June 24, 2004

The Blogosphere's Bad Behavior

I spent the morning with an old friend. We both sense, frankly, that something is wrong in the weblog world.

We've endured a series of bitter internal storms. The Atomic Recriminations were bad. The MovableType Pricing Storm was worse. Then, a free hosting service goes down for a bit and people were screaming bloody murder. Literally.

"And you know," Old Friend reminds me, "dispassionate talk about comment technologies isn't going to fix this." I hate to admit it: he's right.

I assume that, when we blog, we're all looking to discover and explain important ideas. We're not just trying to get attention at any price, we're not just chasing popularity. In the blogosphere of ideas, we've got to change the way things work. Fixing technical mistakes (for example, repairing or dropping comment tools) is a start, but it's not enough.

Civility is the foundation. Yes, one of the Ten Tips suggests that you find good enemies, but when you've found a really good enemy you need to treat them really well. The more you dislike and disagree with them, the more polite and respectful you need to be. Civility lets us focus on truths and ideas, not shrieks and moans.

Never write something you know to be untrue. Just don't. Period. It's bad for you, it's bad for your friends, it's bad for your readers, it's bad for weblogs. It's wrong.

Write about ideas, not personalities. When we're talking about servers and services, protocols and pricing, let's stick to the subject. Stop dragging personalities into it. Facts are facts: if the idea is right, it's still right even if you can't abide the other guy.

A plague on both your houses makes everyone queasy. We try too often to find middle ground, as if everything were politics. Science isn't political: the molecule doesn't care if you're nice or pretty.

Give credit. We're standing on the shoulders of giants, and we're all using infrastructure that was patiently and generously cobbled together by people who worked hard to make it. Tip your cap. Do it now, and often. Especially to your rivals.

Slow down. Take the time to write well. Think things through. Relax.

Finally, we need a process, a custom or a ritual in the blogosphere that let's us tell someone, without terrible loss of face, that they've been uncivil. The process probably requires third parties -- seconds, if you will. It needs us to discard the notion that we can never revise what we have written.

While I agree that the new federal regulations prohibiting interstellar travel are ill-advised, I think Archibald was out of line when he blamed everything on Mehitabel's physiognomy.

We need to think seriously about whether slashdot and its ilk have contributed anything lately, because it sure does plenty of damage. It may be time to pull the plug.

Keep the blogosophere beautiful. It's not that bad, yet, but there's a lot of crud piling up, and a lot of bad feeling. Let's not drive the good people away; instead, let's get rid of these old pizza boxes.