Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Blogging Codes of Conduct and Context

It can be both frustrating and useful to be wrapped up in offline work and not be able to follow an emerging conversation or story, like the current one on Blogging Codes of Conduct. I got an email from Jon Garfunkel who alerted me to his alternative approach, a Comment Management Responsibility system based on a pick and choose concept much like Creative Commons.

Both Tim's and Jon's approaches have value, but I found myself more drawn to Jon's because he set out a range of options with far more neutrality in the language that opened the door for application in more diverse contexts.

Reading the comment's on Tim's post, it is quickly apparent that we come at blogging with diverse values, needs, goals and contexts. Our language (or even our intents) does not always cross our cultural chasms and can in fact carry quite different meaning in different settings. We don't really have a shared sense of what we mean by "civility" so it is hard to create a code to "enforce" civility.

Further, I believe there are very different needs for organizations to have such language on their sites than for individuals. Or between business and personal sites. For example, the draft code Tim suggests talks about "we" (as Jon noted) which carries a very different tone than "I will do this on my site." We make assumptions about what "we" is - is it the organization hosting the site? Is it some secret cabal that makes judgments about what is acceptable? (Remember, we humans are paranoid and even more paranoid online... grin.)

The bottom line for me is still "role model what you want to see." Set the tone. Meankids set a tone and it grew from there. We get what we ask for, some times in perverse ways. But in the end, the person we can best control is ourselves, not others.

This is true offline, but we have more familiar social processes that help us see when things are going awry a bit faster. We have practices to nudge them back before they "get out of control." Online we often don't see them coming as clearly. Because we live in a networked world online, vs a bounded offline groups, dynamics expand out faster. Offline we actually have more (and more sanctioned) methods of exclusion. When we make something open online, it takes on a whole new meaning. It moves FAST!

I am really happy to see the conversations that have emerged around our blogging and commenting pratices, values and behaviors. I think norms and agreements have tremendous value in this world, but context matters. It is central to our experience of each other. I'm not sure a code of conduct as a semi-generic tool really helps us live into agreements with each other. It still takes interaction and context. So in the short run, I believe the conversation about how we act online will have a far greater impact than the artifact of codes we create along the way.

(Edited Wednesday to fix spelling error)


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