Monday, October 29, 2007

The rise of the faux professional

What a strange year it has been thus far for blogs (or "weblogs" if you're old skool (or insist on pretending to be)). What was a niche publishing medium has become totally mainstream in terms of awareness and the result has been lots of talks about controlling the medium. It all started early in the year amongst UK political blogs when, as many will know, there was what got called a "blog war" between high profile right and left wing blogs with a spillover discussion to others. The spill over debate was that the instinctively Net-authoritarian Left decided that there should be some sort of rules and regulations to stop what they considered to be propaganda and/or disingenuous statements being published by others.

This was a truly bizarre development in my view mainly because those that started to call for such rules were, in many cases, people who had been around for sometime and walked the boards on IRC and Usenet before the Net became as mainstream as it is today. All of a sudden these people that never had a problem with the medium being free from legislative and regulatory control felt that it needed to be tamed. Such about turns struck me as so odd that the only explanation I could really make for it was that all of sudden some people felt the space they had occupied for so long and gained a 'profile' in was being squeezed. What better way to halt its continued and rapid expansion than to make proposals on how to control the medium in your favour?

After all, given how technology had provided the means for everyone and anyone to publish with limited technical skills; and given the expansion of Internet access, it stood to reason that there would be those in their Ivory Towers of Net-analism that would dislike the freedom and potential power of so many newbies. Throw into the mix - certainly in the UK - that the majority of the country is not a member of the "soft-liberal nihilstic Guardian class Left", and is it any wonder that that class (online at least) would recoil in disgust and scream out for some sort of regulation and control? Freedom and liberty to say what you like, when you like, and how you like is a dangerous thing to those that would like to avoid seeing their once dominant views being ever more marginalised by the masses of individuality that the Net creates.

Sadly these calls for regulation were then helped along by "web guru" Tim O'Reilly who, in March 2007, published on his blog a call for a Bloggers Code of Conduct. This was seized upon by some as vindication for their own arguments. A week later, O'Reilly published a draft of the code and the argument appeared to be gaining momentum as those that wanted to restrict how and what people chose to say on their personal websites became more vocal. By April however, O'Reilly had backtracked from the idea altogether saying that "the call for a code of conduct was a bit misguided." Sadly those seeking such things (especially in the UK) didn't report this development. This is hardly a surprise of course as it didn't serve their purpose to let their readers know that the man they were praising (whilst equally being openly smug about their own prescience) had decided the idea was not a sensible one.

Strangely this was pretty much the last anyone heard of a "Bloggers Code of Conduct" argument in the UK. All of sudden the issue went off the radar as quickly as it had arisen. What it showed, yet again, was that the Net produces the perfect flash in the pan fads. All it takes is for someone with a relatively reasonable amount of traffic (a few thousand a day) to say something, and for that to be linked and suddenly the idea rolls away with itself like a snowball. But just like the snowball, when the sun comes out it starts to melt. The difference on the Internet is that the sun kicks out the sort of heat equivalent to the planet Mercury. The snow didn't just slowly melt it disintegrated just as quickly as it had previously grown.

This doesn't of course mean that the Net-authoritarians have gone away, or that their argument that online publishing should be regulated through an official code of conduct has gone either. I'm sure they will keep pushing the case for restricting the liberty of individuals to say what they like, how they like. Ironically though they will also be the first to scream about freedom of speech if they think their liberty has been breached. Doublethink and authoritarianism go hand in hand after all. But what is worth remembering is that far from it being a high-minded principled stand it was, in actuality and irony, all about class - albeit online class.

You see, online there are two classes of people. There's the old hat, and then there is the newbie (or n00b). The call for a Code of Conduct was not really about conduct at all. It was little more than a collective scream by the old hat authoritarians that felt the arena was theirs of "get lost n00b!" as loud as they possibly could. It is ironic therefore that in a time when the blogging phenomena has often been coined as the "rise of the amateur" that the original amateurs should turn head and start to attack the new amateurs for their lack of professionalism.

Even more ironic was that whilst they did this they claimed that it was about protecting the medium's power to engage people in debate. The inherent contradiction of praising the power of the Internet's power of engagement whilst simultaneously calling for that engagement to be controlled along lines that were to be dictated by them was of course lost of them. Which brings us up to today of course. The snobbery and patronising idea of a code of conduct for newbies has died a death for now, but we should remember this when it rears it ugly head again.

If early adopters of the Net and blogs have a lock on how things develop, why should that not be applied to other things as well? For example, why should women vote give they didn't originally? Why should immigrants have a say on things given that they were not there when Birmingham or Leicester were originally built etc etc? The problem with the newbie haters argument is - when placed in these terms - clear for all to see. We wouldn't go down that line in the real world and it should be resisted in the virtual one just as strongly, especially when it's driven by not the amateur but the faux professional.


Anonymous said...

I read about Tim O'Reilly's comments earlier this year .. and I completely ignored them then. He is a highly successful publisher of IT based technical books with idiosyncratic covers - I have a deskful of them but being a successful publisher gives his views on something as non-technical as blogging the same weight as you, me or Sid & Doris Bonkers from Neasdon.

Anonymous said...


I'm curious about that which triggered your post. Did it just come to you out of the blue or is there an interesting bit of gossip behind it?

I think we should be told.

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with a voluntary code of conduct?

dizzy said...

NO gossip, just something that I;ve been thinking about in summing up events of the last year online.

I can though say what is wrong with a voluntary code. Firstly, who polices it and how, but crucially secondly is that it will become something that creates multi-classes of blogs. People will say "oh he doesn't follow the arbitrary code so you can't trust him". It will be voluntary but produce a scenario where to be accepted you will have to sign up which making it in effect compulsory.

Newmania said...

Like your snowball bit