Tim O’Reilly, who coined the phrase Web 2.0 to describe the next generation of interactive communications, and Jimmy Wales, founder of the communal encyclopaedia Wikipedia have attempted to initiate a bloggers code of conduct. They have posted a seven-point programme that would attempt, they say, to address the plethora of abusive comments on the web, while preserving the free spirit of the medium. Point one of the code is that anyone signing up to it would commit themselves to a ‘civility enforced’ standard to remove unacceptable comments from their blog.
To back up the code, they propose a ‘civility enforced’ badge marking sites which subscribe to the guidelines, and an ‘anything goes’ badge to denote those that do not. The proposed guidelines can be interactively amended by web users, until a final version is agreed.
Reactions to these proposals have thus far been very mixed. Many, like Jonathon Freedland of the Guardian view O’Reilly and Wales’ suggestion as long overdue, pointing to the recent incident in which blogger Kathy Sierra had been the target of a hate campaign pursued by comments on her blog.
However, as Ed Pilkington notes, the suggestion for a code of conduct was met by a torrent of offensive and abusive comments, giving the example of the new media site 910am, which described the propositions as “weapons of mass stupidity” and carried the health warning “do not read on a full stomach”.
Some blogs that are attached to more traditional news sources, such as the Guardian’s own comment is free and the BBC’s have your say are already moderated and operate a system in which users can flag comments as ‘inappropriate’. While this system is operable on the scale of a single site, it would be harder to extent this over the whole internet to prevent comments such as those received by Sierra being posted in the first place (as she herself pointed out). It would also perhaps raise uncomfortable questions about who has the right to judge what is admissible on the web. This does not seem to have been the original intention of the proposals, however. As he reiterates here, O’Reilly’s suggestion of the introduction of ‘badges’ such as those used by the Creative Commons to announce the civility policies of the blog is not restrictive: in fact as it is already possible to monitor comments it would perhaps be more transparent to state potential reasons for not publishing them.
The pioneers of Web 2.0 will have to rely on the much-espoused concept of ‘radical trust’ for the adoption of their proposal and to hope that, in the words of O’Reilly, civility really is catching.