Remember when Forbes magazine ran a cover story by Daniel Lyons blaming blogs for, well, lots of bad stuff including “wrecking our lives.” It droned on for a few thousand words like this: “Suddenly they are the ultimate vehicle for brand-bashing, personal attacks, political extremism and smear campaigns. It’s not easy to fight back: Often a bashing victim can’t even figure out who his attacker is. No target is too mighty, or too obscure, for this new and virulent strain of oratory.”
In the current issue of Forbes, Lyons has a “Follow-up” column ( here’s a link, but you need to register to access it) in which he uses the Kathy Sierra incident and the “Blogger Code of Conduct” response by Tim O’Reilly and Jimmy Wales for a “told-you-so” rehash of his earlier premise: “Our antiblog cover story provoked howls from bloggers who called us stupid, clueless and a lot of other things. But now some of the blogosphere’s biggest names are complaining about “incivility” on blogs and even proposing a blogging “code of conduct.”
At the time, I noted that a positive side-consequence of that blunt-instrument attack on blogging was the sudden appearance of a blog by Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard, a blog I continue to enjoy, even when I disagree with him. Beginning with the third post on his blog, Karlgaard started doing damage control with his many friends among the techosphere, while defending his writer: “Blogs are democracy. Blogs are free-market capitalism. Blogs are righteous. (And yes, I think Dan Lyonsâ€™ brave story on those hate-spewers fouling the blogosphere was damn righteous, too.) On this blog, every now and then, I will blog on the subject of blogs. I will do this humbly, knowing that the world is rapidly filling with expert blogofiles, hip-deep into the subject.”
The accurate follow-up to that Forbes cover story is still the same: Blogs and bloggers can be righteous or self-righteous or evil incarnate. We don’t need Dan Lyons taking credit for pointing that out. I won’t waste time proving it, but I could easily point to writings and discussions that lament the incivility of virtual communities that date back to their earliest days. I could also cite similar laments regarding “offline” incivility that date back thousands of years of pre-Internet history and that include such instances of incivility as world wars in which tens of millions of individuals were killed.
Sidenote: (Or perhaps this is not a sidenote, but a continuation of this post’s rant) Also in this issue of Forbes, we find the continuation of the steam-roller of hype accompanying the publication of the blogger-bashing book, Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen. In an essay titled “Down with Internet Democracy” Keen enlightens us with such insight as the following: “Internet search has become too central to all our lives to be put in the hands of noble amateurs. A ‘people-powered’ search engine staffed by a militia of anonymous volunteers will only compound the opacity of the supposedly ‘democratic’ Internet. Jimmy Wales’ faith in open-source communitarianism and the natural goodness of volunteers is childish and self-serving.
There is truth somewhere in that Forbes’ stew of Lyons, Keen and Karlgaard: All this participatory communication one finds on the Internet is a mashup of communitarianism, self-service, free-market, democratic, childish, incivil, amateurish, extremist righteousness.