“There’s something that’s really bothering me that I want to tell you about… but I can’t…”
“There’s someone I think is an egotistical jerk. I’m sure you all know who I’m talking about.”
“I want to write about a certain blogger who did ____, but I don’t want to stir the pot.”
“Certain bloggers have been writing really bad things about ____, and it makes me mad… But I shouldn’t say more”
I read the excellent comments on my last post and they really gave me some food for thought. I was beating myself up about making assumptions, not thinking about the fact that the creation of meaning is a two-way street. Yes, I made assumptions and wrote something immature in response, but Stephen Abram wrote something that was so vague and open to misunderstanding that a number of people took his comments to be offensive. Mark made the very important point that the writer cannot control how people will interpret things, and therefore, it is important that we bloggers make an effort to be clear in our meaning. You can’t expect people to e-mail you to ask you what you meant. We can’t read your mind. I’m not a big believer in the notion that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all, but I do believe that if you can’t be specific about what you want to discuss on your blog, don’t write it. If you have to explain what you wrote after the fact, then you should have been more specific in the first place.
Vague posts are probably the thing that annoys and frustrates me most in the blogosphere. People often complain about other bloggers or about their job, but in such unspecific ways that it just annoys most of their readers. If it’s a post complaining about someone, but is so unspecific that only two or three people know who you’re actually referring to, it’s confusing to your readers and open to misinterpretation. What if one of your faithful readers thinks that you are writing about them? If it’s a post complaining about things going on in the blogosphere that bother you with no specifics, you could end up offending a lot of people whom you were not referring to at all. Steven Cohen’s “diatribe” from December is a great example of a post that offers no specifics, probably annoyed a lot of people, and confused a good number of his readers. When I read a post like that, I honestly feel like unsubscribing to the blog, because I’m obviously not enough of an insider to know who and what the blogger’s talking about.
Yes, I often write things that are opinionated and controversial, but I’m not afraid to take a 100% stand on things. And if I can’t “name names” or be specific, I won’t write about it at all. There are lots of things I have wanted to write about but I haven’t, either because I didn’t want to confront people, hurt people’s feelings, or I just wasn’t able to discuss it fully. This is not aimed at anyone in particular, since I don’t want to be misunderstood, but it is kind of cowardly to make vague, angry comments and then hide behind them. Are we writing library blogs or Page Six? “A certain blogger celebrity IM’ed me the other day to tell me that this other blogger was…” If you can’t be more specific, don’t write it at all.
A few weeks ago, Michael Casey was offended by a comment I wrote on my blog. I totally didn’t mean to offend him; it truly was the last thing from my mind. I happen to think he’s a swell guy and I like his blog. But I apologized. I accepted some of the blame for not being clear enough, even though he totally misinterpreted what I wrote since I didn’t have any malice on my mind. So yes, I’m sorry that I wrote what I wrote about what Stephen Abram wrote, but I still did think what he wrote didn’t seem very nice and was extremely vague.
So I’ll try and see everything y’all write in the best light possible, but y’all need to try and avoid being intentionally vague for the purpose of ranting about something that bothers you.
Don’t forget Cohen’s “Brain Freeze,” the ne plus ultra of “I could blog this but I’d have to kill you” posts: http://www.librarystuff.net/2005/12/brain-freeze.html
That one cracks me up every time.
When a blogger you like rips on unspecified people, it’s possible to just email them and say “what are you talking about?” Most library bloggers are pretty accessible, after all. I tried this recently with a blogger I greatly enjoy and respect. She had written a post that I found confusing; she was ripping on someone, but I wasn’t sure who or why. I emailed her and she sent me a great reply, even though she didn’t know me at all. Now, I might prefer that she had been more specific in her original post, but at least I now feel like I understand her point of view *and* I didn’t start a flame war *and* I started a brief correspondence that I hope will continue in the future.
Which is not just to say “yay me!”; I have let rip more times than I care to remember on listservs and the like. I expect this is a lesson I’ll have to learn again and again.
Lastly, it occurred to me that another faux quote for the head of this post could be “I have here in my hand a list of 57 bloggers known to me to be members of the anti-Library-2.0 party…” Now I’m not saying that Abram or Cohen or anyone is equivalent to McCarthy, I just think that those echoes are part of what we object to in these sweeping statements.
Eh. It’s a tradeoff. I sometimes play the vague card. I do it when I’m a lot more interested in discussing (and, let us hope, resolving) a problem than in casting aspersions at specific people.
And here, let me give an example: I’ve got a post in the pipeline — a long way down the pipeline — that will exemplify this approach, and I hope partially justify it. How’s that for vague? 🙂
I read “On being vague in the online medium, with no apology.” I use the services of reference librarians frequently. I am visually challenged and memory challenged (I have a history of severe blows to the head). More often than not, when reference librarians try to teach me how to do some technical research, reservation or printing process, I don’t get it. (However, I am slowly making progress.) I found your website in the October, 2005, issue of Library Journal. So, I wasn’t sure what a blog was, but now I have a few clues. Hopefully, I will have enough time to return to your web site. My goal is to read, at my own slow pace, about reference librarian work. I hope to thereby get over whatever obstacles are preventing me from learning from face-to-face reference-librarian encounters and/or discover new research technologies. (The key is reading at my own pace, as constrasted with catching something on the run between the person in front of me and the person behind me in the reference librarian line.) I did not have an e-mail account. When I found out I could not send this comment without an e-mail address, then I asked our 20 year-old son to help me get the above e-mail address. In the past, I have not had much success in using e-mail. I would, however, like to change that problem since I need to learn how to use e-mail to take more college classes.
[…] Nice <a href=”http://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/index.php/2006/01/27/on-being-vague-in-the-online-medium-with-no-apology/”>quote</a> for a first post…<blockquote>” I’m not a big believer in the notion that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all, but I do believe that if you can’t be specific about what you want to discuss on your blog, don’t write it. If you have to explain what you wrote after the fact, then you should have been more specific in the first place.”</blockquote> […]
[…] Nice quote for a first post… ” I’m not a big believer in the notion that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all, but I do believe that if you can’t be specific about what you want to discuss on your blog, don’t write it. If you have to explain what you wrote after the fact, then you should have been more specific in the first place.” […]
Meredith, you wrote:
“Steven Cohen’s “diatribe” from December is a great example of a post that offers no specifics, probably annoyed a lot of people, and confused a good number of his readers. When I read a post like that, I honestly feel like unsubscribing to the blog.”
Did you unsubscribe? If so, I’m sorry. If you didn’t, I wonder why? I think I’m allowed to be a bit vague every now and then. Blogging can be a stress reliever and that’s what I use it for sometimes. I certainly feel much better after writing those two posts. Maybe it will even make me a better blogger…