The Internets have always been a place that cultivates the odd duck, the passionate one, the recondite techie who doesn't quite fit in. Lately, it seems that, just like being an airline passenger, things are getting a bit nastier as we get more crowded in the clouds. The friendly skies are somewhat less so.
Barry Ritholtz, a financial journalist and speaker, has this to say to warn people who are about to post a comment on his blog the Big Picture:
"Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data, ability to repeat discredited memes, and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Also, be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor even implied. Any irrelevancies you can mention will also be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous."
Of course, one could turn off comments on one's site completely. Or at least try to vet the comments that are coming through to a "real" email address, something other than a random Webmail account. But if the whole nature of the Web is to improve community and bring about better discussions, this can be counter-productive.
Then there is this frightening site, The Blacklist, which is coming online next week at theblackli.st. "The purpose of this website is to expose people that suck and save others from wasting their time, energy or money on them." (What you don't know the .st domain? It refers to two small islands off the coast of West Africa, yet another national domain that has been co-opted for commerce.) Say your boss has done you wrong and you want to level the score. You bring up this site and post some information (anonymously, of course). While the owners (who aren't on the whois registry of course) say they aren't interested in slander, the potential for this site to be an open chest wound loom large.
Of course, if no one posts anyone to this list, it becomes less useful and less potent. But can the Internets ignore something so tempting? I don't know. Especially since the owners will pay a buck per submission, and are advertising on Craigslist.
What many sites, including ReadWriteWeb, are doing is bringing on board folks who understand online communities and have direct community management responsibilities. This is becoming an increasingly important position, and it requires a rare skill of technological and psychological flair and finesse. I think more enterprises should consider this a formal requirement for any modern website.
I think that Ritholtz, in an odd way, sums things up nicely. Perhaps if we all took a moment to chill and just take a couple of deep breaths that might help. Now if we could only work on the airline passengers to ratchet things down next.