Overtaken By Events: When Good Posts Go Bad

Dave Taylor and Amy Gahran are thinking about how and to what extent bloggers should edit or update blog posts when subsequent events cause the posts to be incomplete or inaccurate. Dave call this OBE, or overtaken by events.

Dave uses a timely example- yesterday’s news that the blogosphere’s favorite whack-job, John Karr, did not kill JonBenet Ramsey. Granted, it was obvious to many that he was very likely lying just to get attention long before yesterday. But at first the breaking story sounded promising. Dave wrote an early post about it that was later picked up by a newspaper. Once it was clear that Karr was not going to be charged, the question became what to do about the original post.

The accuracy of original posts is important, since many older posts continue to draw get traffic thanks to inbound links and search results. For example, my post on deed copy scams still gets a lot of traffic because of its place in search results.

Dave suggests adding an update to the bottom of the original post, with a link to a newspaper article or other content explaining the new developments. Amy reminds us that the blog’s feed will pick up the edit and republish the original post and suggests that to make it easier for your feed readers you put the update at the top. Everyone agrees that the changes should be made via an “Update” with an explanation, and not by simply editing the post to correct the content.

I think it’s a very good idea to edit stories that are still ripe, much the way Dave suggests. While I understand the logic behind Amy’s suggestion to put the Update at the top of the post, I think most people are conditioned to expect an update when an old post it republished in a feed. When I see a post for the second time, I scan down the page for an update. If I don’t see one, I assume it was a feed glitch or merely an edit to correct a typo (like I did yesterday when I was embarrassed to notice that I have been spelling Hugh‘s last name wrong).

I agree with Amy that traditional news stories are not as cast in stone as they might have appeared in the past. This blurring of the line between traditional and distributed media will continue as more and more old media embraces blogging, both as a platform and method of distribution. As such, I agree that traditional news stories, at least the online variety, should be updated as circumstances dictate and retitled as “Updated:” when republished. At a minimum, news stories, both the online and print versions, should have a list of edits at the bottom, ideally with a brief explanation.

It is harder to keep up with older posts, that are no longer ripe. In fact, when I look through my old archives, I often come across posts that I don’t remember writing. In those cases, I rely on the publication date and the intervening time period to lead the reader to understand that the article, while hopefully accurate when written, has been affected by subsequent events.

In order to promote and encourage the acceptance of distributed media, there needs to be some sort of de facto standard for editing and updating articles.

I’m glad people are thinking about it.

Reaping What You Sow: Generosity in the Blogosphere

Steve Rubel has an interesting post about generosity in the blogosphere. It seems that Steve had lunch recently with Keith Ferrazzi, author of the bestselling book Never Eat Alone. Keith made the comment that to build a network (the business and social kind), you have to be generous. That got Steve thinking about the blogosphere and the importance of generosity there.

Steve concluded, and I agree, that the generous bloggers are the most influential. Steve identifies Robert Scoble and Mark Cuban as generous bloggers- blogger who create great content and generously link to others. I’d add Steve (for sure- remember the day he took off to visit with podcasters on a first come, first served basis), Doc Searls and Guy Kawasaki to that list.

All of those guys are flat earth guys who welcome new voices and want to use the blogosphere- and their position in it- for the common good. I won’t get on my soapbox again, other than to say that blogs are nothing more than extensions of our pens and our words. Anyone who isn’t kind and generous on the internet probably isn’t all that kind and generous in real life.

Blogs are like cars- they create a false sense of invincability that releases your inner asshole.

Yet the same forces that make people good networkers in life make them good and influential bloggers in the blogosphere. The reasons why Robert, Steve, Doc and Guy have so many friends in the blogosphere are the same reasons why Keith Ferrazzi became the youngest partner in Deloitte Consulting’s history.

Contrast that to the ones Steve describes thustly:

“Then there are others – and I won’t name them – who are not generous. In fact, even worse, they are grievous. They syndicate snippets rather than publish full text RSS feeds. They don’t credit other bloggers who they clearly steal content from. They are filled with just nasty criticism, rather than a balance of ideas and constructive advice. They focus solely on themselves and not an iota on others.”

I don’t know who Steve is referring to, and it doesn’t matter. But when I think of people who are not generous in the blogosphere, I think of guys like Steve Gillmor who spend much of their time trying to separate themselves from other bloggers- via artificial paradigm shifts and country-club tactics. The greatest irony of 2006 so far was when Steve referred to those who dare to disagree with him as trolls. Most of us think of people who disagree with us as great candidates for a conversation. But that’s just it- inward looking people don’t want conversation.

And then there are the pseudo-intellectuals like Andrew Keen (who is the blogosphere’s version of the party guest who can’t stop talking about how smart he is long enough to notice the PhD’s shaking their heads as the walk away). Or the Nick Carr types whose many thoughtful posts get lost in the flood of Mary, Mary posts made in the name of fame or traffic.

All of those guys are well known. But so is the blustery guy at the party. You know them, but you are not influenced by them.

You are influenced by the people who realize that being generous is a win win proposition.

It’s good for us, and, as it turns out, it’s good for them too.

Something to think about.

Stowe Boyd on the No Assholes Rule


Stowe Boyd’s blog is like golf or photography. There are some good shots, a few bad ones, and then, every so often, the magical, perfect shot that keeps you running back for more.

Not too long ago, he nailed the noisy blogosphere thing so well, I quoted his post like scripture.

Today, he talks about the downside of Advisory Capital and in the process gives a sermon that applies just as much to business, relationships and life. Much of what he says is completely consistent with my experience with business, both big and small. And much of what he says is equally consistent with encounters we’ve all had in conference rooms, board rooms and our neighborhoods.

Here’s the part that made me stand up and shout Amen this time:

“[O]nce rule #1 is broken — the “No Assholes” rule — then there is no hope. People can learn to moderate their behavior, but never their basic psychological makeup. Once they start [screwing] you over, there is no end, because if they rationalize doing it once they will always be able to go through the same thinking process again and again.”

This precipitating event for the violation of the “No Assholes” rule (a first cousin of my long held and often applied “That Just Ain’t Right” doctrine) is when someone has to choose between doing the right thing and the easy thing. Between telling the truth and saying what they believe is in their best interest. Some people will make the right choice, but many won’t.

And someone who lies about one thing is a sure bet to lie about the next thing, and the thing after that.

Stowe is generally correct that suing someone over a resulting breach of a contract is generally a waste of karma that only enriches the lawyers (of which I am one). Unless there is a lot of money at stake, our legal system often doesn’t provide realistic options for the wronged.

All you can do in that case is, as Stowe suggests, avoid the offenders like the plague. I have walked away from some big clients over the “That Just Ain’t Right” doctrine, and I have let budding friendships die on the vine for the same reason.

It’s not a perfect solution, but the more people who demand compliance with the “No Assholes” rule and the “That Just Ain’t Right” doctrine, the better off we’ll all be.

Looking Through You

Your lips are moving
I cannot hear
You voice is soothing
But the words aren’t clear
You don’t sound different
I’ve learned the game
I’m looking through you
You’re not the same
– The Beatles

Seth Finkelstein and Ethan Johnson are talking about marginalization in the blogosphere.

This is a complex and touchy issue, but here are my thoughts.

Common Sense and Fairness

Many, many times I have read things on a blog that have already been talked to death on other blogs. What’s OK and not OK in that situation is a “know it when you see it” sort of thing. Clearly if someone links to another blogger or engages him in a cross-blog conversation, then it would be wrong of him to restate what was said as if it were his own original thought.

On the other hand, if I talk about an issue today, some other blogger might talk about the same issue next week or next month, perhaps in a similar fashion, without ever having seen my post. The blogosphere is a big place and it’s impossible to know what everybody said today, much less in the past.

Maybe I’m being naive again, but I think if you apply common sense and fairness, these things will take care of themselves. And if you don’t, someone (be it Seth, Ethan, Kent or somebody we don’t know yet) will probably let you know.

But No Footnotes Please

Blogs are not generally research articles (thank goodness). But fairness is fairness, so some rules should apply.

It boils down to a couple of things.

First, the whole greater mindshare/Gatekeeper thing. I’ve had my say about that issue and, pending any new perspectives, I’m not going to rehash it all over again. It’s there. It’s not as bad as some think. Most of it is natural; a little bit of it is designed to exclude. But you can get inside the gates. Yada, yada, yada.

More importantly, and the thing this conversation makes me wonder about, is whether there is some implied duty to do a Technorati or Google search before you post something to see if someone else has already covered it (or in the case of a new discovery, already dis-covered it).

How Much is Enough

I generally search a little on a topic before I post on it to make sure I have at least most of my facts right and to look for other relevant and helpful links. Most of the time, I do this via a Technorati tag search. Once in a while (though much less often) I’ll do a Google search. But I don’t know that a search should be a requirement prior to posting about a topic.

It’s one thing if someone knows another writer has uncovered something new. In that case, I think a link ought to be included back to the original story. But the internet is a big place and if I have to do vast research before posting on something, then I’m not going to post very much.

If I were to accidentally jump to the front of the line on an issue, however, I would hope someone would let me know in an email or Comment, in which case I would (and should) supplement with a mention, link, etc.

Looking Through

I fully understand the frustration that occurs when someone posts something that you’ve already covered and it gets treated like earth shattering news. I protested (mildly) via satire when that happened about this very same Gatekeeper issue.

I don’t want to come off sounding like I can’t relate to the desire to be heard, because I can. And whether I write this blog for another year or 20 years, I will always do what I can to find and invite new voices to the table.

Sure, some people (and I think it’s a relatively small number) hand out links like medals. But given the communal nature of the blogosphere, those folks are their own worst enemy. And their numbers will decline over time as the blogosphere continues to flatten.

Just because someone doesn’t speak to you doesn’t mean they are ignoring you. They just may not have seen you.

Raising the Disclosure Standard

The Wall Street Journal has a piece today that raises interesting questions about bloggers who have advisory or financial relationships with the companies they write about. The question is whether there is or should be a duty to disclose that relationship.

Obviously there is a duty to disclose this stuff, particularly when the relationship will or could result in financial gain for the blogger. The blogger has a duty to his or her readers and the company has a duty to potential investors and customers, especially if the company is encouraging the bloggers to write helpful stories (and merely putting a blogger on some board would be considered encouraging).

While as far as I can tell most of the folks in the FON situation did disclose their relationship with the company, some are being criticized for not going far enough to explain the relationship. I suspect that any failure to clearly explain the relationship was not the result of a desire to conceal, but merely an oversight. That’s why it’s good to talk about this issue so we’ll all remember to make clear disclosures in the future.

Because if we don’t we will and should be criticized.

Speaking positively on your blog about a company you have a financial interest in without disclosing it is no different than hiring people to post positive stuff on a message board. It’s probably worse, since many bloggers are considered to be authorities on the stuff they write about.

Not to mention that bloggers are often the first to call someone out for not doing the right thing. If we want to be a check, then we have to be balanced.

We can’t have it both ways. The Goose and Gander Rule applies to everyone.

Mark Evans agrees. Paul Kedrosky sums up the issue very well:

[T]his is serious stuff, and it is a reminder to all of us that whether you call yourself a pro or not, with a large online audience comes responsibility. You’re kidding yourself — and playing fast and loose with your readers — if you think otherwise.

Darwinian Web has a survey of posts by the FON Advisory Board, and concludes that while none of the members did anything wrong, we need to strive for clearer disclosures. I agree on both points. If we want to be read, we have to be trusted. If that means we have to err on the side of too much disclosure, so be it.

I think the old media will try to make a mountain out of every molehill (witness the huge effort to make a scandal out of the understandable and appropriate censoring of the Stones’ half-time show during the Superbowl). So while I’ve seen no evidence that anyone has done anything intentionally wrong in the FON case, now that we’ve talked about it, the disclosure standard has been raised a little.

And that’s a good thing for everyone.

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