Opinion: The Russians were coming

The Soapbox was the first thing I discovered on CMG, way back when. People there were talking about me, right after I wrote my first motorcycle column for the Toronto Star in 1999, and people on the Soapbox thought I was a jerk. They also thought it was great that the Star was finally running stories on motorcycles, so the comments were mixed.

Soon after, I wrote a column about the Yamaha R1 in which I stated that it shouldn’t be allowed on public roads, or something like that. It used a great photo of me and my kid (which is the title picture above because it’s a great photo), but the Soapbox was furious; Larry Tate was dispatched by its regulars to meet with me and suss me out, because nobody knew who I was or where I came from. Larry and I met at a restaurant down on Queen’s Quay in Toronto and Larry later reported back that I wasn’t such a bad guy: I was horribly misguided about the R1, but we’d agreed to disagree and I should be given an opportunity to have a voice. All was good. The Soapbox approved.

I used the Soapbox for research and commentary and to figure out what people were thinking, and to just have a virtual place to hang out with other riders. Back then, the whole concept of a digital forum was new, and fun. Here’s a confession: One time, later in the first year, I was curious about people’s opinions of me and I created a fake account with a fake email and asked if anyone knew what this Richardson guy was like as a rider. “He’s okay,” wrote Larry. “Nothing special.” The Soapbox approved.

Over the years, the name changed to the Forum, and its strength came from its honesty. Rob Harris let commentary run on the Forum that he’d not have wanted on the main pages of Canada Moto Guide – there was no racism or bigotry, but plenty of critical comments on stories and opinions. There were plenty of fake accounts, too, as some readers turned into trolls and used the Forum as a place to just hack away in anonymity at things they didn’t like. A few people got warned and then banned; they would usually pop back up later with a different account, but chagrined.

Then, a couple of months ago, we started getting spam on the Forum. We just ignored it at first, hoping it would go away, but it grew worse. Out of a dozen or so new posts in a day, one or two would be ads for Hot Russian Women or Erectile Disfunction Cream, but this soon became 20 or more such posts in a day. Some of them were written entirely in Cyrillic. The Forum was overwhelmed.

And there was nothing we could do about it at Canada Moto Guide, because Rob Harris had been the CMG chief moderator and when he died in 2016, the password to get in to the back end of the system died with him. The software company that set it all up no longer exists. When CMG was sold to autoTRADER last year, the platform also migrated across, but upgrading the forum was low on the list of projects to tackle. Suddenly, last month, that changed.

There was no choice but to kill the entire Forum and rebuild it on a completely new platform with new servers, but with so much history behind it, we were reluctant to do so if there was still any hope of rescue. Last week, with Forum regulars making it known that they were leaving and that they thought this was all the fault of autoTRADER not caring, our finger hovered over the KILL button. The day and time was set the next morning to nuke it all.

And then, the miracle happened. Patrick Shelston, who is the guy who originally set up CMG as an online project for Rob back in 1997, found an old e-mail from him that mentioned the password. We were in!

Today, the Forum is back to normal. We went in, changed the password, killed all the spam messages and set up a filter to block them. We’re not completely out of the woods yet as those bots still keep charging the CMG walls, but at least we’re back in control. Our next step is to work on a better, newer, sexier (but not Russian dating sexy) forum that retains our history.

So if you’re one of those regulars who gave up on the Forum, or if you’re somebody just looking for an opinion, or even if you’re a thin-skinned newbie motorcycle columnist, feel welcome to click back on the Forum tab at the top of CMG’s menu. Just don’t bother if you can’t handle the truth, or if you’re looking for Hot Russian Women.

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