April 16, 2007

The Failure Of Blogging, Part N+1

I wasted entirely too much time arguing with Tim O'Reilly over his Blogging Code of Conduct. I suppose it was nice that he was willing to go back-and-forth with me. But in retrospect, I think I let my frustration get the better of me, from seeing an ill-conceived idea being given much publicity due to coming from a tech celebrity and pushing a hot-button.

Ronni Bennett said some nice things about my efforts, so at least one other person read them :-).

But it was predictable that nothing was ever going to happen, since there's no way to hold the A-listers to account, and too many of them think being mean is a feature, not a bug.

And it is absurd to think I'm going to make much difference against the mob. I should know that.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on April 16, 2007 11:46 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

Subscribe with Bloglines      Subscribe in NewsGator Online  Google Reader or Homepage


This grating self-pity is getting really old, Seth. It's like blogging is your abusive partner. You keep doing it and then keep complaining that its hurting you.

Posted by: Firas at April 17, 2007 07:48 AM

What I find darkly amusing is that in one breath, the proponents of the popular internet gush about how vast and "free" it is, and how it can't be controlled by anyone. Then in the next, they are vexed as to why nobody is controlling it, and specifically, regulating conduct.

I have yet to see anyone actually adopt O'Reilly's badges. Is this because they're not official yet? I'm seeing far more "anti badges" out there. And as Stavros said (by way of Burningbird), it's all about making the internet safe for advertisers. Good luck with that.

My general silence on this issue isn't about throwing anyone to the wolves. I just don't have anything value-added to say about this really, and I foresee that O'Reilly's would-be code is bound to rest peacefully next to the rotting hull of the Titanic.

Not that I discourage debate about the hows, whys, and wherefores of it. Saying "noot noot" and acting by rote doesn't say "progress" to me.

Posted by: Ethan at April 17, 2007 09:53 AM

Seth, You do get noticed by some of us in the middle seats. I wrote a brief post--but I'll also be putting together an essay. Won't reach "A-listers" in general, of course, but I do have an audience within the library sphere. The essay will make reference to the wonderfulness of other voluntary codes, such as the Comics Code, Hayes Office, and current MPAA Ratings--all of which were "voluntary."

Of course, I'm in a field where incivility is relatively rare and the lines between A-list and others are relatively blurry...but also a field with a generally profound respect for those boring old words in the Constitution.

Posted by: walt at April 17, 2007 11:21 AM

Yeah, what Firas said. You write enough good stuff for me to see past your too-frequent wailing and gnashing of teeth, but *only just enough*. Maybe you're a "Z-lister" because you whine so goddamn much about your status on the imaginary blogging totem pole in your head?

Get some perspective.

Posted by: Michal Migurski at April 17, 2007 11:48 AM

You rock, Seth.

Posted by: dave rogers at April 17, 2007 01:44 PM


The "grating self-pity", as you described it, happens to be Seth's trademark. Over the years, he's invested a lot of effort into developing his own branded voice.

Are you suggesting that it's perhaps time for Seth to synergistically leverage some emergent creative opportunities in the networked communications identity space? If so, I just have to commend you for your bold leadership vision thing...

Posted by: Ned Ulbricht at April 17, 2007 01:55 PM

I've seen very little support for this "code of conduct" in the other tech blogs I read, and a lot of strong opposition. I don't think this code is going anywhere. (Cf. "Online Integrity", a manifesto proposed a few years ago by some political bloggers, which was also widely rejected and seems to have fallen by the wayside.)

There are a number of A-list bloggers (not to mention any names) who are routinely uncivil, link to uncivil remarks by others, and/or let uncivil remarks stand in their comments. They have no reason to change their writing style for the sake of a badge. Bloggers further down the food chain are more likely to get hits, links, and comments by saying something strident and inflammatory than by saying something civil and reasonable (especially since it's easier to crank out inflammatory screeds than compose well-reasoned essays).

If you are already an A-list blogger, then dissing your fellow bloggers is a good way to get favorable articles written about you in the New York Times, whose writers seem to be obsessed with bloggers-vs-journalists status anxiety. If O'Reilly's proposed code pretty much describes the way you want to write, then there's not much downside to putting his badge on your site. But for the rest of us...yawn.

Posted by: Seth Gordon at April 17, 2007 01:56 PM

Guys, do you see the logical problem inherent in setting up a system where people who talk about how it doesn't work, are told that's the reason it doesn't work? Maybe, recursively, I'm tilting at windmills again.

walt, dave, sethg: Thanks for the nice words.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at April 17, 2007 02:10 PM

Seth: there is no system.

It's just a bunch of people, some more widely-read than others, publishing their thoughts in a medium with low barriers to entry. Even the mighty Tim O'Reilly can't get more than a handful of people to agree that his moralizing, autistic "code" is a good plan. You don't *need* to argue with anyone, because this is one of those ideas that kills itself.

There is no system.

Posted by: Michal Migurski at April 17, 2007 02:28 PM

Ned Ulbricht,

Nice troll, sweetheart. I fail to see how your typification of me as some random hypester has anything to do with my point. I also wonder whether Seth would agree that self-pity is or should be his primary trademarked rhetorical mode.


Please don't conflate my comments with those of others, I didn't make the 'self-fulfilling prophecy' claim. If anything I'd claim that you've been rising in prominence despite your random wailing.

You carry a lot of baggage around, and have a habit of randomly inserting it in random arguments (I do realize you've done that since you started the blog so I shouldn't be surprised.) You realize that there are others besides you who tried to get the message out re: Gore but didn't make it right? Perhaps his whole campaign staff, all his supporters, and he himself. They don't go around strapping the 2000 campaign behind their shoulders.

I can get behind bitterness; a lot of advocactes and thinkers are bitter in tone. But few are so damn navel-gazing. I find it hard to get behind whinyness, or pretending that LiveJournalish angst is the hoarse cry of the persecuted. You can argue about the attention dynamics of online mediums all day without the insistence on mounting yourself on a cross.

Posted by: Firas at April 17, 2007 06:54 PM

I do agree with your 'same crap, different medium' argument about popularity among bloggers though. It's only natural in human networks. I would urge Mr. Crawford above to consider whether academic library science (the field I assume he's talking about) doesn't have the distortion effect of celebrity academics getting heard more than Joe Graduate.

Posted by: Firas at April 17, 2007 07:08 PM

Firas, of course I realize many people try and fail - that's inherent in any lottery-like or exponential-distribution system. The problem is that purely abstract arguments tends to get attacked as either a kind of your-word-against-mine, or on the other side, personal sour grapes.

And I find it a bit trivializing to have a huge amount of research destroyed, know I can't effectively continue with that research, be standing by while watching a mob attack, and have that called "LiveJournalish angst"

[Sigh ... the next move is to say it's not a bad as torture. And it isn't. But it's also worse than many daily minor irritations. It's important to be rational in scale in both directions]

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at April 17, 2007 07:43 PM

Mark Pilgrim has the perfect riposte to all complaints of the form "I love it when you blog about X, but please stop blogging about Y".

Posted by: Seth Gordon at April 17, 2007 09:32 PM

SethG: Funny, but I do agree with the commenter there that it's extreme. I'm not trying to stand on an It's-My-Right type of declaration. Instead, it's not at all clear to me whether the factors really make much of difference, or even if so, if it's worth the effort. I mean, if it's a 20% difference, and that translates into 80 readers being my imperfect self, and 100 readers if I were perfect - ehh, who cares?

If it's claimed to be a huge difference, that starts sounding very much like "If you really really believe in fairies, you'll be on the A-list, but you've got to *believe* - it won't work if you don't believe in it". Especially given the behavior of many A-listers.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at April 17, 2007 09:55 PM

You were treated with respect in that thread, Seth. You were engaged in dialog. You had your say, as far as you could.

People noticed. People responded. You were engaged.

Posted by: Shelley at April 17, 2007 11:02 PM

Shelley: Yeah, but as far as I can tell, it didn't do any good. The point of this post is that on reflection, it was a waste of time.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at April 17, 2007 11:14 PM

I would think that the combined voices have more or less buried the concept of 'code of conduct', and I don't think we'll be hearing about it again.

Until the next crises, when the next person cries wolf.

But you were engaged, what you said was heard. Getting agreement is the trivial part of a debate.

Posted by: Shelley at April 17, 2007 11:29 PM

PS when you argue for something you believe, no matter what happens, you're "not wasting time".

Posted by: Shelley at April 17, 2007 11:30 PM

Shelley: Sadly, the idea will indeed come around again, the next kerfuffle, re-invented by the next publicity-seeker. It was never going anywhere in the first place, since it's unenforceable, and I knew that.

Actually, I think a lot of people didn't get my fundamental point, that it's kind of like deciding what the government of China should do with regard to human rights - unless you've got a huge amount of power yourself, they don't care what conclusion you come to (the Chinese government version of "My blog my rules" is something like "Respect national sovereignty and don't interfere with internal affairs")

Everything has a cost, even if relative to just laying back and relaxing.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at April 17, 2007 11:47 PM


So you're not just any old random hypester. You're The Firas—the genius who moved Seth Finkelstein from the Z-list up to the Y-list.

Or you will be... in a month's time.

But look, to make this baby fly, you've got to simplify. Changing someone's "rhetorical mode" just won't cut it in today's fast-changing online sphere. No, "rhetoric" is definitely out. It sounds like a bad word. You're the one—maybe the only one—who can lead Seth Finkelstein into writing the good words. The words that count. The words that will move him forward two places in the vicious blogocrat-race.

But my question—and it's a simple question, really —how does The Firas Innovation translate into money? What's the business plan here, baby? Show me the bottom line.

Posted by: Ned Ulbricht at April 17, 2007 11:47 PM

Engaging in dialogue with other human beings is, generally speaking, a good thing, since it helps satisfy our need, as social animals, to connect with one another. If the dialog leads to good things happening elsewhere in the world, that's gravy.

And I agree with Shelley's PS.

And I would add a PPS from Bertrand Russell: "The time that you enjoyed wasting is not wasted time."

Posted by: Seth Gordon at April 18, 2007 10:57 AM

What if objectively the "enjoyment" is arguably a short-term gain at a long-term loss? I mean, just for discussion, throwing a temper-tantrum might be enjoyable for a moment, but that's not a good argument for doing it.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at April 18, 2007 05:14 PM

Here's another one on the code of conduct on NPR. I listen to this and it's getting real hard for me not to come out with the truth behind the Kathy Sierra 'threats' -- even though I've been asked to keep quiet.

Posted by: Shelley at April 18, 2007 05:21 PM

Sigh. Another demonstration of how useless my efforts were, where "useless" is defined as "the objective effect" (normalized by the effort involved).

Ned, Firas, note, it was tiring, it contributed to having my arms hurt from the typing - while this is hardly compares to physical injury, I think it's worth noting as part of a discussion that it seems to have been a bad idea for me, as a kind of case study.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at April 18, 2007 06:24 PM

From the linked-to NPR page: "But blogger Kathy Sierra's call for a code of conduct was greeted by a torrent of posts threatening her with violence."

WTF? I thought it was O'Reilly, not Sierra, who had asked for a code of conduct; O'Reilly even said in one of his postings that Sierra hadn't thought his code would have prevented her problem.

Posted by: Seth Gordon at April 18, 2007 08:27 PM

Seth, just shut up. OK? Shut up. This isn't about you. This is about Seth Finkelstein. It's bigger than any one person. You've got to see that. The maestro is about to launch Seth Finkelstein, by Firas.

If your arms hurt from the typing—then we'll just hire a stenographer. Better yet, we'll get you a ghost-writer. Will that make you quit your god-damn bitching?

Go count your stock options, or something... Firas is about to do his magical mad genius stuff. Don't mess it up for everyone. This is no time for you to act like a fucking selfish prima donna. M'kay? So just shut up—count your stock options!

Posted by: Ned Ulbricht at April 18, 2007 08:38 PM

SethG: Details, details ...

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at April 18, 2007 08:42 PM

[insert words of encouragement here]!

Thanks, Seth, for trying ;)

Posted by: joey at April 19, 2007 02:01 AM

Huh? Ned, I see your your ambitions continue to far exceed your capacity. Next time remember that the key to being a successful imp is to pretend you're actually interested in discussing the issue rather than glueing yourself onto the person you're baiting like an obsessive leech.

Posted by: Firas at April 19, 2007 04:12 AM

Its like pre-WWII non-aggression pacts and the league of nations...

We all know how well that turned out ;->

Posted by: Purple Avenger at April 22, 2007 10:31 AM