April 9, 2007

No Stinking Badges


Tim O'Reilly is a perfectly nice, bright guy, who has had a great deal of success with an ever expanding line of Geek and Nerd books and associated products. I like them all and admire his well-deserved success. But Tim O'Reilly has, as seemingly all good GeekNerds must, become infected by the most insidious virus of the new high-tech rich in our culture. He has gotten the inner conviction that he just has "to give back."

Of course, giving back to our wealthier GeekNerds does not mean that you have to give in such a way that you can actually feel it in your net worth. Heaven forfend that giving really give. Instead, the infection seems to demand that you give mostly of your own superior insight so that you can glide through the rest of your days on the upwardly wafting aromas of your own good works. You know they are "good works" since all those in your inner circle in search of a raise, a hand-out, a loan, an investment or a grant will be only too happy to tell you on an hourly basis. Friends and associate that will tell you the truth left or were dumped long ago. They are, after all, so irritating.
In this case, O'Reilly seems to be on high-minded crusade to return "civility" to the blogosphere -- or at least his part of it. Hummm. Since I don't need anything from Tim, I'd tell him to pack a big picnic lunch and take plenty of water because he's going to be on this crusade until at least five months after death.

It all began when some nice but essentially harmless member of the technobloggers began, through no fault of her own, to get insults and obscenity and death threats in her comments section. Being unused to such an occurrence, said bloggess promptly succumbed to an attack of the vapors and announced she was going to stop blogging until she could summon the strength to return to the fray of recommending Web 2.0 social apps and other such effluvia of our time.

One Robert Scoble, a popular Microsoft blogger and perfectly nice bright guy, promptly took up the cause for the wronged maiden in a rather metro-sexual manner. Quicker than getting a new tattoo and painless. Soon it was the cause du jour of seemingly every technoweenie with a web page devoted to the always "cool magic" of my iPod or less.

These technobloggers do the heavy lifting for the manufactuers of everything with chips, and are hence beloved by all and sundry in the industry. Unlike political bloggers they are long on cool but light on ideas; lighter still on abuse in their comments: "Zune sucks." "So does Vista" "Get a Mac." "Get a life." is pretty much the extent of it. We live in a world that wobbles on the brink of catastrophe, but they graze placidly in a realm in which everything can be solved by just a little more battery life, a recumbent bicycle, and a hybrid car with a bumper strip that reads "My other car is a computer." (Note: I did that one in 1990. Don't ask.)

All in all, this tempest in a capture buffer is just a page out of Herman Hesse's masterful Glass Bead Game in which is foreseen the Age of the Feuilleton, "an intellectually superficial and decadent period when middlebrow journalism replaced serious reading and reflection" -- only Hesse could not have foreseen MySpace.

Last week, that Great White Whale of Technoweenies, Tim O'Reilly, took up the hallowed horn first grasped by Scoble, to declare, in effect, that "By gosh, people are just too mean and frightening in cyberspace and what we need are some manners around here." He's upping that ante this week with promises of a new web page that is going to push a "Code of Conduct for Bloggers" with that most effective of Web 2.0+ instruments of control, widgets and icons. Short form: badges declaring the type of commenting space being offered by this or that page/blog.

This will, in the happy world of O'Reilly's mind, lead us all -- in time -- to the sweet smelling upland meadows of a really civil internet bedecked with angels' wings, soft babies' bottoms, and polite, reasoned discourse between the intellectual commenting giants of our era. Like all others with the utopian cast of thought that comes from too many hours coding perfect widgets and attending wonderful conferences and thinking wonderful thoughts, O'Reilly's dreamscape unfolds across "Wouldn't it be nice if...." and rolls to "Let's make some laws and regulations right away and get people to obey them" in less time than it takes to fry up a tofu burger.

It won't work for a second, of course, because -- first, last,and always-- it doesn't need to work. Control of comments is not broken to begin with.

As Glenn Reynolds ably and tersely put it, "What's really being talked about here is a commenters' code of conduct." Commenters -- ask anybody who has them -- have no code of conduct and come around precisely because there is no code to begin with. They are free to type whatever they want to into the comment box and hit submit.

And many, I am here to tell you, freely avail themselves of that opportunity.

Fortunately, that is the limit of their freedom as far as I or anyone else who has his or her page reasonably under control is concerned. I don't need no stinking O'Reilly badges -- as much as that would make his heart swell -- because I already have my own personal little rule. It's quite clear and quite direct. It goes: COMMENTS ARE MODERATED AND MAY NOT APPEAR IMMEDIATELY. COMMENTS THAT EXCEED THE OBSCENITY OR STUPIDITY LIMITS WILL BE EITHER EDITED OR EXPUNGED.

"Either EDITED or EXPUNGED..." how hard is that to understand? Difficult indeed it would seem for the waxing and waning slush of trolls that come by every once in a while when the barren and self-sloshed metro-sexual Boston Marriage beard of Vanity Fair needs to "RELEASE THE PRESSURE!!!"

One little item and on they come with their various bile sacks filled to the bursting point. Once here they pound their little fingers to nubs entering their deepest hatreds in order to, in their turn, "RELEASE THE PRESSURE!"

The balding little metro-sexual neuter who dispatches his hard-core unemployed in this direction is meanwhile at his home suckling his cats and writing yet another scroll of infinite dullness on "the theater in our time," or denigrating the endless Yahoos that come to NYC to get in his way when he wants to go. (No matter that it is only because of these Yahoos that New York has a theater still. Then again what sort of grown man of any talent at all makes his living reviewing plays in this day and age anyway?) That Wolcott has no comments on his own page is enough to tell anyone that his decades of playing a beard have indeed left him the blogosphere's leading white man possessed of an inverted if uninhabited penis.

Yet the trolls will come and the trolls will pound and the trolls will hit the submit key and send it off. I but scan the first twenty words in my notification box and remember that these people indeed are why God created the delete key.

Click, whoosh, vanishment. Just that simple.

Of course, some will invariably come back to see if I have actually enshrined their insults -- sometimes I do -- and be mortified when I haven't. What follows is invariably a taunt or deeper series of obscenities that often as not invoke the First Amendment, since these people are indeed so stupid that they believe it says "Van der Leun shall make no law....."

Click, whoosh, vanishment. Just that simple.

On occasion, I do invoke the first clause of my simple rule of commenting, the part about "editing" them. Then I simply have my way with them as I will. Purely for fun. They say things they never thought to say, but because I am writing for them, they say them in a way much better than they can ever hope to say them. I should charge them for it, but I'm just too kindhearted. Mocking the afflicted works for me.

This is why I really have to think that O'Reilly is into the whole "civility button" business purely to improve his own scent. All bloggers already have two buttons, the edit button and the delete button. That's all we need to crush dissent within our tiny little realms. Anything else just glorifies Emperor O'Reilly and he's already lording it over wage slaves daily. I don't see why I should join up. Unless he's going to pay me.

Comment freely below, but remember.... I'm watching you craft every single little sniveling keystroke and "COMMENTS THAT EXCEED THE OBSCENITY OR STUPIDITY LIMITS WILL BE EITHER EDITED OR EXPUNGED."

Go ahead. Make my login.

Posted by Vanderleun at April 9, 2007 4:30 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Where is my Easter Bonnet?

While some may see the blogosphere and the behavior of its participants as a new phenomenon, it isn't difficult to find an appropriate predecessor model. That model is found on the streets of any metropolitan area and it is called traffic and the prevalence of road rudeness...or in its extreme...road rage.

Granted, personal attacks and snark on the internet are not likely to lead to fatalities, but if computers had wheels, it certainly would.

The problem on the highway or the internet isn't going to be resolved through a badge system. Did anyone attend Easter mass yesterday and witness the value of symbols...no not the crucifix behind the altar or the statue at the entrance; I'm talking about the pretty new Easter outfits...complete with bonnets and bow ties. These are the outfits worn by the same people who also attend Christmas mass every year without fail...and then get into their shiny clean vehicle and race out of the parking lot without ever yielding to the old woman walking to her car that is parked in the back row because she forgot that it was Easter Sunday and foolishly arrived at the same time she does each and every Sunday.

Read more on the relationship between blog civility and Easter Bonnets...here:


Posted by: Daniel DiRito at April 9, 2007 6:05 PM

Gerard, I love it...you can edit my comments anytime. I look forward to each of your essays, and am truly enriched by them.

Posted by: lij at April 9, 2007 9:06 PM

Depends what your blog is for. In sheer coincidence (I only just now read of the O'Reilly initiative), I wrote about commenting rules the other day. My rules are best for my purposes; I'm not so immersed in blogging life as to think them suitable for everyone else, a la "One Size Fits All" Communism.

(BTW, Gerard--I tagged you on the Thinking Bloggers meme, if you're into that kind of thing. See here.)

Posted by: ZionistYoungster at April 10, 2007 6:47 AM

Gerard, you are perfectly correct, again. If anyone thinks that they can regulate commenters, they must be smoking some very strong tobacco..

Posted by: Adam Ciulini at April 10, 2007 8:43 AM

You (collectively) can be rude jerks in my comments, but I reserve the right to make fun of you. :)

Posted by: Alan Kellogg at April 10, 2007 9:26 AM

I agree with you, Gerard, to try to regulate the last and most free marketplace of ideas is stupid - not to mention impossible. I also agree with lij: You can edit me anytime. Your place or mine?

Posted by: askmom at April 10, 2007 10:23 AM

Apropos of civility, I still think the Wolcott cats deserve extradition to a more civil environment. Where's the ASPCA when you need 'em?

Posted by: Connecticut Yankee at April 10, 2007 3:59 PM

"waxing and waning slush of trolls that come by every once in a while when the barren and self-sloshed metro-sexual Boston Marriage beard of Vanity Fair needs....their various bile sacks filled to the bursting point. Once here they pound their little fingers to nubs entering their deepest hatreds.....balding little metro-sexual neuter who dispatches his hard-core unemployed in this direction is meanwhile at his home suckling his cats and writing yet another scroll of infinite dullness"

This is so succinct a characterization of the modern "castrati" (your word, I think) as to boggle my mind. What else but this perfect contempt fits the banal and vapid malaise that passes for our "culture".

I gotta tell you, Gerard, by the time I got to the end of this little piece of yours I was grinning like a cheshire cat. Love it!

Posted by: John Hinds at April 10, 2007 4:34 PM

Thanks, Gerard. You nailed that one. The thing that makes the blogs fun is to watch us all exhibit our limitations for all to see. Made me laugh on a day when I needed one.

Posted by: robohobo at April 10, 2007 9:26 PM

Well, I have a little different take:

Regulation and censorship of the Internet can and must occur: on the individual level. And in the blogosphere, on the individual blog level.

As evidenced by Mr. Van der Leun herewith.

Lesser, more inverted, if not uninhabited, weenies will disable comments.

And the truly faint of heart should find other, less wild and crazy, venues to vent their creativity: like writing for instruction manuals for say, appliances.

On an completely different subject, I am traveling and don't have time for such indulgences today; however, I have a post coming up for Mistaaah W on the subject of pedicures, or more specifically my history with pedicures, that he won't want to miss.

Posted by: Webutante at April 11, 2007 4:58 AM

Yes, moderating comments is the way to go. I started with open publishing and reviewing within a few hours. I have since decided that moderate first is the answer. I have a very liberal policy--no abuse and you have to have at least a personal, if not original, thought. So far, on my very minor blog, I have blown away one comment because it was nothing but links, even though I might have agreed with the point of view. I find it hard to imagine all the junk you see daily.

Posted by: Bill at April 11, 2007 6:20 PM

Perhaps she was merely unused to getting death threats? Did you miss that part? And just to let you know, there are guys out there that hate the idea of women in the tech field. They get angry over it. You can ask any woman who's done tech support and she can tell you a story or two about the guy who would not speak with a woman tech or tried to get her fired. And, since this also isn't picked up, the comments she got were basically pornographic. Perhaps it might be time to reconsider how porn degrades women.

Posted by: Teri Pittman at April 12, 2007 1:21 PM

All this time and we still see this free speech/First Amendment thing. They can get their own blog; this one doesn't belong to them. There's no free speech being suppressed. It's such a simple concept.

And this thread has nothing to do with porn degrading women; that's not what it is about. No hijacking a thread, now!

Posted by: norm at April 12, 2007 8:29 PM

Teri: Michelle Malkin talked about it a bit. She has received far worse, mostly because she is in the political arena (rather than the golden city of hi tech) but death threats and pornographic smears are just the same.

This woman had too weak a stomach for the public arena. Also:

First and foremost, porn is a form of prostitution - that is, of women (and men.) It is then, a form of prostitution that seeks to sell itself to the largest audience for the smallest cost and time consumption. Or, to put it another way, it seeks to degrade as many men (and then in response, women) as possible for a single hour of footage or photograph or story.

As per comments, a blog is a private space. Freedom is of press, of speech and of assembly... I don't see freedom of commenting. IF you want to speak freely, get your own blog, punks.

Good words up there, too, Gerard.

Also, you are authorized to make me say 'IM IN UR [x] [y]'ing your [z]' where x,y and z complete the sentence in an amusing way.


Posted by: RiverCocytus at April 13, 2007 7:49 AM

"Either EDITED or EXPUNGED..." how hard is that to understand?"

Oh come on Van der Leun, you say that as if you think those who propose these codes or who are continually 'offended', understand the general concept of 'Principles', much less how to apply them - and live by them? Puh-lease!.

Confronted with the prospect of having to apply a principle, they experience a small panic attack. The immediate visceral response felt by your masterfully described MetroSexual is not their more comfortable 'Whatever'; 'Whatever' is just their preferred response to whatever standards someone with standards expects they should understand, but when it comes to what they should actually and independently do to conform to something the group is going to conform to... oh my, then every possible variant scenario pops into mind, and they really don't know what is the right... er... proper thing to do.

"what if it's meant embracingly? But what if something's nice but said by someone who doesn't celebrate diversity? What if...."

The endless lists and codes is the frantic run through their minds experience whenever they venture out of the well worn paths of GroupThink.

No Principles? Lots of lists. No peace.


Posted by: Van at April 13, 2007 8:46 AM

Well, Teri, I have done tech support, and I have never once run into a guy who "would not speak with a woman tech"*. I've run into my share of men who seemed a little uneasy or uncomfortable with techie women, but none who refused to work with me, certainly none who were angry about it, much less any who would emit LEGALLY ACTIONABLE DEATH THREATS at the very sight of a woman who is so techie that she actually writes about... marketing, user-interface design, and similarly hard-core technical topics.

What I'm wondering is why none of these people seem to have any sense of history. It's not as though these things haven't been hashed out before, even if we ignore the dark ages before we all sat down at our computers and started typing.

Tim would do better to mount a software development effort to create comments software that, say, reaches the usability level of 70s-era conferencing packages. In this case, the kind of techno-fixes that improve social space would at least help (although they'd do nothing about the nutbar attacking Kathy Sierra - but then nothing short of police action will. A "code of conduct" and a kewl GIF certainly won't.)

* A customer did try to get me fired once. I ate his liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti.

Posted by: jaed at April 13, 2007 6:38 PM