Zacheus Manifesto

“Television, news papers, books, magazines, and other media perform a task of educating, informing, editorializing, advertising and marketing. In each of those domains, the individual is checked, editorialized, authorized and managed to repress what is truly individual and express a view acceptable for that medium at that time. This new medium is a unique medium, that gives a freedom of individual and group thought, expression and open discussion unlike any other medium. The ecosystem is alive, it is ours, it is there . . . this is the blogosphere.” Elwyn JenkinsZacheus Manifesto (ProBlogs)

To defend weblogs against Orlowski-style attacks, Elwyn suggests 13 principles and invites comment. I’ll bite.

I like the concept, but have plenty of questions and suggestions. Consider this a “friendly fisking”.

1. A weblog (blog) is the domain of an individual or entity.

This is a bit general for my taste… while I suppose it makes sense to start with non-controversial statements to lay a foundation for more complex statements, I think maybe this could be reducded to a subordinate part of some other point (which might help get the number down to a nice round 10 points)

2. Within the domain of the blog an individual or entity can choose to say, present or represent any comment, idea or perception as the individual chooses.

As a goal worthy of defending, this sounds fair — but it conflicts with point 7, which says the blogger has a duty to avoid ad hominem attacks.

3. Any individual or entity that chooses to construct a blog belongs to the blogosphere and is deemed to be a blogger.

The part about “belongs to the blogosphere” overlaps with #4. Another opportunity to compress?

4. Every blogger that creates a blog and who writes posts is present in the blogosphere.

Hmm… since we’ve already defined “blogger” as one who creates a weblog, this could be simplified as “Every blogger belongs to the blogosphere.” But this might benefit from clarification — there are other ways to belong to the blogoshpere: one might comment regularly on somebody else’s blog, or a large number of blogs, without actually keeping a blog of one’s own; one might run weblog-related service (Blogshares, Technorati, etc.,) that definitely contributes to the blogosphere, but that does not fit the standard definition of a blog; or, one might be dragged into the blogosphere because one’s work in other media regularly attracts the interest of webloggers.

5. There is no obligation bloggers have to any other bloggers to act or not to act; each blogger has complete autonomy to choose to act or not to act as and when the blogger sees fit.

This might more efficiently be phrased as “Each blogger has complete autonomy; no blogger has an obligation to any other blogger.” But that seems to contradict #7 and perhaps some of the following points.

6. Any blogger who chooses to recognize another blogger as having a blog worth recommending to others will create a link to that blog and will keep the link to that site up-to-date as and when changes occur.

It would probably be too crass to take advantage of this opportunity to note that weblog has changed its URL, so I will resist the temptation. :) I don’t use any blogrolling tools, and I know that keeping a blogroll up-to-date is time-consuming. But since #5 says no blogger has an obligation to other bloggers, might it make sense to re-cast some of these points into suggestions that are phrased in the positive rather than statements of negation or denial? Just a thought.

7. Any blogger who points to a post of another blog has a duty to respect the independence of that other person and while having independence to write any comment so desired will at a minimum refrain from ad hominem remarks.

Hmm. On Canadian TV there used to be (maybe still is) a sort of fake talk show in which an obnoxious sock puppet named Ed the Sock interviews celebrity has-beens (former child stars, that sort of thing) and intentionally tries to upset them. It’s not “nice”, and it’s not journalism, but it has quite a following. There are certain occasions when an ad hominem attack is appropriate. When supermodels or actors use their celebrity as a platform for their political views, when politicians or religious leaders are exposed as hypocrites, or when a dairy-blogger wants to rant about somebody who made them angry, well then, the blog will probably contain ad hominem attacks. But bloggers who are prone to this kind of attitude will become the targets of trolls and flamers; and if they can’t stand the heat, they will get out of the kitchen. Of course, it’s another thing entirely if a blog contains death threats, or publishes private information, or slander. Just as, a little while ago, I suggested that Jill Walker’s definition of weblogs was skewed towards the personal/storytelling model, these points seem to be focusing on the other end of the scale — the information/professional blogs.

8. There is no central agency, governing body or company that has the right to regulate what a blogger states, what claims are made and how a blogger composes blogging posts.

Hmm… if I sign on to be a game-tester, and sign a non-disclosure agreement that says I can’t reveal what I learn, does point #8 mean that I should be able to blog about it anyway? But maybe #9 answers my question…

9. A blogger is governed by the land within which normal residence of the blogger is situated and is subject to those laws.

I think the perspective of bloggers who live in repressive regimes, and whose blogging is their only means of speaking out, might be useful in assessing the value of this point.

10. The web space within which all blogs are included is a part of a larger space of the entire Internet.

Ok, no arguments here… but it doesn’t follow from #9. Perhaps join all these simple, foundational statements under an extended “Whereas” clause?

11. Bloggers respect other online properties and while free to write anything in blogs that they shall desire, they do so in such a manner not to harm other Internet property owners.

Hmm. If I write a review that tells people service A is overhyped and overpriced and not nearly as good as product B, would that harm the online property of product A? While it’s certainly possible to post constructive criticism instead of harmful criticism, I think I’d have to know more about what “harm” means in this context.

12. Bloggers are part of the wider Internet and in all respects particpate actively in the wider community and do so in a manner that bloggers and non-bloggers can benefit alike.

Hmm… we’ve already established that the blogosphere is part of the Internet, so here’s another opportunity to trim. Is it a statement of fact or a requirement that bloggers “in all respects participate actively in the wider community”? I personally don’t participate actively in online dating services or chat rooms. Perhaps a revision such as “Bloggers are a cross-section of the Internet population” or something else that allows for the fact that every single blogger does not participate in every single way.

13. Bloggers have a duty of honesty first to themselves, then secondly a duty to other bloggers and then to the rest of the world.

I’m not really sure what to make of this, since it seems to contradict #5, unless what it means is something like “If a blogger does choose to take on an obligation towards anyone else, then an obligation towards other bloggers should take precedence over an obligation to the rest of the world.” That decision would seem to me best left up to personal preference, since strict adherence to it would pretty much prove one of the anti-bloggers’ chief complaints, which is that the blogosphere is too interested in itself and isolated from the world at large. Of course, that’s not a fair complaint — bloggers are so diverse that about the only thing they agree on is that blogging is cool, so naturally the most popular blog links (ones everyone agrees are worth linking to) are going to be about blogging.

Well… that’s almost definitely the longest post I’ve written. I hope my comments were helpful.