A Blogger Code of Conduct? Nothing we haven’t learned in kindergarten.

(NOTE: Read to the bottom of this post for my own version of “All a Blogger Really Needs to Learn, a Blogger Learned in Kindergarten”)

The blogosphere has been abuzz with an initiative began by Tim O’ Reilly calling for a Code of Conduct among bloggers. Opinion about it has been split.

As far as the Philippine blogosphere is concerned, I’m taking off from a post in the Blog Addicts, as well as some reactions from Pinoy Blogger such as Erwin and Abe.

Personally, I love the idea of promoting civility, discussion and respect in the blogosphere, but I also believe that any attempts at creating such a code will always be flawed. Dave Taylor summarizes some good reasons why and I quote his main point,

That’s the key reason that I think any Code of Conduct is fundamentally flawed, however much effort people put into it. Every blog is different, every blog has its own unique community of readers and participants, and every blogger has a different tolerance for rude, obnoxious, crude, spammy, obscene, pornographic commenters.

But I would like to take it one step higher. I believe that a code of conduct is unnecessary. I know that as an educator, this is quite uncharacteristic for me to say, especially that I consider blogging as an important learning tool in today’s information economy.

My fundamental premise for calling it unnecessary is this: the blogosphere is not an institution where you can impose rules. Its main agents are individuals with their own belief systems, intellectual capacities and writing styles. You don’t need a code to police bloggers since bloggers police themselves.

How does that work exactly? Let us take a look at the blogger. Who is he/she precisely? What is the difference of a blogger from a writer or even a journalist? When a cook posts his recipes on a blog, does that make him a blogger? Or is someone using a phantom blogger account to flame bloggers considered a blogger?

In my experience, I have a lot of students with blogs. However, not all of them are bloggers. A lot of them write on it but not a lot of them blog. What is the difference?

Those who don’t blog are those who simply write about their day, post song lyrics, upload screenshots, and embed YouTube videos. They are more of ‘online public private diaries’ if you get what I mean. Those who I consider bloggers are those who conduct contests, open discussions, comment on other people’s blogs (and link back) and write articles that beg to be commented on.

The key word here is engagement. Bloggers are aware that blogging is a collaborative enterprise where we can exchange ideas and refine them (deliberately or otherwise) through our interaction with others. Bloggers are members of a community, whether it be a sector (tech, moms, education, atheist, etc), a school, a peer group or what have you. There are as many communities as there are bloggers, and you are part of the blog you comment on.

Using this same definition, a columnist who posts his published columns online but does not engage his readers is not a blogger. But a columnist who posts articles aside from what is published and engages his readers is a blogger. A cook who merely posts her recipes for online consumption is not a blogger, but a cook who asks people to try them out and to tell her what they think or how to improve the recipe is a blogger.

(To make a point, I often define a blogger as someone who has had his/her ideas challenged or added on to because of someone’s comment on something he/she wrote. Then it happens again and again until it escalates and a readership is formed. Then is born the blogger.)

What is essential is that through the course of this engagement, they form communities and it is within this community that new rules are formed, though they often remain unwritten or unspoken.

For instance, I am aware that a large chunk of my readers would be my students. They are my immediate community (followed by the Philippine blogosphere at large). While to some degree I would like them to get to know me more beyond the classroom, I am aware that what they read on my blog will still be seen as an extension of me as a teacher. I can write about the music and shows I find amusing, but I’ve noticed that they still respond more to the entries that actually supplement what we learn in class.

In that sense, I also have to conduct myself as a teacher 24/7. I can’t cuss or use foul language (not a problem for me) and will have to be diplomatic most of the time. In a case to case basis, I will have to police their comments when it gets too distracting from the post’s ideas. And in my writing, I will have to uphold the values of integrity and truthfulness, the same values I expect from their writing.

No one imposed these rules on me. And neither did I begin this blog with those rules in mind — I’ve learned most of them the hard way! So how I conduct myself in my blog is a product of all the comments I’ve received (and given), as well as reader response to the articles I have written. But I am not putting my audience before me though. This blog is still all me, but I’ve become a better blogger because of my readers.

The code of conduct builds itself up through our interactions with our readers. That is why I find a general code of conduct unnecessary since all blogs have their own communities and develop their own norms anyway.

However, if the blogosphere insists on some rules, then I can only give this. It is a modification of that popular poster poem you can find in most places, even Google.

All a Blogger Really Needs to Learn He/She Learned in Kindergarten

(NOTE: If there are no parenthetical remarks, take it as is.)

All I really need to know about how to blog and what to blog and how to be a blogger I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:

  • Share everything. (Invite people to your blog.)
  • Play fair. (Visit their blog in return.)
  • Don’t hit people. (No flaming and personal attacks.)
  • Put things back where you found them. (Link back.)
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Do your homework.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours. (Ask for permission if needed.)
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. (Have a nice blog theme that makes you feel good. ^_^)
  • Live a balanced life–learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together. (Help out your fellow bloggers. What goes around comes around.)
  • Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The
    roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. (Say nice words about a blog that really awes and inspires you.)
  • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the
    Styrofoam cup–they all die. So do we. (But our blogs are eternal. There is no more editing after we die.)
  • And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned–the biggest word of all–LOOK.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic blogging. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.

Think what a better world it would be if we all — the whole blogosphere — had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or
if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.

And it is still true, no matter how old you are– when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together. Bloggers watch out for one another.

–Martin Perez (after Robert Fulghum)

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11 thoughts on “A Blogger Code of Conduct? Nothing we haven’t learned in kindergarten.

  1. If I remember correctly, the idea of a “badge of conduct” enforcement was triggered by a recent incident of harassment where Kathy Sierra was harassed starting with some death threats on her blog’s comments. This was followed by disturbing threats of violence and sex posted on two other blogs. You can see it in her wikipedia page and on her blog post.

    Great post by the way. Articles like these remind me why I wouldn’t have a blog anytime soon; my writing skills aren’t up to par. Happy vacation sir!

  2. Pingback: astigg.com
  3. sir martin, the lot that had been divided about this issue must sure read your entry. basic, yet very inspiring… like you said:

    (Say nice words about a blog that really awes and inspires you.)

    you just did… 😀

    and btw, im quoting the kindergarten rule in my entry… 🙂

  4. I agree with the engagement keyword, that blogging is a collaboration, just like the wikipedia. Someone posts something bright, then someone comes up with something brighter. And it goes on, until the best post is written. Or maybe the best post will never be written since someone always comes up with something better.

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