April 9th, 2007

The Blogging Code of Conduct.

To my shock, Tim O'Reilly made the front page of the New York Times today by proposing a Blogger's Code of Conduct. I don't see how this is anything approaching front-page news — i expect to read about issues concerning the health, livelihood, governance, or human rights of large sectors of the public. And i'm both offended and skeptical of his proposal.

I'm offended because this is one man choosing to use his fame to tell everyone else on the Internet how they should behave. I'm in favour of respect, kindness, and transparency, of course. But there is a world of difference between "here are some suggestions you might think about if you want to establish standards of acceptable behaviour in your own online community" and "this Code of Conduct is an official standard that we expect all bloggers to abide by or be ostracized by A-list bloggers like me and my friends."

I'm skeptical because this kind of declaration is unlikely to solve the problem that motivated it. Time and time again we've seen that the norms of behaviour in online communities are a complex result of the particular community of participants, their relationships to each other, their similarities and differences, the goals of the community, and the personalities of the leading members. They do not follow automatically from regulation. I'm frankly a little surprised to see this coming from Tim, because i've thought of him as someone who's been around long enough and has enough experience with online communities to know that this is the case.

I posted this comment on Tim O'Reilly's blog.
Tim, i do appreciate your intention to make the Internet a safer and more respectful discussion space. But i have a suggestion for you: stop trying to brand and own the process. It's turning people off, and it can't be owned anyway.

Please consider reframing this. Instead of a top-down decree of standards of behaviour, offeroffering a humble set of suggestions for people to use in establishing their own community standards would be more effective. Think along the lines of, "Here are some tools that, in our experience, have been useful for us, and you're welcome to use any or all of them to help you build healthy online communities of your own."
Thanks to Joe for the post that pushed me over the edge to write something about my thoughts on this.