Why I’ve stopped reading BoingBoing

2 July 2008

Tom yesterday posted a thoughtful and sober piece about the BoingBoing/Violet Blue saga. This is less long-winded and decidedly more pushy. I unsubscribed yesterday, and here’s why.

In short, BoingBoing have removed a series of posts referring to a sex blogger called Violet Blue (someone on the periphery of my awareness – I don’t read her or claim to be a fan). BoingBoing followed up with a mealy-mouthed non-explanation hinting at dark events and asserting BoingBoing’s right to “unpublish” stuff.

No-one is disputing BoingBoing have ultimately own their content and have the right to delete content off their servers – although in the enormous (in fact, the largest I have ever read) MetaFilter thread this is made out to be end of the matter. The real matter here is BoingBoing’s own hypocrisy in choosing to exercise that right, especially coming from a blog that supposedly opposes censorship, berated the Society of American Archivists for deleting their mail archives last year, and supports those that elect not to self-censor after response from their community, such as Digg’s “brave stance” during the HD-DVD controversy last year.

The other argument is big deal, it’s just a blog. Well, BoingBoing isn’t just a blog, it’s one of the biggest in the world and as a business earns a hefty amount of revenue. It has blazed a trail for other blogs and is the model for the rapid change in online publishing – and as I’ve spelled out above, it has long preached values that many blogs have taken after. It’s an important publication, so how it conducts itself is a rightful matter of public scrutiny.

But it’s not just about Violet Blue. I don’t normally read the comments on Boing Boing and it was through the MeFi thread I found out about the standard practice of disemvoweling – removing the vowels to render the comment so hard to read it’s not worth bothering.

Now, I know comment moderation is both tricky and necessary. I’ve removed or at the very least delinked comments on this blog that were spam. I keep a fairly liberal policy of comments here (not that I get many) whether they agree or not, and the only material I’ve ever deleted (apart from spam) has been outright race hate on a BNP-related thread.

This is not the case with BoingBoing’s disemvowelling however, and is best summed up with this post, where the bit of one comment that agrees with them is kept, and the bit that isn’t disemvoweled:

that’s a rad book cover, for what i’m assuming is a pretty rad book. it’s equally rad that people are hand making covers for your book. and admittedly it’s incredibly rad to be on so many excellent book lists.

t’s hwvr ncrdbly nrd tht y pst bt t vry thrtn scnds. thr s fn ln btwn prmtng yrslf nw nd gn n blg t whch y cntrbt, nd bcmng cmpltly slf ndlgd tl. ‘d lk t sy y’r wlkng tht ln, bt n lngr thnk tht’s th cs.

Which thanks to the re-emvowelment tool, probably originally said:

It’s however incredibly unrad that you post about it every thirteen seconds. There is a fine line between promoting yourself now and again in a blog to which you contribute, and becoming completely a self indulged tool. I’d like to say you’re walking that line but no longer think that’s the case.

Maybe it was the use of the word “tool”, but it seems any critcism of Doctorow’s relentless pushing of his “Little Brother” book (Google says 24,900 – probably a few too many but still you get the idea) – and it seems any criticism, no matter how mild, gets struck out.

Ths s jst t mch. Y trnd m ff frm byng ths bk lng g wth yr nrlntng psts bt t. t’s nt bst sllr nd t’s nt th bbl. rlly thnk y cmprms th ntgrty f ths st wth ths ndlss slf-prmtn. Strt sprt wbst t prmt th bk r plcs ds fr t, bt pls stp dmntng ths st wth s mny nn-strs bt t.

which was (approximately):

This is just too much you turned me off from buying this book long go with your unrelenting posts about it. It’s not a best seller and it’s not the bible really think. You compromise the integrity of this site with this endless self-promotion. Start a separate website to promote the book or place ads for it but please stop dominating this site with so many non-stories about it.

To me this is the most obnoxious form of moderation there is. Firstly, by modifying what someone writes it leaves them open to ambiguous interpretation – if the letters “cnt” turn up several times in a post, are they being exceptionally rude or just using the word “cant” or “cent” a lot? Unless you plug it into a program and do a bit of educated guesswork, you’ll never know. Furthermore it’s highly ostentatious – it’s not just enough to clean up a thread, but you have to show everyone that someone’s been naughty and you’re making an example of them. Note that the poster’s identities stay so everybody in class can see who the naughty one is. And finally, as I’ve demonstrated, it’s especially bad when done to silence detractors rather than just people who are genuine griefers.

The arbitrariness and preachiness is summed up in the moderator’s comments they say when closing the thread:

I’ve just disemvowelled eight comments (actually seven-and-three-quarters) in a thread with fewer than 40 comments. That means this thread was over 20% people who think Cory talking about Little Brother is boring, but themselves talking about their sense of entitlement is interesting. So I’ve turned off comments on this thread. I (or Teresa) might turn them back on later today; we might not. Meanwhile, you’re still free to follow the link to Abi’s Flickr set and leave egoboo there.

I’m not sure how insecure you have to be to believe that when less than four-fifths of the thread agree (or at least don’t disagree) with you, it’s a snarkfest that must be closed. Nor can I get my head around the cognitive dissonance where Cory Doctorow yacking on about his book isn’t “egoboo”, but the mildest of complaints is, regardless of validity. And as for the general passive-aggressive tone – “maybe we will, maybe we won’t” – ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

So, it’s partly the lack of transparency. Partly the sheer hypocrisy. Partly their attitude to anyone who disagrees with them. And partly how rude and snide they are about it. That’s why I’ve stopped reading BoingBoing. And I suggest you do the same.


8 Responses

Heh, I stopped reading ages and ages back, every so often I’ll got there if there’s a link or a via, but ultimately there’s only so much information I can absorb, and I prefer more esoteric sources.

But, to play advocate, until fairly recently, BB didn’t allow comments at all, they’d had them in the past and they devolved into flame wars. When they switched platform and decided to bring back comments, they did it with a clear intent to keep them civil?thee and me get few comments, but a blog that busy will get many many, and unless it’s controlled in some way it will almost certainly devolve. So they hired Teresa, of Making Light/Tor Books fame, specifically because despite its popularity, Making Light’s comment threads are frequently more useful than the posts themselves. Partially this is because of TNH’s moderating style, and her disemvowelling practice is something I personally always quite liked.

But yeah, overt removal of posts that are merely critical of Cory’s relentless self publicity (and I read his personal blog fairly regularly, which has just as much in an annoying way) seems a bit OTT.

Given I virtually never read there any more, removing the link that I put in when I took the feed out as it swamped me seems apposite.

They’ve done nothing out of their normal policies, and if they want to unpublish something they no longer think suits the site, fine by me. But OTT smug silliness combined with relentless “I’m Cory Doctorow, I’ve got a book out” is annoying.

i’ve a good mind to go over there and build an elaborate argument involving aconite, king cnut, fifty cent, tom conti and ezra pound’s cantos. then call cory a wanker.

@ Mat – but what the hell is wrong with comments that “devolve” into flame wars? Flame wars are cool…

YOU KNOW WHO ELSE LIKED THINGS DEVOLVING INTO FLAME WARS?

Iain

No, Tom, I really don’t. Would you like to tell us?

Yes, BB has been stretching my patience of late. Partly the Violet Blue thing (I just don’t feel the need to know about their little internal political things), partly the Cory whassisname publicity stuff and partly… I dunno, just a general feeling that the old “directory of wonderful things” had jumped the shark somewhat and become just another big internet brand.

I’m toying with the idea of deleting it from my aggregator, but I’m sure I’ll miss some of the many quirky posts they still publish.

apple green mail ocean

I stopped reading years ago, I believe at the time my reasons were as follows:

a. They started taking advertising, pretty garish, in-your-face advertising at that.
b. Xeni “I Have No Ego And Am Not Obsessed About Sex” Jardin.
c. The relentless self-promotion.
d. Cory Doctorow’s one-sided rants about intellectual property.
e. They got rid of the comments system.
f. Most of the actually-cool stuff could be found via other sites (Robotwisdom, Slashdot, etc.)
g. Xeni Jardin posting NSFW images on the main page.

So having the comments back and with TNH disemvowelling would actually constitute reasons to go back to it. Although I can’t recall the comments on Making Light having only been partially disemvowelled.