Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Get out of the Car--Basic Blogging Etiquette

Last week in San Francisco I was a panelist along with Shazia Mistry from Adventures in Motherhood, Nelly Yusupova, founder of Webgrrls International, and Chilihead from Blogging Basics 101 at the fourth annual BlogHer conference. The four us tackled questions for beginning bloggers and I thought I'd share part of what I said Friday morning. If you'd like a complete outline of the information we put together with links to the resources I compiled, please download the Blogging Basics PDF file at Webgrrls International that Nelly put together.


If you're in a car driving down the road and another car pulls out ahead of you to cut you off how do you react? If you're like me you say things that you'd never say to someone who had cut you off in line at the grocery store. I tend to overreact, get agitated and generally treat the other person as if they're not so much a person as a car. Being in my own little bubble of glass and metal distances me from the human beings on the road and gives me a certain amount of impunity in what I say to them--they can't hear me so I can say what I want right?

Well blogging can be like this--while the internet brings us closer together we're still separated by keyboards and screens and it's easy to forget that there's another person on the other end of the wire and not just some nameless machine cranking out posts. We read someone's words, perhaps feel some emotions about what we've read, think we know all about them, then we act as if the circuits and signals separating us relieve us of any responsibility towards courtesy or respect.

They're a blogger right? They've put themselves out there for everyone to read so they're asking for it right? They'll never know who you are so you can say what you want right?

Now of course the extreme example of this is trolls--people who pop into a blog long enough to leave a comment that socks you in the gut and shows you that you're not as great as you think you are. They're bullies and irritating and should die a slow painful death but there's not much you can do about them so what about the rest of us?

It's time to "get out of our cars" so to speak. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as isolated writers on deserted country roads, we're on the information highway, people, where we're going to meet up with other bloggers. You can pretty much expect that there are going to be some fender benders here and there as we bump into each other in our associations and how we handle those situations affects the whole community.

So when it comes to blogging etiquette it's not so important to remember all these minute bylaws and rules as to remember to think about the person on the other end of the connection and remember that they're not just some car whizzing past, they're a person with feelings too. If ever there was a place for the Golden Rule, the blogosphere would be it.

When you comment at another site, remember that the other people can't see your smile, your body language or hear the humor in your voice and adjust your comments to compensate for this. Don't just assume they should know how to take something and be careful how you say it because it will always come off a little differently than if you say it to their face.

If you're receiving these comments, be careful how you treat those who visit your blog and treat them with respect--even if you think they may not deserve it. They may be crazy and rude but descending to their level by being rude back won't help anything.

When you link to another site remember that it's a symbiotic relationship--if you do your links properly not only will it help the other blogs you link to but it will help you as well.

The search engines not only count your inbound links, they also notice your outbound links and rather than say "click here" or using someone's first name as a link try to get into the habit of using their site name for the actual link. This builds recognition for their blog, encourages people to click on the link and gets you points with the search engines--a perfect win/win situation.

If you like someone's post and want to mention it on your blog, go ahead and mention it but don't reprint it in full. Give a teaser then the link so that it sends people to the person who actually produced the content (Google doesn't like duplicate content anyway so reprinting someone's post can hurt pagerankings). Though it's not absolutely necessary to ask it never hurts because it flatters the blogger you're asking, gets their attention and shows a lot of care and concern for courtesy.

Finally, there isn't a lot to say about properly attributing content to the original source--I think the rules of plagairism are fairly clear but what may not be as clear are the "rules" governing attributing photographs. I myself have been guilty in the past of not being good in this area because it's easy to think "it's no big deal" to borrow a photo that is just floating around out there nameslessly but once again, think of how the person who took that photograph feels about his or her work. To have their work used without recognition or compensation is a very big deal and good bloggers should avoid using anyone's photos improperly.

About 99% of the photos I use are my own--no problems there. If I'm running a review for a product or film or book I will use photographs I didn't take to promote something but every once in a while I've taken shots from Google images where the original source was hard to discern. I should have either requested permission from the original owner but if the original owner couldn't be found then I should have made a note in the post giving credit to the source or used another photograph.

Included in the Blogging Basics PDF document I've listed above is a link to a post at Presentation Zen that lists lots of places to get photos for free or for a low cost. Handling your photos responsibly will polish your blog and help you to be a more professional site.

The bottom line? Get out of those cars and realize that the blogging world isn't full of machines and computers so much as human beings with feelings and thoughts--when we reach out and treat others as we would want to be treated it opens up room for dialog and exchange. And isn't that a better way to travel anyway?


Congratulations to Belinda of Etta, Mississippi for winning the Philips AJL308 alarm clock this weekend--there must be a lot of people needing new alarm clocks because the competition was steep. Thanks to all who visited and entered.

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chelle said...

I cannot imagine saying something cruel on another person's blog. Usually if I disagree that strongly I just say nothing rather than risk being troll-like.

MiaKatia said...

I love all your comments. It really is so important to be kind. I often struggle with my "tone of voice" in a comment because sarcasm and teasing are so hard to read.

On the attribution note I was "yelled" at once by a flickr user for not properly attributing his picture, I had missed one step. It really is important to give credit where credit is due. It's just polite.

Jennifer said...

All your info was very helpful.

Sounds like it would be so interesting to attend a conference sometime to learn more about blogging.

As I started just this year I find I do have a lot of blogging etiquette questions.

It is a very different world as we cannot see each other :)

tjhirst said...

The analogy is perfect for what we experience not only in blogging but any relationships or interactions on the Internet. We are going to need to develop the etiquette you speak of or this interaction may become the norm even in real life settings because we will be so accustomed to distanced communication.

And I loved the relevance of your photography and image advice. It's difficult to always get a great image to go with a post. But like you said, it shows professionalism and raises the level of a blog.

StaceyC4 said...

Boy, did I really need to read this! Just the other day I had someone leave a nasty comment on my blog - someone that I don't even know. It was so full of hate and rage at what I had written, that I deleted it. Then the person wrote back again an hour later to yell at me for deleting their comment and to insult me some more! I took the comment option down for a couple of days because clearly this person has some issues. I did make a note in my blog as to why I had written what I did - just to clear the air but I am now a bit afraid of putting the comment option back on.

lapa37 said...

thanks for all the great information. Your right bloggers are people to with real feelings. It a shame not everyone thinks this way.

Enzie at World Market Portraits said...

Hi Michelle,

What a wonderful post! I always enjoy those blogging tips and refresher courses keep me on track, when I start to veer off. Anyhow take a peek at Lillie's portrait and let me know what you think!

xoxo Enzie

MommyK said...

I didn't realize how many images are on Google Images until I discovered that someone found their way to my blog after doing a search for "Maureen birthday photos" and pictures from my daughter's first birthday party popped up! If someone was using a picture of MY child for something on THEIR site, I'd like to know about it. Since then, I've been very choosy about which images I put on my site.

AlaneM said...

Great post!
I didn't realize that linking worked like that...I'ma change linking style for sure.
I've never (yet) gotten a bad comment, maybe the fact that I have about 5 readers plays into that though :)
Thanks for the education...I'm going to check out that file for more.

Damselfly said...

I am guilty of writing comments with sarcasm. I assume the blogger knows I am trying to be friendly and funny -- but maybe they don't!

Nicole said...

Thanks for the great info! I'm new to blogging and have often had questions about correct blog etiquette.

For example, sometimes I read a blog post that happens to be about something I also have written about. Part of me wants to include a link in the comments to my own post on the same topic, but that feels like I'm being the person at a party that is always saying "look at me! look at me!"

Can you suggest other resources for all us new bloggers? I'd really like to learn how to be a polite blogger!

Beck said...

I am EXTREMELY careful about using photos on my site. When a comment offends me, though, I just delete it - normally I'll say WHY I'm deleting it, unless it's really not worth while. Otherwise, though, I really strive to be a civil and friendly commentor.

Heather said...

Thanks so much for sharing this with us. I printed your PDF out right away! I have to say how envious I am of everyone who went to BlogHer. I love reading about how much fun everyone had. Glad you're home!

Anonymous said...

That was very well said. I appreciated that blog posting.

all over the map said...

You know I'm a fan of these advice/tips posts.

The car example is such a good one. I really try to refrain from any negative reactions to other driver's and when I do catch myself reacting I feel it immediately and have to stop myself. I think it's so much easier to be consistent whether in your car or face to face. Consistently polite that is! (You've just prompted me to write a post - thanks!)

Be patient with me as this might be a little long. Sorry folks. Sometimes I get a little long-winded.

This topic about photos has been bugging me for quite some time. Seriously, it has kept me awake in bed at night thinking about it. I've had good intentions to ask others but haven't. Probably why it's keeping me up! Reading copyright information isn't always written in easy to understand terms either.

Proper attribution regarding photos is really unclear or maybe it is clear but not being followed?

Here's my question. Is using an image that is not yours and giving it a proper link, stating where it came from ok without asking for permission to use it on your blog?

Here's where it gets really unclear and tricky for me. Many blogs have some sort of copyright notice or statement about their content. Noted and fully understood. Many of these same blogs use images from commercial places i.e., (and I'm just using these as examples)Pottery Barn, Martha Stewart, Domino Magazine, Etsy, etc and numerous other online sites. Have they asked for permission to use the content? My guess is No.

I want to make it VERY clear here that I am NOT accusing or policing anyone or any site I just want to know what the rules are because I like to follow the rules and this just plain bugs me because it is such a gray area. I found myself wanting to use images from some of the same sites but I wasn't sure if it was ok to simply use them as long as I provided the source and a link. Here's why: The same blogs often state that written permission is needed to use their material yet I'm wondering if they have acquired that same permission from these large commercial sites? It's not that they (the bloggers) are using the images to claim as their own. It's usually used as a source for inspiration, a good find, a craft project, etc. Surely all the images from these commercial sites are copyrighted? I think that's a given. I know it's basically free advertisement and nods for these commercial sites but I can't help but wonder what they would say is their policy as far as image use on a blog. Perhaps I should ask them directly?

Andrew wouldn't happen to be a copyright attorney now would he?

jubilee said...

Great words to blog by. Thank you for the reminder.

Anonymous said...

You are so right (again). I know that
for me, I use a lot of inflection and a simple inflection can change the entire meaning or at the least alter how the recipient perceives that comment.

I must be more careful before my "wittiness" is misconstrued. I certainly wouldn't want to hurt anyones feelings and inflections cannot traverse the internet.

Another 5 star post. I'm goina start rating you. (hear that inflection?)

Gray Matters said...

Thanks for the great information - wish I could've seen the panel in person.

Alice Wills Gold said...

Love this post..great reminders and I even learned a few new things. I can be better with the photographs copyright I am sure.

I also despise trolls...I always figure those anonymous people are really my friends who aren't brave enough to give me their true opinion...that somehow makes me feel better.

jodee said...

Stumbled upon your blog, compliments of 'BB101'. Thank you for sharing your know-how with a novice! I've just started and feel a wee-bit overwhelmed. So, I've much gratitude for your posts!

Heather said...

This is a great, great topic. I can't count how many strange posts I get on my website. I also agree it is soooo important to be polite. There are times where blogs get me pretty fuming and angry (haha, these days its the political ones). Instead of participating in the blogosphere bash fest, I usually just make myself forget about it. No point in arguing with perfect strangers all day!