The User's Bill of Rights

User’s are way too entitled these days. Every time a cool web startup gets some traction and tried to monetize someone inevitably starts moaning about how terrible ads are and how their rights are being violated and they can’t trust them anymore and on and on. It’s getting really annoying. Let’s take the case of Disqus’ new “Promoted Discovery” feature. Basically, the idea is that in the comments of your blog there will be a list of posts from other sites presumably that people have paid to get out there. Yesterday a blog author I quite enjoy wrote that what Disqus is doing is pulling a bait and switch. A lengthy discussion ensued. In the end I came to agree with a lot of his points, it just happened to be a bad situation for him. But for most other users, they’re just acting like entitled brats. Let’s go back to Disqus and their attempt to monetize. Here’s what it looks like:

That’s it. It’s a list of other articles on your blog plus a list of “related” articles from others. Now most people probably don’t want other people’s ads on their blog but let’s look at this situation closely and consider it carefully before rushing to judgement. There are some things most people miss before they immediately go into full faux outrage mode.

  • It’s not ugly. It’s just a list of links and it blends in.

  • Users were given months worth of notice via email and the official Disqus blog among other sources.

  • They’re sharing the revenue from the advertising with users!

  • They give you the option to disable it!

I think any reasonable person would agree that Disqus acted in good faith here. I mean, the free services we love aren’t charities and they have to monetize eventually. Why are we demonizing them? Well, it’s because we all feel so entitled. That’s why, because of that discussion, I’ve created the User’s Bill of Rights.

The User’s Bill of Rights is a project aimed at curbing user entitlement while improving user trust and giving web service providers a PR boost. The idea is that if both users and service providers both agree to the very reasonable terms I’ve come up with then services will know what the minimum their users expect from them and users know what the minimum to expect is. It helps boost trust in services that add themselves to the list as well. To get the full details you should visit the site.

It’s open source!

You can contribute and use the data from the project yourself! There’s a User Bill of Rights repository on GitHub. The way it works is like so:


The User Bill of Rights is meant to be a community collaboration. I want the entire web community to dicsuss modifications, additions, or subtractions from the rights and I want to make it as easy as possible to add your own service to the list. So I’ve made it easy to both consume and modify both the rights and list of services.

Consuming the data in a web app (or any app)

To consume the most recent rights or supporting services you just grab the rights.* or services.* from GitHub. The data comes in XML, JSON, and YAML formats for your consumption convenience. All your app has to do is grab the latest file in the format of your choice and parse them.

Add a service

There are two ways to add a service to the list. The least technical way is to fill out the form on the website. You just enter your information and I’ll add it to the list on the website and the GitHub repo. The other way is to fork the official repository, add your service in all 3 formats (JSON, XML, and YAML) then submit a pull request. So long as your request contains valid JSON, XML, and YAML in the appropriate files your changes will be merged with the master branch then updated on the site. I’m currently working on a way for these steps to be automtatic. In the future there will be a system set up that generates the latest changes and updates the site automatically. For now we have to do it manually which isn’t that hard.

Modifying rights

Modifying the rights needs to be an open process but a sane one as well. We can’t be constantly changing rights as that wouldn’t be good for either users or service providers. That’s why I propose and am implementing the following system which allows for open, transparent debate and modification of the list of rights which are currently at version 1.0.0.

  1. Fork the ubr-public repo and make your proposed changes.

  2. Issue a pull request

  3. I’ll merge your proposed changes into your own branch. It won’t be merged with master but it will be available in the repository for others to see.

  4. Create a new issue on GitHub explaining your proposed changes and why they should be merged with the master branch. At this point the community should get involved and discuss the change. A simple yes or no vote on the change is not acceptable. All discussion must contain both a yes or no vote on the issue plus an coherent explanation of why the person believes the change should be merged.

Right now the way voting will work is by community sentiment. All proposed changes to the rights will be left as open issues for 5 days. At the end of the 5 days the votes will be tallied and the change will either make it into the master branch or be closed without being added.

Right now I don’t anticipate there being much of a problem with this system however if the project really takes off we may need to add more structure to this system. That’s a problem I’ll deal with when we get there. All good hackers know not to fall into the trap of premature optimization.

This project was created in less than 24 hours so there’s still some polishing up to do. I think that it’s a great initiative and hopefully the community rallies around it and supports it. As I wrote this the top story on HN was about how Posterous is shutting down on April 30th. One of the founders is in the comments talking about how his new startup won’t pull the rug out from users like Posterous did. I think if we had a User’s Bill of Rights sooner and Posterous had signed on to commit to it, the user’s wouldn’t trust their new venture. Conversely, services that do right by their users but are struggling to obtain users and monetize could benefit from signing on. Adding your service to the User’s Bill of Rights is a commitment to do right by users until the very end. If users and services stick by this set of standards we’ll know who to trust and services will know what users expect. If a service goes back on their committment it doesn’t mean the project has failed. It only means that the founders have created a reputation that cannot be (at least not easily) recovered. Please check out the project, add your service, and check out the first set of rights. This project can only be a success if you get involved.

Philosophy, Projects, Web development

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