There’s been a whole lot of talk about a blogging “Code of Conduct” lately, in response to some rather vicious attacks against a handful of bloggers. (I’m going to be lazy and not bother linking to any of this stuff, I’m assuming you’ve all seen it before now anyway. )
I’ve resisted the urge to comment because really, I wasn’t involved, and didn’t have anything to add to the conversation. However, now that I’ve spent some time digesting the various actions and reactions, I do have a couple of points to make, so I hope that you’ll indulge me.
We don’t need a code of conduct. It’s a dumb idea, born out of the need to feel like we’re “doing something” about a situation that makes us angry. Ideas born from that sense of urgency are rarely ever good ones, and most times tend to be more damaging than the things we’re trying to correct in the first place.
In fact, you could argue that much of what has taken place the last couple of weeks would fall into that category. It became a train wreck, that everyone had to not only stop and watch, but felt the need to add their own ideas about what needed to be done, when in fact, what needed to be done was nothing, really. There were some legal issues that needed to be investigated and are being, there was some actions that needed to be taken by the people who own, and were therefore responsible for, certain sites, and for those close to the people involved, there needed to be some friendly support given. But for 99% of us, what needed to be done was nothing.
Unfortunately, our baser instincts as humans won out and we felt the need to “do something”, so many did. Many wrote things they shouldn’t have, many more people responded to those things in ways they shouldn’t have, and we had one big junior high school mob scene!
Now, a couple of weeks later, I do think there are a couple of lessons to be learned about blogging. The thing we should do, is take a minute to learn, before we continue trying to find what we should do.
1. If you post something online, you write for an audience. Act like it.
Don’t give me any crap about how you blog for yourself, you put it on a publicly accessible website, you’re looking for an audience. Write for that audience then. Before you put fingers to keyboard stop and consider who is reading what you write. How will this benefit them? Will it educate, inform, or even just entertain? Will they be better for having read it? Are you furthering your relationship with them? If you can’t say yes to any of these things, maybe you should think about not writing that post, or not writing that comment to another blogger’s post, or that forum post, etc. It might feel good to vent, or share some personal information about someone else, but if it’s not adding anything to your audience, it’s not worth it.
The same thing goes for what you allow others to say, either in comments, or if on a group blog you own, in posts. Does it add to the relationship with your audience? If not, don’t allow it.
It’s not like I’m setting a high bar here folks. I don’t expect any Ghandi or MLK like insights in to life around here. Even something as simple as a post that says “Mike’s an idiot, these are stupid ideas” has a place.
2. You are your words.
In any public forum, people will judge you by what they see. On-line, to 99% of your audience, all they know about you is what you have written.
What you are in real life is irrelevant. People will read or not read your words based on their content alone. If I spent all my time here complaining about everything I could think about people would rightly assume that I’m a crank. I’m not really, but if that’s what I choose to write, then that’s what I am to the audience.
On the flip side of that, it’s a free market. You should read the sites that bring value to you, and skip the ones that don’t, even if they are what “everyone” reads. There’s simply no reason to harass authors you don’t like into silence, let alone engage in threats and slander. Move on and find someone who’s ideas bring you value.
3. You are more than your words.
On-line you are your words, but you are not that alone, at least I seriously hope not.
I fear that parts of the blogosphere have reached an unhealthy point where everything is about the blog. Every conversation, every relationship and every interaction is susceptible to being laid bare in a public blog. That’s not a good way to make and keep friends. I’m not saying everyone has to follow the same sort of rules I keep to when I blog about my work and my life, but there needs to be a concerted effort to treat people like people, not content fodder. For example, when folks call me at work with a problem, my response and my mind set is on fixing their problem and getting them back to work. It’s never about whether this is something I can blog about. Later, at the end of the day, I may review what sort of tech I worked with or what I learned for this blog or some of the relationships I have with people for a post about some general ideas for either blog, but it’s not my main concern when I’m in the middle of talking to them. It’s also important to never betray their trust in you as a friend first. I may be a blogger, but it’s a small part of who I am as a person. I pity folks who see themselves as bloggers first and foremost.
Anyway, I’m making a re-commitment to try and aim for added value in all my written work, including good tech info here, good observations about child abuse and depression on that site, sharing little tidbits of things I enjoy or ideas I have on Twitter, and good photos on Flickr. I might not always accomplish that goal, and ultimately I expect you all to let me know if I miss it. That’s how you can add value to the site as well. But, I think we’ll all be better off if that’s the goal we’re shooting for.