Itchy Fingers in the Blogosphere

Amy Gahran has an interesting post today about the itchy finger syndrome- when you click the “Publish” button too quickly and post something to your blog that a moment later you wish you hadn’t.

She tells of this post by Dave Winer, which went through several post-publication edits, all of which were, for some reason, grabbed and posted by Ian Bettridge.

There’s a lesson here, as Amy suggests. But first a little related business.

I saw those earlier posts by Dave too, in my feed reader. But I didn’t save them, and I certainly wouldn’t post them. Anyone should have the right to reconsider what they write the same way they can reconsider what they say in a conversation. If I am arguing with Dave about something, I’d rather respond to what he says and agrees with than what he said and later retracted.

Back to the itchy finger.

As Amy points out, once you post something, it will get picked up by your blog’s feed. It will also often get picked up by Google and Technorati and sometimes by Techmeme and the other memetrackers. Once that happens, it is a part of the permanent record.

A related problem is that any modification to a post will generally go back into your feed as a new item. So if you do 3 edits to an original post, that post will show up in your feed 4 times.

While we all try to avoid it, everyone has to edit posts for typos, broken links, etc. from time to time, and this is viewed by most as an unavoidable part of the process.

But when you change substantive parts of your post, the original content is still out there in your feed. Amy is correct- there’s no way to get it back.

Having said that, I’m not sure that’s such a big deal in many cases. Had Dave been talking to us as opposed to posting, he very likely would have said the same sort of stuff, refining his stated position (stated being the important word there) as he thought about it and heard our reactions. He would have ended up at the same place, and we would have heard the evolution of his position.

As Amy points out, however, when you remove something because you have reconsidered your position, it’s a good idea to explain what you did and why. Having said that, I suspect Dave removed the post more out of a desire to avoid a hassle than a change of heart (I don’t want to get involved in this debate, but I will say that I did not find Dave’s original post objectionable and I think there is a marginal utility to extreme political correctness that is wholly lost to some.)

Avoiding an itchy finger is certainly a good idea when possible. But at the end of the day, blogs are about conversation. And most conversations start at once place and end at another. Even if you’re talking to yourself.

That’s not such a bad thing.

UPDATE: Amy has more thoughts about editing posts.