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On Forrester’s Blogging Code, Rubel’s Enthusiastic Response, and More

Even more so than many out there, I was curious as to what the Forrester entry to the blogging world would look like given that we at RedMonk are in the same industry, and are at least nominally competitive. In general, it’s pretty much what I expected. Like much of what Forrester puts out, I think Charlene Li’s blog is a good one. We may be competitive (at least to the degree a 2 man firm can be competitive with an analyst behemoth like Forrester :), but I do try to call them like I see them.

Not only is her content in relatively straightforward blogging language rather than analyst speak, she’s got trackbacks and comments turned on. Nor does she use the blog as an explicit sales vehicle, or a pulpit from which to preach the values of Forrester. So kudos to Charlene on a job well done.

Sitting there waiting for the other shoe to drop? Well, ok, here it is: in the words of Bill Lumbergh, “I’m going to have to go ahead and disagree with her” on the subject of her Blogging Code of Ethics.

In short, I agree with less than half of it. Let’s take them point by point (my comments in [ ]‘s):

1. I will tell the truth.

[ A noble goal, to be sure. But this one is highly problematic for the simple reason that truth is difficult to define. For example: I may post that Firefox is a better browser than IE, an MS developer may post the opposite. Are we lying? It's not to say that the goal is not a good one, but I think the word truth as used here causes more problems than it solves. Blogs are first and foremost a conversation, often informal, and as such truth is likely to be a very subjective term. As a result, this is not a particularly useful rule, in my view]

2. I will write deliberately and with accuracy.

[ We all should strive for this, of course, but again - blogging is in many cases a conversation about events happening in real time. I'll try to be as accurate as possible, but deliberate? That's for my research reports, not my blog.]

3. I will acknowledge and correct mistakes promptly.

[ No disagreement here - this is a good rule.]

4. I will preserve the original post, using notations to show where I have made changes so as to maintain the integrity of my publishing.

[ Again, a noble goal - but how far do you take this? I highlight mistakes or updates/changes to the theme, but not grammar errors. Every time I fix a typo, should I post that? Of course, if I follow 2 to the letter maybe I wouldn't have this problem :) ]

5. I will never delete a post

[ Ironically, I think this is the one rule that should under no cirumstances be in a corporate blogger's rule book. There are many reasons any company employee could be forced to delete a post (corporate mandate, legal, accidental information leak, etc) - should the code prevent that? I may believe that posts should not be deleted for ethical reasons, but I doubt that many corporations share my scruples. I think this rule is better suited for the likes of personal or political blogs than for the corporate world. ]

6. I will not delete comments unless they are spam or off-topic.

[ Trolls, anyone? I'm going to defer to Dan Gillmor here, who's been at this longer than Charlene and I combined and has written the book (literally) on the changing nature of media. He's finally lost patience with his troll and the impact it had on his readers' posting behavior. Can I say that I'll never be in a similar situation? Nope. ]

7. I will reply to emails and comments when appropriate, and do so promptly.

[ Again, noble goal. But not always an achieveable one, and not one I'd want to commit to. I respond to every single one of my readers, but at some point does scale become an issue? You bet. You think Jonathan Schwartz can respond to every single person who emails him? I don't think so. ]

8. I will strive for high quality with every post – including basic spellchecking.

[ I'll do this as soon as the authoring environments get better and I have unlimited free time. Personally, I'm more concerned with what a blogger has to say than how he says it, spelling included ]

9. I will stay on topic.

[ This is the one I disagree with most. The most boring blogs I've read are the ones that are uniformly, unwaveringly, on-topic. Conversely, most of the ones I love to read every day have a great deal of off-topic information in there. Maybe I care for it, maybe I don't, but variety, as they say, is the spice of life. This can be taken too far of course (and I no doubt tried some folks patience around here during the Red Sox World Series run, though nobody so far as I can tell unsubscribed), but I think we're all capable of managing the signal to noise ratio ourselves. ]

10. I will disagree with other opinions respectfully.

[ No problem with this one ]

11. I will link to online references and original source materials directly.

[ Agreed ]

12. I will disclose conflicts of interest.

[ Again, this can be a major problem for many corporate bloggers. I believe it's important to note conflict of interest where it might be of relevance, but I'm not going to start peppering my entries with disclosures every time I write about IBM, Sun or any of our other customers. If I'm going to write a positive review of one of their products, on the other hand, I'll absolutely disclose that they're a customer. I think this rule just needs an injection of common sense. More importantly - trust your readers. As Gillmor, Scoble and others say - they're damn smart. My readers teach me things nearly every day. I trust them to read what I write and judge for themselves. ]

13. I will keep private issues and topics private, since discussing private issues would jeopardize my personal and work relationships.

[ I've posted my thoughts on this a while back, and am mostly in agreement. ]

Given the extensive nature of my disagreement, I expected most of the blogging community take exception to this list – in similar fashion to Rex Hammock here – but I found many people to be enthusiastic adopters. The best example is a buddy of A-list blogger Scoble – Steve Rubel – who posted the following (link):

I suggest all corporate bloggers read Charlene’s post. I agree to wholeheartedly adopt these and I will post a permanent link to this post in the sidebar.

Now I don’t know Steve personally, but he’s in my blogroll, I read him regularly, and in my opinion, he definitely gets blogs. And he embraced – “wholeheartedly” embraced, to use his own language – a set of rules that I think are naive at best, and a detriment to good blogging at worst.

So I’m not sure what to make of this. Maybe it’s just a philosophical issue for me (I have little patience for corporate mission statements, for example, with a few exceptions). Either way, I hope I’ve complied with #10, because I do believe that’s requisite foundation to any good dialog.

One final note on this code as it pertains to ethics. At the end of the day, a code is not worth much more than the paper (or screen) it’s printed on. There’s a reason Sarbanes Oxley sends people to prison – and that reason is that ethics are a highly individual trait that’s difficult to incent. The stick, in other words, is more effective than the carrot.

I believe that blogs will end up looking a lot like the people who author them, and will vary similarly. Some people are trustworthy, interesting, responsible and have integrity – and some are/do not. A code is not a guarantee, nor even an assurance. The code is not going to help me tell the difference between ethical writings versus unethical ones, nor make bad blogs good or vice versa. The good news? As with their real life conversational counterparts, it’s usually not too difficult to tell which blogs are worth your time and which are not.

Update: Following rule #4 :), Scoble’s name was omitted where it’s bold above, so I updated it.

Categories: Blogs.

  • http://forrester.typepad.com/charleneli Charlene Li

    Great comments on each point, as is appropriate. My "code" is just a starting point and I expect each blogger to adjust it to his/her/their specific circumstances. The one point I'd like to make is something that Steve Rubel also disagreed with me on, which is staying on topic. Of course, if I wanted to throw in a bit of serendipity into my blog, no one would mind – it shows a bit of my personality. But do it enough and you erode the trust with your audience.

  • http://www.baus.net/ Christopher Baus

    > 4. I will preserve the original post, using notations to show where I have made changes so as to maintain the integrity of my publishing.

    I think the solution here is to provide a revision history for the document. I keep my entries under revision control, but haven’t exposed the document history to the user, although that information exists.

  • http://www.baus.net/ Christopher Baus

    > Staying on topic.

    This is an interesting point. I actually broke my blog into two http://www.baus.net/ and http://www.tahoeblog.com/

    The reason I did this is that it became apparent to me that while some people cared about my technical interests, others just wanted to know what the conditions were like in Tahoe.

    There is an intersection of the two groups, but it is fairly small. Although a lot of geeks from the BA go snowboarding in Tahoe ; )

  • http://www.redmonk.com/sogrady sogrady

    great comments all around. so let’s see, first up –

    christopher: regarding version control, that’s certainly one approach, but honestly i’d prefer to keep SEC style document retention out of blogging. fact is that if someone wants to alter their blog after the fact, there are typically easy ways to do it – version control or no version control.

    regarding the on topic idea – totally in agreement. i think charlene’s idea is a good one if you plan on being consistent and steadily off topic rather than occasionally. mitch kapor, for example, split his political commentary off into a separate blog – and i fully agree with that. ditto for me if i planned on writing about the red sox every day for a full season – that would be best served by its own space. but a little variety here and there is a very good thing, IMO. if you have constant commentary on something off topic, it probably means that it may need its own space.

    charlene: totally agree that too much off topic blogging does erode trust, and i also appreciate that that code’s a starting point. i’d use a different starting point – particularly for in-house corporate blogging – but we can agree to disagree there i think. but in general, i’d rather have too much personality come through in a blog than too little. i’m sure you can appreciate this, given the non-Forrester bio bits in your about page.

    if i were to revise the code (and i do realize that i could, using the wiki), i’d cut it down to the 3 or 4 rules i agreed with and then adjust on a case by case basis. too many of the rules, IMO, are problematic for different consituencies. but maybe it’s just me ;)