Uncle Tim paints blog utoptia complete with badges

How does that old song go? It all started with a kiss except in this instance an unwanted cyber-kiss to a relatively well known blogger.

Kathy Sierra, an author of various technical books (interestingly some for Mr O'Reilly publishing house, but lets revisit that later), was the victim of online harassment on her own blog. Some quite nasty stuff by all accounts, but since Ms. Sierra is completely unaware of the DELETE key on her blogging software she instead let it be published and have the world take pity on her as the victimized female writer.

And when I say the whole world, I really mean the whole online world. If you hadn't heard of Ms Sierra before, you most certainly do now. In terms of publicity, we are talking major features on all the major media outlets including various features on the BBC. Now add into the mix that she stops blogging and starts refusing talking gigs, the world is left asking how are we to continue? Kathy come back!

Now call me cynical, call me heartless. But Kathy could have handled this situation way differently than she did. First of all, there is the infamous DELETE function. It is a function most software developers build into the vast majority of their applications. As a software author, I am pretty sure Ms. Sierra would be well aware of this feature. Even keyboards have a couple of buttons on them designed to facilitate this whole removal process. So the real question is why it wasn't used.

As a once prominent author myself, I was no stranger to online abuse. As the big cheese over at Java Developers Journal, I would regularly receive hate mail, of a nature that would horrify the majority. I would get the death threats, including some interesting additions to the cartoons we would publish at the back of the magazine of me in my kilt. We even had a threat phoned into the SYS-CON offices once, and that took a whole life of its own. Talking with other authors - I am not alone. Anyone that is remotely visible will always get attacked. This is the world we live in. Sad but true, but don't be horrified by it. Human nature when it can hide behind email/comments, can be seen for what it really is. But hey, the world give us the DELETE function so no real big deal.

The whole "Kathy" debacle has indeed sparked some interesting discussion regarding the whole conduct of online communities with a particular focus on the blogging world. Anyone wanting to ride on this publicity bandwagon has stepped up and offered their tuppence worth about how appalled they are and what "we" as a community should do. Please sit down again.

I was talking recently to another high profile author about this whole thing and I said back then that I feared there was going to be a "Kathy Law" passed to prevent this sort of thing. Emotional driven law making has never really worked too well in the past and this shaping up to be another example.

Sure enough, guess who stands up and starts with the first draft of the "Blogging Code of Conduct". Why, its every technologists favorite uncle, Tim O'Reilly. The man who stood up at a conference and quite clearly stated his end goal was to sell books and bums-on-seats for his conferences. He will watch for emerging markets and service their desire for information by pulling in the quality talent to teach the rest of us. Mr O'Reilly is a business man first and foremost.

Mr O'Reilly has come up with a whole document (penned in a WIKI and published on his blog) detailing how the responsible bloggers should display a badge (seriously, there are actual logos to use) of conduct in how we are operate our blogs and show the world that we are responsible but won't take any nonsense.

The master marketeer, knows fine well, that such a document is going to be picked up by all the major media outlets and pulled to pieces by the blogging community. Anyone that has any ounce of how the blogging world works knows its completely unworkable on so many levels. But that isn't the point. The point is, of course, to get more visibility for the O'Reilly empire and get those cash registers ringing.

It is a stroke of genius.

Speaking as a host of a major blogging community that handles millions of comments I do come at this with a certain amount of experience and authority.

The biggest tool you have as a blogger is the delete function. It really is that simple. How can you be harassed if you never let the harasser get their voice heard. You have ultimate power, use it.

This whole ethic of "never censoring comments" is complete nonsense. Why Ms. Seirra and Mr O'Reilly are still holding onto this ideal only further illustrates how far removed from present day reality they both are. Deleting comments is no big deal. It is your blog and YOU decide what gets published. We have offered a variety of comment censoring and approval tools for years now and they are the most used feature of our systems.

While I have sympathy for anyone that has been the victim of online harassment or cyber bullying, you are the one that has the ultimate power. Use the tools provided to help you delete or ignore the person in question. If the software you are using does not have such tools then move!

You have the real power so use it.


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