One of the class projects for my WordPress college course involved the students working together on a single broken post to find all the errors in the content. Typically, this is a quick test of their basic coding skills, but this quarter’s students are not typical. They are exceptional.
The goal was to identify and fix typical errors found in content. This is an often overlooked issue with any site development. Web designers and developers are quick to leap into the code to find the issue, overlooking the fact that is it often the user generated content, the code in the posts and articles, that cause the break in the design. Many site errors are caused by you or the client pasting in word processing or website content into the Visual Editor of WordPress, bringing with it all the clutter code that cripples the site when the page is published. I’ve spent hours trying to fix sites clients screwed up, only to find the issue in the post not the whole site.
The students discovered most of the errors as part of the exercise. What several of them did with the errors to resolve the crippled code issues was fascinating, and telling. I’m sure many of us might make the same decisions, making this an ideal blog exercise.
One of the errors was with a malformed hyperlink code. The HTML Anchor tag (link tag) wasn’t closed, so the link ran all the way down the page. Instead of closing the tag, one student removed the link, justifying his action with “there were too many links in the article anyway.”
Many in the class, including myself, were stunned by his action and laughed at his assumption.
“What if that link substantiated and justified the entire purpose of the article, and the rest are just supporting documentation?”
Another student changed all the heading tags, HTML tags that weren’t broken or part of the problems on the web page, because they didn’t like how they looked.
“What if the author wanted those heading styles for their article? What if the WordPress Theme were to change, and the heading choices were on purpose and won’t work in the new Theme?”
Another assumption, and a lesson for myself, and the students, and now you.
The old saying is that when you assume, you make an ass out of you (u) and me. When editing other people’s content and code, be careful what assumptions you make.
Making such sweeping assumptions without running them by the author or site owner calls into play another old adage called The Law of Retroaction: It is better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.
Pace Smith was quite eloquent summing up her feelings on the subject:
You know what I think of people who ask for forgiveness, not permission? I think they’re inconsiderate jerks.
How would you feel if your spouse borrowed your car keys without asking, leaving you stranded at home all day, and then apologized for it afterwards? I don’t know about you, but I’d think your spouse was an inconsiderate jerk.
How would you feel if your spouse cheated on you, let you know afterwards, and asked for forgiveness? Sounds like a pretty inconsiderate and jerky thing to do, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it be better to ask for permission instead? Discuss what needs aren’t being met and how to make it better? Maybe figure out ways to improve the relationship as-is, maybe consider polyamory? By talking about it rather than acting first?
…My first guess is that they believe it’s a good thing to be considerate of others whom you respect. If, for instance, you don’t respect your parents, then just do whatever you want and ask for forgiveness afterwards. Don’t limit yourself by the rules of The Man. Damn The Man and don’t ask Him for permission. I can get behind that. Flout the rules if you disagree with them. Cool, more power to ya.
She is right. Talk about it first. Sure, there are times when you may decide to push the boundaries and live with the consequences, but there are many more times when permission is required before you start breaking down fences.
Bloggers thrive on pushing boundaries, asking for forgiveness when necessary – or caught. It’s part of the risk-taking involved in having your say freely, driving home a hard point or perspective against the beliefs of others.
Managing Communities describes assumptions and asking for forgiveness, calling it “building your business on corpses:”
You want to have a solid history and a foundation build upon solid practices and respect. Well, at least I do. This is the importance of respecting someone else’s space.
When it comes to online community, operating under a strategy of “act first, ask questions later” is dangerous. It’s like building on top of an ancient burial ground. Maybe you’ll be OK, but there is always the chance that, one day, you’ll wake up with a zombie standing over you.
Today’s blog exercise is to consider checking your assumptions at the door, and debate the issue of asking for forgiveness before charging in to determine how you use both of these in your blog and web writing.
“I’m just a bull in a China shop” is a great description of many bloggers. They charge in with their opinions and assumptions and let their readers get the full brunt of their feelings on the subject, not taking into account the validity of their position nor damage that may be done by their actions.
In a blog exercise about judging a book by its cover, I talked about the assumptions often made with the littlest of information, often making wrong conclusions. Without offering enough information and links to substantiation, how can readers trust you?
In the exercise on site policies and ethics, I shared the importance of creating trust with your readers by stating clearly what your policies are, and where you draw the line in the cement when it comes to ethical conduct.
In another blog exercise, we talked about the etiquette of blogging, setting standards, and adhering to them as part of building your community.
Review these and explore your site to look for times when you made sweeping assumptions without backing them up with solid proof and support. If you chose to publish something based upon the premise of asking for forgiveness, examine your reasons. Was the risk worth it? Did it accomplish its goal?
As with many of these blog exercises, there are no right or wrong answers. As bloggers, it is our job to risk, to say what others won’t, to open doors left closed too long, to boldly go where no one has gone before…it is also our responsibility to not abuse nor assume in a way that harms others or ourselves.
Our readership community wants and needs to trust us. They don’t want our assumptions. They want to be informed, entertained, stimulated, and even titillated, not abused.
Go forward with your assumptions and requests for forgiveness informed and conscious of your actions. The more intention behind your blogging, the more thoughtful actions behind each keystroke, the better you will blog.