Ur doin’ it wrong = Fail?

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.)

The Counter-Rule

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?

8 Responses to “Ur doin’ it wrong = Fail?”

  1. Steve Lawson says:

    I was going to comment, but then I realized that you didn’t have a link in this blog post, therefore it doesn’t exist.

    It would be nice if people realized that they were expressing a personal preference in these matters, perhaps even a personal preference backed up by reasoning. For example, I wish everyone made their FriendFeed public so that I could easily link to everyone’s posts in public spaces. I also think that having a “private” FriendFeed account can lull someone into a false sense of security, since their comments on users who have public feeds are, in fact, public. But it’s not “wrong” for people to do that.

    Same with Twitter. If you have Twitter followers but don’t follow anybody, you look like you think you are a celebrity or a spambot and lots of people won’t choose to follow you for that reason. But that’s your problem, not mine.

  2. walt says:

    And that’s the flipside. It’s entirely appropriate, reasonable, whatever for you, me, anybody to say “I don’t choose to associate with the way you’re using this tool.”

    If Eduardio PureBlogger refuses to read any blog that doesn’t allow comments or trackbacks, that’s his right. If Susan HTMaven is offended that C&I’s HTML version isn’t up to her standards–and blasts me about it–I’ll politely (or not so politely) tell her she’s not obliged to read it. If I was a Twitter user and regarded its function as entirely conversational, I wouldn’t follow anybody who didn’t follow other people. All choices. It just goes bad when people turn their personal preferences into universal commandments.

    An issue which goes way beyond social software, to be sure.

  3. The Rules can sometimes be interesting codifications of how people expect the social norms to be.

    I’m particularly put off by Twitter, in that I’m adamant I will not play the follower game. What I think is lurking behind The Rule is a scam of “We are going to suck you into this system with the promise that it’s going to help you, but really it’s the same old pyramid scheme where a few BigHeads on the top have very powerful megaphones, and everyone else is down on the bottom squeaking unheard.”

    Blog comments are a very interesting case, in that so many A-listers do not have comments – and are clear they don’t want them, or shove the Great Unread into some annex.

  4. Mark says:

    Thanks for this, Walt. I know/realize I was somewhat in violation of this yesterday at friendfeed, and that fact makes me feel bad.

    But I (sort of) asked people to not do it and didn’t say there are wrong. They aren’t. Not at all. But they might be something else, depending on their motivations for doing what they do. Could be forgetful, could be busy, could be all about the life bits broadcasting as you said, ….

    Anyway, thanks for the reminder (even as I’m hoping it wasn’t necessarily targeted at me).

  5. bowerbird says:

    if none of the pages in a “wiki”
    are user-editable, it’s not a “wiki”,
    so you shouldn’t call it a “wiki”…

    i said that before. i still say it…

    if you call something a “prom”,
    but — when the kids show up —
    you have no band and you tell
    them that they may not dance,
    yeah, you’re doing it “wrong”…

    a name must _mean_ something.


  6. walt says:

    Mark: Absolutely not targeted at you, and I think the original version would have made that clearer–e.g., the link to the blog post Jenny Levine cited, where a woman felt she had to explain why her Twitter updates were private.

    Bowerbird: If none of the pages in a wiki are editable by any users, you may have a point. Otherwise, it’s purely a naming issue–and that’s why my definition of a wiki is a website built using wiki software. In fact, most wikis I know that have heavily restricted editing capabilities don’t stress “wiki” in the name (that certainly includes PALINET Leadership Network, which is indeed editable by all *registered and approved users). Beyond that, I’ll just say I think that the meaning of contemporary methodologies has to be determined by all users, not set by fiat.

  7. I think public libraries are a particularly instructive counter-example to the rule about wikis, because professional librarians make a natural source of content and patrons a natural audience.

    Budget pressure means that individual libraries have less and less staff time to generate content, such as ‘homework help’, to give one example. Collaboration between libraries makes more and more economic sense.

    Wikis make a great tool for librarians to collaborate. The fact that the technology allows any patron to contribute as well doesn’t mean that content generated by patrons has the same value as content generated by professional librarians. I’m not claiming that a wiki in a public library should never allow patron contributions, just that there’s a place for each kind.

    I suppose as a matter of terminology, something shouldn’t be called a ‘real’ wiki if all the content was generated by a single person, but as soon as more than one person is contributing, it’s a wiki.

    I’m a patron, by the way, and not a librarian.

  8. walt says:

    Graeme: An excellent comment–and from a patron’s view.