Forget the law, forget the technology—what’s the right thing to do

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Taking a vacation from weblogging should mean not reading weblog entries, as well as not writing them. Otherwise something’s going to pop up and engage your attention, and your writing vacation is over.

Mark Pilgrim wrote a application that tracks changes for Scripting News, which he calls Winer Watch. It grabs Dave Winer’s RSS feed and annotates changes between each iteration – color coded for deletions, changes, and additions.

I understand why Mark wrote this. Anyone that’s tangled with Winer knows how he will write something vicious, and then later delete it or edit it – after the damage has been done. Remember when Jonathon Delacour came up with a term for this? PullingDoing a Dave?

I can understand, but I cannot agree or approve.

Two days I ago I wrote When Reality and Virtuality Meet and Clash, and it wasn’t long after I wrote it that I pulled it. However, by that time, Aquarion had already responded to it, so I re-posted it.

I pulled the posting originally because of that tiny little blurb at the end of the posting, the one that reads:

As for me, I was also offered a ‘real world’ opportunity from another weblogger that I had to, regretfully, decline. The circumstances just didn’t work out; too many barriers – health, timing, and economics – in the way.

The reason why is that the person I had to disappoint was more than disappointed – they were angry and responded accordingly. “Wish you hadn’t said you could do it,” they wrote. “if you weren’t pretty sure you would.”

This upset me a great deal because my reasons for having to pull out of the opportunity are very good ones, and ones I would much rather not have. I felt kicked while I was down, and I wrote accordingly. In fact, if you checked the site yesterday, I edited this posting and I added and edited comments, until I finally decided – what’s the use? If the person can’t understand that shit happens, this won’t change no matter what I say.

(edit On reflection, I can see the frustration – my inability to follow through on the committment did cause inconvenience and difficulties. But it still goes back to – shit happens.)

During these edits, I also wrote some stuff about my life that I didn’t want online, and should not have published. However, I’m also a) hot-headed, b) impulsive, and c) a real fast typist. Yes, I know the Internet is unforgiving and rarely forgets, but the Internet usually doesn’t persist anything that’s existed less than an hour. I pulled the material.

I’m not a professional journalist, and this isn’t a professional publication. This weblog is a way for me to try new things, and to share some of it with you. This includes my writing, my use of technology, my photographs, and, yes, my life. To make it easier for you all to follow the effort and discuss it, with me and others, I follow certain formatting criteria – publish in reverse chronological order and provide permalinks, trackback, and comments.

But there is no law that says, “Thou shalt not make a mistake”. There is no law that says, “Thou shalt not edit”. If there were, I wouldn’t have any interest in continuing here. I do this out of love and interest, not to become rich and famous and find true love. Hardly. I’m broke, a B-lister, and all the good guys are taken, not interested, too young, or gay. Or all four.

Once this stops becoming an act of love, once it stops being fun or positive – why continue?

Editing material substantially after the fact should not be a frequent activity, true. Potentially, you’re leaving orphaned discussions, within comments and other weblog posts. Additionally, writing something deliberately vicious only to pull it, just as deliberately, an hour later after the damage is done is morally reprehensible. But so is doing something that literally takes away the weblogger’s right to change their mind – to make an edit or add and pull material. This is, in effect, punishing a person for making a mistake, or for being impulsive. For writing. For publishing online. For being human.

Don Park wrote on this issue at his weblog. What’s particularly disturbing is the number of people who see this as nothing more than a technical or legal issue. What about the morality of this act?

What about allowing a person to have some say in what persists of their writing? No, don’t come to me and say that with Google cache and things like the Wayback Machine, there’s no control anyway, because that’s a cop out answer. None of these technologies is going to capture changes, highlight them, and do so every five minutes. None of these technologies will most likely catch the error in judgement or in grammar that was corrected within the hour. And none of these operate with deliberate intent to cause harm. Tracking changes such as this – what is positive about this? What can possibly be positive about this?

When someone says something vicious, the best place for it is gone. Off the page, off the Net. If a person writes vicous things on a regular basis and pulls them, then stop reading them. If they don’t pull them, stop reading them. Just walk away. Ignore them.

I wrote in a comment at Don Park’s that if Mark had done something like this with me, I would quit weblogging. I would quit it in a moment. When we go so far in our quest for ‘public accountability’ that we no longer allow webloggers to make edits or changes without embarrassing them, then we’ve formed ourselves into a police force, and that’s just one step away from censorship. What is the good of this medium if it’s used for such petty means? What’s the good of the medium when we ignore the morality of an act, using technical capability and lack of copyright violation as justification?

Jeneane from Allied wrote me an email yesterday. I know she won’t mind me repeating the gist of what she said. “We used to have fun in weblogging”, she wrote.

We used to have fun in weblogging. I need to hang with the technical weblogging circles a lot less, or find ones that still have fun.

Update Continued here.

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