On badges for blogs
I was going to write this post last week, but ran out of time before the holiday weekend. And today, thanks to today's page one NY Times story, A Call for Manners in the World of Nasty Blogs, it is even more relevant.
Synopsis of the situation, and do read the article: following the Kathy Sierra/meankids situation, Tim O'Reilly called for a code of blogger conduct. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales also stepped in. Currently on the "table" is a loose proposal for a universal but voluntary blogger code of conduct with various levels and badges that folks can place on their sites to indicate what sort of policies their blog/site allows. The proposed code is based on the code of ethics established by the BlogHer network, and there is a great picture of BlogHer founders Jory Des Jardins, Lisa Stone and Elisa Camahort in the article.
From the NYT article:
"Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Wales talk about creating several sets of guidelines for conduct and seals of approval represented by logos. For example, anonymous writing might be acceptable in one set; in another, it would be discouraged. Under a third set of guidelines, bloggers would pledge to get a second source for any gossip or breaking news they write about.
Bloggers could then pick a set of principles and post the corresponding badge on their page, to indicate to readers what kind of behavior and dialogue they will engage in and tolerate. The whole system would be voluntary, relying on the community to police itself."
"Most are common-sense items about removing abusive comments, not baiting the trolls, not publishing anything you wouldn’t say in person, etc. leaving the level of tolerance to individual bloggers. But one suggestion is disturbing: creating some “easily deployed badges pointing to a common set of guidelines.”
She goes on to describe the slippery slope of censorship that such a system of badges might provoke, and while agreeing with the concept of guidelines, she flat out rejects the idea of the badges.
I agree. A Code of Ethics on a blog is a great idea. And this is certainly not the first time that the topic has been raised in the blogosphere. I wrote mine in September 2005.
A community like BlogHer is well advised to have guidelines that match its ethos. It is what the members expect.
But... badges are a bad idea. The Internet is not a single community.
I don't know how you can come up with a set of badges, or labels, that really works. You either have to operate at a gross, overly broad level or get so specific that the thing gets big and complicated. Unusable either way.
Who is in charge? The idea of the collective exercising its power to create a democratic labeling system that can guide our blog reading choices to those that share our values sounds good. Doesn't work. Human nature suggests that some groups, some ratings, some badges become somehow "better" than others.
And the most damaging potential consequence. The label, or its absence, becomes more important than the content itself.
Sure, it will have been our choice, but we are just as likely to end up on Animal Farm as in the utopia we imagined.
So, post your code of ethics. Commit to a more civil level of discourse. Use a little more deliberation in response. Stop blogwars and flamewars by thinking first, writing second, and taking it offline if necessary. It's as simple as when you see the tinder crackling, don't throw another match on the fire. Don't be a bully.
But "Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!"
UPDATE 4/10: Apparently folks have gotten confused about BlogHer's role in this push for a blogger's code of conduct. No doubt because the NYT story was about Tim O'Reilly and Jimmy Wales, but featured a photo of the BlogHer founders. The short answer is: it doesn't have one. The BlogHer guidelines were used as a model by O'Reilly and Wales, but BlogHer is not involved in the effort at all. Read more at Elisa Camahort's Worker Bees blog.
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