Civility in blog discourse

February 2 2007

Last week at Lotusphere, I did an interview with Dorte Toft of  It's in Danish, so I'll summarize here, with big thanks to Henrik Pedersen for translation.  

Toft wanted to talk about the business impact of blogging.  We covered a lot of different aspects in our interview -- she was very well-prepared for our discussion.  And, as I learned when I read the translation, she was also skeptical going in:

There are a lot of truly boring blogs, written by CEOs that want to be on the hype. They underestimated what was required.  An IBM-Director took a different path and created a powerful way of communicating, but not without taking some beating.

Life as a IT-Journalist is too short for sweet-talking sales-directors, even if they are inspiring personalities, but last week i approached a sales-director anyway.

I was captured by his weblog even though I normally am very skeptical when it comes to blogs written by CEOs and the like. To often you see the CEO-blogger putting in  "I think" or "I mean" in something that smells a lot like a press release.

But this director uses his blog to be critical, he apologizes, he brags, he informs and he lets out the pressure on dangerous subjects. His blog gets thousands of hits, lots of comments, and is quoted by other pronounced bloggers.
During our interview, we talked about the value that I get from having daily interaction directly with my customer base, and how it has influenced my decision-making and my own influence on the IBM organization.

Of course, we replayed a few of the more "famous" incidents where this blog has been in the middle of an online food fight.  The most recent was the "Bah, humbug" thread from just before Christmas, the only time where I've shut down a discussion thread.  Quoting myself:
In the three days this thread has been open, I have watched tens of millions of dollars of end-of-year transactions come in to IBM for both existing and new customers buying Lotus Notes and Domino. It actually has been pretty hard for me to reconcile the beating taking place here with the way my business has been performing.
Since IBM has now publicly disclosed the 30% year-to-year revenue growth specifically in the Notes/Domino product line, now that sentence makes a lot more sense in context.  But it was interesting to revisit that thread once earnings had been announced.

So Toft asked me about other interesting aspects of the blog.  Even pointing to "Bah, humbug", one of the things that I attribute the success of this blog conversation to is that I have no tolerance for anonymous comments or trolls.  I'll take the beating as long as I can see my attacker (I'll take the kudos and handshakes too :-).  Today vowe explains why civility makes for a better online discussion:
There is a reason I have a "real name only" policy on vowe's magic flying circus. Let Dr. Jekyll in and keep Mr. Hyde out. The discussion is much more civilized this way. ...

There is a lesson to learn: be honest. You can just tell it as it is, and you don't have to remember your lies. And no matter what you think, you are not anonymous.
I'm going to stick with this policy.  I can't stomach reading slashdot, or even the comments on the typical online article, because those hiding behind cute screen names always seem to be more willing to make aggressive, sometimes baseless statements.  

As was reinforced again at Lotusphere, this community is more refined than that.  I think I've refined (reformed?) a bit over time as well.  Let's keep it that way.

Link: vowe dot net: Dr. Jekyll cannot hide from Mr. Hyde >

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