Saturday, July 29, 2006

Inviting multivocality: Online Guide to Mediation shares its new comment guidelines with its readers

Online Guide to Mediation announces new commenting policyBlogs by their very nature are a form of conversation. Most blogs, this one included, allow for reader commenting and encourage the exchange of opinions and ideas. The interaction of bloggers and blog-readers gives rise to what one blogger, writing for the E-mediators blog, has dubbed "multivocality", which

[...r]efers to the multitude of voices participating in the creation of a weblog. By way of hyperlinking, commenting and trackbacks weblog readers in effect become secondary authors, this is the progression that induce multivocality. Multivocality, apart from depicting “many voices” is therefore the process that complicates the distinction between author and reader - blogs and blogging. As author and reader is constantly changing roles, they are in effect adding to an ongoing process - the weblog.
Shortly after I began blogging over a year and a half ago, readers have posted their comments. Not with the frequency I had hoped--most readers seem to prefer the privacy of email--but still often enough to keep things interesting. Through their comments they have let me know when I get it right and when they think I'm wrong. They have shared ideas and their own expertise. Their contributions have meant a lot.

I haven’t bothered with a comment policy. I didn't think I needed one. I did begin using Blogger.com's comment moderation feature last fall when I noticed that spammers were posting as comments unsolicited advertisements for products and services. It became a frequent annoyance, and I was wasting far too much time deleting these spam comments from my blog. Now readers must choose a user name and password and complete word verification to submit a comment. An additional hoop to jump through, I know, and while I certainly hope that it doesn't inconvenience readers too much, I also hope all of you understand why I needed to enable comment moderation. I don’t want to read Viagra ads on a mediation blog and neither do you.

Apart from the Viagra ads, I saw no need to censor comments and continued to think that I didn’t need a comment policy.

That changed a few weeks ago. Someone posted a comment that was nothing more than a personal attack on my character. Although I’ve certainly had readers disagree with me strongly, they have always done so in a well reasoned and respectful way. Clashes of ideas are highly stimulating, and I've welcomed these differences of opinion.

This, however, was very different. Instead of attacking my viewpoint, this reader went after me personally. Since I had comment moderation enabled, I was faced with the decision of whether to publish or reject this comment. After consulting with several of my blogging colleagues, I decided to publish the comment, together with my response. After all, this comment said way more about the person who wrote it than it did about me. But my colleagues and I agreed that perhaps it was time for all of us to think about implementing a comment policy to anticipate the unanticipated.

What follows is the comment guidelines I have since developed for this blog. It tries to do honor to the principles that mediators endeavor to abide by. (And, since I wouldn't ask you to do something that I wouldn't ask of myself, this is the policy that guides me when I post comments on other blogs.)

Of course, since your comments matter to me, please feel to comment on this new policy. Your feedback is welcome.

1. I love to hear from my readers. Comments are encouraged.

That's my starting point. Therefore, this policy is intended to be as unrestrictive as possible to encourage you to join the conversation.

2. Sticks and stones.

I may be a mediator, but I'm not mediating here. I'm blogging. I have strong opinions and express them. That's part of the fun of blogging. If you disagree with me, that's great. Tell me why. Disagree with me on the merits. Reveal the flaws in my reasoning. I welcome that. I’ll learn something.

What I ask in return is for no comments that

  • Are potentially libelous

  • Promote violence, discrimination, or hate crimes

  • Are personal attacks or contain threatening language

  • Provide false or misleading information

  • Contain plagiarized or unattributed material

3. Taking the scenic route.

Mediation, negotiation, law, and conflict resolution offer plenty to talk about. So, I reserve the right to publish only comments that are related to the subject matter of this blog. Comments on weasel herding, as fascinating as they may be, are better suited for blogs on weasel herding.

4. And now for a message from our sponsor (not).

By all means share your comments, particularly if you have subject matter expertise. All of us, my readers and I, will benefit from your knowledge.

However, this blog is a commercial-free zone. Comments should not be mistaken for free advertising. Please, no comments that promote your business or commercial goods or services.

If you have written a book or offer a service or product you think my readers would be interested in, email me and tell me about it. I may decide to post about it. I can't commit to passing the information along, but let me make the final decision.

Some exceptions: I reserve the right to promote events sponsored by academic institutions or non-profit associations for ADR professionals. I provide that information as a public service. I may also use this blog to announce classes, trainings, or programs that I myself am teaching.

Final thoughts.

Those are my guidelines for commenting. My hope is to encourage readers to participate in the life of this blog, to become the secondary authors envisioned by E-mediators. You inspire and give meaning to the writing that takes shape here. Your voice can be heard here. And your comments will always be welcome.