liberal living in san francisco, nuff said)

Thanks. You're right -- it definitely puts forth an "us vs. them" mentality.

Interesting topic. My boss expects me to be online 24/7 because he is (when he FEELS like it). I work-part time with set hours and am a single mom; I refuse to buy a Blackberry or similar device. This makes Boss occasionally peeved. A colleague (equal in rank to Boss, another dept.) told me, "Don't you dare work one minute of unpaid overtime. Especially on weekends. Don't get taken advantage of." And so I don't. Annual review's coming up and I'm sure this will be a topic. I plan to offer to schedule online time on the clock if required to check email on weekends.

I like your solution.

Another might be to spend one week doing all of the online things that he expects you to, just so you have an idea of how long that takes up. That way if your boss says, "You must, it is required for your job," then you can say, "All right. That adds an additional five hours to my work week. I know that I have been hired for a 20 hour a week position. What should we do about that?"

That was an allusion to Richard Feynman's memoir.

I know. So was my answer, dude.

what do you think of I'm still not too sure about it.....

Love, loved the content for several years. I thought it was often witty and funny, not to mention thoughtful and provocative.

I hate their new design, though (which, by now, is months and months old). In fact, I hate it so much that I very rarely visit. So I'm not sure what I think of this iteration.

I love this request!! How about "homoerotic butter sculpture competitions" ?

How ABOUT them!

Long before "Legally Blonde," we had a cat named Bruiser, but it was not out of any sense of irony. He'd been the neighborhood bully for several years before we moved in and he adopted us (and we had the vet neuter him).

I would believe this. I live next door to a terrifying cat.

i work with people who are online sending emails ALL THE TIME. They might take a few hours off when they get home to eat dinner, be with the fam, put the kids to bed, but they're back on email from 9pm on. I regularly get emails that were sent in the middle of the night. My favorite was the one that came in at 12:50am asking the team for a status check. Uh, our status was asleep? He sent another one at 2:43am thanking us for our hard work.

Three cheers for anyone who responded to that status request with, "Teeth brushed and jammies on, Sir!"

I am home sick in bed. First sick day I have taken all year. And I have had 7 work calls so far. There is no OFFline.

I would tell you to shut down the computer and turn off the ringer...But I really think you should do that -after- the chat ends at 3.

It looks kind of amateurish -- like an updated version of those AOL personal sites from the mid-90s. Given that, I would question whether it's just another personal partisan website trying to counter the "lies" being told, kind of a counter-point to the crazy right-wing sites claiming that there's a NWO conspiracy, and linking to other crazy sites to support their arguments. Of course, then I would wonder if the amateurishness (is that even a word. well, it is now) was part of the message and whether it was really a professional effort to look amateurish. Of course, during all this deliberation, I would completely forget anything I read on the site, thereby negating its intended purpose. So, overall, fail.

And then I would send you emails at 12:50 am asking about your status updates as you thought through the site, anyway.

"Henry Kissinger currently dating?"

This is the best.

"Ebola symptoms"

"Henry Kissinger Ebola Symptoms."

We have discussed only three topics during this entire chat. Enough with the attack site and offline please!

Give us a new topic!

I'm wading through tons of unanswered questions, and they're mostly attack and offline related. If you would like a topic change, please clearly mark it NEW TOPIC.

Additionally, you are incorrect. We have also discussed bad Richard Feynman jokes.

My first thought was "too bad it's negative, otherwise it'd be a great band name." So maybe a good name would be something like "Bodacious Kerning." Only way I can make this on-topic today would be to suggest it for the Google searchers.

Atrocious Kerning is an excellent band name.

"Edible gloves"

Yes. Henry Kissinger Edible Gloves.

Do you see where I'm going here? It appears that adding "Henry Kissinger" to any fake Google search results in an improvement. We need more phrases like this -- things that can be inserted next to any words for an immediate boost in comedic value. We also need a name for these phrases. Though there probably is one already.

I sent in my guess as to his dark secret, but he never posted it. Does this mean that I was right? His comment back seems to refer to my guess.

What was your guess?

MY guess is that his non-response just means that your question got buried in the chat queue and he never saw it. It happens.

Salahi abduction?

As a search topic?

Salahi's abducted by Henry Kissinger?

I am the New Yorker who mentioned kerning and gave the Kissinger suggestion. Do I win the chat?

Yes! You absolutely win the chat.

And unfortunatley, my editor just came over and put me on deadline for tomorrow, so we have to end right at 3.


But we shall return next week, same time and place. GSTQ.

In This Chat
Monica Hesse
Monica Hesse is a staff writer for the Post Style section. She frequently writes about culture, the Web and the intersection of the two.

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