Infinite Loop 22: Web Site Standards

On March 19, 2001, in Features, by David K Schultz

One does
not only wish to be understood when one writes;
one wishes just as much surely not to be
understood … all … select their audience when
they wish to communicate; and choosing that, one
at the same time erects barriers against “the
others.” All the more subtle laws of any style
have their origin at this point: they at the same
time keep away, create a distance, forbid “entrance,”
understanding, as said above — while they
open the ears of those whose ears are related
to ours.”

(Nietzsche — The Joyful Science.)

Last week I noticed that many sites
were linking to a particular article. It aroused
my innate curiosity; and besides, the comments
associated with the links described it as “humorous
… insightful.” Well, I might learn something
and have a laugh, so I checked it out. I cannot
express the disappointment I felt when I finally
read the article, for it was neither humorous
nor insightful. Another notch down in Mac Web
journalism, I thought.

The obvious tip off (to me) that
this was not a serious piece was that the author
makes an evaluative ranking with no standards
for the ranking. I know, I know, it was not his
intent, as I will show. It appeared to
be satire, yet was not, and I will show why. But
as long as it was brought up (by me), I might
as well try to answer two questions since no one
else is asking them: On
what justified standards
should a web site be judged and ranked?
And, second question: What makes a story linkworthy?

In the course of this article I
will lay down challenge to Editors and surfers
alike. The answers to these questions are extremely
hard to get at. As a philosopher, though, that
is just the way I like it! So here are the challenges:

  • What makes
    a good Mac Web site good?

And specifically to Editors I lay
down this challenge:

  • What standards
    do you use for determining what to link to?
    What constitutes a “linkworthy”
    story?

The challenge is to answer both
without begging
the question
.

Linkworthy?

[Before I say anything please understand
this: I know people will say I missed the point
of the article in question. One Editor at another
site does seem to have gotten the point but missed
the point gotten, when he called the article a
venting of "frustration" (see comments
below). But I think the article raises larger
issues — don't confuse the larger issues
with my reading of the article. These larger issues
need to be addressed even if this article never
existed. And, what is of supreme importance is
that I am proposing a reading of the SUBTEXT
of the article, not the TEXT. It is this subtext
(innuendo, if you will) I focus on, which few
read. The subtext is not clear though the text
may be, and the subtext suggests the real intent.]

The article in question was one
done at a site called MyMac.com. The title is
“Great Web Sites.” It was supposed to be a humorous
satire, I think. This is how everyone read it
anyway, if people did read it (and think about
it) before they linked to
it. It wasn’t clear at all to me what the
point was. For, it crossed lines of artistic satire
into personal attack (in fact, the article lacked
artistic merit all together). Yet there were clues
all over the place if one read closely enough.

The first thing that few noticed,
which showed something else was up, is that the
writer makes an evaluative
judgment of rank for no reason. As
I read I was expecting to find some kind of standard
upon which the “great web sites” were ranked,
even in an ostensibly satirical piece. But there
were none, not even assumed ones I could see (I
will propose some later — maybe). So what
was the point? It seems that the point
is many “great” web sites are going
away. We all know about MacWeek, after all. But
if one reads closely this cannot be the intention.
For the author goes into personal attacks and
this betrays his real intent — satire might
be biting, but it doesn’t break the skin when
truly artistic. The subtext is anger and bitterness,
or as one Editor put it, “frustration,”
which issued in personal attacks which have no
place on the Mac Web.

So let me give an example from
the article. But on behalf of journalistic integrity,
something few have on the Mac Web, let me set
the record straight: I have a personal interest
here, an interest to defend a friend, and a promise
to keep. I guess I am a loyal sort of guy. It
is only right that you know this. With that said

Mr. Robertson pokes fun at the deceased
MacOS daily site. MacOS daily was a site created
by one of the very first Mac webmasters ever to
appear on the scene, the one who in fact gave
Charles
W. Moore
his start in writing on the Mac Web.
Mr. Robertson makes comments about how this person
was out to get rich, and so on. And alas the site
is gone and this person has disappeared. Mr. Robertson
seems proud of this fact, sadly enough. We are
left to believe this person has left the Mac Web
to live in Kierkegaardian
despair
.

To fill in the record (fair and
balanced as always). Mr. Robertson has only met
this person twice (by his own count), and that
was briefly, something like “seeing him”
he told me. But I talk with this person, or at
least email with him, once a month, when our schedules
fit. At present, the one-time CEO of MacOS daily
is living a flourishing life (as Aristotle
uses
the term) as a university student in
a beautiful part of the country, enjoying his
youth, discovering love, and majoring in Pre-law
and philosophy (!!). He is doing very well,
and lacks any bitterness. He is not sitting alone
at night, bitter because of what might have been,
or wishing for what was lost. And neither is he
writing attack pieces on others who are not in
a position to respond. He is not thinking he is
something when he is nothing. He doesn’t need
the web to believe he is someone important, someone
with a future. He’ll be fine.

The subtext of the piece was not
an idea or some original thought. It was frustration,
bitterness, and hate even, issuing in personal
attacks. I don’t care if it’s a Windows site or
a Mac site — it doesn’t belong on the Mac
Web and is thus not linkworthy. Those who promote
it are promoting these vices, some intentionally
and some unintentionally. Suppose too: Even if
it was true (which itis not)? Do we need to write
it? Dear readers: There are many stories that
could be told about editors on the Mac Web, but
some things are still sacrosanct to some.
Leave it alone — we don’t need to air our
dirty laundry in public, for once it starts it
will not stop, I assure you of that. It would
be a disaster for the mac web to move in the direction
of petty fights and mean innuendo. It would kill
the Mac Web. THAT is what I am concerned about.

Am I ranting? Yes. Moral indignation
it is called. Perfectly acceptable. After all,
there are rants, and then there are rants.

Forget about this article for a
second. Mr. Robertson is not that important to
my argument. Whenever anyone uses the term “great”
it is an evaluative term like “good” and “bad.”
But
evaluations are based, I would argue, on standards,
or at least paradigms of some kind, by
which the members of the
set being ranked are ordered. I
will assume this is the case though the emotivists
(those who believe that an evaluative judgment
like “Hitler was evil” expresses only their emotional
reaction to Hitler and not a fact about Hitler’s
character) will want to challenge this. Mr. Robertson
proposed none but he does unintentionally
raise the issue, which I am going to do here in
a fully intentional
way.

Now at this point you are supposed
to be saying, “You are taking this much too seriously,
philosophy boy. The ‘Net is a place were any ol’
Joe can post a rant, so lighten up dude. It was
all in fun.” To which I respond: No, the inverse
is the case — it seems everyone took this
piece as linkworthy (at least according to the
numbers of links I saw at various sites) when
in my estimation it was not. And besides, it was
not in fun — it included personal attacks
out of bitterness and frustration for some reason.
Need we link to articles that attack others in
unfair ways, dear Editors? Do you ask yourselves
this before you link? I am worried it was taken
seriously rather than perceived as another “ol’
Joe posting a rant,” for that is all it was, yet
the comments about the article suggested otherwise.

Life is short — what
are we doing with our lives here people? We’re
spending two minutes of our precious lives reading
these articles? People who just go out and attack
out of frustration when the other cannot respond?
What a waste. That two minutes is forever gone.
Are we better people for it? Nope. I was so disappointed.
We can do better than this dear Editors, readers,
and writers, if we harness the potential for good
the Web presents us with at this point in history.

The Problem of Standards:
The Challenge Stated — What Makes A Good
Mac Web Site Good?

I will look at the question of standards
for web sites here. I will address it more in
a part two of this article. For now I simply raise
the problem for your consideration

I am approaching this as a philosopher,
mind you, using a Socratic method of sorts trying
to figure the answer. So I will propose answers
and reject them in hopes of finding one against
which no objection can be raised. I don’t even
know if I will find any standards. In fact, if
there are no standards then the Mac Web is nothing
more than an assortment of people belching hot
electrons for their own entertainment value, and,
for a few, to earn a living; it becomes a vehicle
for assisting those who do not feel important
in our society to feel important in a subculture,
and nothing more (as if one’s self-worth can be
measured by his activity on the web
— the best people to be on the web are the
one’s who don’t need it). But it is much
more than this, isn’t it? Isn’t the Mac Web as
different as the company that inspires it? Or
have we fallen below Apple’s own standards?

First, we must get clear on the
following question: The standards are standards
for what? A Mac Web site obviously. But what about
such a site are we ranking? We need some property
that a site must possess and then set down conditions
for determining if in fact it possesses that property.
So what is this property? Quality? Too broad.
Content? Nope: That might be a standard in the
first place, and so we’d be begging
the question
to adopt it. Usefulness? Nope
— another possible standard. Activity in
forums? Again, this might be a standard. It
is in fact very hard to say exactly what makes
a good Mac Web site good without begging
questions
when it comes to stating the property
being evaluated by the standards in the first
place.

Let me illustrate. Joe says, “Site
X is a good web site.” Ask him, “Why?” He says
“Content.” Ask him why content makes a good site
good. He will say “Content is good.” Oops! We’ve
just argued in a circle. Now this applies to usefulness,
profitability, forum activity, news accuracy,
and all the others.

So I ask again, “What makes
a good Mac Web site good?” Obvious answer: Goodness.
Yes, but the point is what does “goodness” mean
when applied to a web site? I do not necessarily
mean moral goodness here, for “goodness”
is used in many ways, and things can be called
“good” without being morally good, e.g.,
my Powerbook is good but not morally good. I do
think that there is a moral element to
much we see on the web, obviously. But let me
get back to the point: Can someone answer “What
makes a good Mac Web site good?” in a noncircular
way? Or let me ask this: Does it even make sense
to say a web site has the property of goodness?
Isn’t that reserved for objects like works of
art, moral character, a life, and power tools?

Now we are seeing why the author
with whom I started this article didn’t propose
standards (other than it was an idiosyncratic
rant): It’s VERY hard to do, and takes a great
deal of thought. It is not a simple question of
business models and
all that either. We are on a level at which I
am questioning the very language we use, and so
the thoughts we think (since language and thought
seem to be the same — perhaps) about the
Mac Web. If one does not know what makes a good
web site good, he cannot form standards for determining
the goodness of a web site, can he? Or must we
live with such circularity?

At this point someone might rightly
say, “The goodness of a good Mac Web site is just
something you see, like you see the truth
of ‘2+2=4′.” Maybe. But I have learned that when
this language is used it only shows one has not
thought hard enough. For it is reasonable to ask,
“What is it you see anyway? And how do
you know you are seeing it for what it is and
not dreaming or hallucinating?” That is what I
want to get at. To date, as far as I know, no
one has even attempted an answer to this.

So again, I lay down this challenge
to Editors and macsurfers alike:

  • What makes
    a good Mac Web site good?

And specifically to Editors I lay
down this challenge:

  • What standards
    do you use for determining what to link to?
    What constitutes a “linkworthy”
    story?

The challenge is to answer both
without begging
the question
.

Are there standards? Are there
objective standards? I will address this in the
next article. But at this point my only concern
is to get you to think about it …

… for there is an awful
lot of the opposite going on out there.

Email David
Schultz

 

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