Monday, April 23

YiTan Tech Conference Call - Tempest in the Blogosphere

From Jerry's original email:
In early April, some teasing and badgering online ran out of control. Anonymous commenters became abusive and threatening, and blogger Kathy Sierra responded in a way that lit up cyberspace.

Soon the story ricocheted out of cyberspace, making stops on Salon, BusinessWeek and eventually CNN. The first week ended with Sierra and Chris Locke, publishing a joint statement that helped calm the waters.

Jerry started out with apologizing for what could be perceived as framing the call in a potentially negative way - wanted to be sure that this call was a discussion of feelings and how we personally felt, rather than finger-pointing and recriminations.

Jerry: what were your personal responses in regard to these issues:
  • What is the general state of cyberspace discource? Civility in general?
  • Discussion on gender in the blogosphere
  • "Cute Kitty" moniker - how this became an issue
  • Labeling in blogs - what can we do to minimize the negative discourse
Quick and dirty history of the story: by rageboy, then Bobsyouruncle - all sorts of threats, Kathy was targeted and chose not to go. Got a lot of attention in the world. Blew up into Salon, MSM. A week later, Kathy and Chris showed up on CNN and issued a joint statement (potentially brought together by Tim O'Reilly).

Nancy White and David Reed - discussing the issue in general.

Nancy: was not online when it first unfolded. If we rush to judgment, we will screw up.
First rush, Kathy is a friend - and immediately made her defend Kathy. Her personal reaction was as a friend, a mom, a blogger and immediately had a defensive reaction in terms of the attack. Then she thought - waitaminute - we do not have all the facts. Online, we immediately rush to judgment.

DocSearls (on IRC): It isn't just a rush to judgement. It's about where that rush ends up, in aggregate. You don't so much get a "piling on", but a kind of buzzy hive swarm, where everybody makes the same sounds about the subject. It's a kind of amen corner.

Nancy: People were immediately passing judgment - you should be tougher, men were trying to advise as if they had true experiences like this. The issue migrated from Kathy to gender, then the conversation totally shut down.

DocSearls (on IRC): In the absence of facts, the ratio of opinion to facts reaches the infinite. It becomes better to say nothing than to issue yet another opinion. I reached the point where I realized I *couldn't say anything* to help, unless it was to provide more facts. Black-hole status had been reached.

DocSearls (on the call): was brought in when Kathy mentioned his name. "Blackhole" issue - no more facts were forthcoming and opinions were becoming the dominant factor. We had to take things "offline". Blogs are really the new pulpits. Maybe it is broken.

Jerry: blogging is not a dialog, rather a duologue.

Something about blogging makes opinionating too "newsy" - there is no commons on the Web yet. Like a real "public place" - blogging is not it. (e.g. Tim O'Reilly's call for "code of conduct"was him getting on *his* pulpit). In Europe, they understand the need for public spaces FIRST, then you build your personal and business around that. In the US, we overserve the individual and underserve the collective.

Doc's reaction to the story: shock and frustration. First call received was claiming the Chris *must* have done it - especially since he was "so good at Photoshop". Immediately became a blandishment of opinion. It became a huge time suck - that he resented. It brought the enemies to the forefront and (ed. opinion) friends were stalwarts.

A lot of good work did not get done because of this "thing".

Weren't there good lessons in this to be found? Yes and no - blogging has been something I have enjoyed, but not a large part of my life. Considering stopping blogging - much more work that is being accomplished with real progress (VRM at Berkmann Center, other projects). Doc felt the release of the VT files/Cho materials by NBC on his blog may have been a big mistake.

Hives gather around the "black holes" - becomes a large "suck" of time.

Nancy: interplay between blogs and MSM. Pandora's box is opened - reaction rather than analysis.

Jerry: MSM did not help in the healing, rather helped in the controversy.

SWITCH OVER: Heather - go back to thinking about this personally. Situations of where people have power and do not have power. Despair in should she event get engaged - is this really an opening of conversation. Where is collective engagement?

Pip: Blogging seems to be able listening more than speaking on. Wants to be in the receiver position, not a specific position - to allow one to evolve themselves. In a meeting, better to listen since you know what you know, and what others know. Want to be where people are "open to discussion".

Nancy: spaces online - nurtured online - by deep relationship and trust. Anonymity can happen, but often destroyed. Was extraordinary in the Israeli/Palestinian forum - first three months was good and then it fell apart.

Dennis: Saw a lot of gender and power relationships. When Danah Boyd posted - it was a light on the issue to show what was happening and gave him an appreciation of what happened. Had not thought it was happening STILL.

Posted without fact checking - because he wanted to help. What he could be responsible for and how he would conduct himself. Very much aligned with Nancy's perception of "personal responsibility" versus "code of conduct".

Lazzaro: lampooning and satire might have gotten misunderstood. By violating social norms, created more emotions. Shocked that it was happening to an individual.

PhilWolff: surprised it spiraled out of control so quickly.

Trudy: came at this very late - learned about what happened. Was not really surprised at what happened and the comments on public spaces. Which is why she does not spend time there. Lots of blogosphere places which do not have the tools or the spirit (interested in the depth of the connection, not the quantity of connections). There was no community manager to take care of the negative posts - on DailyKos, trolls are there to clear the negative comments.

DocSearls (on IRC):
"Black holes as entertainment = Blogging as television, as tabloid culture, where celebrity is everything and no minds ever change but merely swim in trivia."

Doc (on call): need something new - blogging is ten years old - tagging works, syndication - very early in the development of whatever we are going to make of the 'net. We need the "geeks" to invent something new. We are trying to aon a 'planet' that has not terriformed. Blogging has turned into People Magazine - 70MM bloggers.

When AOL opened the pipes, the web changed. There are downsides to having everyone getting involved. Need more conversation to happen, instead of lobbing opinions. (Jerry's opinion: very diverse).

Heather: having a person "present" will overcome the need for a 'code of conduct' - how to have your true self. Scaling civility well or intimacy - has anyone seen it happen?

DocSearls (on call): open-source community - very brutal, someone at the top, very challenging - maintains civility through management.
"brutally meritocratic", but have developed methods over time. Scaling civility should be possible, intimacy can be more difficult.

Dennis: example would be in the Euro acceptance in Europe.

Heather: when you blog, you are very naked, and being naked on a blog is being very vulnerable. "Being intimate in public" - intention is created. Witnessing in public.

DocSearls (on IRC):
I love what Kurt Vonnegut said: "You've got to be kind." That's very hard when you perceive other people as "bad", deserving of rebuke, and at a distance.

Nancy: how can we be in communities in the networked world. The boundaries are in motion - we are trying to refigure them. The North American view is that anonymity and privacy is very different than the rest of the world.

Most communities have four stages - the way to true communities is through chaos. Either by leader (lead us) or MTA (emptiness).

Credits to Jerry on his recap and Peter Kaminski (and others on the IRC) for their quoting abilities.

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