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Online Etiquette and the Culture of a Blog

Posted By Darren Rowse 20th of December 2006 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

Michael Moncur has written a thoughtful post asking Whatever happened to online etiquette? which bounces off (and largely rejects) the NYT piece by David Pogue of the same name.

I think Michael makes some worthwhile points – particularly in his third point about Anonymity and fifth point about content inspiring community.

Anonymity – while some do like to hide behind anonymity I find that the majority of attack within blogging circles happens not because people can remain hidden but because it actually gets them attention and they think it will raise their profile. Thankfully the ‘snark strategy’ to build a blog’s profile has died away a little over the last 6 months. While it can raise your profile it can also destroy your reputation.

Content Inspiring Community – Michael quotes a comment from Gina Trapani of Lifehacker which is insightful and worth highlighting again:

“Also, netiquette in public forums has a lot to do with the content around which the community is centered. Lifehacker’s posts set out to help folks, so in kind, our readers want to help us and each other back. Digg is a popularity contest of oneupmanship. Gawker is all about making fun of things, so its readers mock each other and it right back in the comments. Karma’s a boomerang.”

My feeling is that sites develop a culture around them. This is often set by the tone and voice of those who set them up and provide the lead (in the case of a blog – the blogger/s).

If your blog is written in a positive, optimistic, helpful and inclusive voice then I find that those commenting generally respond with a similar tone. Write in a snarky, negative, rant dominated tone that makes fun of others and you can expect a very similar vibe in your comments.

In fact I think that this principle extends out of your comments section into the way that other bloggers interact with you from their blogs also.

Of course there are exceptions to this – even the most positive and helpful bloggers get attacked from time to time – but I find that this is more the exception than the rule.

What do you think?

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. I think most of the worst attacks clearly are done for the heck of it. I also think those kind of comments are seen for what they are by most of your readers.

  2. I think sometimes people are just nasty because they can be but other times I think that a comment may come out sounding nastier than it is/is meant. The nature of the internet means that you can’t always tell the spirit in which things are written – even if people use emoticons :p

  3. I posted on this a couple weeks ago and keyed the phrase SNOB:


    Hope you enjoy it!

  4. I’m always amazed at how mean people can be in comments. I’m all for snarking with style but some folks really seem to work out their personal demons on other people’s blogs.

    I learned a lot of my netiquette over at Metafilter. The pile-on that ensues if someone pulls a self-link is something to behold.

  5. Darren, I couldn’t agree more with your point abou the culture of a blog.

    When I first started mine (which is about a surprisingly polarizing figure, Rachael Ray), I got horrendous hate email. But I just ignored it and continued using a positive and upbeat tone (even when entire hate posts were written about me on other sites). The amount of hate email has now dwindled to next to nothing. I still get a crazy troll every now and then, but I feel like I’ve won!

  6. I think that anonymity certainly enters into many of the posts. Years ago I had the opportunity to meet someone who was really flaming the bulletin board I was posting on. He was so meek – but the bulletin board was allowing him to express some sort of hostile alter-ego. This sort of person is more the exception than the rule, though. Most people are looking to enjoy their web experiences and desire to establish positive relationships. The nature of the website and its positiveness normally engenders positive responses and reactions in its readers – and a desire to participate in the community being established around the site.

  7. i am the most positive and helpful blogger i personally know, and i’ve never been attacked yet! 8)

  8. Having been on both sides of the fence when it comes to snarkiness and attacks, I can see your point on every issue. The tone of blog does set the culture by which that blog grows. It’s interesting, however, how many mean spirited blogs there are in the name of “hey, we all think alike about these jerks, don’t we?” I’m curious if there’s any empirical data showing who gets more traffic among blogs: the meanies or the friendlies. The Gawker blogs are huge but so are the AOL, I’m sorry I meant Weblogs Inc., ones. Admittedly those are a mixed bag when it comes to tone, but for the most part that are pretty neutral in terms of the tonal spectrum. Am I completely off base? I can never tell. ;p

  9. That last comment from the naked pastor makes me wonder if a person has never been attacked on their blog is more a sign if irrelevance than anything else.

    If you’re making posts on your blog that people find helpful and challenging then you are going to make people think, you’re going to get run a wood rasp over their emotions, you’re even going to poke them a little till they bleed.

    When you do that people get upset – even though in the long term what you say might be helpful – and when some people get upset they bite.

  10. Although someone who is not a fairly active member of Digg for the right reasons may view it as a popularity contest; it is hardly that at all.

  11. I don’t think that there is any less courtesy online than offline.

    Some people just like to rant -who knows, maybe it is beneficial for them?

    Most of my posts are have to do with due diligence for prospective franchisees.

    When, I tell them hard truths that they don’t wish to hear I get flamed; 99.99% of the time I respond with courtesy or silence. (I probably am not upbeat in Madeline’s sense of the word.)

    The rest of the forum can judge what was valuable in the exchange. And finally, I agree with Stuart – people will get upset when challenged, and might bite. Which is true most everywhere.

  12. Thanks for posting Michael Moncur, I used the link (and credited you) in my post on the subject:


  13. That’s part and parcel of the ‘free web.’ We just have to respect, learn how to deal with things like anonymous comments in our own sites or blogs and stay away from sites you’re not really into. There’s no point of visiting if you’re just going there to preach how they are all wrong and poke everyone else in the eye.

  14. I am very happy today with proBlogger.net. I read a few weeks ago about G-icons in Google ads, but I’ve seen them [here in pB] tonight for the very first time! :)



  15. Sometimes,context is everything — your chosen subject matter may incite the “crazies”. Or, in some cases people are simply curmudgeons by nature, using the internet as a forum for all that ails them mentally. Owing to past experience, I’ve opted to turn my comments off (for now). If readers so choose, they can reach me via email — and they have been. As have a few looners, but at least they’re not disrupting the blog proper.

  16. Darren,
    I absolutely agree that netiquette is important. There is no reason for us to trash out this society simply because we can. I appreciate this post. It’s making me think about what I will do when rudeness surfaces on my site.


  17. Ok, not sure if my views on this will be popular but here goes. There are in my opinion two very distinct groups of people who frequent the internet. One group, of whom I suspect the majority of readers of this blog would belong, are internet zealots, they use the internet daily for long periods and it often forms a major part of their social interaction with the world. In some cases it is even how they make their living. This group takes the internet VERY seriously. This group also makes up the massive minority of internet users.

    The overwhelmingly larger group are casual internet users. They just view the internet as a tool for work or study, a source of amusement if there is nothing on television, a way to have a quick chat with friends on MSN or as a easy way to pay a bill or buy something. Don’t be mistaken they are not anti internet (far from it) and they are often very tech savy. They just tend to treat it as a tool or amusement rather than anything deeper.

    I believe that most of the angst that occurs is when these two groups collide. People from the second group come across a forum or blog inhabited mainly by the first group and find it all a little over the top. They occasionaly leave sarcastic (or just plain rude) comments and generally move on. I believe the first group may, in general, take these comments far more seriously than they are intended and are often very offended. This is because the first group tends (I,m digging a hole here) to be a bit insular and maybe finds it a bit hard to accept that not everyone sees the internet world their way.

    Perhaps we all need to adopt a bit more pluralism.

  18. I’ve met the meanest comments of all when one of my posts got farked. I was not upset for that; at least it was the first time somebody had something to say about what I wrote. Generally speaking, I agree there would be nice if people respect a kind of etiquette. I’m not saying that everybody should praise and agree with everything, but a different oppinion can be expressed in a polite manner, there’s no need to be rude.

  19. And for an opposing view…lol…I’ve been guilty of being too harsh in both my posts and my comments. I don’t know how I have been so lucky but I’ve managed to attract some lovely gracious people who have gently redirected me. I don’t know what I ever did to deserve these readers and their wonderful contributions but I have grown and become more patient, kinder and more gracious through the behavioral examples they’ve left with me. So, in my case, my readers have shaped me for the better and I am eternally grateful for the hand they’ve had in correcting my “emotional incontinence”. The culture of my blog is entirely owing to them.

  20. Darren, thanks for the link!

    Jonno, you’ve touched on another factor that would have fit right into my article – the conflicts between different groups. Hardcore internet users and casual ones are one obvious conflict, and I think there are endless others. Mac users and PC users, religious people and atheists, pro- and con- on any conceivable topic.

    In the real world we tend to hang out with people who share our views, or at least respect them. On the net a search engine can easily direct a vast assortment of people with very different views all to the same blog post or forum… and this sort of “instant community” is even harder to control than the kind that grows gradually around a site.

    Stuart and a few others raise a good point: if you don’t get ANY comments from jerks, you’re probably running an irrelevant, unpopular, or boring site. I have learned to consider it a milestone in a site’s development when we attract our first couple of jerks – it means we’ve arrived.

    Read Kathy Sierra’s “Creating Passionate Users” blog for much more on topics like that. One of her ideas is that having people love you and having them hate you are both signs that you’re doing something right – leaving your whole audience indifferent is a very bad sign.

    Thanks everyone for the comments! Problogger is a great example of a community that really works.

  21. […] Online Etiquette and the Culture of a Blog relevant to Natali’s departure from TechCrunch, also to the mini PR firestorm we had at WWD tonight. (tags: pro-blogging wwd etiquette) […]

  22. […] Recently Dave Pogue of the NY Times wrote a post about ‘what ever happened to online etiquette?‘ that asked the question when did the Internet become a bunch of immature 15 year old boys? Michael Moncur correctly responds that this isn’t a new phenomena: people are jerks, maturity matters, anonymity isn’t the problem and content inspires community (and Darren agrees). […]

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