Yesterday, Mark Bernstein posted about the behavior of the weblog world. His post reminded me of useful things he said in the past and helped me find an 11th tip to Weblogging.
Mark Bernstein's essay, 10 Tips on Writing the Living Web, was foundational to this blog. I was rather skeptical about the whole idea -- I read too many bad blogs -- and I didn't see the value. I didn't really want to be the kind of blogger I found out there: someone whacking out posts like,
Nor did I want to write, like many bloggers (some who should know better),
Others do that much better than I could.
I like writing narrative nonfiction. For me, this blog became my daily exercises. I don't always post stories, but I like them most of all. Anticipation keeps me writing, waiting expectantly, impatiently for the next story.
See, I learned to "Write for a reason, and know why you write".
I learned to "write often". In my first blog experience, I just wrote whenever I felt in the mood. This was bad. I would go for a week with an avalanche of posts -- then disappear for months. Mark's article convinced me to write often, and the discipline has made me more systematic, regular, and reliable in all my writing tasks.
3. Write tight -- I learned this in my first college comp class when I was in 11th grade. "Cut out the lard" she said. So I do. Life is much simpler now.
Other rules I like:
- acknowledge the good work and good ideas of other writers
- All writers thrive on ideas; distribute them generously and always share the credit.
- Try, if you can, to avoid inflicting unnecessary pain and humiliation on those who have the misfortune to be mistaken. People err, and you too will be wrong tomorrow. Civility is not mere stuffiness; it can be the glue that lets us fight for our ideas and, once we recognize the right answer, sit down together for drinks and dinner.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Yesterday, Mark Bernstein lamented the effects of some of the community tools we have created. They lead to less-than-thoughtful knee-jerk reactions. Most usually, knee-jerk thoughts can be unkind.
Our technology is so good, we make it easy to bring out the worst in us.
Mark hopes that "We're not just trying to get attention at any price, we're not just chasing popularity." But then he worries about sites like Slashdot and their effect:
Here's another thought. Is the blog world becoming like Slashdot? Certainly, Slashdot is a great example of "attention at any price." There, the popularity is a natural part of how the system works. Karma, comments, modding. If you get out a comment early, it is likely modded up, no matter its insightfulness. Insightful comments that come later are ignored, because people have moved onto something else. The comments system encourages ignorance, pettiness, and thoughtless unkindness.
Mark is worried that blog comments do the same thing. For the last few days, he has been coming out rather strongly against them.
I agree. I think that unmoderated blog comments do allow and encourage people t o be thoughtless. But I have used blog comments on other people's sites and found them helpful and fun. Is there a middle ground?
I have been guilty of thoughtless sensationalism on the 'net in a very large way. I still feel guilty. A few years back, I got my 5 minutes of fame on Slashdot. I noticed that a company's new product was no longer going to be GPL. I blew the whistle and started a Free Software fork.
I had neither the time, resources, nor expertise to manage a large Free Software project. Now it is dead, and the last gasp I heard from the company was 2003. Did I help kill a company for nothing but my own notoriety? Other high profile Open Source people knew about the GPL issue for months and sat on it.
They were wiser than I.
When the story came out on Slashdot, my friends sent me emails like, "hey! cool! You're on Slashdot. They didn't say anything about the topic.
In "The Blogosphere's Bad Behavior", Mark admits the problem is deeper than a technical issue. The real issue is one of human behavior.
He suggests we try to find a way through technology or ritual to " tell someone, without terrible loss of face, that they've been uncivil. " This is a very very good idea.
Mark's post is also a good example of a good 11th rule for writing the living web. Admit when you're wrong.
As living people, we learn. Forget the proud aura of the author function. We're not names on the cover of a spine. This isn't about ten seconds of fame. We're people. We don't have to be consistent.
Arguments are not about winning. They are about learning. If I admit that I am wrong in a good argument, I have not lost face. Rather, we have all won. In arguing and learning from the argument, I have contributed to an idea product, one that all arguers have helped build. By admitting I am wrong and accepting what I have learned to be true, I am expresing faith in the argumentation process, faith in the idea that we can come together, discuss, and construct better ideas from our diverse experiences. I still might not agree with the other person, but that person has still taught me something and deserves some respect.
Thanks Mark, for reminding us what it's all about.