No, I’m not switching to either The Lolcat Dialect or leetspeak, except when the temptation is too great to avoid. But…
There’s something that seems to pop up a lot, whenever a new social networking thingie becomes popular–and probably in other settings as well. Let’s call it The Rules.
The Rules are frequently stated in other terms: “Getting it.” “The point.” Other formulations. In any case, they’re almost always ways of putting people down for Doing It Wrong. For example:
- “You shouldn’t make Twitter updates private.” I just encountered an eloquent explanation of why one Twitterer does exactly that–and why she feels the need to defend it, even though that need should never exist. She’s been told she’s missing the point of Twitter–which is to say, she’s not following The Rules.
- Another The Rule for Twitter: “If you have Twitter followers but don’t follow anybody, you’re missing the point of Twitter, which is conversation.” (That one, stated differently, from a librarian.)
- Oh, so many The Rules for blogs… “It isn’t a blog if every post doesn’t have links.” (that, apparently, from the original Weblogger) “If you don’t allow comments or trackbacks, you’re missing the point of a blog.” “Blogs are journals.” “Blogs need to be updated frequently.”
- And for wikis, to be sure, including The Classic Rule: “Wikis can be updated by anybody.” So if you have a wiki that requires special permissions to edit some or all pages, you’re Breaking The Rule.
I could go on…but won’t. (This is a shorter version of a longer post with lots of links. Somehow, that post disappeared entirely mid-edit.)
This one could be stated abruptly or gently.
The abrupt version: “Who died and made you king?”
The gentle version: “It’s a tool. How I choose to use a tool is my business–and, by the way, if the tool has features, it’s probably legitimate to use those features.”
So, for example:
- Why would Twitter allow you to make updates private if that was inappropriate?
- If you needed to follow other Twitterers in order to be a Twitterer, the software could (for example) automatically make relationships reciprocal (much as Facebook does for Friends)–but Twitter doesn’t, which means the software doesn’t care if you use it as a bulletin board.
- There are reasons good blog software has overall and individual-post settings for allowing comments and trackbacks. There’s nothing inherently conversational about blogs.
- I get around the “where’s the link love?” issue by saying that “blogs aren’t necessarily weblogs.” Maybe a log of web sites does need links. A blog doesn’t.
Here’s my rule: If a tool works for the purpose you need it for and doesn’t violate terms of service, you’re doing it right. If that purpose and your usage differ with someone else’s mental model of that tool’s “point” or “purpose”–well, that’s their problem, not yours.
Want to publish the plays of Shakespeare on Twitter, 140 characters at a time? I may think that’s insane (I do think rewriting Shakespeare into sms-style text is extraordinarily foolish), but that’s my problem. Want to build databases using Excel or spreadsheets using Word? You may not be using the optimal tool, and it wouldn’t hurt to hear suggestions for improvement–but, you know, sometimes the tool you have is the best tool for the job.
(Confession: I have one important table that I maintain on an ongoing basis–the status table for C&I, including most recent publication of standing features–that I maintain in Word rather than Excel, even though it has some “spreadsheet” features, and even though I use Excel a lot. Why? Because it suits one particular workflow.)
So there’s my rule on The Rule. If you disagree, you’re missing the point and just don’t get it. Right?