June 22, 2008

What I Believe: My 10 Web and Blogging Expectations

Sometimes, when I talk to people about why I blog, and what I set out to accomplish through covering what I do, and engaging where I do, I say that I am trying to help shape the Web, and blogging as a whole, to be what I want it to be - a better community with some strong standards for engagement, ownership, news gathering and innovation. Over time, as the number of posts here has racked up, you can see some of these core elements throughout the site. As an exercise, I thought I'd outline my beliefs, and I'm eager to hear your comments, whether these are shared or we disagree.

1. I Believe You Should Enjoy What You Do

Whether you are are the co-founder of a hot startup, an entry-level programmer at a technology monolith, a blogger, or simply a fan of social networking tools, you should be sure you're doing what you're doing because you enjoy it, and at its core, it brings you happiness. At times, I've seen people succumb to the stress of posting every day, of racing up or down the comparative measures out there, or slog day in and day out at companies because they're too unmotivated to seek an alternative. Even on those days when the work required seems overwhelming, it's worth stepping back and saying, "Are you having fun still?" As Steve Jobs told a graduating class at Stanford University a few years ago, if the answer is no too many times in a row, it's time to think about doing something else.

When you're not having fun, it shows. Your work gets sloppier. Your posts get crankier. You start talking more about how much time it's taking, how much pressure you're feeling. And when that happens... take a deep breath, or take a break. Reevaluate why it is you're doing what you do.

2. I Believe In Supporting and Promoting Innovation

Without an entrepreneurial spirit, change in our technology landscape would be muted. Innovation can be sparked from a single idea, whether creating a new market, or simply improving a new one. When I see potential, I want to highlight it, and work as a partner with the team aiming to deliver a new experience, and fulfilling their dreams.

Often, a rush to call "foul" on a product, to give it a negative label, or call failure, is done more to grab attention than through benevolence. You're not doing the innovator a favor, or their potential users a favor, but seeing the glass half full.

3. I Believe In Trusting First, Looking for Holes Later

For the most part, people don't start businesses or create products with ill intent. New services crop up every day, and the overwhelming number are there to help you learn something new, find something more quickly, or reach peers in a new way. As it can be relatively inexpensive to launch new Web services, or to start blogs, there are, simply put, tons of them out there. Many do very similar things. But at their core, most are well-intended.

For every spammer or troll, content scraper or hacker, there are thousands of others working on the right side of the law. And sometimes, when it looks like a service might be on the border of what's "right" and what's "wrong", I tend to give the benefit of the doubt, so the entrepreneur can explain themselves. I also believe that every service out there, from those a day old, to the market monoliths of Google and Microsoft, has issues. It can be fun to focus on those issues, but unless they completely disrupt the user experience to the point the product is unusable, I feel the product owner is both aware of them, and is working behind the scenes to make the product more robust, faster, and more fully featured.

4. I Believe In Equal Access to Tools and Opportunity

I believe in the availability of free or inexpensive services that enable people to broadcast, share and collaborate. I believe that for-profit institutions should make efforts to spread the availability of the Internet, broadband and wireless access to bring this information spigot to people everywhere, regardless of their financial or geographical status.

5. I Believe In Portability Of Content and Clear Ownership

I believe that products should enable support for open standards, such that data can be simply exported and imported from one service to another. I believe that these open standards should be deployed such that content, be it blog posts, news, comments or other actionable items (be it up/down votes, likes, avatars, etc.) be easily transferred, while retaining clear ownership by the original individual performing the activity. This portability should be developed in such a way that the third-party service, the content creator, and the person reaction to said content, all have the option to approve or disapprove portability or modification.

In those cases where full portability is not yet available, I believe services have an obligation to state their intentions to move toward an API, an open standard, display best intentions, or publicly declare their position to keep data siloed, buyer beware.

6. I Believe In Giving Credit Where It Is Due

I believe in bloggers giving best effort to determining the original source of news, and providing linkage, especially when the alternative is to link internally. I believe in making it clear who the entrepreneurs are behind services, and displaying a human face to what could otherwise be a personless brand.

I believe in displaying clear attribution for the source of quotes, paraphrasing or other use of third-party content, even if it is from what's considered a competitor.

7. I Believe In Supporting The Little Guy, While Not Hating the Leader

I believe in giving a new service or a small company its unfair share of support and coverage, as they make a valid attempt to enter a market. I believe in helping the service clarify their message, their features and benefits to the point they achieve critical mass on par with other market leaders. I believe that this presumed bias can be shown without disparaging leading services, or holding ill will against those already having achieved success.

8. I Believe In Transparency and the Removal of Barriers

I believe that those services who make their intentions, their product plans, and their updates clear to users and partners will achieve a higher level of success and trust than those that do not. I believe that company representatives should be easily accessible through clear methods, and should give best efforts to rapidly respond to feature requests, downtime or other concerns.

I believe that activities or barriers which reduce transparency, reduce access to company representatives and create confusion will be extremely damaging, reducing trust and good will.

Similarly, bloggers should be extremely reachable and should display and pre-existing biases, monetary engagements or sponsorships, be there any.

9. I Believe In The Ability to Disagree Without Ill Will

I believe that it is absolutely possible for multiple people to look at the same data set or service and achieve completely-differing conclusions and perspectives, without meaning either person to be lacking in intellect or experience. In the event that disagreements do occur, I recommend open communication and statement of beliefs will be much more successful at proving a point than labels, one liners or personal attacks.

In parallel, services can expect that not every review will be one they want to print out and send home to mom. If the author's found to not have a conflict of interest, efforts should be made to expose that, but otherwise, it can be assumed there might be some valid points, even in the most vile of screeds.

10. I Believe In Finding New Ways To Find, Share, Manipulate Data

I believe that the creation of data and content is nearing commodity status. New blogs and services debut every minute and die almost as quickly. But each month brings new and exciting ways to manipulate, share or otherwise locate the best data, through the launch of new social networks, aggregators, search engines, or semantic tools. The services we all use today will almost with certainty be different than those we use next year at this time.

It is with these 10 tenets, and likely more, that I look to engage. Through my small voice here, I believe I have been lucky enough to play a role in discussing how blogs give attribution, how they prioritize external links vs. internal links, the growing issue of RSS repurposing and comment fragmentation. I've tried to support the little guys and highlight individuals doing innovation. I've made a small number of negative posts, in contrast to my more supportive posts, and avoided throwing the second stone at times when my views weren't universal. The Web, and our ability in the blogosphere to impact it and play a role, is ever changing and exciting to me.