Ben Metcalfe vs Mena Trott or online vs offline?

For those not watching the blogosphere, there has been an interesting clash at Les Blogs, a 2 day event about the blogosphere.

Picture the scene, a room full of bloggers and a speech on day 2 is being given by one of the founders of the blogosphere – Mena Trott, co-founder and president of Six Apart. An adoring audience you may think, but no. There is a twist to your normal everyday conference which mimics the world of online blogging, there is a "back channel" projected behind the presenter which allows the audience to make comments throughout the "presentation". This changes everything..

The opening note begins (and for some reason the comment screen is switched off). The topic is accountability of bloggers online, the idea being that when bloggers post or comment they should be responsible for there actions. At one point during the presenation the ability to comment is switched on and it quickly becomes clear there is a part of the audience that are not reacting positively. For whatever reason, one comment (saying "this is bullshit") from Ben Metcalfe catches Mena’s attention and she takes offense to it. Rather unfortunately for her, she reacts by calling Ben an "asshole" and then becoming rather defensive about Six Apart. Ben responds rather well, detailing his issues and then offering to take the dicussion offline. You can see a clip here.

Without knowing what Ben’s back channel comments were on Day 1, I do not know how justified Mena’s comments are or even if there were any comments – but then should Ben have been making the comments he made on the comments channel in the first place? Rather beautifully, what happened illustrated the topic being discussed – taking accountability of your actions. I think there is also a level of respect that should also prevail online. It is not just a problem in blogging, but also in email, instant messaging and texts. It is very easy to say something in these mediums that you could not say over the telephone or face to face.

One possible solution is for blogs to moderate comments – and there are scenarios when this is a good solution, wikipaedia for example now require users to be registered before they can "create history", though you can still edit anonymously. In my view, edits should be restricted to registered users as well since this allows the reader to infer a level of trust in the information provided – how much trust can you have in an anonymous post? There are plenty of scenarios though where moderation can spoil what is in essence a live discussion. Moderation stops this. Not having moderation enabled should infer respect on your visitors, who in turn should treat the ability to openly comment as a priviledge. If only that was the case..

The only real solution is for society to somehow create a feeling of respect for other users online. A much tougher solution to implement, and one that I suspect is not goign to happen soon. (By the way, disrespect is always going to happen, the idea is to reduce it as much as is feasible – its just a matter of accepting responsibility for it when it does happen)

Anyhow, back to the clash between Mena and Ben – all in all I think that Ben was wrong to be rude on the back channel and Mena was wrong to respond in the way she did on stage. On the bright side they did both manage to sort it all out behind the scenes afterwards – without resorting to physical violence or a slanging match I believe 🙂

Interestingly, both parties talked about thick skin. It seems to only get you so far. At some point even that is penetrated.

Side comments:
I was not at Les Blogs – so all my views come from the video and Mena’s speech and Ben’s post
It happens to all of us 🙂