Simon Willison’s Weblog

Sitting nervously on the fence

Today’s hot topic is the Winer Watcher, Mark Pilgrim’s new tool that tracks and highlights edits made to Dave Winer’s Scripting News. The blogosphere is pretty much evenly split on this: some people think it is a blatant attack on Dave Winer, tantamount o blogger bullying, while others see it as a neat technical solution to a very real problem.

I’ve been using Technorati to follow the discussion, but the real action is in the comments attached to this entry by Don Park. To save you having to read all 80+ comments, here are some highlights (I’ve tried to pick out entries which represent the different opinions on display). Please note that by the very nature of this post I am quoting these people out of context. If that makes you uncomfortable, read the whole thread.

Már Örlygsson

IMO Mark is acting like a school-yard bully, picking on someone he feels will make him look big. Hrrmphf! (Surely Mark has every right to dislike Dave—or anyone else for that matter—but constantly picking on people is just plain nasty and can have terrible psychological effects on even the strongest people.)

Greg Ritter

There’s editing posts and then there’s what I call “de-publishing.” http://www.tenreasonswhy.com/weblog/archives/2003/07/10/the_ethics_of_depublishing.html

De-publishing is when an author deletes or substantively changes a post without any sort of retraction or notice that the change has taken place. Note that I’m talking about *substantive* changes -- not fixing grammer or spelling or text formatting, but changes that affect the meaning or impact of the post.

Winer regularly writes something inflammatory and then later tries to “erase” it from existence by de-publishing it. I disapprove of that because with publishing should come accountability.

Mark Pilgrim is using Winer’s RSS feeds to track the “virtual paper trail” to reveal the kind of de-publishing that takes place on Scripting News.

I find de-publishing far more unethical and detrimental to the blogosphere (especially when it comes from such a prominent blogger as Winer) than what Mark Pilgrim is doing.

Blake Winton

Am I the only person here who finds the Winer Watcher a fascinating look into the mind of a popular and experienced weblogger as he writes his posts? I read it compulsively, and find myself thinking “What changed there? Why did he rephrase that particular statement? How is the new phrasing better than the old?”.

Dave Winer

“there’s never a concept of a final posting”

Not true. 10PM is the final, that’s when the people who subscribe via email get their copy of Scripting.

BTW, I’ve deleted a few paragraphs as I’m writing this post. Think about it. Did I do something wrong? That’s how ridiculous this discussion is.

Mark Pilgrim

1. Diff-like highlighting of changes within posts is an incredibly useful feature that all news aggregators should support.

2. Dave’s bandwidth claim is bogus. Winer Watcher uses a system of distributed mirrors and never touches scripting.com directly. If WW ceased to exist, Dave’s bandwidth bill would change by precisely zero.

3. Dave’s copyright claim is bogus. Winer Watcher is no more infringing than these existing syndication services:

http://www.oreillynet.com/meerkat/?c=584&t=ALL http://newsisfree.com/sources/info/336/

[...]

For the record, Winer Watcher was started because Dave wrote a series of posts totally lashing out at Blogger, Movable Type, Google, Tim Bray, and myself, and then edited them within hours to erase all traces of his own slanderous flaming. This kind of slander is NOT ACCEPTABLE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, and the fact that he seems to know this at some level and edits/deletes it later only makes it worse. WW tracks this kind of Orwellian rewriting of history and displays it. It would be more useful if it could distinguish between a relevant edit and a typo correction, but sometimes even a single word is relevant, so I don’t know how it could tell.

Bill Brown

Dave: you’re free to delete anything you want and do whatever you want on your blog. It’s not wrong, it’s just a pain in the ass for your regular readers. I might read in the morning and revisit by afternoon to a completely different page, one who’s mood and tone have changed thoroughly. I personally don’t like that because I’m hardly confident in my previous recollection -- it’s unsettling.

Mark Pilgrim

For the record, here is a Scripting News post he posted on July 8 2003 and subsequently deleted (but Winer Watcher caught it):

“”“ There’s more to the story, in re Mark’s control of the RSS validator. It seems people who accuse me of controlling RSS may have missed that Mark and Sam have actually been exerting silent control by changing key aspects of the validator, without telling anyone they were doing it. Mark’s flaming in this thread, which caught the attention of quite a few people as being extrordinarily mean, even for Mark, was in exactly the area he wouldn’t want you to look in the validator. I want to disclaim that I control RSS, folks, because since the RSS 2.0 spec was frozen, it was Mark and Sam that controlled it, not me. Ironically, no one knew. ”“”

Rogers Cadenhead

Regardless of the legality, though, it seems particularly ill-timed. If the Echo Project is going to move anyone beyond the intractable political fights over RSS, it’s counterproductive to find novel new ways to piss each other off.

The thread then devolves in to an argument about whether Mark’s tool is a copyright infringment or is protected by “fair use”, at which point I tuned out (there are good arguments either way on that one).

Having thought things over, I love the functionality of the tool (Dave’s edits have caught me out on more than one occasion) but I am uncomfortable with the way it is being used to attack Dave’s personality. Point 4 of Rebecca Blood’s guide to weblog ethics is worth reading here: editing entries is best avoided, and when they are edited they should be accompanied by an addendum. Weblogs are a personal medium, but that does not absolve people from responsibility for what they have written. My own policy is to clearly mark any alterations I make to posts (with the exception of spelling mistakes), and I usually avoid making any edits at all. Dave’s policy is to edit his blog “live” until 10pm. when the day’s entries become frozen. It is not so much this policy that is under fire as the scale of Dave’s edits, and the nature of the material he later deletes.

If Winer Watcher was available as a standalone tool, I would use it. As a public resource, it does feel a little below the belt.

This is Sitting nervously on the fence by Simon Willison, posted on 11th July 2003.

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