Saturday, June 19, 2010

What exactly is a teaching moment in the bloggosphere?

GeekMommyProf started a blog about a month ago, which burst onto the scene in a hurry. Most blogs (including this one) toil in obscurity for a while, eventually gain some steam and get enough readers coming back to get talked about a bit here and there. In the process of earning your blog chops, you make mistakes and write some stupid shit, but no really notices because, again, there are like 6 people who read it. But GMP started off with an uncharacteristically large readership for an independent blog when she hit the ground running and so when she made a mistake people noticed.

At her one month mark, she has written a post in which she suggests that the response from Isis and others to one of her early posts has left her a bit disillusioned with blogging. Specifically, she would prefer if disagreements over content were handled more discretely, rather than on a big stage. GMP suggests that her mistake was an opportunity for a "teaching moment", whereby anyone who read what she wrote and found it offensive could have contacted her by email to explain their position and she would have rewritten the post.

Fair enough, no one likes to be de-panted in front of a large audience, nor does anyone appreciate hordes of angry commenters (weel, maybe some people do). But, if your intent as a blogger is to reach a broad audience, even if mainly for the interaction between your writing and that of the commenters, occasionally you are going to step in shit. This is the nature of the beast and it is a good idea to know this going in, or at least come to this realization rather quickly once people start to read what you write. The internet is a big place and even if you have a regular group of readers who you are comfortable with, there is nothing keeping the world from reading what you write and interpreting it based on their own experiences, not your's.

If a reader gets offended by something you write, it is in your best interest to have them contact you off-blog, but not theirs, and probably not the reader's. As much as it sucks to be called out, what is important to remember is that just because something doesn't look like a teaching moment in your shoes doesn't mean that others aren't learning something. Less than 10% of people that read most blogs take the time to comment even on a good day, IME. Hell, there are many blogs that I read that I rarely comment on, but that doesn't mean I'm not interested in the the discussion or learning something from it. Even (especially?) a feisty discussion about topics that people are passionate about gives both those watching and those participating a window into the different experiences and backgrounds that the combatants come from and how that colors their views. You can agree or disagree, but the point is it makes people think about the fact that their own view is not necessarily right or the only view out there. Don't underestimate how important this is.

So, despite the contention of many that the "civil bloggosphere" is their preferred pasture in which to graze, I would argue that far more is learned in places where the discussion roams to where some get uncomfortable. Sometimes as bloggers we make mistakes in our writing and sometimes we have to defend or apologize. But a combination of a thick skin and a willingness to learn from even the heated discussions that occur will end up serving most bloggers and readers very well.

34 comments:

  1. Absolutely, PLS. I have learned a ton from the times I have been called on the carpet. There are already a million venues in which these "civil" conversations happen, but I have argued when I have spoken publicly about blogging that these "civil" discussions are actually not so civil after all.

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  2. As in real life, jerks abound in the blogosphere. However in this medium, many are emboldened by pseudonymity. It is hard not to take some comments personally although to proceed one just has to just shrug one's shoulders and carry on. One of the most difficult aspects is that the correspondences aren't really conversations but free for alls, where various people jump in when they want, take things out of context, make a sniping comment (or an insightful one), and then hop to the next blog. It can be frustrating yet there are days when the exchanges are amazing, inspiring, and helpful. Those latter days are what keep me reading.

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  3. I'm still going through some of the comments on GMP's linked post... but while I'm not surprised by the reaction, I'm still confused as to why people took so much offense to it. I'll keep reading 'til I figure it out, I suppose.

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  4. I strongly disagree with the notion that GMP's post was a mistake. I have read that post many times, and have also commented on it, but I am yet to figure out what is so offensive about it. Frankly, Isis and Zuska and whoever took issues to that post come across as whiny people looking to create some issues to write about (and create more traffic and citations) where there exists none.

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  5. And not everyone has the willingness to read and learn what different people might see based on their experiences. Forcing oneself to look at an issue from someone else's perspective is not an easy thing to do, but assuming your perspective is the only one is a unfortunate mistake.

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  6. Do you really think that I got a fuckton of traffic from GMP? Seriously?

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  7. That's my favorite blog myth. They must be doin' it for teh traffics!

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  8. Well said! When we create blogs, we're by definition putting ourselves out there--we want comments, advice, and support, but these kinds of feedback are inextricable from judgment as well. It's the internet! Is it really so awful if some random stranger disagrees with us?

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  9. Nice post PLS.

    I think it is instructive to see how many people in comments to this post say they are happy to be low profile or avoid certain threads or have removed certain bloggers from blogrolls for hostility alone. All I am saying is that maybe we are weeding out some good bloggers because they want to avoid attacks. Discussion is good, and confrontation may be necessary. We can learn a lot from other people's anger, as Isis says, but people react very differently to anger and I know a lot of people don't like confrontation (some of my collaborators are like that and it drives me crazy that you can't get a straight answer out of them bacause they are clammed up; but that's what they are and that does not make them less worthy scientists). That does not mean there should not be a place for less confrontational people in the blogosphere, or in science for that matter. Not everyone cares to shop for a tough purple hide.

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  10. Less than 10% of people that read most blogs take the time to comment even on a good day, IME.

    For most blogs, it's a *lot* less than 10%. And yeah, I do love angry commenters! It's totally fucking hilarious when people go shitnuts on the Internet.

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  11. People can blog "low profile" by concentrating on their own situation and not generalizing that to, or opining on, what other people should and shouldn't do. Once you start handing out advice, you open yourself up for argument over your opinion. If one doesn't want to be accountable for anything, then blog accordingly.

    Everyone approaches blogging differently and with different expectations, and while some find the lack of academic hierarchy freeing, others don't appreciate how open that leaves them. However, academic blogging is not about reinforcing the social norms of the academy.

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  12. Saying "she made a mistake; people noticed" is an over-simplification. She wrote something, part of which some took exception to.

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  13. I have nothing to add (as usual) but nice post Proflike!

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  14. I think the only devastating mistake you can make is to reveal your professional or personal self. My Dr. Girlfriend persona allows me to test out newly formed opinions and ideas that can be readily abandoned if they do not workout for me. If my avatar is shamed, disgraced, praised, loved, or hated - what does it really matter to me? It is my matured opinions that matter to me, and blogging allows me to develop the unmatured (immature?) ones.

    I blog for selfish reasons. If someone else benefits then that is awesome, but that is not why I do it.

    I write for myself, not to please or displease anyone. Outside comments are an added bonus for me, which is why I chose the internet over my desktop.

    I used to be heavily into the debate scene (religion and politics), but I grew weary of covering the same ground over and over.

    Blog are not like debate forums - they are like being invited into someone house. If a blogger does not want your comments she has very right to ignore, delete, or deny you posting privileges.

    Nice post!

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  15. Ok I really do not get the mistake was. She might have come across as a bit dogmatic her handling of it, but discussions of politics do not belong in the work place. Common manners dictates that the common language is used in the lab environment. To not do so is rude, just like whispering is rude. ..I guess it could be interpreted as forcing people to have personal conversations in English or forcing people to learn better English without their requesting it... Still I am wondering if the link correct and the "mistake" referred to as more obvious?

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  16. I still think that the 'teachable moment' would have been just as effective, and much less hurtful, if Dr. Isis had refrained from naming the blog she was shaming.

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  17. While the phrasing was unfortunate, I didn't take issue with GMP's overarching idea. I think it did set off anger at a valid criticism about minority vs majority society, but didn't need be so...pointed. Nevertheless, it encouraged healthy debate and hopefully some people learned some things about themselves they hadn't considered before.

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  18. @ Dr. Girlfriend, that is the point: There is no mistake in GMP's post. Isis's rant simply made an issue out of what is essentially a sound professional advice to international graduate students on what is takes to be successful in US academia/industry. Note that if Isis really had issues, she could have easily ranted about why we need our international students to develop an additional skill sets--effective communications and interpersonal skills--if she believed this is wrong. But she chose to shame GMP with an entirely elitist viewpoint that only she can decide what is good for international students.

    I was an international student, and I am going to be a faculty member soon. And I did not take exception to anything that GMP said. And I have not seen many commentators--here or at GMP or Isis--that took issues either. It's always those who think they always know better have some issues.

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  19. Sorry, I meant 'many international commentators' in the last paragraph above.

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  20. I totally admit that I have been watching this whole thing "from afar". Mostly for two reasons: 1) I was out of town when it all started and my internet connection was so bad that I couldn't even post comments, and 2) I hate confrontation so much that I even avoid it if it's between other people.

    It has been interesting to read everyone's take on the whole thing though. I do think if you blog, then you should expect to receive comments (both positive and negative) on what you write. However, I think conversations about the topic should be contained to the original blog. I'm not a big fan of the idea of people writing their rebuttals on their blogs. Mostly because then opinions/statements are taken out of context, and the conversation becomes more one-sided (and hence feels like an attack) than a debate.

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  21. I think what many are missing, however, is that their subjective view of blog decorum is just that, their's alone. Just because you think a response should be X, doesn't mean that someone else does, nor should they be bound to your Rules of Proper Response. Make your rules for your site if you want, but you're fooling yourself if you think the bloggoshpere needs your constitution.

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  22. PLS, you are saying that, if one is going to blog, one should be ready for whatever response the blogosphere throws back at him/her, right?

    Unfortunately, I think this weeds out people, not based on whether they have something insightful to say, but by how resilient they are to flying dung hitting them in their virtual faces.

    I think a little bit of common decorum would enhance the variety of bloggers and would therefore make the blogosphere a more interesting place.

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  23. But, GMP, your common decorum may not be someone else's. Plus, a call to civility is often exclusionary in it's own right.

    I'm not saying that a necessary consequence of blogging is being able to take shit from all comers. I am saying that if you're going to throw around opinions in a public way, you need to be ready to have counter opinions tossed back at you, in a way you have no control over.

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  24. I think the blogosphere already is an interesting place. Don't you? Isn't that at least in part why you decided to start blogging? Who voluntarily decides to go somewhere boring?

    It is lovely to imagine blogging without anything ever being said to one that would in any way be disturbing or hurtful. I do not think this is possible in reality, even if one is blogging about the most mundane boring things in the world. Someone will come along and leave a snarky comment telling you how boring and mundane your blog is.

    If you continue blogging, the disturbing commentary will continue to come. There is always someone who wants to tell you how you are doing it wrong - sometimes because you are doing something clueless, sometimes because you have pushed somebody's button, sometimes because somebody is just being a driveby asshole. Sometimes you can learn things from your critics, and sometimes what you need to learn is how to stop listening for a while. That is why, fortunately, computers come with an "off" button.

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  25. Who voluntarily decides to go somewhere boring?

    :) I have a friend at a well-know university in a very small town who repeatedly gets asked this question!

    It is lovely to imagine blogging without anything ever being said to one that would in any way be disturbing or hurtful. I do not think this is possible in reality, even if one is blogging about the most mundane boring things in the world. Someone will come along and leave a snarky comment telling you how boring and mundane your blog is.

    Zuska, I know you are right. You probably know better than most people that fighting off rocks flying towards you from all sides is very exhausting; I suppose one gets better at it, or at least one stops being surprised. I totally did not expect my first blogosphere shitstorm when it hit, but I guess on some level better sooner than later...

    I am not unaware of how things are, I am just (somewhat wearily) lamenting and shaking my virtual fist at the blogosphere saying "Why oh why can't everyone just get along?!" rather than really expecting it to be anything it isn't...

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  26. If we all got along, it would be no fun. Now, get your happy ass back over to my joint and take another guess at the round thing.

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  27. If you want to read a great post on why one might get a reaction that they see as disproportionate to their offense, go read this.

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  28. Nice post, PLS.

    I can say that I (as a new blogger) certainly learned a lot about how to handle being inadvertently insensitive from watching the GMP storm in real time.

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  29. PLS

    "I think what many are missing, however, is that their subjective view of blog decorum is just that, their's alone."

    I think the point is that there are many different kinds of blogs. Some see themselves as providing a service and catering for a specific audience. Some want and seek out reactions and conflicts, while others want fellowship. Some don't even want any comments, and there is a feature for that.

    "Just because you think a response should be X, doesn't mean that someone else does, nor should they be bound to your Rules of Proper Response."

    This is a life lesson. You make your own rules in your own home, and you abide by other rules when you freely chose to enter the house of another. If you want visitors you have to execute some level of tolerance.

    People do not always react how you want or expect, and that is a life lesson not confined to the bloggosphere.

    "Make your rules for your site if you want, but you're fooling yourself if you think the bloggoshpere needs your constitution."

    Again, I think it all depends on what the blogger hopes to get out of the experience.

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  30. As someone who was in the middle of her own shitstorm, I think your post is great.

    Just like IRL, when you post something, you have to think about what you're saying and whether you are communicating that clearly. Even if you are, you'll get blow back for your opinion. That is life.

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  31. I can haz interchoob shitstorm pls?

    We can maunder round the fucking point all day, but this is the internet. This is how it works. All the calls to civility in the world won't make a blind fucking iota of difference, in exactly the same way asking BP to start playing nicely in the Gulf of Mexico isn't going to do a goddamned thing, and in the same way that Congress "reforming" Wall Street is a waste of time, money and is nothing but a motherfucking smokescreen while the status quo is restored.

    it's the internet. people are assholes in general because it's fun, funny and anonymous. And I for one fucking love it. If you're an asshole to me I have a good lolz because...Its The Internet.

    If you say it to my face I might break your fucking jaw. but. It's the Internet.

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  32. My God, I'm eloquent when my dander is up!

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