This all popped into my head this morning when there was no blood in my brain, so caveat lector.
I think what bothers me the most about this whole conduct thing (other than the silly, silly badges) is that this isn’t anything new. Dredge up Usenet archives, and you’ll find plenty of hateful, hurtful garbage. I’m sure there old APAs whose content would make anyone’s skin crawl. This is just continued proof that John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory is right: Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Fuckwad.
Will a code of conduct help alleviate this situation? Hell, no. If anything, putting one of Tim O’Reilly’s little badges on your site will all but guarantee a flood of, at best, Goons, and, at worst, Total Fuckwads. If you put up barriers, people will try to push them, because that’s what people do.
Now, this doesn’t mean you throw up your hands and close off your site and say, “To hell with all this.” Instead, you do what people have been doing for a long time, ever since the first packs of Neanderthals from neighboring tribes got together to do something other than club each other over the head: you make ground rules, and you enforce ’em. I know I’ve never had a comment policy here, mostly because the only comments I get are from people I know. But if this site ever got a lot of exposure and drew a crowd, Total Fuckwad Theory says I’m going to get comments from anonymous people who will want to push buttons, either mine or another reader’s.
And you know what? They won’t be welcome back. A web site is like a house party, and it’s my job as host to make sure everyone’s plates are filled and their conversation is fun. If someone’s not having a good time, I’ll do my best to correct it. If two guests have an argument, I’ll tell ’em to take it outside. And if someone crashes the party and sticks his dick in the mashed potatoes, he’s gone (same with the potatoes).
So, that means I’ll do my best to behave on other people’s sites (which I still fail to do), and I hope people will behave on my site. This is Polite Society 101, and you don’t need a badge or a code or any of that superfluous bullshit to accomplish that.
(By the way, there’s a much better discussion of all this over here.)