mama's guide to etiquette

how to navigate the world of blogs and babes

I posted on March 12 that I had not been able to find a guide to blog etiquette anywhere on the 'osphere, and that I was struggling with some basic behaviors. My original query was how to behave when you accidentally posted your comment several times on a blog. When I found there was no consensus answer for that question, I started thinking about other etiquette issues.

So I'm beginning here to compile some basic blog standards. I'll use my constant survey of blog behavior and any comments from readers or links I find elsewhere. There is a lot of ground to cover here, including comment behavior, attribution of posts (frequency, style, etc.), lists of other bloggers, personal messages on blogs, revealing company information on blogs, profanity & obscenity, photos, and more. This is a work in progress, so please email me any ideas you have and I will include them in the growing reference guide.

Attribution

Referring to someone else's blog post. If you are blogging about a specific post on someone else's blog or on a news site, you should ALWAYS include the link in the text of your post (could be an a href or simply a typed link). Linking to the appropriate permalink seems to be more commonly done, and is definitely more helpful to the reader, than linking to the "front page" of a blog. If a blogger's site is set up to create "trackback" links, the trackback link should be used (typically a link with a ".cgi" somewhere in it). That helps the original blogger know who's pointing to the article, as well as helping you increase your blogging visibility. It's a win/win.

Referring to another blogger, without reference to a specific post. When you want to mention a "friend" or other fellow blogger, it is courteous to adding a hyperlink behind their name or the name of the blog. The link should be the front page unless you are mentioning the name in the context of a specific post (i.e., the Goof would agree that blogging without attribution is bad). Using the capitalization style of the source site shows attention to detail and respect. danah boyd and David Weinberger have recently blogged about how others often "fix" the spelling or capitalization of their names. Even if a blogger's name has not been legally changed to lower case, like danah's, it is reasonable to expect if they use lower case on their blog, they would like to be referred to that way, and vice versa.

Comments

Comment sections are fraught with opportunities for poor etiquette, and although many bloggers have disclaimers asserting their right to remove comments that are abusive or generally unhelpful (like Dan Gillmor, whose blog is hosted by his employer), most have no guidelines or other requests for proper behavior. When I first became introduced to the world of blogging, I was shocked at the many instances of downright rude, childish behavior. OK, lots of bloggers *are* kids, so that's to be expected. But even the adults can get out of line from time to time. Basic good manners are in order, of course, but some areas are gray at best. Below is my take on the issue.

Do I need to let people comment to my blog? Generally, if you are commenting on other people's blogs frequently, it is respectful to allow comments on your own blog. (Please see my n.b. about this topic!) Some very public figures in the blog world don't allow comments, notably Andrew Sullivan and Dave Winer. This seems to be wise as comments might really get out of hand given the huge number of readers. If you wish to engage in discourse on other blogs, and you don't have comments set up on your blog, you should offer your email address to your readers.

Offering your email address as a hyperlink (i.e. a href="mailto:me@me.com") is the simplest way to give readers the chance to contact you. Many savvy bloggers have begun to use the anti-spider method for displaying email addresses, something like me [at] me [dot] com. That is an obvious signal: I don't want you to use my email address for spam. Not that you would anyway of course!

Appropriate comments, of course, depend on the blog and the poster. An obvious overall guideline is to take your cue from the blog author, and other "guests." For instance, if you are on a blog with swear words in many of the article titles, it's probably o.k. to use profanity in your comments (unless of course you are calling the author names, which is *never* o.k.). If you are on a personal blog obviously kept for a small audience of family & friends, it might be appropriate to post some comments in the same tone as the postings (i.e., "I had that same problem when I was pregnant! I tried chewing on ginger candy...") but would be entirely inappropriate to disagree harshly with their politics or other viewpoints (i.e. "oh my gosh I can't believe you are eating SOFT CHEESES DURING PREGNANCY! what are you, trying to kill your baby??? ..."). Generally, if a blog is personal, and you are intruding, keep your comments friendly and supportive. They aren't asking for your critical viewpoint. On the other hand, political blogs or other blogs where a small group of people maintain a fast and fierce dialogue about current events would be a great place to voice your disagreement (with respect, of course), especially if you have a new, informed viewpoint. A recent post about social networking on Dan Gillmor's blog is a good example of vibrant, but courteous, disagreement.

The number two rule about appropriate comments is to always make your comments applicable and unique. If three people have already posted saying what you're about to say, please refrain (especially if your comment is nothing more than, "I totally agree!"). In addition, even if you have something REALLY great to tell everyone, don't tell them on a comment forum unless it is applicable to the discussion at hand. Let's say you are releasing a new issue of your literary journal, you've slaved over it for months. Even if you are visiting your best friend's blog, you don't want to leave a comment advertising your literary accomplishment on a post about your friend's visit to the latest blog convention. Wait until your friend posts about the new book she's reading, or about how much she loves you. If you're visiting a stranger's blog, the rule should be even more strict; wait until you see a post about all the up-and-coming writers from your neck of the woods. It would be appropriate, now, to remind the stranger that he had somehow missed your talents.

This brings up an important and very cool part of the blogosphere: it's OK to spam as long as you're not spammy. That sounds weird, but bear with me: most people on the blogosphere are interested in learning about new products and services, new software and web sites, new ideas and new people. You can introduce yourself and your brand spanking new search engine as long as you are courteous, relevant and interactive. If you comment on blogs, you really should have your own blog, for instance. If you advertise your software on a personal blog, it had better be a personal blog for someone who has just asked, "Does anyone have a better application for x-ing?" And NEVER advertise spammy things, like penis enlargement pills, diet pills, porn, lower mortgage rates, credit enhancement programs, or multi-level marketing schemes.