May 15, 2007

Cites & Insights November, June 2007 -Blogging "Code Of Conduct"

Walt Crawford's Cites & Insights publication issue 7:6 (June 2007) has extensive coverage of the Blogger Code-Of Conduct controversy, arising from the Kathy Sierra 'death threats" story (disclaimer: I'm mentioned, favorably).

[I keep saying it needs better marketing. While "Net Media Perspective: Civility and Codes: A Blogging Morality Play" is workable, wouldn't you be more likely to read something at least with a subtitle of Creating Passionate Users - With A Vengeance (pun intended there)]

My guess is that most readers missed most or all of this. That may be a good thing but there's stuff to think about here--almost all of it in Act II. That's one reason I'm spending a whole Perspective on this instead of the 400-word summary above. I'd also like to relate this morality play to the generally politer world of liblogs and offer some conclusions, mostly along the way. Finally, Cites & Insights sometimes serves as a "periodical of record"--and I believe it will be useful to revisit this in two or four or ten years to see what (if anything) was learned.

Nothing will be learned. It's not like people haven't been dealing with this since ancient days, even Internet ancient days like when USENET newsgroup hadn't ever had spam (yes, there really was a time when spam was unknown). And O'Reilly is no newbie.

The one innovation that's been learned over the past decade is that it's kinda sorta possible, in very restricted circumstances, to build a labor-intensive data-mining system that skims off the popular stuff and keeps down the spam. But that doesn't help against A-listers, who are a power unto themselves.

The whole thing is about trying to have the moral high ground in one form or another, which I think is why it's so hard to inject any sort of rationality into the pronouncements. By which I mean not that I'm patting myself on the back that I'm right, but that my first question about these is always who is going to enforce it and how that enforcement is going to be done. And I never get much of an answer. At least, not a good answer, as shown by the fact that the subject repeats itself so predictably.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on May 15, 2007 11:18 AM (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



Thanks for the quote. You're right, I'm a terrible marketer (see the first essay in this issue)--something that's becoming more apparent at this particular time.

"Nothing will be learned." You're probably right. I was browsing through some back issues (toward a special issue) and note a previous Bloggers' Code eruption a few years back.

At least that one didn't have badges.

Posted by: walt at May 15, 2007 11:25 AM

Did you see Cory Doctorow's InfoWeek article on the Sierra aftermath?
I wonder how many trolls are going to start testing TNH now that he's made a point of her skill in handling them?

Posted by: Lis Riba at May 15, 2007 11:46 AM

Funny that Cory doesn't mention BoingBoing's sure-fire anti-troll mechanism: don't allow comments on your "blog".

Regarding the code of conduct, there already exists a self-imposed rating system for bloggers: the ICRA label for moderated or unmoderated forum content.

Never heard of it? Well ICRA's not in the A list, I guess, and almost nobody uses the labels (and even fewer use them correctly), despite many groups' strident efforts to encourage them.

The major difference between self-imposed web content ratings and self-imposed movie or comic book ratings is nobody controls the distribution of web content. As important as O'Reilly is, only a tiny fraction of internet users give a damn about what he says. The argument that censorware vendors will be able to block sites based on the badges is spurious, since they (read: we) already spectacularly fail to rate content with existing mechanisms--let alone prohibit access to it.

Posted by: Travis Finucane at May 15, 2007 01:29 PM

walt: You're welcome. I'm sure the topic will come around again :-(

Lis: Sigh. Cory outranks me several orders of magnitude. But I doubt many troll-types read InfoWeek.

Travis: My point is overall that's an unworkable idea. If it was workable, it might lead to privatized censorship, but since it's not workable in the first place, we won't get there.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at May 15, 2007 04:20 PM

Just to respond to Walt and Travis-- I think the Blogger's Code of Conduct debacle represents the fallacy of long tail policymaking.

My sense was that 90% of the people who commented on the BCOC were bloggers. But for the most part they are not the ones who have to deal with comment floods.

But also consider that probably 90% of comments are left on 10% of the blogs, bulletin boards, forums, mailing lists, etc. (Sorry I don't have the numbers on this). I clearly explained in my introduction to CommReps that it was meant to deal with the problems of existing large online communities-- not specifically bloggers. And of course, buried in the comments, Tim O'Reilly said something "Yes, this shouldn't just be limited to bloggers," yet he never jettisoned the title. (Tim also endorsed my proposal, buried in his comments, but I could not get him to do it a singular post).

Now, granted, what triggered the whole thing was when a B-List blogger who gets on the order of a dozen comments a day suddenly gets swamped with a flood of commenters. That would be Tara Hunt.

One day she mentions Henry Ford's name as a business visionary, and Chris Locke goes berserk, by calling out her "grotesque intellectual opacity" for not mentioning Ford's anti-Semitism (that may well be true, though he tripped "Godwin's Law" and it's something Locke & co. stopped short of doing in the Cluetrain Manifesto). He then sent it to 2,800 subscribers of his EGR mailing list, which brought to bear Mel Brooks's "All jump queen!" in History of the World. And that led to meankids,, unclebob, the noose, etc.

Walt has criticized me before for having registration on the comments. Well, yes, because I don't have the bandwidth to deal with all the comments I could. It still scares me that somebody can register with a free email address, post some libel, and I may not be able to remove in sufficient time. With the privilege of publishing comes *responsibility*, word often missing from the libertarian-blogger mindset. Wouldn't you know it, before I wrote this post, I had to ask Seth to open up the thread; he had closed it due the spambots hitting it.

I have to get back to the essay series I've been working on this week. I've been researching with a real American community which has a hodge-podge of Internet tools at hand to try and foster a civic dialogue. And on one hand you have some would-be online civic pioneers, "come on, jump in, take your licks in the wild west of the web!" And the people in power are likely saying, who needs to deal with the smear-o-sphere?

Amazon and eBay made the web safe for commerce, because there was a lot of incentive for them to do it. There's very little incentive, comparatively, to engineer civic spaces that allow participation from all. And by "all" I mean the people that have the most to lose.

Posted by: Jon Garfunkel at May 20, 2007 01:54 PM

If I criticized Civilities for requiring registration, which I might have, I semi-apologize. Registration does narrow the conversation: There's no doubt of that. It's not the only way to absolutely prevent libel--moderation will do so as well, but that's a bigger chore.

In practice, every proprietor must have routines that work for them. Sometimes, that means a highly conversational person not allowing comments at all for valid reasons. Sometimes, it means registration. Right now, I wouldn't criticize any choices for someone's own site. But that's quite different than proposing a code for everybody else.

It is not possible for "long tail" bloggers to tell high-traffic sites what to do and be doing anything more than shouting into the wind: Power doesn't work that way. I call out BoingBoing for not allowing comments: So what?

But when an established person of power says that I should behave some way: That's a different story, particularly if the prescription is mechanically enforceable.

Posted by: walt at May 23, 2007 10:02 AM