November 07, 2004

Summary of Core Values of the Web Session at Bloggercon

(Cross posted at Bloggercon.) Update: Julie Leung has a post on what people said in the session, and Elisa Camahort reviews it as well.

Others commented to me in person and in posts, and so this summary includes some of those perspectives, but I'm sure I'm not going to get everything. However, I hope this gives a flavor of what happened.

Also, thanks to Dave for inviting me to lead the session. I think this was my favorite speaking event, mainly because the attendees were so engaging and we exposed some interesting personal examples of edge cases and interesting issues which we all grapple with in the blogosphere.

We started out with a rule: if you mention your personal value system, that you relate it to the topic at hand, and if you go on too long about it, I might have to redirect the session to the next topic. But I was very lucky to have such a thoughtful, smart group of folks to discuss this issue, and the rule never was invoked.

I read the first couple of the items in a list (at bottom)... folks commented sharing their experiences. Periodically, I would throw out another issue. Many other issues came up from the discussants: online trust, reputation, why we care about transparency. Because people shared different needs they have as they write or read blog posts, it became apparent that different value systems come into play, and we need different levels of transparency. In reaction to some of this, people suggested either legal or technical controls. I feel that controls like this are often heavy-handed and I prefer community moderation, but didn't want to say that. I wanted to see if people would come up with that on their own, and within a half hour of discussing various control scenarios, among other things, and sharing values and the subtleties of face-to-face interaction verses online interaction, people began to express that legal and overbearing technical controls to reduce unsavory behavior felt bad. They wanted to use the community interaction to ferret out bad behavior, discuss it as it comes up, and then moderate it down. And a couple of folks expressed that they feel this currently works in the blogosphere. This is often what I see in online behavior with groups. I watched our discussion take on really interesting issues and decide that trusting the community to moderate behavior, trust and the value of information was better than heavy handed centralized controls.

We also talked about how our social norms might shift as the blogosphere grows, what it means to feel cheated by someone apparently giving their own opinion, after which we find out they are being paid to write. We want disclosure and the chance to evaluate the biases people have. We want more subtle ways to understand bloggers we don't know than simple inbound link counts, and I pointed out that top 100 lists don't mean very much to me. There was a request for a categorization system for blogs similar to DMOZ, so that we can more easily find people talking in smaller communities.

We talked about whether the values we were discussing applied to the whole web, as the title suggests, or what aspects might just apply to the blogosphere. We talked about finding new voices and how power laws might be disrupted. We also noted that with podcasting, there is a need for more than just metadata to search, so that more than just highly linked or known authors can be found based on content and topics, if the author is not known already. We also talked about the internet as a place (metaphor) verses as a delivery system for content that includes the metaphor of shipping reflecting the old analog content system, and why the place metaphor may need more thought and integration into the digital.

We described why anonymity works in some situations, and why it doesn't work in others, and why it's very necessary in some circumstances. We talked about the assumptions we make, based on certain social and informational cues online, and whether these assumptions make sense. We agreed that relationships are very important, and behind them are various kinds of trust about the person and the information, and we need trust, good information and reputation to varying degrees to maintain our online relationships well.

At the end of the session, we made a list of things we value:
Transparency – disclosure
Knowing who people are
Editorial Independence

Things we devalue:
Power law economics
Lack of Attribution
Links for money

I was very pleased that afterwards, some folks commented that it was a meaty discussion and they would need some time to think through the issues. I also really liked that at least half of the 80 or so people in the room were not folks I knew, but could enjoy finding new voices, as I do online in the blogosphere. Other folks said they hadn't spent any time with other bloggers discussing these issues and so very much appreciated the chance to share experiences and values around them.

Here is the list I worked from, throwing out these ideas one at a time for comment through the session:
1. transparency of relationships and motivations for writing and linking
2. transparency of identity, including pseudonymous writing
3. excellence of content—by which I mean writers honestly writing what they believe, even if it turns out to be untrue in the iterative process, versus publishing known untruths
4. editorial independence
5. linking to attribute ideas
6. systems and behaviors that encourage new voices...
-- how to deal with rankisms, like top 100s, power laws, etc.
-- can we have that for context, but have other ways to find and value new people.... to make more democracy and bring new voices out...
-- to trust others...
7. link trading? what does it mean?

One other thing: for my room -- the smallest one that seated 60 and had about 20 other people, with two microphone guys, where I could send them both to a current commenter, and get the second mic ready for the next comment -- worked well and was pretty efficient. However, in the big room, I think it might make sense to have three mics, and have speakers line up the mic runners so that things run more efficiently and smoothly. I also really appreciated having a mic, because I speak softly, and it allowed me to be calm while still moderating and not yell. Several people commented to me that they liked that quality because it felt like the discussion was never going to get out of control.

Posted by Mary Hodder at November 7, 2004 10:06 AM | TrackBack

Mary, it sounds like a great wide-ranging but focused discussion. I'm so sorry I missed BC3, especially your session and Julie Leung's.

Posted by: Betsy Devine at November 7, 2004 07:55 PM

What is wuffie-hoarding? Google returns 0.

Posted by: A. Fish at November 7, 2004 11:21 PM


good to meet you. Right after your session (which I enjoyed), I realized that there was another value that no one mentioned... I think it's because it's like oxygen to lung-breathers--so *there* that it's not even noticed:


Weblogs are immediate. Immediate publishing, immediate feedback. Like many of the values, it makes way for good and bad: quickenss of response is good. Immediate publishing of thoughts: good. Immediate hot-headed flames without benefit of reflecting: bad.

Just wanted to add that to the list (along with "legibility"--but that one is a value of white board markers. hee!)

Posted by: Susan Kitchens at November 7, 2004 11:57 PM

Hi Alison,
Wuffie hoarding would be when someone collects lots of wuffie, or good will/links/attention for themselves, but they don't give attention/links/good will to anyone else, or just to the few that they want to get the attention of... it's kind of like social climbing online. It's the opposite of having real conversations with people, and talking with them about what you really care about, and about what they really care about, to come up with something interesting or useful.

Posted by: mary hodder at November 8, 2004 06:35 AM

Hi Betsy,
I'm really sorry you missed it too.. it was a blast -- 400 very fun bloggers, but you were missed. I couldn't attend Julie's session but several people told me it was their favorite one of the day. I'll definite listen to it on IT Conversations.

Posted by: mary hodder at November 8, 2004 06:37 AM

I just wanted to reinforce the comment on "rankisms" and the problem of "discovery," which got mentioned in "The Fat Man Sings" as well. Neophyte bloggers want to know how to get read. We always advise them to find bloggers with whom they share an interest and to start exchanging useful comments. Yet it currently requires a fair amount of technical expertise and elbow grease to do what I like to call "karass discovery" (the term is from Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle"): How do I find other linguists and translators (speaking Spanish, French, Portuguese, or English) who might be interested in Brazilian music like me, or work as an Arabic translator like me, or work in the business media like me, and also can help me with technical interests like NLP and translation memory and collaborative translation via wiki? I'm also interested in meeting fans of the Donnas, aging punk rockers, and other Brooklyn cat fanciers. I have a blogroll of sites like Feedster, Technorati, and Blogdigger (and others) and have developed a list of keywords to monitor through trial and errror. It works pretty well. But it's not exactly the kind of magic type-and-go that would turn on a lightbulb in a normal newbie's head. Heck, I've found it easier to get dates on the Web than to find karassmates. in France used to have a superior tool that approached closer to this ideal, but abandoned it for some reason., the "social bookmarks manager," is an excellent way to discover shared interests, though it's still pretty raw, needs a simplified user interface at this point.

I also support the idea of a world blog census, and have been whining about Nielsen and NY Times bestseller-type rankings for a long time. It's not a question of "why don't we all read blogs from marginal bloggers, like the ones who write in French, Portuguese, Persian or Polish." It's a question of relevance in search results and the need for semantic discovery tools. For example, Google has my blog as a top result for both "Shittybank" and a number of key phrases relating to naked hairy women. I am really not an expert on either of those topics--I was just voicing frustration about poor customer service, but found myself hosting a huge thread for victims of predatory lending practices--so I find myself posting--humorous, in the latter case, and serious in the former--messages to those who arrive expecting to find about those things.

I would point out that Maciej Ceglowski of has been crawling the Web for the purpose of a blog census for quite some time now in a project sponsored by NITLE. He can tell you all about the joys and travails of THAT gargantuan task.

I personally think the blogosophere is on its way out. People prefer using forums and social networking sites, which don't offer the false promise of, as a Spanish journalist says, "becoming CNN or Drudge," but do offer easy community. Bloggers want to find their micromarket of readers, whether they're plastic modeling enthusiasts or Finnish-speaking nudists in diaspora or (my favorite online communities) the Brazilians abroad who congregate at and the domestic Brazilians who invaded Orkut and translated it into Portuguese to the outrage of the English-speaking minority.

The blogosphere is a failure as social software because it's determinedly egocentric. It's got this phobia about the anonymous hordes. It's a paranoid construct, a monadology, a panopticon, rather than a smart mob. a Negrian Multitude.

You promoters of the "blogging industry" are shooting yourselves in the foot if you can't provide the same kind of easy social discovery tools. Why is the Topic Exchange a failure, or example? Because it's dumb and redundant to write on one site and then ping another using TrackBack, a tool ordinary users don't understand.

Also, if the blogging industry can't internationalize its products to take advantage of growth markets where blogging has not yet peaked and started to fade, it's dead. I personally don't think you can at this late date, because folks like Winer failed to plan for it at the outset. The don't care about localization and internationalization, their attitude is that the Internet is an English-only free-trade zone where linguistic power laws obtain.

But then I'm a contrarian. And besides, who am I to tell the "blogging core" their business?

Posted by: Colin from Bklyn at November 8, 2004 07:18 AM

Thanks for the definition.

I am sorry I missed your session, I did catch "Thoughts & Emotions" which was surprisingly good, and judging by your post had some overlap with Core Values.

I always thought of these (core values) as the unexpected nuances of blogging.


Posted by: Alison at November 8, 2004 03:09 PM