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Sense and Sensibility

Posted by Colin Kingsbury

Mar 9, 2006 5:08:00 PM

Wherein I celebrate the opportunity to finally disagree with Jeff Hunter on something...

In case you haven't heard, earlier this week John Sumser, publisher of the Electronic Recruiting News, managed to ignite quite the brushfire with aharrumph of a post concerning Microsoft blogger Heather Leigh's antipathy to metrics in blogging. All of which brings us to Jeff's post from earlier today, which concludes,
Yesterday I got a call from someone who questioned how I could be friends with John Sumser. He is just so obnoxious and mean. Junior High School, man. That's what it is. I was the kid who always liked the geeks and wore funny clothes to school to dare the bullies to do something about it. So, in that spirit, let me say John, you are my friend, what you do is a credit to this industry, and how about we start a business together?
Jeff's larger point seems to be that HR needs to "Cowboy up" and quit being so sensitive:
John Sumser writes an article that is in bad taste and hurts people's feelings. So what? Bill Gates gets called a thousand time worse than a spoiled child in print every day. Does he quit?
I agree with Jeff to a point. Blogging in a business setting has one (potentially) revolutionary characteristic, and that is its personal immediacy. Conventional marketing gives us made-up people, and we now know that; blogging gives us real people, or at least we think it does, and people are wired to connect to people more strongly than to things. Of course, this only works if the blogs are written by and sound like real people, or else they become nothing but a daily stream of press releases. To the extent that John Sumser said exactly what he would say to the boys after a few drinks in the corner bar, yeah, I guess you could call that "good blogging."

But Mr. Hunter needs to be careful what he wishes for. Business today is for the most part conducted in the language of international diplomacy: all parties are addressed as "my esteemed colleague," and even the most outrageous offenses are "disagreements we are in the process of resolving." Even when we say bad things about our competitors, we do so "with the utmost regret," as if we wished they would fix that nasty bug all their users are screaming about.

Want to know what's really "junior high?" Shooting off your mouth without caring what anyone else thinks. The professional world is increasingly the last outpost of civility in a world where "upper class" is defined by Paris Hilton instead of Jackie Onassis. "You are what you blog," is the order of the day here: if you call Bill Gates a coprophagic pederast, I'll take your word that's honestly representative of your feelings, but I'll also back slowly away from you while looking for the exit.

In blogging as in email, I've always taken the attitude of not writing anything I wouldn't say to the subject's face. That doesn't preclude honest debate. In fact, it enriches it by keeping the combatants focused on issues of fact rather than style. To the extent that the business world has not yet caught up with the larger culture in this regard, it is a thing to celebrate. 

PS: If this subject is your cup of tea, don't miss this post on SixApart co-founder Mena Trott's on-stage spitball fight at a user conference. Even the comments are really interesting.

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