Monday, December 17, 2007

why "Art Vandalay" writes Rippling Brainwaves

I was reading On The Meaning of "Coding Horror" (short version: the blogger's a coding horror because all professional coders are--and the best coping tactic is to be humble and teachable), when I followed a link to a past entry, Thirteen Blog Clich├ęs. I agree with most of the list; fortunately, Rippling Brainwaves hasn't had many violations, although that's partly because its basis is unmodified Blogger (items 1, 4, 6, 13). Avoidance of randomly-chosen inline images (2), personal life (8), the topic of blogging (10), mindless link propagation (11), top-n lists (12) happened naturally because I try to publish using two fundamental guidelines: 1) only include content I would honestly find interesting if it was on someone else's blog (content Golden Rule), 2) only link elsewhere if I supplement that link's content with substantial and original commentary. The first exception to guideline two is when I judge that the link must be shared, but I don't have anything to add because the link is just that good or important.

However, the third item in the list, "No Information on the Author", needs further mention. The item's word choices are emphatic, so I'll quote in entirety.

When I find well-written articles on blogs that I want to cite, I take great pains to get the author's name right in my citation. If you've written something worth reading on the internet, you've joined a rare club indeed, and you deserve proper attribution. It's the least I can do.

That's assuming I can find your name.

To be fair, this doesn't happen often. But it shouldn't ever happen. The lack of an "About Me" page-- or a simple name to attach to the author's writing -- is unforgivable. But it's still a problem today. Every time a reader encounters a blog with no name in the byline, no background on the author, and no simple way to click through to find out anything about the author, it strains credulity to the breaking point. It devalues not only the author's writing, but the credibility of blogging in general.

Maintaining a blog of any kind takes quite a bit of effort. It's irrational to expend that kind of effort without putting your name on it so you can benefit from it. And so we can too. It's a win-win scenario for you, Mr. Anonymous.

These are excellent points excellently expressed. I hope the rebuttals are worthy:
  • Like any blogger, I'm always glad to discover that my precious words are connecting to someone rather than going softly into the Void. However, I think it's up to me to decide what I "deserve". Attribution to my proper name isn't one of my goals, because becoming a celebrity is not one of my goals. Crediting the blog and linking back is thanks enough, because that action has the potential to prevent future precious words from going softly into the Void. And by all means, be ethical enough to not plagiarize.
  • This blog is of my ideas, the titular Rippling Brainwaves. It isn't about (original) news. It isn't about (original) research or data, unless you count the anecdotal set of personal experiences I use for reference. The information in this blog, which is mostly opinions anyway, can and should be evaluated on its own merits. In this context lack of a byline should have no bearing on the credulity of the author, the writing itself, or "blogging in general". Here, the ideas reign or fall apart from the author. Think of it like a Turing Test: if a computer was writing this blog, or a roomful of monkeys at typewriters, etc., would that make any difference, in this context? Part of what makes the Web special, in my opinion, is the possibility that here, as in the World of Warcraft, everyone can interact apart from the prejudices and spacetime limitations implicit in face-to-face/"first life". Objectivity++.
  • Given that credibility is not in question, and I function as the writer of this blog, not the topic (item 8, "This Ain't Your Diary"), I'm not convinced that my identity is of interest. I don't mind stating that I am not a famous individual, I do not work at an innovative software start-up or even at one of the huge software corporations, I am not a consistent contributor to any FLOSS projects, and in almost all respects my often-uneventful but quietly-satisfying life is not intriguing. More to the point, I don't want anyone who reads to "color" my words with knowledge of the writer: don't you dare belittle my ideas because of who I am.
  • Probably the most childish or indefensible reason I have for being a "Mr. Anonymous" is anxiety about real-life repercussions from what I write, to both career and personal relationships. I also appreciate the freedom of expression which comes from disregarding such repercussions, and I believe uninhibitedness benefits the readers, too. Who wouldn't like the chance to say whatever one wants? I'm nicer in person, yet I'm guessing that's the typical case. It's rare to hear someone comment, "I don't have road rage. I only have hallway rage."
  • Lastly, I won't dispute the assertion that "Maintaining a blog of any kind takes quite a bit of effort". Perhaps I should be putting in more, at least in order to achieve more frequent updates. Currently, and for the foreseeable future, I will post as I wish, and not until I judge the post is worthy and ready. I started blogging for the same reasons as many others: 1) I enjoy doing it, 2) I feel that I (at times) have valuable thoughts to share, 3) I hunger for greater significance, 4) I wish to give back to the Web, 5) I like communicating with people who have common interests, 6) I relish correcting and counterbalancing what others write. Those reasons are how I "benefit" from the blog. Are those reasons "irrational"? Eh, if you say so. Either way, I can't stop/help myself. As I keep repeating, this blog isn't about me, my career, or my finances. Ad income wouldn't earn much anyhow, and even it did, I wouldn't want to look like someone who's trying to drive Web traffic for profit. The blog is about what I'm compelled to publish. (And inserting ads would morally obligate me to use my real name. Hey, if you're planning to potentially profit off people, you should at least have the decency to tell them where the money's going.)
I'll end by saying that, notwithstanding the above, I'm certainly willing to consider revealing more about my identity. But what information, why, and how is it worth forgoing the benefits of anonymity?


  1. I see through Rippling Brainwaves but you are hidden by some kind of alignment with the source. Is IT really you :)

    My only hope, to move slower than the fastest, so as to be examined in process, is finding work in succession.

    Still I must piece some eyedea's together. Hence this request to review my message on code hygiene.

    Enjoying the surf today in the outlier island I like to refer to as Hunter Thompson did to reality e-state "on the far parameter of a world that might have been."

  2. Why don't you tell us more about your job or employer?

    As is we're just left wondering what it is you want to hide.

  3. Anonymous10:40 PM

    I just discovered your blog, and some of your mind-mapping excursions are thought provoking. I wouldn't mind an easier way to follow these thoughts, say through Twitter. But I can respect the right to anonymity, and admire your candor about sticking with being anonymous.