Yesterday’s Thoughts

December 8, 2005

Les Blogs Smackdown

Lots of rants and raves over the Smackdown at LesBlogs.

Mena Trott, cofounder of conference sponsor Six Apart, was opening the second day and calling for “civility in blogging.” While this was going on, in fact through the entire conference, there was an irc back channel which you can read here. Mena took exception to a comment in the back channel by dotBen, “this is bullshit.”

Mena came down:

Who is dotBen? All day yesterday you’ve been an asshole to the people who’ve been in this town and I want to know why don’t you, why, what the fuck?

You can hear the callout and the response here.

Lots of people have commented on this. You can see Ben’s and Mena’s takes and checkout technorati.

Many of the comments come from people who weren’t there.

You can add me to that number. One thing that I seem to have over the other absent commentors is that I have read through (most of) the irc logs.

Before I read the logs, I was inclined to agree that “this is bullshit” from an anonymous person was out of bounds, but having read them, I changed my mind.

Reading through the first day, its a little hard to see what bothered Mena about dotBen’s comments on the first day. They didn’t seem particularly inflamatory to me. I didn’t click through to look at all the photoshop mashups so maybe that was it, but they weren’t really dotBen’s responsibility.

First off, dotBen’s comments were just the normal sort of comments that everyone makes during a presentation if they can. Like I say, I don’t view them as that inflamatory. Actually, they were reasonably targeted, or at least they seemed to move the discussion forward among the participants in the backchannel. The participants were challenging what they heard and they were learning and evaluating.

Second, dotBen was not an unknown. He seemed to be known personally to many of the other members of the channel and he seems to have become known (as dotBen) to others over the course of the conference, Marc Canter for instance. It was a big conference, but dotBen was not merely sitting on the back bench and sniping. That Mena didn’t know who he was wasn’t necessarily his fault.

Third, I’m inclined to be more accepting of Ben’s suggestion that there were cultural differences at play than others are. Contrast question time in the House of Commons with the President’s State of the Union Address as an example. I don’t think that this comparison comes out in favor of the US either. I only wish some senator had had to balls to shout “Bullshit” when Bush was lying us into war.

Fourth, where was Mena on the backchannel? She is not obviously identified in the logs. She could have logged on and read everything that happened. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as she thought? If she isn’t participating, she doesn’t really know. It’s like when you are a kid and you eat dinner at your friend’s house. Are they shouting because they are mad, or do they always shout?

The weird thing to me, and it was commented on in the log, is that the chat wasn’t always visible to participants who didn’t choose to be on irc, only at selected times. I’m willing to bet that they only showed it when there was something juicy (“this is bullshit”) to be shown.

The projection seemed to be under Six Apart’s control which seems like a mistake. Either keep it up all the time, or never. Whatever you do, don’t cherry pick the inflamatory bits out of context. It only makes them seem more inflamatory.

Net, I’m not really a fan of labelling other people’s comments “bullshit.” I don’t think it makes any difference if you are anonymous or not, but in a semi-private setting I can imagine feeling free enough to do it. On the other hand, saying someone is an asshole doesn’t really raise the tone of the converstation either. It’s probably not the message I would want to communicate at the end of my session on civility. I just see two people looking a situation from different points of view.

Finally, reading through this I am struck by the technological illiteracy of some of the big names in the the industry. I really don’t see how you can weigh in on this issue without actually looking at the irc logs. Thanks to Nick S via a comment on a Workbench posting for the link to the IRC transcript.

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