A vacation of sorts

Work continues apace on the first Weblogger Co-op server. We’re starting with a goodly mix of people in the test phase and I’ll post the weblogs who have moved with me to the new server when we’re up and running. I can tell you that we will be hosted on a dedicated server being managed by Rack Force, a Canadian ISP who has been extremely helpful in assisting me to configure a system that should work nicely for us. We should be fully moved and up and running by month end.

But that’s not the focus of this writing, which will be a rambling sort of posting, and I beg your indulgence and patience as it winds about like the River I walked by yesterday. Speaking of which, In my last posting, Euan wrote in a comment, I just love reading about your walks and seeing your photos, Shelley. I’m glad he said this because it forms a nice segue into this writing. Well, if you stretch it a bit. Maybe all I wanted was an excuse to note a nice comment.

Weblogging is, unfortunately, clannish, and taking on the clans is just not something I’m into right now. I was talking to a friend on the phone recently and he asked me if Anil Dash had ever responded to my Weblog Standards essay last week since I wrote it in response to a question he asked. I answered no, and said I didn’t expect Anil to post a comment on the response because the only reason he asked the original question is that I injected a note of what could be considered criticism of people in his clan, Six Apart, in the posting. (He did talk about Six Apart’s web standards compliance in an interview recently.) That’s okay, though, because I’m part of a clan of my own. Except my clan is this sorta hybrid poet, philosophy, technology, political, photography, social, humorous, artistic, academic, esoteric, and writing kind of clan — which can get a little weird at times, I can tell you.

(Come to think of it, my clan looks a lot like Anil’s. Fancy — we have something in common. Do you know that sometimes the greatest insult you can give another is to say to them, “We’re a lot alike, you and I.”)

Anyway, back to the subject. This last week with the intense disagreement with Sam Ruby about comment editing and the usual go-arounds about RSS made me realize that I’m immersing myself in discussions in which nothing positive is accomplished, and all I’m doing is letting other people control my space and my thoughts. No fault to them — this was my own doing.

I found that Sam’s comment annotation is the chastisement that keeps on giving, long after the original act, reminding me for all perpetuity that I did a Bad Thing, so I don’t look anymore. Beat, beat, beat at me with tiny fists of conformity, warnings of if one can’t say positive things, not to say anything at all; and kind words of helpful advice in how I would be so much better if I would just not be so quick-tempered and impulsive. But it’s the impulsive part of me that sends me out on the trails and helps me rediscover what a beautiful world I live in, anew, each time. My center of impulse is too close to my ability to act silly, like, love, rejoice, dance about, and believe to excise cleanly.

I was also reminded this week that life’s too short and I’m not getting any younger to spin my wheels on someone else’s track.

Unlike others in the neighborhood who are taking a break from weblogging, I’m taking a vacation, instead. I have one more weblog essay for the Corante Many-to-Many weblog, later today, and after that, I’m going to be ready for that vacation.

A beautiful vacation, indeed, though it might be boring for some of you who like to come to the Bird because you like to see me burn. But I’m sitting at my window and it’s a wonderful day, with blue skies, and a good breeze and birds singing. I’m watching a puffy white cloud roll past — which I realize sounds tritely sentimental and more than a bit sappy, “I saw a white cloud float past” — and I just don’t want to burn. I’m taking a vacation from the burn, the windmill tilting, and the business as usual.

I’m not going to discontinue my writing to the weblog, but I am focusing it on specific external experiences rather than internal weblogging matters. So, for a time, you’ll see less writing, perhaps a lot less writing; and the writing you will see will be of the nature in my last post — my experiences along the Katy Trail this summer, or other explorations, accompanied by bits and pieces of what are in my mind and hopefully a few edible photographs. Gentle, quiet writing.

Postcards.

Archive and comments at Wayback Machine

Jabber and Decentralization

Originally published at Many-to-Many and now archived at the Wayback Machine

One of the most pivotal weblog essays I’ve read was Jonathon Delacour’s Alibis and Consistent Lies. In it he wrote:

That’s it: where my own interests lie. In other words, hardly anything to do with telling the literal truth; and everything to do with fashioning an authentic persona from bits of alibis and consistent lies.

 

The uproar that resulted is still being felt today — that a weblogger would mix fiction in with fact in their weblog writing is something that had not been contemplated before, at least within Jonathon’s circle, and many people were disturbed or even downright angry. Yet, weblogging is a form of writing, and most forms of writing, even the autobiographical has some element of fiction — even if it’s only the fiction of our perceptions and faulty memories.

Another aspect of weblogging that Jonathon’s essay demonstrated, indirectly and more importantly, is that there is an element of acceptable behavior within most weblogging circles. To violate the unwritten rules and expectations can generate censure, though not necessarily censorship. It’s not a question of saying forbidden speech, as much as it is of writing against the grain. It is writing that leads to disapproval in those we admire, respect, and like, and these are very powerful forces for conformity. Yes, conformity. There is nothing more limiting than a friend. Having experienced this writing against the grain a time or two myself, I can describe it as trying to walk through waist-high mud: doable if one is determined, but difficult and not something one does for fun. This same experience isn’t limited to weblogging — you can see the evidence of it in discussion groups such as Slashdot or Metafilter, and interest groups such as those in Usenet or Yahoo Groups. There is accepted behavior even in disagreement. There are accepted rules by which one lives, or writes to be more accurate. To go against these is to bring down the wrath of the other participants. If you’re lucky, you’ll be politely or not so politely ignored. If you’re not lucky, you’ll be thankful to escape with just being embarrassed. You could also be banned or ejected from the community as a disturbing influence, a troublemaker. Of course, this type of community behavior isn’t new — try going to a proper English tea party and letting loose with a loud fart to see social ostracism at its finest. But we want so much more from our digital interactions. We talk first and foremost about the openness of the medium — how anyone can join, and all contributions are welcome. In reality, though, we’re finding that in some circumstances we have to provide some form of moderation, or the interaction degenerates into a lovely form of chaos. Did I just say a lovely form of chaos? My pardon! Must have been a slip. Moderation has its place, but extreme form of this behavior is what I call “the tyranny of the commons”: behavior within a community is so constrained that even the slightest deviation is punished; the unwritten rules of group behavior are so concrete and rigid that the community takes on aspects of a wild dog pack, with interaction dictated to by an alpha male who maintains rigid control at all times. I have found that there is something about the faceless nature of the Internet that can encourage this type of behavior from people who would never think to act this way in person. Though I realize that condemning warbloggers is becoming rather old-fashioned and quaint among weblogging circles, it’s in them that we see some of the more obvious forms of tyranny of the commons practiced. For instance one of the more virulent warblogs Little Green Footballs maintains only the thinnest veneer of objectivity over what is an almost xenophobic outlook of persecution and isolationism; an outlook protected by a group of avid and devoted readers one could only describe as a pack behavior at its most extreme. LGF is a most unusual leader of a pack, though. Rather than eating first, it drags the bloody carcass of its next victim into the midst of its followers and then sits back watching while the other animals attack until not even the original bones of truth are left. All the while LGF sits, hyena smile on face, living off the bile of the attack while claiming its paws are blood-free. Where something like LGF is dangerous isn’t in the words spoken in the posts but in the devotion of its readers. When Anil Dash criticized MSNBC’s inclusion of Little Green Footballs in its lineup of weblogs, the LGF war machine went into action with letter writing campaign to MSNBC, and a barrage of harassment against Dash. From what I remember of the event, the ensuing carnage was not pretty. What it lacked in community spirit, it made up in by being a disturbing reminder of what mob behavior can accomplish. Where’s the witch? Someone get the stake and the gas. Who brought marshmallows? We could say that something like LGF provides a service — a place for people to vent their anger and fear rather than in the street or worse, the voting booth. However, rather than siphon off the negative energy, LGF creates a feedback loop and cycles it back in, and it grows and grows, getting uglier each iteration. Of course, not all examples of tyranny of the commons is evidenced by negative behavior. In fact, the most insidious examples of commons tyranny is the group think that surrounds many of our technologies, and even ourselves. When journalists condemn webloggers, even in a mild way, we react as if the people have insulted our favorite child — calling it a bucktoothed ugly little snit. The most infamous case of this was an article written by John Dvorak of PC Magazine ages ago that dismissed weblogging as unworthy, dull, and mainly related to cats (the infamous cats of weblogging). The result was a universal loathing against Dvorak in weblogging that if one could have harnessed the energy, would have lit up Cleveland. But the times, they are a changing. I thought it was extremely humorous to see John Dvorak guest blogging at Boing Boing, giving as his reason for coming over to the dark side:

I suppose you’re wondering exactly how I got here. The answer is simple: only a fool would refuse the opportunity to guest blog on what is probably the most entertaining blog being published today.

Of course, an upcoming book called ONLINE! might also have something to do with it, too. See! Now there I reacted like a typical weblogger, suspicious of all professional journalist actions. When the new Creative Commons licenses were released, there was a subtle pressure to get on the bandwagon, cheer the home team, jump on board with these and any person who questioned the potential problems associated with them was frowned upon as a child not playing well with the other children. Yet there were and still are a lot of unanswered legal questions associated with the licenses — questions should be asked, concerns raised. This very site, Corante, was at one point chastised for its CC license use. It was also chastised for having weblogs but not having RSS feeds — something that’s just not done in well-behaved, polite weblogging circles. Fie. Tsk. Even within our circles, especially within our circles or virtual neighborhoods as we call them, we reward those who fit, and punish those who don’t, and the coin of the realm is recognition. I remember stumbling across a weblog entry once, long ago, that hadn’t been maintained in several months. The last entry said something like, “Why do I continue writing this? None of you cares. None of you gives a shit.” I wish I had copied down the exact words because they were genuine words of pain, the realization that one doesn’t matter and that no one was listening, and it troubled me a great deal. I’ve never forgotten that entry. If there was any one thing that has led me to fight against elitism in online interactions, and the absolute necessity of maintaining open doors, it was that one weblog and its last entry. Long gone now, as with the weblogger who wrote the words. The tyranny of the commons isn’t restricted to just weblogs. You can see group enforced behaviors in discussion groups such as Slashdot, with its system that rewards points based on the cleverness of the reply. Of course, cleverness wins over courtesy in Slashdot, so one could say that the site maintains a wall against chaos by giving into the chaos. Even a relatively open discussion group/pseudo weblog such as MetaFilter has acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, which tend to get ignored on hotter topics. It’s an abject lesson in diminishing returns — the longer the comment thread, the greater the degree of degeneration. At some point, the thread become just so much dirt kicking and shoulder shoving. Sometimes the words are uttered with wit, sometimes the words are uttered by the witless. Still, the most beautiful online moment I’ve witnessed was a MetaFilter posting. When my friend Chris had a close friend, Rick, killed in the terrorist attack in Bali, in the MetaFilter posting related to this there were several entries with just one character — a single period:

.

Within online discussion groups, this period stands for a moment of silence and to see one after another, interspersed with condolences, and poetry, and genuine expressions of concern — it still brings tears to my eye, and I’m not a sentimental person. It is works such as this that give me hope, that helps me realize that though there is a tyranny of the commons, there’s also a compassion of the commons. And maybe if we’re lucky, the compassion will eventually triumph over the tyranny. Or not. I want to thank the members of Many-to-Many for having me here. When Clay wrote me and asked me to guest blog, I joked and asked if he was still sick from the flu; after all, I have been a fairly vocal detractor of his social software writing in the past. However, Clay is a gentlemen who respects the necessity of giving voice to those who disagree, as much, and perhaps more, than to those who agree. Yours in celebration of diversity and disagreement, Shelley aka Burningbird

Guest Blog #3

First published at Many-to-Many now archived at the Wayback Machine

Years ago, long before the web, I was involved with a Usenet group surrounding the POSC data effort. I remember getting into a conversation with one of the folks about the inevitability of disagreements. His belief was that people naturally were cooperative and will argue only under extreme circumstances. I disagreed and stated that, in my opinion, it’s more natural for people to be competitive. “If there are two people in a room,” I wrote. “They would squabble with each other, until a third enters, at which point the first two would join forces and go after the new person.” Years later, what I’ve found is that neither of us was completely accurate because humanity is both cooperative and competitive; we need both of these facets in order to be truly effective. One of my biggest criticisms of the ongoing social software efforts is that there seems to be an assumption that Man is inherently a cooperative, social animal. I agree that we are social — even the most anti-social of us needs human company in some aspect. It’s also true that we can be cooperative if we look at all we have built and accomplished by working together. However, we are also argumentative, opinionated, passionate, angry, and defensive; equally capable of acts of nobility and cruelty. Social software, to be truly successful, must embrace all aspects of being human — the good and bad — if it is to succeed. This leads me back to the first part of this essay, and the discussion on flamewars, comments, and censorship.

Earlier this week, I wrote what I will admit was a irritated and snippy comment within a weblog posting at Sam Ruby’s. Others also wrote comments that some might consider snippy or flammable. Since the topic was RSS, this isn’t that unusual because, as Sam wrote …mention RSS and RDF in the same sentence, and all the same people come out of the woodwork, like moths to a flame. Business as usual…until the strike-through font started showing up with some of the words. I noticed that several words in one comment had lines drawn through them and assumed that writer did this as a way of making a point in his comment. It wasn’t until the strike-throughs started appearing in my comments that I began to realize that this was being done by Sam rather than the author of the comment. He was trying something new: all writing in all comments that Sam deemed ‘flamebait’ was going to be designated or marked in such a way to signify his disapproval, starting with a strike-through originally, and now showing as a different font. I was appalled. I have never had one of my comments edited in any way. To see this happen to my writing, without my permission, was, frankly, a shock. Now, instead of my words just sitting on the page, not given any attention, which they really didn’t deserve, they’re marked and highlighted, branded with a scarlet or blue striped font of shame. Shame on you, Shelley, the annotation says. What was worse is that the lines also started appearing in another comment I wrote, one that did not contain material that I would consider flamebait. I wrote:

What was the biggest disappointment was when Sam Ruby edited my comments. I can’t think of anything worse than to edit other’s comments. I can see deleting abusive comments in weblogs, or editing them on the request of the person who wrote them, or banning someone who’s abusive — but not editing comments without permission. I’d rather all the words be deleted.

Sam wrote his own posting on this issue, as well as responding to my comments, saying:

I am trying to annotate things as something that I do not endorse or approve of on my website.

What followed was an intense discussion, in comments and other weblogs about the property rights of the weblog owner versus the rights of the original comment writer, the necessity of controlling flamewars in comments and whether an action of this nature was acceptable. James Snell wrote:

Compare this Weblog to a painting. I, as the owner of the blog am the painter. Whenever I add a stroke to the canvas (in the form of a blog entry), I invite others to add their own strokes (in the form of comments). But, as the painter, I reserve the right to edit, annotate or remove those strokes whenever and for whatever reason I see fit, because, afterall, it’s still my painting.

I had always considered my contribution to my weblog was the writing of the original essays, the photography and the occasional code. It’s then up to my readers if they want to say anything or not, but I’ve never considered their comments as an integral part of the writing. Yet, I have seen instances where comments have resulted in completely different interpretations of the original writing, so I can understand this point of view, but I still can’t condone an author annotating or editing another’s writing. Not all people agreed with me. Most people felt that Sam’s initial effort was inappropriate because there was no warning, but rather liked the idea of managing acrimonious discussions in comments by selective editing. As Tim Appnel wrote:

I didn’t even think twice about the practice Sam started–I actually thought it was a good idea. Sam has my utmost respect and I trust his judgement when he marks something as flamebait. I will take that into consideration next time I comment.

Therein lies what I see is the danger in this practice: that one person is altering how others view the words rather than let them make a determination for themselves. Yes, even with derogatory material. What one person could consider a flame, others could consider a passionate disagreement. Though this is not as critical an issue when associated with a technical specification such as RSS, what of topics such as the war in Iraq? The Patriot Act? People such as the USA’s Bush or Israel’s Sharon and Australia’s Howard? With subjects such as these, where it’s virtually impossible for the participants to remain dispassionate, one could see the weblog owner’s viewpoint clearly, even with the best of intentions to remain unbiased, just by following the ‘annotation’ within the comments. Others shared my opinion and were equally disturbed by this new comment management practice. Pax Norona wrote:

Fair discussion requires that remarks be unedited except as requested by the writer. Many years ago, when I was in high school, I wrote a letter about our school newspaper putting a front page story honoring our losing football coach. In the story, the coach was quoted as putting the blame on his players. I suggested that a man of integrity should shoulder the blame himself. My letter was not printed in the next issue, but a rebuttal was posted — naming me, pulling quotes out of context, and accusing me of saying things that I did not. My parents were never ones to stand up to authority, but that experience solidified certain principles. Foremost: Rebuttal must appear in the context of the message. Sam Ruby’s marking of Burningbird’s remarks as “flamebait” violates this principle. He has, himself, indulged in flaming. Furthermore, he’s chickened out. Being without words for a reply, Sam merely casts red paint on Burningbird. If he does not like the remarks, he should, as Burningbird suggests, delete the comments.

 

Martin Wisse was more ambivalent, writing, _I don’t think Sam Ruby was wrong in taking responsibility for the comments on his blog, but I think the way he went about it was a bit stupid._ Martin doesn’t care for Sam’s efforts, but also doesn’t see them as censorship because he doesn’t see speech being denied. However, censorship isn’t just the restriction of speech, it’s also practiced when speech is mocked or derided. By mocking speech, we seek to censor by lessening the respect with which the words should be heard. A few, very few, thought the issue was much ado about nothing. Yet this issue isn’t much ado about nothing as much as it is symptomatic of an overall concern — how do we manage disagreement within a social software context? For instance, how do we manage disagreement within weblog comments, as compared to discussion groups, and even collaborative software? After all, we have laws and social custom controlling our interaction with each other physically. I can’t physically hit Sam because I’m mad at what he’s done, and he can’t physically restrain me because I wasn’t playing well with the other children. In some ways, that’s the point — we must have laws and custom to control physical interaction because of the very real damage we can do to each other when in close proximity. The damage we can inflict on this virtual world may hurt, but not permanently, and not enough to send each other to the hospital. If this were so, why, I’d be dead. Right now. In a comment in Sam’s original posting, he took me to task for my comment, and previously I would have apologized for the inappropriate words, but lately I’ve been finding myself less and less patient with the concept of adults chastising each other. Anger, and expressions of anger, are not childish, no matter how we try to reduce these basic and very real and natural human emotions. Anger can be very deep, very dark, motivating as well as destructive. Most of all, anger can be very adult. To treat it otherwise not only doesn’t defuse the situation, it can make it worse. Earlier I said that I both did and did not regret my original comment. I don’t regret that I raised, indirectly, an issue related to the topic but of a much broader scope that gave me deeper concern. However, a more appropriate response would have been for me to respond to the topic at Sam’s and then write a separate weblog post on the other issue. I did regret that the comment fanned the inevitable flamewars surrounding the topic of the post, and did so in someone else’s space. What I regretted more, though, is that I chastized another member for his behavior — a part of the comment that Sam did not mark out. Those were the truly offensive words. When I chastised the other person, when I suggested how they should change their interaction and behavior, we were no longer peers discussing a volatile subject — I had assumed a parental role, trying to force a child role on the other person. And, in some ways, Sam assumed a parental role when he chastised me. So now, in addition to the message of -Shame on you, Shelley-, attached to the writing, there’s now also a touch of -No cookies and milk for you young lady. And just wait until I talk to your mother when she gets home.- Coming up: The Tyranny of the Commons

Guest Blog #2

Originally published at Many-to-Many now archived at the Wayback Machine

Every once in a while I let someone talk me into using an instant messaging service, such as ICQ. I would forget that I had it installed and be working happily away on some book or article, or doing my taxes when there’d be this knocking sound coming from my computer, and the little ICQ flower would change appearance — someone wants to message me, the flower would say. I would think to just ignore it, but this seems so rude because the little ICQ spy I allowed to be installed on my machine would be telling everyone that I am online, I am home, I can’t close the curtains and pretend otherwise. I would go online and have this typed conversation with the other person, which usually consisted of me frantically typing away as fast as I could while the other person, more adept at these sorts of things, would be using this cryptic pseudo-underground language endemic to the medium to send me short bursts of compacted meaning. ROTFLOL! (Real Off The Feeder Looping Out Lonely? Rather Old Testy Fart Laying Out Licenses?)

The thing that sets social software apart from the software we use to balance our checkbooks and order our next book is the interactive element of it: Instant messaging implies there’s someone to answer one’s virtual knock at the door; file sharing implies one person is out there sharing, another borrowing; discussions groups have, well, discussions. And weblogs have all the trappings of a personal journal, but one whose pages are instantly ripped out and passed around to a host of people, some known, some not. For most of the software, the interactive element is quite obvious, as in your face as that annoying little ICQ flower; but with

For most of the software, the interactive element is quite obvious, as in your face as that annoying little ICQ flower; but with weblogging the interactive element is more subtle. Within these journals, we can turn off comments and trackbacks, not provide RSS files, and even remove any concept of a permalink to discourage anyone from linking to something we write. We can disdain reading other’s work, and never reference other webloggers in our writing. We can refrain from leaving comments in other weblogs, and even forgo pinging weblogs.com. Once we’ve done our best to isolate ourselves we can congratulate ourselves about our independence, but really it’s a sham, a mockery, nothing more than feeble self-delusion. Weblogging by its nature is a social animal, and if you ignore that aspect of it too long, it will destroy your furniture and eat your best plant. Metaphorically, of course. No matter how much we may say we’re writing the weblog because we want to write, for self-discovery, or for posterity, we are impacted by our surroundings, by the very nature of the beast. Eventually, we find ourselves being influenced by the medium. Over time, we may be forced to make a decision: to either accept the ‘social’ aspect of

Weblogging by its nature is a social animal, and if you ignore that aspect of it too long, it will destroy your furniture and eat your best plant. Metaphorically, of course. No matter how much we may say we’re writing the weblog because we want to write, for self-discovery, or for posterity, we are impacted by our surroundings, by the very nature of the beast. Eventually, we find ourselves being influenced by the medium. Over time, we may be forced to make a decision: to either accept the ‘social’ aspect of weblogging, or abandon weblogging altogether. Since this is about social software, I won’t focus on the person who decides that the interaction takes more energy

Since this is about social software, I won’t focus on the person who decides that the interaction takes more energy than they have at the moment and leaves weblogging. Instead, we’ll look at the people who have decided that they’re game and ready to join, or stay with, the party. People like me. Perhaps people like you. We implement the permalinks and publish the many different versions of RSS files — plain XML, RDF/RSS, Blue RSS, Red RSS, RSS for Bad Hair Mondays. We also enable comments and trackbacks and all the other accouterments that say “Come on in, join the fun!” Once we’re ready, we introduce ourselves to the neighborhood by writing comments in other weblogs and referencing other’s work in our own writing. Pretty soon, we find ourselves surrounded by a friendly group of supportive new friends. Nothing but grins and giggles. That

Pretty soon, we find ourselves surrounded by a friendly group of supportive new friends. Nothing but grins and giggles. That is, until someone comes along and drops The Bomb. What is The Bomb? It’s different for everyone, and for every post. It’s the comments by the person or persons that criticize the original posting, or something someone else has said in an earlier comment. Many times the comment is thoughtful, perhaps even brilliant. Other times it’s taunting, provoking, even downright nasty. Regardless of the tenor, it’s the introduction of a discordant note into an otherwise harmonious whole. Now the introduction of this note isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If we all thought alike and agreed on most things, we’d all be pretty boring and would spend our time sitting around, exchanging daily epiphanies with each other. However, depending on the nature of The Bomb, your comment thread either excels to new heights of intelligence and insight, leading you to congratulate yourself on attracting such witty and urbane contributors; or your comments degenerate into a slugfest that would make the back alleys of your nearest Big City seem tame by comparison. Regardless, your comment thread most likely has now taken on a life of its own, one that’s not quite in your control anymore; and that’s a bit tough to take because, you say to yourself, you are the Writer of this Weblog. The Leader of this Little World. You are King or Queen of your Domain. Who are these people who just come on in and lay their thing in your space, without a by your leave? Shit on a shingle, but what did we do to bring this down on ourselves? Personally, in my comments I’ve been told to get a life, to stop doing drugs, to start doing drugs, that I’m sad, bad, and mad, and words that have come

Now the introduction of this note isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If we all thought alike and agreed on most things, we’d all be pretty boring and would spend our time sitting around, exchanging daily epiphanies with each other. However, depending on the nature of The Bomb, your comment thread either excels to new heights of intelligence and insight, leading you to congratulate yourself on attracting such witty and urbane contributors; or your comments degenerate into a slugfest that would make the back alleys of your nearest Big City seem tame by comparison. Regardless, your comment thread most likely has now taken on a life of its own, one that’s not quite in your control anymore; and that’s a bit tough to take because, you say to yourself, you are the Writer of this Weblog. The Leader of this Little World. You are King or Queen of your Domain. Who are these people who just come on in and lay their thing in your space, without a by your leave? Shit on a shingle, but what did we do to bring this down on ourselves? Personally, in my comments, I’ve been told to get a life, to stop doing drugs, to start doing drugs, that I’m sad, bad, and mad, and words that have come

Personally, in my comments, I’ve been told to get a life, to stop doing drugs, to start doing drugs, that I’m sad, bad, and mad, and words that have come perilously close to all I really need is a good medicinal f**k. And I’ve been known to come back swinging. A time or two. During your first few flame wars, at your weblog or within others, you might be invigorated, even refreshed. After a time though, after your fifth, tenth, or Nth flamefest, you wonder whether you should just turn comments off, and stop commenting elsewhere. You see promising thread after promising thread breakdown into name calling and accusations of the worst kind. You see people call each other names you haven’t heard since puberty, and there’s more than a whiff of the schoolyard dust about the exchanges. You just get tired of it. Depressed. Discouraged. Tired. You think about that lone weblogger who doesn’t have comments, or trackbacks, and who ignores others as they are ignored themselves, and you find within yourself a wistful thought that you wish you had taken the path less stomped. But then, just when you’re about to turn off comments and pull into your hermitage, someone comes along and writes something absolutely breathless, and you think to yourself, how could you cut something like this from your life? Dilemma. You start thinking about how you can control the ‘bad’ but encourage the good. Things to Do to Control Comments in a Nutshell. You might ban the IP addresses of repeat offenders, or disallow anonymous commenters. Perhaps you’ll force registration, with the hope of forcing people to identify themselves, and thus be more responsible with their words. However, none of these truly eliminate

Dilemma. You start thinking about how you can control the ‘bad’ but encourage the good. Things to Do to Control Comments in a Nutshell. You might ban the IP addresses of repeat offenders, or disallow anonymous commenters. Perhaps you’ll force registration, with the hope of forcing people to identify themselves, and thus be more responsible with their words. However, none of these truly eliminate flamefests because most are started by people who would gladly register, who give their names freely, and you can’t ban because they log on with different IPs all the time. At that point you might start getting a little more determined. For instance, you’ll delete comments from spammers, or from anonymous cowards who slam and run. You might warn specific people that if they continue to post Nasty Things, you’ll start deleting their comments. In other words, you start policing your comments — your weblog is no longer a journal but a country, with its own set of rules and regulations; it’s up to visitors to learn these or suffer the consequences. Still, even the thought of comment deletion won’t stop all folks, and sometimes there’s more than one person slamming away. So what are you going to do now? Delete all the comments? In this situation, you may decide to take a step in a direction you probably told yourself you would never do when you started a weblog: you begin to edit comments. You annotate, you delete, you edit. Unfortunately, editing comments is a path of no return, and weblogging and the easy communication you shared with others is no longer the same. Issues of blogging territory as compared to ownership of words enters the picture and, for good or ill, the spontaneity is gone. There was a trust between weblog reader and weblog writer and it’s been broken, but who’s to say who broke it first? At a minimum, the next time a journalist sticks a mike in your face, you’ll find yourself stumbling over the description of the open nature of weblogging. We all will. No matter how you wrap it up or what you call it, you’ve just become a

So what are you going to do now? Delete all the comments? In this situation, you may decide to take a step in a direction you probably told yourself you would never do when you started a weblog: you begin to edit comments. You annotate, you delete, you edit. Unfortunately, editing comments is a path of no return, and weblogging and the easy communication you shared with others is no longer the same. Issues of blogging territory as compared to ownership of words enters the picture and, for good or ill, the spontaneity is gone. There was a trust between weblog reader and weblog writer and it’s been broken, but who’s to say who broke it first? At a minimum, the next time a journalist sticks a mike in your face, you’ll find yourself stumbling over the description of the open nature of weblogging. We all will. No matter how you wrap it up or what you call it, you’ve just become a censor. (To be cont…)

Guest Blog #1

Originally posted at Many-to-Many, now archived at Wayback Machine

Software developers have traditionally used one phrase when testing text output in a new programming environment — “Hello, World!” We need to devise a new form of “Hello World” when testing unfamiliar weblogging software because every weblog post we write is a form of “Hello World!” Our words are recorded and literally thrown out, bounced against the aether, hanging brightly on the page like lures to little fishies. Except the little fishies are people like me, and you. Come here fishy, fishy, fishy.

I wrote once, long ago, that sometimes you have to stop in the middle of writing a weblog post and realize exactly what you’re doing: You’re writing into this void, hoping that someone wanders by and is interested enough to stop and read what you’re saying. It’s equivalent to being in a big room full of walls, and you’re shouting at the walls and faintly you hear other people shout at their walls and every once in a while, someone hears you crying out “Hello? Hello?” and answers back. Contact!

“Hello? World? Is that you?” “Yes! Yes! I hear you! “By the way, your taste in poetry really sucks. Did you know?”

What a unique out of body experience. You can take the voice out of the body, but you can’t teach it manners.

I guess this writing, this post (a word I dislike) is my equivalent of a weblogging “Hello, World!” — a rambling, disjointed shout out on nothing in particular into the threaded void. A tap at your monitor to let you know I’m in the neighborhood and tomorrow, I’ll be by with something useful. Or not.