There was a little apprehension when we first proposed the concept that all messages to teachers be in exactly six words. Some of us were afraid that the additional obstacle would prevent the younger students from writing in. They were valid concerns.
The concerns proved unfounded. Primary school students made up the majority of posters by far. This is consistent with Teachersday.sg 2006 when we had a free text box for messages. Primary school students are generally more expressive of their gratitude. Sure, many of their 6 word messages weren’t witty or poetic and many contained typographical and spelling errors, but the spirit of celebrating the work of our teachers was there.
Lesson number 1: Don’t underestimate your users.
The teachersday.sg form was created from scratch. We worked with web developer Deepak Jois who cooked it up in Ruby on Rails. After a month online and spam-free, we received our first boatload of nonsense input that contained hyperlinks. The spam bots had arrived. It didn’t affect us as there is a moderation queue all messages go through, but we are now more aware of the reach of spammers.
Over lunch in San Francisco last month, I spoke with Tantek Çelik about how the adoption of microformats made online information more easily harvested by spammers. His argument was that the spam industry already had all the tools to identify online content. I was skeptical at first, but now I’m pretty convinced that the spam industry is extremely savvy and active in seeking out places to insert spam and harvest information.
Lesson number 2: They are out there. We need to be a little more watchful about our online input mechanisms.
It’s been a fruitful project for us. From the feedback we’ve gathered, it’s worked out for students and teachers as well.