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Tim O’Reilly’s Blogging Code of Conduct Makes Me Nervous

As everyone from the New York Times onward has noted, in the wake of the threats against Kathy Sierra Tim O’Reilly proposed a Blogging Code of Conduct and has now written the first (draft) version of this code. While I’m heartened that so much well-intentioned conversation has surged through the blogosphere, I fear that a trying to write rules of all blogs and bloggers is a fairly silly and self-defeating thing to do. One of the models being mentioned all over the place is the BlogHer Community Guidelines; I think that these are great guidelines for a particular online community and suggest that, really, it’s not just the model but the width of applicability that matters; communities should always be able to assert their own guidelines, but the blogosphere, despite the collective noun, is at best an awful lot of communities and individuals, often with vastly different aims and intentions.

In educational contexts, for example, the process of discussing guidelines in classes from K-12 through to university is a useful one both for the issues raised, and the shared guidelines which emerge. Similarly, most communities or vague collectives have rules of some sort, but these rules differ. Some bloggers have a notice about conduct on their blog (by commenters); I think this level of transparency is great. (It’s also something I’ve always meant to do for this blog, but I fear I might not get around to until I actually have to deal with deleting someone’s comments and I’ve not had to do that to anyone other than Mr Spam as yet.)

I think Jeff Jarvis sums up a lot of the angst I’m feeling at reading about O’Reilly’s Code:

So O’Reilly only set us up to be called nasty, unmannered, and thus uncivilized hooligans. Except for Tim, of course. He’s the nice one. Me, I feel like the goth kid with premature tattoos skulking down the hall.

But the problems are far more fundamental and dangerous than that. And just gratingly twinkie, too.

This effort misses the point of the internet, blogs, and even of civilized behavior. They treat the blogosphere as if it were a school library where someone — they’ll do us the favor — can maintain order and control. They treat it as a medium for media. But as Doc Searls has taught me, it’s not. It’s a place. And when I moved into the place that is my town, I didn’t put up a badge on my fence saying that I’d be a good neighbor (and thus anyone without that badge is, de facto, a bad neighbor). I didn’t have to pledge to act civilized. I just do. And if I don’t, you can judge me accordingly. Are there rules and laws? Yes, the same ones that exist in worlds physical or virtual: If I libel or defame you on the streetcorner or in a paper or on a screen, the recourse is the same. But I don’t put up another badge on my fence saying I won’t libel you. I just don’t. That’s how the world works. Why should this new world work any differently? Why should it operate with more controls and more controllers?

Also, Tristan Louis has a thoughtful “Blogger’s Code of Conduct: a Dissection” which makes a very strong case against O’Reilly’s Code, pointing out many of the semantic, interpretive and legal difficulties such a code throws up for bloggers (and commenters) everywhere (Via SmartMobs).

It’s no shock that Dave Winer has blasted O’Reilly’s Code, but it is telling to have Robert Scoble stating he wouldn’t be able to follow the proposed Code despite the fact that his wife was also one of the people targeted by the same pillocks who threatened Sierra.

I’m all for thinking about how communities work (online and, indeed, offline) and for individuals and individual communities to be able to – within reason – set rules for their own digital turf. I just think the turf of the blogosphere en masse is so different and so wide that no single set of rules will let the grass grow properly or productively everywhere.

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