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Be civil, asshole

December 08, 2005

"The reason the battles are so bitter," someone once said about academia, "is because the stakes are so low." It was hard not to be reminded of that famous quote when reading about Currygate and the attendant controversy over who played what role in the invention of podcasting. At least, I thought, this brouhaha will mark the pinnacle of Web 2.0 farce: Aging MTV star anonymously rewrites Wikipedia podcast entry to give himself more prominence in the community-written history of the creation of the latest overhyped online medium. What could possibly top that?

I was wrong, of course. Just days later, a new peak was conquered, in Paris at the Les Blogs conference. Mena Trott, cofounder of blog-software-maker Six Apart, gave a speech chiding bloggers for their nastiness. "Can we as bloggers be more civil?" she asked, echoing the great California philosopher Rodney King. "We need to create an environment where people feel welcomed." To which audience member Ben Metcalfe, writing on the conference's real-time, streaming message board, responded: "Bullshit." Trott, still at the podium, then demanded that Metcalfe stand up and, when he obliged, called him "an asshole."

In a perfect coda to the event, one of the stars of Currygate, Dave Winer, waded into this affair as well, calling Metcalfe "a coward" in a comment on Metcalfe's blog and questioning the poor guy's manhood: "If you were the tough guy you said you were, you would have stood up to Mena and said it was bullshit to her face."

Utopias are great - until people start moving in.


The quote: "The fought so hard because the stakes were so low" is from GK Chesterton.

Posted by: David Young at December 8, 2005 02:43 PM

I am so glad you and I disagree about Utility computing, and I disagree with others about SOA and offshoring. Boring is good.

BTW - the French must be slipping. They adopted the word Blogs without adding Bernaise sauce or an accent somewhere?

Posted by: Vinnie Mirchandani at December 8, 2005 04:46 PM

I've always thought that "stakes" quote was very smarmy, a way of saying "If *I* don't understand why it matters to the people involved, I'm going to sneer at it". It grates on me in the context of situations which could be best described "The reasons the battles are so bitter is because the partipants are so poor and are fighting over what crumbs they can get" - not nearly as sneer-worthy.

That may not be particularly applicable here, but the dismissiveness of the quote is something of a pet peeve of mine.

Anyway, check out Thoughts on A Respectful Disagreement, which discuss a blog conferent event fraught with similar cheap irony.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at December 8, 2005 05:31 PM

Nicholas, you're proving Mena's point. Curry didn't "give himself more prominence", he merely cut out a paragraph about someone else. That sort of inaccuracy was actually the main thrust of Mena's argument, that people should take more care with the facts and not propagate falsehoods. You committed the same error that Jeremy Zawodny did in that KTA scrap: making false assumptions and treating them as fact.

Posted by: Paul Montgomery at December 8, 2005 09:52 PM

If it's so insignificant, why are you writing about it?

Posted by: Lily Ciaccone at December 8, 2005 09:59 PM

Thanks for the comments. Here are some responses:

Seth: You and Mena should get together to promote a civil, sneer-free blogosphere. (Written with a gratingly snarky smile.)

Paul: Sorry, but if you downplay someone else's contribution, you're giving yourself more prominence. (That doesn't mean I'm not guilty of stretching a point now and then; I'm just not sure I'm guilty in this particular instance.)

Lily: Because it's funny.

Posted by: Nick at December 9, 2005 08:12 AM

Nicholas, you're proving Mena's point. Curry didn't "give himself more prominence", he merely cut out a paragraph about someone else. That sort of inaccuracy was actually the main thrust of Mena's argument, that people should take more care with the facts and not propagate falsehoods.

Before you call someone else's claim false, you should review the edits that he made. He added text to give himself "thanks" for developing podcasting "and the success it fostered" and then moved the paragraph up! I know my interpretation is being viewed as mean-spirited, and perhaps I do harbor sublimated animus about Headbanger's Ball, but come on -- how is that not an amusing example of self-aggrandizement?

Posted by: Rogers Cadenhead at December 9, 2005 09:25 AM

My hopeless cause would be justice rather than civility. Being, let us put it, a person well-acquainted with a multitude of flame-wars, dating back to early USENET, I know far better than to preach politeness in a sermon (I should know better about fairness and right too, but I'm dumb that way ...)

In any case, there's a great round-up of reactions and comments on Shelley Powers' blog right now:


Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at December 9, 2005 09:25 AM

Curry's edit did not impute any further achievements above what was already in the first paragraph of the entry, untouched. If he'd introduced some new falsehood about himself, then you'd have something. As it is, the acidity of the vitriol piled upon Curry is hard to understand.

The point Mena was trying to make was about accountability, as she emphasised in her latest blog post.

Is it so difficult to grasp that people in the public eye who get criticised by bloggers wish for those bloggers to be accountable for their words? It's easy to be intolerant when you don't have to look your victims in the eye.

Posted by: Paul Montgomery at December 9, 2005 11:22 AM

The morning of this incident I was pleased to read the WSJ talk about the emergence of elite tech blogs as competition to tech media (and industry analysts). - and then I heard about this and just shook my head. If we just snipe at each other on silly stuff like this, we will be doomed to just writing for each other. Let's focus on Sony, Microsoft, Google, Oracle, IBM - they need scrutiny (and I am not saying just negative) - the kind of scrutiny a community can conduct which the media and analysts are too conflicted or too slow to cover...my 2c.

Posted by: vinnie mirchandaniv at December 9, 2005 09:20 PM

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