As several have noted wittily, Tim O’Reilly has managed to accomplish the near-unthinkable by getting the online community to unite in disagreeing with his Call for a Blogger's Code of Conduct. (There’s a wikified version, not really starting to converge yet). I personally wouldn’t be able to adopt Tim’s proposal, but I think the discussion he’s launched is a useful and healthy one, and we all owe a vote of thanks. I have one big issue and some little ones, but I also have an alternative to propose.
Not Just Bloggers · First off, blogging isn’t that special. To the extent that any good-contact rules are required, they’re for any online space that you control.
Plan B · Tim’s first point, Take responsibility not just for your own words, but for the comments you allow on your blog. seems to me all that really matters. I’d generalize it away from blogs and comments and from just words, rephrase it in the first-person affirmative, like so:
I am responsible for the material that appears here.
The phrase that U.S. political candidates are required to use in campaign materials might be good enough to steal: I’m Tim Bray and I’m responsible for the content of this Web site.
It’s important to note that this does not necessarily mean that you agree with everything on the site (I approve lots of comments I disagree with), just that you’re responsible for its being there. By the way, this wording is consistent with my understanding of our legal responsibilities and what online culture generally expects.
The Problem With Points 2-7 · The rest of Tim’s proposal is mostly good sense and good advice, but it’s not appropriate as a policy, simply because it dodges too many judgment calls.
Label your tolerance level for abusive comments. What’s abusive? I have been told in public and private that some material I’ve published on my blog is “abusive” and I just disagree. This is a fact of life; anyone who deals in controversial subjects will be accused of “abuse” on a regular basis.
Consider eliminating anonymous comments. This doesn’t work at all. I’m responsible for the material that appears on my website, whether or not it’s signed by someone else or not. If it’s not something that I think ought to be on the Web on my site, I’m not going to let it get there or stay there; whether or not it’s signed really is orthogonal.
Ignore the trolls. This is awfully good advice (I prefer “Don’t feed the troll”) but it’s not code-of-conduct stuff. Sometimes they should be ignored, sometimes they should be sought out, tracked down, and punished. Distinguishing between these cases is a judgment call that can’t be made to go away.
Take the conversation offline, and talk directly, or find an intermediary who can do so. Well, yes, sometimes. On the other hand, there are situations where this is actively evil; some disputes need transparency. Here’s a story that I’ve been through and have heard from any number of successful bloggers. You’re having a problem with a company or organization, and they’re ignoring your input. Eventually you blog about it, pick up a few links, and suddenly they’re paying attention to you, and the first thing they say is “Can we take this off-line?” The answer should almost always be “no”; once you’ve started an argument in public on a subject that people care about it, you have some obligation to let your readers see how the story plays out.
If you know someone who is behaving badly, tell them so. This one comes closest to being appropriate for a universial Code of Conduct; don’t let abuse pass you by silently. (Mind you, it’s certainly not specific to life online). Once again, there are situational issues; sometimes it’s unsafe or unaffordable or ineffective to confront certain abusive parties, particular those in a position of power or who employ expensive attack lawyers. Not everyone has the obligation to put their neck on the line.
Don't say anything online that you wouldn't say in person. Nope; lots of successful bloggers use an online persona that is quite unlike their real selves; and this is one of the charms of the medium.