My experience with online forums goes back to the early 1980s, and indeed I wrote one of the very few 8080 assembly language software programs to manage large numbers of Usenet Newsgroups – PIMP.
But the experience has always been mixed. The written word in the forums or newsgroups leaves many more able than others, depending on their ability to express themselves using the written word. And the instant nature of the technology leads to some rather interesting interactions.
One of the things we’re trying to do with EVTV is of course promote the evolution of electric vehicles as a personal indiidual effort that many can take to demonstrate or lead us to an energy policy and practice that reduces our dependence on foreign oil and the existing oil based unholy alliance between government, extremely large oil corporations, and equally large automotive manufacturers.
And we’ve been somewhat successful. Despite lower gasoline prices, there has been renewed and indeed increased interest in electric cars and doing conversions, and the chatter from the large manufacturers has changed subtly from “maybe someday” and “hybrid, hybrid, hybrid” to “me too, we’ve got plans” and “battery, battery, battery.”
The latest of course is Toyota CEO’s joy ride in a Tesla Roadster and subsequent announcement that he had “felt the winds of the future.”
For individuals converting cars to electric drive, information is at a premium. The obvious attempt to get it involves Google, and that subsequently leads to forums such as Electric Vehicle Discussion List (EVDL) and Do It Yourself Electric (DIYElectric).
Like all forums, these lists attract a set of “regulars” who simply post more than anyone else. And any information, repeated often enough,, becomes “the word” simply because everyone has read it, passed it on, and read it again.
Unfortunately, there is no check on technical accuracy.
Combine this with a certain level of anonymity, most of the “regulars” have pseudonyms and do NOT post their real names. And you have pretty much a formula for misinformation.
I call this “online engineers typing themselves smart.”
In most cases, despite screens full of text proclaiming their expertise, these are self taught diletanttes, whose education and engineering practice again comes primarily via Google, Wikipedia, DigiKey, and most of all, by typing in the forumes themselves furiously.
As an engineer and technical writer for 30 years, this all smells like opportunity. I don’t mind wading into technical confusion at all, it’s probably what I do best. Misinformation in bulk is a little harder to deal with. DISinformation is just beyond the pale.
With the rise in interest and the search for ever better components, there has been some economic opportunity. We were deeply disappointed when one of our suppliers, James Morrison of EVComponents, came under some internal strife and economic issues and made a startling move to simply disavow responsibility for some $400,000 in prepaid orders from potentially 75 customers who had paid in advance for batteries and components. Apparently Morrison has deecided to stiff these people of their products, and sell the already sold stock AGAIN at bargain basement prices to raise further money and so deal with his economic difficulties.
Like all new frontier industries, this one has attracted its own bevy of snake oil and patent medicine sales force.
The EASIEST target is Battery Management Systems or BMS. After spending $10,000-$15,000 on the most necessary component, batteries, most innovators are struggling to get maximum life from these cells. The problem is the manufaturers provide very little information, and some of that not terribly accurate.
Enter our hero, BMS designer. They throw together some ill thought through designs using inexpensive components, rush it off to Sundstone to make PCBoards, and immediately start selling them to any hapless yuck that they can find. NO testing of any kind in most cases and in the thoroughly tested cadre we are talking about thoroughly tested by running it on the designers car for two weeks. These are available at ALL prices, ranging from $12 per cell to several thousand dollars. The tout is essentially always the same:
If you don’t have a BMS, YOU’LL BE SORRY WHEN YOUR $15,000 BATTERY PACK BLOWS UP HORRIBLY. DON’T SAY WE DIDN’T WARN YOU.
I have spent some time and effort on a particular forum DIYelectric over the past year trying to sort all this out and counter the disinformation provided. The result has been a very understandable attack from those who more or less huant these forums, using them as barely concealed fronts for sales operations. If I come along and mention that their design won’t do what they claim, they go berserk. And if I offer real data information from real cell tests that indicate that the BASIC premises they are using in BMS design are fatally flawed from the beginning, they go into rage.
They are quite accustomed to simply shutting up this talk by gathering the herd, jumping on the heretic, and giving him a good thrashing. Of course, as I said, I was in a VERY rough and tumble world of online forums before many of these people were born. And as a technical writer, I sometimes feel like a child molester picking apart their wholly unsupportable technical nonsense in writing. So the gang up and abuse stunt neither awes or dissuades me. Rather, I find it entertaining and indeed can stoop as low as they want to go in the ad hominum attacks. It’s just not a problem.
We’ve been effective. The sales of useless blue elephant gun BMS systems has plunged. The top balance shunt systems are virtually dead. And generally we have shifted the goal toward Battery MONITORING Systems and informational instrumentation.
But many of the regulars have at least side-business type income from these activities and some are trying to make a living at it. It’s hurt. Since the usual bullying and attempts to simply “vote” me off the island haven’t had their usual result — most people don’t want the abuse and simply quit the forums, the new tactic is to appeal to the forum operator to have me removed or edited.
This came up on EVDL some months back. Administrator David Rhoden contacted me with some very paternalistic advice on how not to stiur up controversy or anger any of his participants. I pointed out to him that I WANTED to stir up controversy and did not MIND angering his participants if it helped anyone sort through the dreck of disinformation and bullshit. But if he intended to delete messages I posted or “edit” them to a tone he felt more comfortable with, I would simply leave the list. And I did so.
Over the past year I’ve posted a lot on DIYElectric and indeed paid for advertising on thise widely used service. This week, I was attacked wholesale by a 14 year old who only identifies himself as METHODS and posts photos of his BMS systems, which are particularly inept. We actually weren’t even in a discussion. He just launched a bomb of ad hominen attacks likening me to “cake and dogshit in a blender.”
My response was quite muted, as the entire thing reallyhad no context. I simply asked if this anonymous person might be another 14 year old boy blunder forum engineer who just might have a BMS product on the table.
Incredibly, I heard from Robert Green, forum administrator, cautioning that several people had complained about my posts. I pointed out that if he cared to check he would find ALL of them were in some way involved in BMS design and sales. I quoted the message I had responded to and he seemed at the time to agree it was a very provoked attack and a measured response.
I got on the service later, and found the attack slightly reworded (edited) and my response deleted entirely.
I pointed out to him that he had apparently decided to edit the stream and essentially disable my ability to respond in a public forum. If we’re going to manage the debate by falsifying the text, what the hell are you doing? He simply explained he was trying to reduce the anger.
I asked him to delete me from the group and remove the ad and incredibly, he initially REFUSED to do so. I then asked him what he thought he was doing. DId he intend to have me “appear to be” active on the forums and condoning the site despite my leaving? Who was going to fake my posts? Was he aware of the legal implications of this?
He finally agreed to delete the account and the ad.
This attempt at editorial “control” which essentially borders on onlien identity theft and fraud. What if someone, with the access of an administrator, starts editing your posts to change their meaning? Or worse, starts posting under your login things you were not even aware you had posted? Where would this end? Online identity theft out of control….
In any event, we are going to continue publishing a video series online with the best information we can determine at the time. Its likely imperfect. But it isn’t dishonest. And having learned now twice how insidious these little relationships are between the forums and the “engineers” that are trying to sell product (most of the ads on Mr. Greens service are BMS ads with the exception of the EVCOMPONENTS ad and ours).
Basically the information on these sites is no longer to be trusted at all. They are willing participants in a scam to milk ducats from people who are interested in electric cars. It is done quite cynically, and quite by design. That is not to say everyone on these forums are part of the conspiracy. Most are simply unaware of the level or purpose of the manipulation. That it would extend to actually editing posts by subscribers, to subtly alter their meaning, by the administrators, is beyond the pale.
We’re probably going to avoid the forums in the future entirely. It takes a lot of time and effort, and I cannot correct every technical idiot theory on perpetual motion in any event. I’ll try to post here to the blog more regularly, and let the forums do what forums do, lead to a lot more heat than light.
I would urge you all to view what you read online with a skeptical eye and exercise critical thinking. The level of misinformation/noise is always horrendous. But at this point there are actually unholy alliances between the forum administrators and their friends, the BMS designers, that are quite deliberate DISinformation.