Well, the tempest in a teapot of Kathy Sierra versus Chris Locke and the general incivility of the blogosphere has finally bubbled over to the point where industry luminaries like Tim O’Reilly are proposing a Blogger’s Code of Conduct. Agree to the terms and you too can have the swanky graphic shown on the left, or reject it and you get the goofy dynamite cartoon on the right:
|Code Enforced||No Code of Conduct|
But I’m not going to sign up for it, nor would I recommend anyone else in the blogosphere sign up, though I have the utmost respect for Tim. Further, I say that without having actually read the proposed Code. Here’s why…
I read a lot of print magazines. I’m probably a magazine junkie, actually, if I really think about it. Universally, though, my favorite part of any magazine, from Mothering to The Week, Men’s Health to Wired, are the letters from readers. Whether agreeing, disagreeing, or pointing out errors or misstatements, they are the best way to get a sense of the popular views on a given subject.
Some magazines have carefully edited, proper, prim letters to the editor, with nary an obscenity in sight, while others — honestly, those that I enjoy the most — retain the sprinkling of curse words and crude phrases sent in by the readers themselves.
In the blogosphere, this plays out as the question of whether you, the blogger, want to let your readers, your audience, your participatory community, have voices of their own or not. If you post a comment to my site rife with obscenities, do you think I’ll let it be, edit it to remove or replace the obscenities, or delete it? How do you find out? By participating in my community.
That’s the key reason that I think any Code of Conduct is fundamentally flawed, however much effort people put into it. Every blog is different, every blog has its own unique community of readers and participants, and every blogger has a different tolerance for rude, obnoxious, crude, spammy, obscene, pornographic commenters.
I like to talk about the analogy of college parties and in particular how you can’t expect to have really popular parties of your own until you go to other parties and make friends. In the blogging world, this is why you must comment on other blogs before you can really expect traffic on your own.
Now, let’s go to Mythical U. for a moment and imagine that the Dean wants to impose a Uniform Code of Party Conduct. It’s all well-intentioned, including things like “men shall respect women at all times”, “underage shall not drink alcohol” and “partygoers shall be treated equally, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, etc.” D’ya think it’ll work? Do you think that even one party on campus will have a “Take Heed: This Party Complies with the UCPC” sign on the front door?
Maybe Tim O’Reilly does, but I sure don’t, and my blogging buddies like Robert Scoble don’t either. Indeed, Robert says: “… for now, I guess I’d have to wear the “anything goes” badge. I do find disquieting the social pressure to get on board with this program… [I] have to admit that I feel some pressure just to get on board here and that makes me feel very uneasy.”
In the other corner of our ring are the women who run BlogHer.org. According to the Old Gray Lady herself, the New York Times, they say that “Any community that does not make it clear what they are doing, why they are doing it, and who is welcome to join the conversation is at risk of finding it difficult to help guide the conversation later…”
I find their logic akin to Mythical U. saying “Before you say you want to have a party, you are required to file Form 11-BC9, which details exactly who you are inviting, what you’ll be talking about, what kind of music you’ll play, and both the acceptable topics of conversation and acceptable responses.” Again, maybe nice in theory, but in practice, I wouldn’t be heading there when I was ready to find some friends and hang out.
Don’t misinterpret what I’m saying here, though. I am all for civility, reasoned discourse, and coherent and respectful discussion in the blogosphere, as I am on discussion boards, in email, chat rooms, and even in real life. But I don’t control the world, I can’t tell you how you should be phrasing your sentences or conveying your thoughts, nor would I want to. Yes, there are certain views that are beyond what I will tolerate in my hosted discussion space, but I still support your right to have those views even if I occasionally click that “delete” button and kick your comment into the ether.
I just don’t want to codify anything. I don’t want a Standard of Conduct, I don’t want some badge, some (I can’t resist) stinkin’ badge on my site that says “yes, I’m politically correct” or “I can’t create a community for myself, based on my own acceptable-use guidelines, guidelines that might well change based on world events or even the state of my relationship with my children that afternoon.”
Tony suggests we’re just talking about a ‘comment policy’ but I don’t want to have that either. I don’t want to pin anything down because I want to retain editorial flexibility.
I applaud the efforts of Tim, Jory, Lisa and Elisa, and am glad that they are trying to quantify what is and isn’t acceptable behavior, but don’t look for your graphic here on my blogs, and don’t look for it on those sites that I am involved with. Giving up control over how I manage and interact with my community, for better or worse, is just not worth joining your club, however well intentioned.