Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Myth of Purity: are your readers guests or customers?

Lately I've seen discussions revive about various forms of online, or even more specifically, blogging "ethics."

Two examples are Susan Getgood's discussion of bloggers posting ethics policies and Darren Rowse's discussion of whether it's OK for commenters to leave "signatures" at the end of their comments.

And it seems to boil down to two questions you should ask yourself:

Are your readers your guests? Or your customers?
Are you a host? Or a service provider?

Can we just admit right now that there are a whole bunch of bloggers who don't give a fig about this entire discussion. Lots and lots of people blog for fun. Or for an outlet. Or to practice writing. And they blog because tools have made it an easy and independent process. There is no way it makes sense to discuss ethics or policies and expect it to apply across the board to all bloggers.

Ironically many of those bloggers who use and read blogs purely for personal expression and entertainment and education would be the most stringent policy-makers. They don't want to see ads. They don't care about traffic and don't want you to either. They feel perfectly within their rights to do whatever they want with posts or comments. To them the blogosphere seems almost like hallowed ground, a place of pure personal expression, unfettered by editors, filters etc. But there is absolutely no incentive for such bloggers to bother with official policies.

But we're not talking about those bloggers. We are talking now about bloggers who consider their blog some extension of their public or professional persona, and to therefore reflect on their character. And in many cases impact their business, whatever it may be.

And this is a segment in which I can see some conflict between the readers as guest vs. customer attitude. This is the segment in which I think the blogger has to have a clear sens eof which they consider themselves to be.

Let's take example #1: Blogger as host; readers are guests
Russell Beattie's blog. Russell has been quite clear that he considers his blog his space, and you are a guest there. To that end he has no compunction about deleting comments. He doesn't have this stated on his About page, but I've seen him post to this effect. Now, one could argue...this isn't just a personal blog. He talks technology, a lot. It's clear for whom he works. He runs at least one technical group (Mobile Mondays.) All true. There's no rule that says someone who blogs and refers to their professional life can't have the host/guest view of his or her blog. And Russell executes this style very well. Why do I think so? because he's not trying to be in business with his guests. If you go to someone's house for what you think is a nice dinner, and instead you find yourself in the middle of a pitch for something...well, nobody likes that. (Don't get me wrong: if you were invited to a Tupperware Party and showed up, that's fine.)

But here's example #2: Blogger as service provider, readers as potential customers
I personally consider Darren's ProBlogger site to fall into this category. I mean the name says it all, right? I want to be absolutely clear: I think this kind of blogging is absolutely fine. I have no false perspective that the blogosphere should remain pure and unsullied by commercial enterprise. I find it ironic that some strong blogvangelists out there have expressed dismay that their blogvangelizing actually worked, and they no longer control how the technology tool is being used. I, as is obvious from this very blog, think blogs are an amazing tool for business communications.

But once you blog in this fashion, the "host" attitude must change. Your readers are now potential customers and deserve the kind of care you would deliver to potential customers in the offline world. Does it mean you have to accept abuse, or profanity (if it offends you) or spam. No way. But as I said in the comment I left in Darren's post on comment signatures:

"...if you were a personal blogger, I might understand this concern for pure and promotion-free commenting. But you host a business blog, full of ads and self-promotional posts and links. It’s a very uni-directonal attitude."

[Of course, maybe Darren doesn't buy into the whole "markets are conversations" meme, and uni-directional is exactly what he was going for.]

There's no single answer for how bloggers should handle any part of their blog, from commenting policies, to self-disclosures (just as, I might add, there is no such monolithic answer for web sites in general.) I vote we stop looking for sweeping policies that could be applied to all. Perhaps we should all just add a line to the top of our blogs that said "Welcome Invited Guests" or "Welcome Valued Customers."

Both statements are warm and welcoming. But they raise very different expectations from the blogger, don't you think?


I view my desired audience as intelligent educated professionals in their own industry, who tend to be clueless about mine.

What do you think of:
"Welcome, Grasshopper,"
as an opening line?

Hmmm. Interesting option.

But if they're looking for business consulting, not a guru, they might be a little put off ;)
Hey nice take on this topic. Personally don't have a problem with this signature thing (particularly in a commerical context) as long as the comment is relevant.


I agree with you Elisa, that the vast majority of bloggers don't spend even a nanosecond on all the "philosophy" questions that we marketers get such a kick out of.

However, even so, whether you call it a code of ethics, or "how I run my blog," I think all blogs cold benefit from providing this little bit of information. Assuming they care about their audience and how they and their blogs are perceived.

It provides that extra bit of credibility, and acknowledges that the blogger understands that he or she has some responsibility to the readers, even if it just to lay it out "like it is, take it or leave it."

We'll never get to a single one (heaven forbid) but everyone should have their own. In practice, they already do. I'm just suggesting that we document our practices so others understand.
Damn good question! And I'm preparing for the day I get that reader, and then I'm just going to ask him or her which one he or she feel like. To which she or he will probably respond with something veddy witty like:

"OK, I came to your stupid blog, now pay me the dollar."

Seriously though, I suspect I think of them differently, depending on the nature of the blog they are visiting.

I'm going to give it more consideration, and see what I find out.

Thanks for the thought-provoking posts!

Dave Beckwith
Great thought provoker - thank you. I believe it's perfectly reasonable to have a 'blogosphere as conversation' view and also be commercial. My main blog does give me an opportunity to express my views and share ideas and information, but I started it as part of communicating about my business and might not keep it going if it didn't help my business.

I have no problem with people leaving comments with a link to their site. That's surely like having a conversation at a networking mixer and being relaxed about people in a group sharing business cards with one another, even if you 'started' a particular conversation.

I did not like the comment I had the other day, larded with at least three links to the person's site - verging on comment spam. So I'm intending to put up a 'rule' about this and will have no compunction in zapping a comment that crosses the line.

So I see myself as a host, in a marketplace.

I believe every blogger has the right to do what they want, set the rules they you say, it's a marketplace. If we set rules that are too onerous for our readers or too heavily weighted toward benefitting us and not our readers I would assume the marketplace would speak and readers would leave.

I applaud your decision to post a policy about it...then let the commenter beware!
Blogging ethics is getting more important.

I generally agree with you and the comments above.

Re purity I think a commercial blog is fair long as it is the way an advertorial will say 'advertorial' at the top and so on.

Re commenting...on my blog I might, hypothetically, reserve the right to remove comments if they threaten the existence of my blog ie if I thought I would be held legally liable in a libel situation then i might choose to delete a libellous comment. Hypothetically of course.

As for including signatures in comments well when the person commenting is able to add to the comment via poeople knowing about their site then why not. Like someone else above going to a party and giving out a biz card at an opportune moment.

But if it is not appropriate and will not add to the debate then it is spam as far as I am concerned.

Hence why I am not adding my sig here...because you and your readers knowing about my site would add nothing to this debate as far as I can it would be impolite to mention it.

You might well like my site but it would be illogical to mention it at this moment for any other reason than to mention it...which on the web is spam...which we all hate...


But one of the most addictive aspects of the blogosphere is being led from link to link to blog to blog and finding new voices. Just the fact that you visited here and left an intelligent comment may intrigue people who want to hear more of what you have to say.

Now I can and did click on your Blogger profile link in the comment, and then click on your blog link in your profile, but seriously I would not have considered it spam to sign yourself:


I would have considered it an invitation. Which I can choose to accept or not.

Thanks for your comment. (And since I'm launching a new blog next week about balancing the pursuit of aesthetic quality and a progressive ethos, your blog may be a great addition to my blog roll there!)
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