Web Hostess Live: The latest from the Web

Oct 24, 2012

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.

We're still chatting today, but I've been laid up sick and didn't have the energy to pull together the links and polls that I normally do. I thusly declare this chatters choice day. Bring out your interesting topics of discusion -- otherwise it will just be a lot of me coughing and my dog with a prolonged and hilarious case of the hiccups.


We'll start whatever we start at 2.

Did you see this article? Can ANYTHING be done about trolls?

The word I would use for the men harassing this woman is much stronger than trolls.  And if there is a more heinous sentence than "You deserve to be raped," I can't think of it. 


I'd be interested to know if any of you belong to online communities in which either your gender has been an issue, or you've seen people make sexist comments to others.

I wanted to thank the chatter who suggested Minecraft as an educational tool for kids without the child realizing they are playing an "educational" game. The whole family has enjoyed building together. It's like all the fun of legos without stepping on a brick in bare feet.

Passing on the thanks!

If you and a friend had a falling out almost 3 years ago and there was zero communication for all that time, what would you think if they said happy birthday on your facebook? It bothers me that I am reading into it more than I probably should, but why now?

I would think that the friend decided that it was possible to not be close friends with someone while still managing to be civil in terms of things like birthday greetings. I would also think the friend was making it easier on me in case we ever happened to run into each other at the grocery store or something. I might think they were extending the smallest of olive branches -- the beauty of falling outs being that they're not legally binding resolutions. People can fall back in at any time.


And really. It's just a Facebook birthday greeting. You obviously didn't detest the other person enough to unfriend them, so their actions are not out of bounds.

But I just had to share this:  Even though he's calling her out, his writing is thoughtful, beautiful and hopeful for Coulter to grow. That's more courage (and faith) than I have.

I posted this on Facebook yesterday. It's among the more eloquent pieces of writing I've seen in awhile.

Monica, Have you gotten any offers to be included in a binder?

Oh, OH. This reminds me. Some chatter emailed me this week asking what they should be for Halloween. I forgot to write back. Let me use this space to say: Do not be a woman in a binder. There are already going to be scads of them, all over every Halloween party in the District. Surely we can think of a better topical costume? 

I think a better question would be if anyone belongs to a community which has never had any sexist comments. Do they exist?

Absolutely true. I was more curious about specific anecdotes, or forums that might have been surprising. 

How well do you think you can get a feel for a place online vs. actually visiting that place in person? I’m thinking about relocating to another (smaller) city and have done extensive research online for about 2 months. I’m going very soon for a real visit to this city and am quite curious to see how well my online perceptions mesh with my real life experience.

I can't wait for you to come back and share your perceptions.  I'm throwing this out to the chatters.


I'll start by saying that I think it depends on what kinds of research you've been doing -- how personal and nitty gritty and community-specific you've been attempting to be. If I listened to online perceptions of Washington, I would think it was a power-mongering home of political obsessives who did nothing but drink scotch in oak paneled rooms. In reality, the city -- at least the version of it that I live in -- is so much different.

Hello? Is this thing on?

Yeah, yeah, gimme a break. My head is stuffy. Words no come quickly today.

Okay, what if it's a binder costume, but when you open the binder, a bayonet pops out?

Yes. Correct. More like this, please.

Since last week's chat I've been wondering if the anonymity of the internet is really the driving force behind the horrible behavior that we've all been bemoaning, and have started to think it's more a case of a lack of "community standards" (Although I hate to use that phrase. Maybe "broken windows theory" would be better?). One not particularly nice or nasty person starts reading the comments, sees the general tone and cadence, and mimics it in their own posting. Eventually it just becomes "normal," and the guy at the end of the line can't understand why everyone's so mad that he just did what everyone else was doing. I'll bet if you ask newspaper editors from 20 or 30 years ago they'd tell you that this isn't new, and the world has never had a shortage of glass bowls perfectly willing to sign their name to small minded vitriolic screeds. We just didn't see it because the Letters to the Editor section was, well, edited.

I think this is partly true, but I still believe anonymity is a huge, vast contributer to nasty discourse online. For my job, I frequently have to track people down for interviews -- often people I've only "met" as an online handle. Without exception, those people are far less vitriolic when we speak on the phone as opposed to whatever they're spewing online. Additionally, there's a reason sources often ask for anonymity from journalists. And it has never, ever been because they wanted to be anonymously nicer.

How long until the jokes that it was designed for her? Right about now?

I think we exhausted all of our female-related iPad jokes right around the time that it was named "the iPad."

The Big Bird costumes are all taken.

Some people are going to have to start settling for Oscar the Grouch, and everyone will just be confused.

I would wonder why I was still Facebook friends with them if we'd had a falling out and hadn't spoken for 3 years.

Zackly. If it's going to bother you that much when they reach out to you, then why have you given them an easy and convenient opportunity to reach out to you? That's not a rhetorical question -- if the OP is still here, I would really like to know your answer.

a clown costume, with a giant question mark on it. It's a clown question, bro!


Big, warm, fluffy blankie thoughts are being sent your way. I hope you feel better soon! Shall we talk about happy things today? What are the happy places on the innerwebs? What are people's go-to sites when they are stressed? When I'm feeling overwhelmed, I find a lot of comfort in visiting Zen Habits (www.zenhabits.net). It's soothing to think about simplifying, streamlining, decluttering (not that I always practice these skills).

Thank you!

Sites like zenhabits stress me out. I'd do much better to watch episodes of Hoarders and think, "My house has nothing to worry about."

So after all the fuss and the popularity and the memes, Call Me Maybe's album has sold ... less than 100K. Best example of how online popularity is soooo different.

Yeah, you don't want to own that song. You just want to YouTube that song, whenever you get interested in who has made another parody of it.

Isn't there a problem with people using twitter to poll? It skews tremendously younger compared to the overall voting population along with other issues that would make it an unsuitable sample for a general poll.

A huge problem. I will never stop railing against journalists who use Twitter as evidence of anything other than what people are saying on Twitter. 

That being said, there's a huge problem with traditional polls as well, since those go to people with landlines who tend to be home when the call comes throuh -- i.e. older Americans.

I've still been mulling the Amazon Prime discussion of a few weeks ago - two things to note - one was that someone was bragging about not going shopping for months. Don't forget about supporting your local businesses - there is a lot to be said about circulating your hard-earned money in the community. 2nd, sometimes their are two prices on Amazon, one with an outside vendor (or whatever they are called) and another higher price for Amazon Prime (because it includes shipping)! That said, if you have a .edu address in the family, you can sign up for free (but you don't get the TV/video, just the shipping perks). In conclusion: Shop Local when you can!!!

Thanks. These are worthy thoughts. I would miss going to the store. It's my favorite field trip. 

OK, that was so moving it actually brought tears to my eyes. Mega kudos to that letter writer for such a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece!

It's nice to see something like this go viral -- as it definitely has in the past few days.

I am barely interested in politics - only enough to be able to vote with a little bit of insight. I am SOOOO sick of political stuff being posted on Facebook that I can barely stand it for the next couple of weeks. I want to scream STOP!! but like my FB posting friends otherwise and don't want to offend. Thanks for letting me rant.

If you were considering any mass unfriendings, election season is an excellent opportunity to evaluate your flock. Regardless of whether or not you agree with friends' political perspectives, seeing the way they respond to the opposition's candidate (Are they attacking policy or personal appearance? Are they trying to offer thoughtful opinions or just hatemongering) can be a useful insight.

Not that this is the same...but one of the (many) reasons I stopped using Yelp was because reading reviews, even the really detailed ones, never really gave me an accurate idea of the place, and it kind of interfered with the experience. "Oh, I see why all those reviewers mentioned this, but it really isn't that big of a deal..." You just end up with a kind of distorted idea of the place that doesn't really reflect reality all that well. You should try to spend at least a week in the small city before you relocate.

Thanks. Especially with online review sites, it's important to remember that people mostly come on to gripe, not to praise. So your real life experiences might be more pleasant than your online experiences.


It's been interesting to witness Yelp in action with a cafe that recently opened in my neighborhood. Within three days of opening, people were posting comments like, "They alllways get my order wrong," or "Every time I've been here, I've had to wait half an hour for a table."  Three days!

I've been looking at photos of homes for sale to see what you can get in different neighborhoods in my price range, school ratings, restaurant reviews, parks and recreation websites for stuff to do, neighborhood community association websites, discussion forums where people talk about the city, looking at crime stats, and lots of time spent using Google Maps satellite view to zero in on different neighborhoods to see how close they are to shopping and parks. I've also been reading the local newspaper. I feel like I know the city very well at this point, but there's nothing like going in person. I'm remembering back to when I bought my house here in DC and what it was like to look at online photos of places for sale thinking, oh this is the ONE. Only to go see the home and not quite believing how different a place can look up close in person.

I comment your research. Chatters, is there anything else you can think of, research wise, that would be helpful to this prospective mover? (And really, keep us posted!)

i own it. I love it when it comes on my running mix on my iPod. It's such an upbeat happy song! (and I'm 34)

I sing it sometimes. To inanimate objects around my apartment.

Is that a bayonet in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

Or are you just trying, you know, to kill me with a bayonet? 


Let's stay away from the Halloween costumes that involve concealed weapons, hmm?

And I won't hear of any "settling" for him! (Grover would also be acceptable.)


Hi, I'm Windows 8

Remember when everyone was the Mac or PC guy? 

(Another don't: Not the T-Mobile girl. Not that costume, please).

Well, it's as simple as she cut off the relationship, not me. It was a long time coming (I am an alcoholic) but I didn't see it so felt side-swiped. I kept her as a FB friend because I couldn't cut that last tie and I guess she didn't cut me either. And honestly, because of her I don't get on facebook except 1 or 2 times a year because looking at her page would depress me. (FB sends emails when someone posts a message so you don't have to get on FB anyway). I've been sober for a few years but never saw it as my place to get in touch with her. I should have deleted her for my own peace of mind. TMI?

No, not TMI. It sounds like this relationship has plagued you for a long time, and at this point I would say you have two options. 1) Unfriend her, as you suggested, because it's impractical logistically and emotionally to let one person's presence in your friend network take up so much of your mental enegery. 2) Send her a message saying, simply, "Thanks for the birthday wishes." That's all. No, "How have you been?" No, "Why did you contact me after all this time?" Simply, "Thanks for the birthday wishes," which puts the ball back in her court, in case she was thinking about rekindling the friendship.


But that's only if you want the friendship rekindled. If you don't, then end it thoroughly and completely, because the tenuous connections and the way they're eating at you sound completely heartbreaking.

Also represents those willing to answer the phone. I do not answer my home phone unless I know the number. I'm getting about 4 political calls a night, every night now for the past 2 months.

Yes, this too.

I keep getting little email reminders from my bikini waxer to post a review on Yelp. Now that I know internet anonymity is an illusion, I'm afraid to, even though she's really good.

I would never, ever post such a review. I am always shocked at the people who do post those reviews, often using their full names. I cannot tell if I am shocked out of awe or horror.

As a guy who considers himself a skeptic, the article about sexism and harassment in the skeptic societies was pretty depressing. I don't know much about the organizations, but I suspect that some of the problem may be the typical bad behavior we often see when you have relatively small communities that are mostly men who think they're better than everyone else. Think sports teams, tech companies, and the military (more so in the past). I hope the skeptic community will follow the example of some of these other organizations and start trying to change the norms. There will always be guys who are jerks. But the rest of the community doesn't have to tolerate their behavior.

My hope is that the article prompted as many thoughtful responses like yours as it did neanderthal reactions.

Please... no insurance company ad characters!


"Call Me Maybe" = 307.7M views. "Gangnam Style" = 532M views.

I would say, "Don't be Psy for Halloween," but in truth, I would like everyone to be Psy for Halloween.

I am not certain if I am going to be able to articulate this point properly, as I am not certain myself what it is that I wish to say. By no means do I support people who make crude comments to others. I am against bullying. I am of the belief we all need to learn to understand and accept each other and learn to appreciate that others may have differences that we may not personally like bur we should allow others to live their lives. Therefore, we have a conflict between people who have certain thoughts and those who take offense at their expressed thoughts. Whose rights takes priority? Obviously, it depends on the circumstances. For instance, I think Saran Silverman is very funny. Yet many of her comments would not be appropriate if addressing a meeting of the United Nations delegates. Some of the most sick and vile things one would ever hear is late at night when comedians tell each other roo roo or Aristocrats jokes (see the movie about this to even hear Sarah Silverman speak controversially about rape). These comments are appropriate at that time. Yet these jokes are no meant for the outside world, except for those curious enough to watch the documentary about this comic tradition. What has surprised me is I have sometimes posted what is obvious to most people is something comical and not serious. I am later surprised when people respond as if the jokes were serious. I then feel bad because someone has taken offense where none was made, yet, at the same time, I don't want them to feel worse by pointing out that it should have been obvious to most that it was a joke. In sum, I am not certain what I am saying, but there, I said it. Now for some roo roo.

I'm posting this without much of a response, because I think it gets at a lot of issues. 

This reminds me of a story a friend likes to tell. She was on a plane sitting next to a man who was relocating from Utah to DC. He was excited to have bought a home in Manassas, though his job was in DC itself. He had looked at a map and figured it would be an easy 20 minute commute each way. My friend kept thinking, "This guy's wife is going to kill him when they realize what the traffic is like here."

Yes. Miles mean different things depending on where you are in the country.

This is a question that confuses me -- What is the common etiquette for responding to birthday wishes on FB? Some people say "thanks" to each one, some "like" the happy bday wish, others just post a blanket "thanks to all" the next day. Help! I'm afraid I've been rude just doing the blanket thanks unless someone writes something heartfelt or that calls for a follow-up, to which I respond individually.

There is no common etiquette. A blanket thanks to all is perfectly fine. The argument for responding to each individually is that it ascertains that you will do a check-in with the people in your life at least once a year. It's an excellent opportunity to get back in touch with people you'd lost contact with. They say, "Happy birthday," you say, "Thanks! I saw the pictures from your kid's birthday party! She's cute!" etc. etc.

And yet, my sister had no idea what my Draw Something pic of Psy doing the Gangnam Style dance was, even though I wrote 'Psy' on top so she didn't mistake it for any other tuxedoed male with sunglasses, arms crossed and leg up...


I read this as "Halloween Donuts."

A Halloween Donut is always an acceptable Halloween costume.

A very depressing study was published about four years ago by the Harvard Business Review about the staggering amount of sexism, harassment, etc. of women in the SET (science, engineering, technology) fields by the men that compose most of those fields. PhDs in physics were acting like vicious construction workers who harass women on the streets. Men in those fields were routinely bypassing women they were supposed to work with.

Not to make this pile-on men day, but there was an interesting article in Scientific American recently talking about men and women in friendships, and how each estimate their level of attractiveness to the opposite sex. In part:


In fact, men’s estimates of how attractive they were to their female friends had virtually nothing to do with how these women actually felt, and almost everything to do with how the men themselves felt—basically, males assumed that any romantic attraction they experienced was mutual, and were blind to the actual level of romantic interest felt by their female friends. 

I think they also do call cellphones now. You should check with the Post's polling director. There are just too many polls now. I wonder who they are talking to.

Some do, but some don't.

My biggest problem with Yelp! and the like is that I find that they tend to be trend-focused rather than quality-focused. If you want to know the restaurant that everyone is talking about, go to Yelp. If you want to know where to get a great cheeseburger or a reasonably priced Mexican meal, ask your friends. There's a steakhouse in my town that ALWAYS gets listed as being one of the greatest places to dine. I've been there a few times over the years, and the big secret: The food just isn't very good. Steaks are tough and unseasoned, other entrees are overcooked and dried out. But it has AMBIANCE! It's the place to be SEEN! It is SO much better than The Outback, except for the taste of the food!

I love chain restauants. I really do. Tell me, though, is it true that Outback no longer serves a Bloomin Onion?

May I just register my displeasure with moving Trick or Treat to the weekend? Trick or Treat should happen ON HALLOWEEN, no matter what day of the week it falls on. Thank you.

Who has done this? Did I miss an announcement? Kids -- if you come to my house this weekend, the candy won't be there yet. I buy it the day before Halloween to make sure there will still be some left for you.

Oooh! You can totally check out google maps traffic in the morning and afternoon to see where the backups are. I wonder how many people in the small town actually read the small town paper. It makes me think of the Casual Vacancy (which I really loved, btw) Huge swaths of the population had no knowledge of or opinion on the little town council's most hot-button issue.

Traffic pattern checking = excellent suggestion. Especially if you know the address of your employer and the neighborhood where you're considering moving.

In other words, Howard Wolowitz, before he and Bernadette got engaged.

Geek check here -- is that a Big Bang reference? I'm not up on that particular corner of pop culture.

A nine-year-old compares election figures to Harry Potter characters: 

As the chat can't get any better than this (and as it's after three anyway), we're going to call it a day here. Thanks for stopping by, and see you next week.

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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