Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Oh, look, The Times is on it now.

Thanks to a tipster for sending the link to this Times piece in its blog The Lede (it's a good thing the writer cites Owen Thomas when he says all the shut down blogs were directed at NS; they weren't):

In a blog post written late Tuesday night, David Karp, the founder of the blogging platform Tumblr, sought to better explain the company’s sudden change in its content policy and its decision to shut down five blogs on Monday for violating its new ban on blogs dedicated to making fun of other bloggers.

While Tumblr has “absolutely no interest in censoring users,” Mr. Karp wrote, and in fact had “rushed into enforcing this policy” somewhat by mistake, he stood by the move to root out the use of Tumblr blogs for “harassment,” which the new policy describes this way:

Accounts with the sole or primary purpose of repeatedly harassing or abusing specific members or groups within the Tumblr community will be suspended.

Not surprisingly, the move disturbed some bloggers who use Tumblr and others who wondered about its impact on Web culture. According to Owen Thomas of Valleywag, all five of the suspended blogs were devoted to criticism of the same person, a blogger Mr. Thomas describes as “microcelebrity egoblogger Julia Allison.”

Ms. Allison, who found her way on to the cover of Wired magazine last July beside the headline “Get Internet Famous! (Even If You’re Nobody)” and has been profiled in The New York Times, is featured on the blog, “Non Society,” which is devoted to the near-constant multimedia-enhanced documentation of her life and that of two of her friends on what they call their “lifecasts.”

The offending Tumblr blogs used a feature of the blog platform that makes it very easy for Tumblr users to “reblog,” or automatically quote from blogs they enjoy, or enjoy hating, on their own blogs. (As Tumblr itself explains in an introduction to the platform: “If blogs are journals, tumblelogs are scrapbooks.”) The most well-known of the blogs shut down by Tumblr this week is, or was, called “Reblogging Julia“; it now appears to be available only in the snapshot form stored in Google’s cache.

As Jason Tanz explained in his Wired article on Ms. Allison’s blog-driven celebrity:

Allison may not be famous by the traditional definition. [...] But to a devoted niche of online fans — and an even more devoted niche of detractors — she is a bona fide celebrity.

Last year, Fred Wilson explained how Tumblr’s reblog button works, and Eric Krangel of Silicon Alley Insider wrote about how that reblogging tool’s ease of use (it eliminates the need even to copy and paste) had bred “a new type of griefer uniquely adapted to Tumblr’s system of ‘reblogging’: the anonyblogger.”

Last September, Mr. Krangel explained the problem that Tumblr took steps to address this week:

Here’s how anonyblogging works: let’s say is your target. You create a free account [...], then “follow” John’s blog. Obsessively “reblog” every post John makes, adding snarky, mean, or outright profane commentary. Tumblr’s “dashboard” system means that people [who] follow John will likely see the nasty comments. It’s the equivalent of watching someone shout at your pal as he walks down the street. But what makes the attack so unpleasant is that there’s no way for John to shake a malicious anonyblogger. [...]

The favored targets of anonybloggers are Tumblr personalities whose “Internet fame” is felt to exceed their merit. Wired cover girl Julia Allison has multiple anonyblogger critics, and persistent harassment from anonyblogger griefers led Vimeo co-founder Jakob Lodwick to quit Tumblr altogether. But the anonyblogging phenomena is metastasizing through Tumblr so quickly even small fish are finding themselves under attack.

On his Tumblr blog, Bryan McKay cut to the heart of the matter yesterday, writing that “Censorship on a blogging platform is uniformly a bad thing, but Tumblr is trying to be a community as well as a platform.” In his post, Mr. McKay lays out some interesting questions raised by Tumblr’s new enforced manners policy — questions that apply to many sites across the Web that seek to foster community:

Should digital communities be structured as “safe spaces” or left relatively untouched? And if we are going to start creating safe spaces, who are we creating them for? Are we creating them for every user, or only those that fit a certain profile? Are we looking to protect against sexism, racism, classism, and other forms of derogatory hate speech?

Can we protect the free speech and expression of the majority without curtailing that of others?

The idea of community management is still a relatively new concept, and I understand that these are difficult questions, but when you’re trying to maintain the positive spirit of a community, transparency is the best way to start. To what extent should the community itself take part in decisions about community management?

Good questions. Any bloggers out there care to take a stab at some answers?


  1. In taking Karp's bait, the NYT misses the point on why these blogs were taken down:

    1. It CAN'T be about blogging anonymously, because half the people who use Tumblr don't put their names on their blogs.

    2. It CAN'T be about reblogging others' content in a harassing way because Baugher hardly EVER used the reblogging feature. Same with Charlsie.

    3. And it CAN'T be about creating a safe "community" either. Some people use the platform as just that - a platform - and do not wish to be a part of his 20-something hipster and holier-than thou "community." I was not aware that if I started a Tumblr I would be required to participate in that community by managing to somehow reblog yuppy drivel while only adding niceties in my responding comments. Where is THAT requirement in the TOS?

    No, this is the case of a baby boy with no business sense covering his after after he deleted a number of blogs because it was in his BEST INTEREST TO DO SO - both to get future investments and to protect his own investments in NS. It's so clear.

    And side note: Totally getting a kick out of The Times identifying Dr. Bobby in the accompanying picture as a blogger instead of a creator wonk eyes and waxy paraffin complexions.

  2. Umm, now Julia's name is in NYT. This is terrible.

  3. Sorry, "covering his ASS."

  4. Here's how Julia will see this:

    "Blah blah blah blah JULIA blah blah blah Allison [...] is a bona fide celebrity."

  5. Darling, you are so right. You are totally right. That's why I hate that the Times covered this.

  6. No doubt her next bio for a conference will say that she's been talked about by the New York Times. Sigh.

  7. Yeah, Julia Allison is so totes getting her Mother Teresa on right now, rehearsing her best serious, wounded looks and soundbites about Internet civility. Also trying to figure out how to work her fave new phrase, "INformation architecture," into any interview she may be asked to give. Wait for it.

  8. Darlings, if you read the article, you'll see they profiled her before.

  9. You know, i am not so sure i believe this 'any publicity is good publicity' mantra as a long term strategy.

    Only sometimes is it okay to be trashed by your critics because at least it means they are paying attention to you.

    However, i am quite certain that a constant drubbing in the media is not the path towards a successful career. There needs to be something redeeming or else what is the point? It's like someone said last night, at some point you need to deliver a product.

    The only product Jackles delivers is heaping more mockery upon herself and her associates.

    This is a very bad article for Karp. Even if it does not sink in as negative for delusional Jackles, this has to pinch for Karp. He comes across as Jackles' bitch (lap doggy) and this can't be so hot for his ego.

    That said, what do i know?

  10. Krap also comes across as someone you can't trust and whose business you should avoid.

    And while JABA may be delusional enough to be happy about today's NY Times coverage, any sane being who reads this coverage has to recoil and make a mental note to avoid dealing with this flake.

  11. Not a positive article at all, and indeed it makes no difference how she interprets it. Her access is only granted by those companies failing to do adequate research, and the big, important ones will do just that before paying anyone to do anything.