The other day, in a Cre8asite Forums thread, I wrote the following as a tip for blogging:
Attack other bloggers. Although the flame war is an age old online communication favorite, the person who starts it always loses. Just don’t do it! Criticizing an article with a reasoned argument is GREAT – that’s dialogue. Attacking somebody personally is a big no-no.
And yet, I recently found myself on the defense because I did attack two people in a blog post. Was this because I had intended to attack Joe Clark or Jeff Croft? Certainly not. I admire both of them for their work in accessibility and standards issues. I read Joe’s blog regularly and enjoy it because of his unapologetically forthright voice. I only recently discovered Jeff Croft, but on reading some of his additional material I find his perspective worthwhile and enlightening. In that post, I didn’t think through my comments from the most important perspective – the readers.
Ultimately, your intentions are rarely what is read by your audience. Your words are – and if you haven’t carefully thought through every sentence, then you’ve left yourself wide open to making a mistake. In Jeff Croft’s case, I turned a disappointment in the words he wrote into an attack on his own perspective on accessibility. In Joe Clark’s case, I chose to attach a label to his attitudes and perspectives which was not justified, in a failed attempt to make an example. (It is inevitably a failed example, since the label was unjustified.) This is unfortunate; it turned an otherwise effective blog post into one which I feel is highly flawed due to my excesses.
I’m not going to alter my post – the context of the comments would be lost. My blog will continue to exist as is, warts and all. However, in the future, I think I need to take more care to consider the viewpoint of the reader. It’s always a possibility that the person you’re discussing will read your post. Have you written something that you’re comfortable having that person read? Some people go out looking to stir up trouble – they’re pursuing controversy for attention. That isn’t my goal – I intend to write reasoned commentary. Controversial topics, especially, require very careful writing. In this case, I fell short of my aims.
Today, Jeff has posted a follow-up to his previous controversial accessibility article. In it, he lays out his views systematically and clearly. His thoughts are very reasoned – and it does come down to practicality. Ultimately, the client is the boss – if a client says you can’t do something because he can’t pay for it, then you need to stop. From a business perspective, if a designer gives away “free accessibility with every design!”, that designer is heading for bankruptcy. Jeff does not have any hesitation about building every ounce of accessibility into a site which is reasonable and practical. But, like every designer, he has to draw the line somewhere.