Drive-by Contributions – The typo that never got fixed

I spotted a minor typing error in the Apache JMeter user manual. Most people wouldn’t worry too much about this, but I thought “This is a nice open project. I’d like to help out by fixing this typo”. I had thought that this might involve finding a file in a CVS repo and then submitting a patch, in which case… yeah maybe I won’t bother. The barrier is way too high. Too much hassle.

But to my delight I found that the manual was replicated (through some snazzy automated process no doubt) in a wiki. A simple search for the mispelling revealed it

“Great! Wikis are easy and openly editable! I’ll have this typo fixed in a jiffy”. Unfortunately not. Since web spammers moved in on the wiki scene its become increasingly difficult to keep wikis openly editable. It’s not impossible, but it involves deployment of a lot of anti-spam filters and careful stewardship. Most wiki administrators dont bother with that. Instead they raise the barrier by requiring registration and login to edit. This is very sad really. Due to spamming scumbags, these sites become less easy and accessible.

This typo fix is a classic example of the kind of “drive-by contribution” which you will miss out on if you require registration. For the vast majority of typing pedants, you’ve raised the barrier too high. There’s no way a normal person would bother to go through a registration process just to fix a typing error.

But I’m no normal person. I’m a wiki enthusiast. I’ve registered on hundreds of wikis just to change something minor. “If I don’t fix this typo nobody will”. So I head over the registration page and fill in the details, but what’s this? There’s a field which says “ASF = ?”. I dont know what it means, but I can feel the barrier raising. Is this typo really worth the hassle? I enter “what?” and submit.

The message “Incorrect expansion of acronym ASF” comes back. OK… so as I had actually suspected, this field is actually a kind of primitive captcha. A little puzzle which makes it more difficult for spammers to automatically register themselves on the wiki. It’s the next irritating line of defense, necessitated by particularly sneaky new breed of spammers who automate the registration process and keep coming back and spamming with new users every time they are blocked. In this case I am supposed to be filling in what ASF stands for. An automated spammer would struggle with this, but a human… well actually in this case a human would struggle with it too, so I think whoever set up this captcha maybe didn’t quite get the idea of it.

The barrier has raised higher. Not only do I need to register on the wiki, but I now need to know what ASF stands for (not to mention decoding the fact that this is what the field means) I’m thinking “This is getting silly. The typo is definately not worth it.”

“…ooh but what does ASF stand for? I’m actually quite curious now. Is this some basic knowledge that any human should have?”. I ponder it breifly but nothing comes to mind. In fact it ocurrs to me that there surely must be several different things that ASF stands for. “Which definition is it expecting? Probably the most widely known and accepted use of ASF, which according to google is… ‘Advanced Systems Format’. Never heard of it. Fine. Whatever. Paste it in…”

“Incorrect expansion of acronym ASF”

“&#*$*£&+ Fine! You know what! Screw your manual. You can keep your typo and I hope you choke on it!”