by Esther Schindler

A Note from Your BlogMom

Oct 30, 20074 mins

I’ve been running online communities since the late ’80s, but some questions are never fully resolved. A constant issue for me, as the manager of’s Advice & Opinion section, is what information is acceptable for people to post. So I’m writing this message to clarify (and remind you about) the tacit “house rules,” or at least to raise the questions so that the active members and lurkers can express their own opinions.

This is a community, after all, so the rules ought to represent the participants’ needs. But ultimately, the decision is mine (and my boss’, though I like to imagine that I control this tiny corner of the universe). As BlogMom, of course, my decisions are arbitrary, capricious and final, so don’t imagine otherwise.

My general rules of online community have always been very simple: no personal attacks, and be kind to one another. The nature of A&O makes me need to expand them somewhat—and the parameters are subtle.

One issue is anonymity. On one hand, I really like the freedom that people have to post a message about anything (such as “I’m thinking of quitting my job”). On the other hand, the messages posted here are often about real people who have real professional reputations and may actually find out what people say about them (Can you say, “vanity search”? Sure you can). At the same time that I applaud the ability for someone in-the-know to write, “The reason that CIO left is that he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar,” I worry about the fact that anybody can write such a thing, whether or not it’s true. And if it’s posted anonymously, there’s no way for us to follow up. (At a minimum, we journalists think of it as a story lead.)

The other matter is one of… well, let’s call it professional behavior. The FAQ explicitly states that we’ll take down your message if it’s blatent advertising, spam, rife with naughty words, or a personal attack. That ought to cover just about all the possibilities, but… do you call it a personal attack if someone says that So-and-so is being paid off by a vendor? Does a posting about someone applying for a job as a shoe salesman qualify as relevant to a discussion board? Is it okay for a PR person to post a “white paper” without a login ID? (The latter is a pretty clear “No,” to me, as it goes over my SmarmyLine.)

I lie awake at night thinking about such things. Obviously, I need more of a real life. Or there just isn’t enough chocolate in my diet.

The result is that we’re contemplating a major change to the way that A&O works. You’ll be able to reply anonymously (though I’m going to ask the developer to require a working e-mail ID for it to go through, and I may set all such responses as Moderated). But to post a message, you must have a real login ID. It’s groovy with me if that message goes to — though it’ll make me raise my eyebrow if the message speaks about someone other than yourself.

If you really do have “personal” feedback about something posted here, such as to one of Meridith’s Movers and Shakers updates (“Here’s the real scoop on the job change”), the best bet is to write to her privately, giving her some way to contact you. If your tale is true, and we can corroborate it, we’re happy to share the information. But it’s tacky (at least) to let an anonymous accusation stand.

It’s fine, though, for you to rant about jerk bosses (as long as I can tell you about the guy who hired me to be an accounting clerk, 25 years ago, saying, “We chose you because you’re the prettiest one we interviewed”). Just be sure that you’re speaking in terms of your knowledge and feelings rather than someone else’s.

Also, it’s important to be cognizant that this is a community, not a “networking meeting” at which everyone competes to hand out as many business cards as possible. If you’re here only to flog yourself or your company… please go away. I encourage you to share your advice, your opinions, your hard-won knowledge… part of which is within the context of what you do for a living. That is, if you’re an ERP consultant who’d sure like to find a new client here, the best way to do so is to demonstrate your expertise. Show, don’t tell. Make an effort to help others before you ask for help yourself. Be part of the community… not a parasite upon it.

Otherwise, you shall suffer the wrath of the BlogMom, and that’s not a pretty thing.—Esther