I've just returned from Paris after attending Les Blogs, a weblogging conference organized by our European office. I'm still a bit jet-lagged and, at this moment, I haven't the energy to write up a long post about the morning talk I gave (plus the heated Q&A). However, I'd like to post the bulk of the speech I gave.
I was fairly hesitant to give this talk since I knew that it would stir up some heated discussions and I tend to prefer avoiding controversy -- especially considering my role at Six Apart. I ultimately decided to speak about civility because I, personally, haven't really seen anyone raise this topic from inside the industry and I do believe that, in order for weblogging to reach a new level and a new audience, our behavior online needs to be addressed. So it was just too important to me to not discuss.
Since I've arrived back home, I've read some of the responses from bloggers who attended the conference or watched the video. Mixed reactions were to be expected and I haven't been disappointed. Regardless of what people think of me or my demeanor, I'm glad that we're having the discussion.
A more thoughtful post to come after I get some sleep.
The speech itself:
Good morning. Before I begin, I'd just like to thank you all for attending Les Blogs. It's a nice change for me to see different faces every now and then and it's great to be able to speak to a number of people who I've only been able to read from afar.
The focus of today is the tools we use with two sessions: the "RSS panel" and "Tracking and Listening to the Online World" being about how we keep up with what bloggers are saying and writing.
Here on stage today, I may be accused of a blogging sacrilege of sorts -- criticizing something that is so important in all of our lives. And in some circumstances the following speech might be considered harmful when talking about blogging. However, I'm confident that this audience, with all of your experience and knowledge, today can be part of the solution rather than compounding the problem.
As someone who has been part of blogging for a while, I know first hand that bloggers have a lot to say and that there is a great deal of information to be tracked -- as the afternoon panel will point out. With a lot of people saying a lot of different things, the best way to be a successful blogger is about building a personal voice and being able to convey a strong personality online.
This, of course, has its ups and downs.
A strong voice is a crucial part of a successful blog. But sometimes sensationalism can be confused with a strong voice. The saying "if it bleeds, it leads" isn't just limited to the nightly news or cable news anymore. Bloggers have become very aware that "if it bleeds, it leads" can work wonders for their Google Juice.
When I started to think about what I wanted to speak about today, the phrase "civility in blogging" kept on popping into my head. When I say "civility in blogging," I'm basically referring to the demeanor or the desired demeanor that we conduct ourselves when we're blogging. Civility is a difficult concept to speak about without sounding preachy or condemning. I don't want to give a lecture today on civility -- God only knows that my coworkers would laugh to hear me talk about politeness. Instead of lecturing, I really just have a simple question: Can we as bloggers be more civil?
I love blogging and I want it to be more welcoming. That's why I want to raise the topic amongst other bloggers.
So... as I sat in the sessions yesterday, I started to get incredibly nervous about appearing on stage today. The obvious reason is that I'm speaking in front of 300 bloggers and I'm pretty sure that someone will criticize my speech and delivery on their own weblogs.
Luckily I've been doing this for four years and I've gotten a pretty thick skin. I'm pretty used to reading criticisms about me and Six Apart on blogs.
But that's not the reason why I'm scared. It's that IRC back channel. In theory, it seems like a good idea, giving the audience a chance to share relevant links, ask questions, discuss the panels and topics at hand. In reality, the IRC channel is filled with jokes about the panels and participants and is often off-topic and sometimes mean in tone. On this channel and channels from other conferences I've attended, I've seen people make disparaging comments about other people -- comments that they would never say to their faces.
In blogging, this is very much a reality as well and it is much more permanent.
For this reason, many people are afraid of bloggers.
Frankly, I'm a blogger and I'm afraid of bloggers.
The inspiration for "civility in blogging" came from a post a couple weeks ago: Jeremy Zawodny, a blogger and an employee of Yahoo received an email directed to the address of the Yahoo search blog, a blog in which he's a contributor. The email had been sent by a PR agency and Zawodny felt the mail wasn't relevant to the topics they cover in the blog. So Jeremy wrote a post entitled "Krause Taylor Associates Spams Bloggers" and detailed his experiences. If you were to read this post, you would have read about how Zawodny felt the email was spam and how KTA, the PR firm, should know better.
Why should KTA know better, according to Zawodny? Here's why: Krause Taylor is Six Apart's PR firm. Zawodny blogged that we should teach them about why they should not spam. This post made me fairly upset, not because any actions of KTA but because, based on my experiences with the firm, I was fairly confident that this was a misrepresentation of the facts. I have done business with KTA for three years and have known them to be a professional firm that would never spam or advocate spamming.
So I did something I usually don't do and defended them in Zawodny's comments. Prior to my comment, another client of theirs defended them as well. And throughout the thread, people questioned whether what they did was spam or just a badly targeted email. Even Barbara Krause, the principal of KTA, commented apologizing for the email and explaining why he received the email. It turns out that Yahoo search blog was listed in Media Map, a completely legitimate, opt-in contact service that PR professionals use to contact interested parties about products and news.
While the reason why Zawodny received the mail and everything else was more or less amicably sorted out, the original post is now the number 2 result in Google for "Krause Taylor." And throughout a number of weblogs, the post was linked to by its original title "Krause Taylor spams weblogs."
A firm like KTA, which has been around for years, can luckily rely on its positive reputation to lessen the blow of an inflammatory weblog post. But regardless of the circumstances or reality of the situation, they still have to deal with this post being a part of the permanent Google record.
It's no surprise then that a story like Forbes' "Attack of the Blogs" -- a cover story story no less -- can be written. If you're not familiar with the Forbes cover story, basically they presented weblogs as something fairly dangerous.
I quote the article "Weblogs are the prized platform of an online lynch mob spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel and invective. Their potent allies in this pursuit include Google and Yahoo [and other weblog hosts]!" It continues: "Thus they [weblog services] serve up vitriolic 'content' without bearing any legal responsibility for ensuring it is fair or accurate; at times they even sell ads alongside the diatribes."
Okay, this is incredibly extreme and reads, in part, like a rabid editorial.
Still, there must be some truth in the article? Right?
Or maybe, it's just a tiny slice of the blogging world.
Actually, there's a sentence at the bottom -- sort of like the fine print read at the end of a car commercial -- that sort of sets the record straight: "Attack blogs are but a sliver of the rapidly expanding blogosphere."
While I think it's fairly difficult for a single blogger to hurt a company beyond repair by posting inaccurate information, I do believe a single blogger can cause an organization to waste time and energy cycles defending and preventing the spread of inaccuracies. We don't have unlimited time to manage these cycles, so wouldn't it be great if we could be simply more civil?
Civility is defined as a courteous act or courteous acts that contribute to smoothness and ease in dealings and social relationships.
Smoothness and ease in dealings of social relationships? Is this possible with what we're doing with weblogs? When we preview our own posts what if we read for more than just proper grammar or valid HTML? What if we read it for accuracy, appropriateness, good nature. Read it for civility.
Fundamentally, our biggest goal should be bringing a new generation to weblogging.
If we want to bring a new generation to weblogging -- a goal that I've seen attendees here expressing -- we need to create an environment where people feel welcomed.