I have never understood the need to reinvent the wheel. To improve on it, perhaps. To modify it from a wheel suited to a dirt road to one suited to modern highway pavement, sure. But until the day a hexagon rolls better than a circle, the wheel will be round.
The same holds true, I think, for good manners. Do we really need a guide to “netiquette” or “political correctness” when such things all spring from simple consideration and respect for our fellow travelers on earth? Sure, cultural interpretations of how we manifest that vary, so codifying the rules – to some generally agreed-upon set of behaviors appropriate within a culture – is helpful. The old question of whether burping at the table is considered rude, or indicates compliments to the chef, is a case in point. Is it considered professional to put emojis in an email to executives, or is that career suicide?
But do we really need to regulate the minutiae of human interaction? Or is it enough to warn of the bigger pitfalls – social gaffes that might well start a war? Shouldn’t we also, each of us, think of compassion and understanding as part of our social duty to one another, and be quick to assume the other meant well even if they expressed themselves poorly? Must we impose rules on one another for the simplest communications? I know that I live in a Utopian fantasy that exists largely inside my imagination, but wouldn’t this be easier?
Since I wrote Rules for Blogging? NEXT TOPIC! the search results for rules blog* have grown from about half a million to 1,150,000,000. Why? Why in the name of God?
Wild West, Digital Style
If humans were reasonable, God would only have needed ONE Commandment: Be GOOD to each other. But no, we are wired to split hairs and look for loopholes, and to break rules whenever we find them, if we think we can get by with it. “Define ‘good,’ we say.” We love a challenge, and that may really be the bottom line as to why we need so many damned rules. Not because breaking them is all that challenging, but because enforcing so many of them them is damned near impossible!
I used to love Google, but ever since the introduction of monetized search and ad servers, the Internet has become a cesspool of utter garbage, along with a billion largely-futile rules attempting to control it. And now, even Google can’t tame the monster they helped to create. We used to have terms for empty digital space and code that pranced around signifying nothing – vaporware, for one. And blogs became the vaporware of words.
Thar’s Gold in Them Thar Blogs! (Or, Make Money Online Writing Blogs While You Sleep!)
Writers deserve to be paid. But most bloggers – probably all but a dozen of those 1,150,000,000 who wrote posts pontificating on the “rules” for blogging – are just regurgitating the same old tired lists composed by someone trying to earn money from what became a wildly popular search phrase, as if there should ever have been rules imposed on digital freedom of speech. Writers – and bloggers who actually write things – can be some of the most insecure people. How to write? How to blog? It’s not hard: Learn the basics, like spelling and grammar. Grab a pencil and paper, or a PC and any text editor, and start putting words down. Words you’d want to read if you cracked open a book.
Rules? If rules were followed, we would have nothing that could truly dare to call itself a “novel,” since novel means something new and original. If blogging is dead, it’s this kind of nonsense that killed it. Just keep writing the same thing over and over – oh, writers do this, too. Go to any bookstore and count the titles on “how to write.” I used to say that writing a book on how to write was what novelists did when they suffered from writer’s block, in order to keep food on the table. They know their target market well: insecure people who think they want to write, but convince themselves that some dark magic will be released from the page and smack them upside the head, recognizing them as the author-mposters they believe themselves to be, as opposed to the poor fools who just apply butt to chair and write, because it’s a thing they love to do. Those “fools” are the people who craft the dark magic that leave others feeling insecure! But the best “how to write” advice I ever got came from Tom Clancy: “Just write the damned book!”
Not all bloggers deserve to be read, let alone paid. There used to be a question of whether bloggers were also writers and whether all writers were authors. I used to argue they were synonymous: writers could blog, and provided it was original content they wrote and published, they were authors. And then I learned about article spinners and ways to manipulate affiliate links and found out just how many bloggers hated to write and would literally work ten times harder, and invest money they could ill afford, with text “spinners” and “systems” that promised “passive income” from whatever crap they vomited onto the page.
I waged war on in-context ad links a decade ago, refusing to be a cog in that machine. I wouldn’t leave comments on blogs that extended the links to the comments field, as links to my employer’s competitors might appear to be a conflict of interest, if people didn’t understand that commenters had no control over them. I argued that it was a copyright violation by the bloggers who ran such plug-ins, that if they applied them after the fact to my comments, they were creating an unauthorized derivative work. (Same thing for machine translations, unless a reader knowingly requested one.) Now, instead, we have ads on major media sites masquerading as “Related Topics” or “You Might Be Interested In” and they lead to trap doors down the rabbit hole of spurious links and ads that – very much against the terms of service for most ad servers – jump around as the page loads so that we can’t help but accidentally click on them. This, by the way, is theft – theft of advertising dollars that’s likely passed along to you by way of higher product costs. Advertisers deserve better, and don’t always realize that they are paying for clicks that merely annoy readers, or links that are served up on shady sites and mobile apps where their target market won’t see them at all.
Everyone Wants to Play Sheriff
Backlash was inevitable. Frustrated bloggers, as well as forum and group moderators are waging war on all forms of promotion that they cannot control or monetize, themselves, but are, I think, going overboard with it. This morning, a writer/illustrator posted a digital character image they’d drawn, and it was copyright watermarked with their Instagram handle. Leaving aside the dubious legality of a copyright claim based on an entity that, for legal purposes, may be entirely fictional – the use of an Instagram handle, with the @ symbol in front of it, was against the group rules as a form of “self-promotion.” The member changed their watermark to use only the © and not the @, and all was well. But given this is just a symbol – not a hyperlink, not a trap, and something someone would have to work to type into their browser if they were interested – why would using the @ pose a problem, where the same handle and a copyright symbol does not?
It’s a silly, arbitrary rule, in my opinion. But then, clearly, I find the spirit of the law much more interesting than the letter of the law. If anything’s going to get my hackles up and trigger my rebellious nature, it’s a typo in the letter of the law that thwarts the spirit of the law or makes a mockery of it.
So what is the spirit of the law, in this case? And why are there so many blanket bans on any form of self-promotion? Is it because we hate the competition and want to claim the spotlight for ourselves? I don’t think so. Is it because so many spammers have left group and forum moderators and writers of original blog content wary and weary and it’s just easier to enforce silly rules against everybody than to risk having to ban one person and deal with the ensuing arguments and blathering on about censorship? Yes. I think this hurts individuals and small business owners more than it does the nefarious spammers and scammers of the world. They build massive human and automated networks to promote one another, and no moderator is going to shut that down short of an IP address ban. But those individual writers and small business owners struggle to catch a break, and can’t build a good network of authority links that would help them to boost their online presence and credibility, or just allow them to gain a wider audience for their work.
Moderators gotta sleep, sometime… I do believe moderators and bloggers have crafted defensive rules so that they can appear to be fair and impartial to all – while what they’re really doing is trying to manage large a large member base and get time for work, family, self, and sleep. Who could blame them? The digital “West” was won, then tamed, then “civilization” moved in and ruined everything…
Respect your moderators. There is no point harassing overworked forum moderators by arguing over their rules. Just leave, if you don’t like the rules or think they’re infuriating (not just silly). If you don’t like the “No shirt, no shoes, no service” rule at your local diner, you wear a shirt and shoes, or dine elsewhere. If you’re a smart ass writer or lawyer and feeling particularly cheeky, you show up wearing nothing but a shirt and shoes. I get it, but life’s too short. I’ve reached a point where I’d rather just dine at home in the nude.
This is why I run my own site – so I can write nekkid and impose another set of capricious and arbitrary rules on you. I’m just kidding. It’s so we can have minimal, but sensible rules and ride around on ponies shooting each other with Nerf guns.