The Shulchan Aruch (Conduct Codes) for Email and Blogs

There's a theory of team development that predicts four stages: The Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing model. Sure the world of your email and blogging peers is much more complex than a mere business team. Nevertheless there are strong indications from two fronts that people are hard at work at the "Norming" of the Internet.

A new book reviewed by the New Yorker's Nick Paumgarten looks like it wants to be the manual of style for email. The review summarizes:

Two years ago, David Shipley, the Op-Ed editor of the Times, and Will Schwalbe, the editor-in-chief of Hyperion Books, were eating oysters in Grand Central Terminal and complaining about ill-considered e-mails they had recently received, and even sent. Before long, they found themselves cobbling together a system of proper usage and protocol. Now, with the publication of their book “Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home,” they have put themselves forward as the genre’s Strunk and White.

Shipley and Schwalbe enumerate six essential e-mail types (the Ask, the Answer, Grovelling, etc.), eight deadly sins (too casual, too vague, too illegal, etc.), and a four-step checklist (S.E.N.D.) that reflects the authors’ broad-ranging e-mail conservatism. “S” stands for simple, “E” for effective, “N” for necessary, “D” for done. Generally, they’d have you hit “send” later and less often. They offer a hermeneutics of the cc, an invocation against the word “please,” and a number of rather chilling but by now self-evident rules (“Never forward without permission, and assume everything you write will be forwarded”). The reader gulps at the thought of unexploded self-incriminations ticking in servers around the world. The authors, astonishingly, come out in favor of exclamation points (“ ‘Thanks!!!!’ is way friendlier than ‘Thanks’ ”), abbreviations (“Is LOL . . . really inherently more opaque than FYI?”), and emoticons (those smiley faces and the like may “bug many people but they make us smile”).

At the same time in another corner of cyberspace, several pundits have suggested a code of conduct for bloggers. I've always said that the very act of blogging was a subversive endeavor. It appears that the "real" bloggers will have no truck with this attempt at "norming" the blogosphere:

Rules ignite blogger fury
Correspondents in San Francisco
OUTRAGE abounded in the "blogosphere" on Tuesday as a pair of internet luminaries lobbied for rules of behaviour in the lawless world of online commentary.

Internet publisher Tim O'Reilly, credited with coining the phrase "Web 2.0," and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales triggered torrents of vitriol by proposing a "Blogging Code of Conduct" to impose civility on the internet.
The idea came in the wake of anonymous death threats posted on the blog of Mr O'Reilly's friend, author and speaker Kathy Sierra.

"A culture is a set of shared agreements that allows us to live together," Mr O'Reilly wrote in a blog posting calling for a code of conduct.

"Let's make sure that the culture we create with our blogs is one that we are proud of."

The release this week of a first draft of rules of behaviour for online commentary is riling bloggers who accuse its authors of acting like new-age media overlords disregarding precious rights of free speech.

"It's simply unbelievable what's going on here," a blogger writing under the name "Marcus" said in a comment forum at O'Reilly's website.

"So-called 'community standards' are merely the latest example of the agents of normalcy and entrenchment subconsciously attempting to organise, dictate, tame and pacify."

The proposed code calls for blog content to be deleted if it is abusive, threatening, libellous, false or violates promises of confidentiality or rights of privacy.

"We take responsibility for our own words and for comments we allow on our blog," the draft code states.

"We won't say anything online that we wouldn't say in person."

One of the half-dozen rules bans anonymous comments and another calls for ignoring "trolls", posters of nasty remarks.

"We believe that feeding the trolls only encourages them," the draft code says, going on to quote an adage "Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it."

Mr O'Reilly suggested that bloggers adopting a finished version of the code should adorn their websites with an icon of a sheriff's badge bearing the words "civility enforced".

Bloggers averse to behaviour rules could mark their websites with an icon of a stick of dynamite with a lit fuse and the words "anything goes", the proposal says.

"I like civility but prefer the "anything goes" badge, so how about "civility enforced with dy-no-mite?'," blogger Joe Hunkins said in a message to O'Reilly.

"Censorship is a slippery slope when you are dealing with bright people who want to take legitimate but mean-spirited shots at others. I hope these efforts, which are needed, do not dumb down the debates."

Bloggers complained that barring anonymity would gag online comments from countries with governments intolerant of free speech.

"In the authoritarian and cruel regimes, if one wants to get himself hanged, only then he would in person criticise the regime," a blogger named "Pakistan Spectator" said on the O'Reilly comment board.

"Blogging is the great and unique way of protest for the oppressed people against such regimes."

Bloggers are always free to remove what they see as inappropriate contributions to forums on their websites, said Technorati founder David Sifry. Technorati specialises in tracking and indexing blogs.

People interested in spewing caustic comments could feature them on their own websites and then leave links on those of other bloggers, Sifry said.

"One of the core principles that the internet is built on is the principle of free speech," Mr Sifry said. "If you really are a jerk, I don't have to read what you say."

Ethical issues in the "blogosphere" mirrored those raised by the relentless trend of users providing raw content to websites ranging from video-sharing superstar YouTube to news gathering organisation NowPublic.

"I'm not sure a code of conduct is the answer," NowPublic co-founder Mike Tippett said. "It makes about as much sense as me wearing a badge to have a conversation. It won't make a difference."

People don't need to sign pacts of civility to use telephones or send letters, Mr Tippett noted.

"I think the wisdom of the crowds, societal mores, and the expectations of civility will generally solve the problem," Mr Tippett said. "The internet is just an extension of our everyday lives."

"Presumably, we are all bound by the social norms of our communities. Violate them and you are locked up."

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