Netiquette: Blog comments

Coming from a family oft referred to by others as the Flanders, blog comments were fraught with peril for me.  If posting them myself, I used to feel responsible for posting only positive, affirming words that couldn’t possibly be seen as negative – to ensure the blogger’s feelings would not be hurt, their self-esteem remain unmarred by thoughtless callousness on my part.  Similarly, checking for comments to my blog[s] was always anxiety-inspiring; what if I had accidentally made an error, been rude?  What if someone drew this to the attention of me and anyone else who might ever come across their posting – what if, in short, my shortcomings were exposed to the world?  [Dedicated to preserving information, I wouldn’t delete a post or its attached comments.]  I clearly remember the comment that reduced me to tears and drove me into a self-imposed exile from the internet for three days.

Well, I’ve grown up a bit since then.  Experience interacting with other bloggers online has helped me to see this as less of a public space for potential ridicule than a meeting area for ongoing discussion and learning.  As a result, my blog posting deadlines no longer cause anxiety.  I welcome comments that don’t echo congratulations.  They’re opportunities or me to see things from a different perspective or to investigate new areas.

So, advice to Librarians seeking feedback from users in blogs and social networking sites:  provide expectations.  Explain what the comments are for, not just how rapidly they’ll be responded to.  Clearly state that all people’s contributions are valued – because they are, and a reminder can’t hurt –  and keep  guidelines  clear, brief,  and inclusive.  [For an explanation of what I men by inclusive, try tossing out any inclinations to think less of a post written in popular netspeak shortcuts, with capitalization, grammar, and semantic errors.  These are not relevant to content value and may be an affectation by a user seeking to mask their identity that a conspicuous linguistic style may reveal.]

Comment on a blog today!


Reflections on Facebook

Well, I’ve taken advantage of a week off from readings and assignments to get caught up with being alive in the world again; getting into an exercise routine, spinning up some fire, and getting back in touch with friends and family.  Even getting in touch with friends I haven’t interacted with in several months, and that was through the Facebook community.

Yes, I’ve joined the Facebook legion, and while I’m still exploring it and figuring out the widgets and vesicles and gonkulators, I’m having an awfully good time adding to my “Friends” list and poking and reading walls and generally sharing in the virtual company of old pals.

The verso of this pleasantville is online harrassment of an individual by one or  several others, “cyberbullying“.   A BBC news article titled Cyber-bullying gathers pace US reports that the Pew Internet & American Life Project has found that youths using Facebook have been subject to more cyberbullying than youths who do not use it.  Somehow, these particular results don’t stagger me.  Teens can be vicious and online environments can enable even atypical bullies to lash out; the 98 pound weakling can retaliate immediately for having sand kicked in his face.  I’m not saying adults aren’t vicious; that capacity certainly still exists even beyond some accretions of maturity.  At the risk of flashing my social libertarian panties, I guess what I’m noting here is that the real issue may not be the imposition of rules upon online social interaction so much as it is about encouraging in our societies and ourselves a more diverse understanding of personal worth.

For a bit of related fun, check out Crawford’s mini-rant on the “lackluster veterans” moniker the Pew…Project in the recent Cites and Insights.

Thanks for reading; I’m heading back to niggle with the gonkulators.


Collaborative construction can be a very powerful force. I believe that the shared knowledge of a group will always be greater than the knowledge of a lone person. In order for a wiki to be successful – that is, to attract content creators and editors and users, to create a community around it – the knowledge to be represented within it shoud be clearly delineated. Wikipedia‘s three content policies do just this: provide a working definition of knowledge, which guides acceptable content creation and maintenance. First, a neutral point of view (NPOV) must be maintained; second, entries must pass the test of verifiability (V); and last, no original research (NOR) may appear in any entry.

For a library’s user group to benefit from a wiki, policies must be set in place that will define its intent, explain the technique/procedures by which a user can contribute, and explain the philosophy of collaborative creation. Finally, there should be a policy regarding repeated “attacks” on content, the online version of graffiti, should anyone become so noxious that banning them from contributing will serve the greater good of the community.

Soft security is a friendlier version of Bentham’s panopticon, being less about preventing and punishing mistakes than with rectifying them. Isn’t this the boss we all want to be, the boss we all want to work for?

Speaking of the library as workplace, I have been sketching out ideas for a staff-oriented wiki for the academic library I work for. A round of applause for the team behind the Antioch University New England Library and Staff Support Training Wiki. I love the fact that it is available for all to see, because I can then learn from their work; they’ve provided a strong model for what can be done to successfully manage knowledge capital. I see pros and cons for having their procedures so open to the public, though; on that, I need to research and think some more.

For those wanting a quick introduction to the topic, here’s Lee LeFever with Wikis in Plain English.  Enjoy.

Multi-author blogging: guidelines

An institution is an individual in corporate law.  As such, each member of the institution are representatives of the single “body”.  For Librarians, this idea of the many representing the one can be keenly felt in multi-author blogs for their own particular Library.

In order to maintain a uniform voice, Libraries with more than one Librarian blogger would be well-advised to develop blogging guidelines for their online presence.  Here are my suggestions:

  1. Establish a blog mission statement.  Ensure that potential posts honour it.
  2. Cite all sources and provide links.  If a source can not be found, then the information is not trustworthy enough to post.
  3. Be accurate.  Consider Karen Schneider’s analogy of a blog entry to a reference question response; make the same commitment to fact checking here.
  4. Be the first to correct yourselves.  If an error has been published, creat a post with the correct information and an apology immediately.  In the offending article, add the newly-discovered truth without deleting the old.
  5. Never edit old posts “seamlessly”.  If a change must be made due to the posting of erroneous content, make corrections apparent.  Consider using a strikeout on the obsolete portions.
  6. Recognize your Librarian bloggers are professionals:  give them the guidelines, then get out of their way and let them blog.  If they are new, a probationary period of sumitting posts for editing pre-publication is valid.  Once a person has proven themselves, however, stop interfering with their timeliness!
  7. Post guidelines for users on comments: what are welcomed, what will not be allowed.  Enforce these.  Be fair.
  8. Be interesting, topical, relevant.  Post on a regular basis, on topics of the sort that will appeal to your users.
  9. Make your blog user-friendly: provide links to FAQ’s, RSS feeds, and other valauble features.
  10. Know your users.  Remember that the blog is for them.

Rebecca Blood says in her post “Weblog Ethics” in rebecca’s pocket:”Think before you publish and stand behind what you write. If you later decide you were wrong about something, make a note of it and move on.”  That’s a strong statement.  I like it.  Accountability will help to improve the value of blogs.  If blogs can be raised in the public perception from shameless vanity sites  and platforms for extremist splinter groups to rant from, a lot of valuable information can be shared, a lot of powerful communities can grow.