Blogs are everywhere!

Blogs emerged as online diaries where people would share their thoughts and day to day activities. It was a marginal phenomenon, adopted mainly by Internet pioneers and tech-savvy individuals. But that was five years ago. Over this period blogs evolved into complex content management platforms where you can find almost any kind of information. They are everywhere, competing head to head with mainstream media.

But they are not reliable. Are they?

Despite that surge in popularity, however, many people still regard blogs as unreliable sources of information. After all they are written by individuals and not by professional journalists or writers, they have no filters or editors, they might be biased… or so the argument goes.

In reality it is the practice of a small number of bloggers that end up inking the whole blogosphere. The most popular blogs on the Internet are just as responsible as mainstream newspapers or magazines.

How do we solve this problem?

The question than becomes: how do we solve that credibility problem of the blogosphere? Simple, make bloggers follow some rules. Do not get me wrong here, I do not think that those rules should be enforced or created by a single authority like Tim O’Reilly proposed with his “Code of Conduct”.

Instead those rules should emerge naturally, like a self-regulating mechanism. Integrity and ethics are values that can not be forced into someone’s work. Below you will find 10 rules for a more responsible blogging. Remember that those are suggestions, we do not feel like we can say what bloggers should or should not do.

10 Rules for Responsible Blogging

1. Check your facts: technology makes it incredibly easy to produce and share content nowadays. The result is that information is spreading like fire through social networks, bookmarking sites and blogs. Unfortunately we are talking about both correct and incorrect information. Make sure to check your facts before publishing posts or articles, else you might not only look dumb, but also misinform and damage other people.

2. Respect Copyright Law: people wrongly associate online content with public domain content. Did you know that every published material is copyrighted even if it does not show a copyright notice? More importantly, even if you remove the copyrighted content after the author contacts you the copyright infringement will still exist. Learn the basics of the Copyright Law to avoid costly mistakes (you can read more about it on the article “12 Do’s and Dont’s of the Copyright Law”).

3. Consider the implications: as mentioned before information on the Internet spreads like fire. Consider the implications of what you write, and remember that once you hit “Publish” you will immediately lose control over those words. The Kathy Sierra case is a good example, maybe what was supposed to be a joke (even if a quite harsh one) ended up damaging her career and arousing a discussion on the whole blogosphere.

4. Control the comments: anything that is published on your blog is your responsibility; that means that you should control not only the information that you include on the posts and articles but also what your readers add through the comments. First of all you could create a comment policy and attach a link to the comment form. This will ensure that readers are aware of what they can and can not say in a comment. You can check an example of a comment policy on Problogger.net.

5. Give credit where credit is due: always reference your sources. If you do not want to mention an external website on your content just add a link at the end of the post saying “Via: Reference.com”. This practice is not only important under an ethical point of view, but it also ensures that readers can eventually dig to the root of the facts. Secondly even if you are using free templates or open source software like WordPress make sure to credit the authors.

6. Disclose professional relationships: if you work for a company or institution disclose it on the “About” page. Explicitly declare that the views expressed on the blog are yours and not the ones from your employer (unless you are blogging for that employer, obviously). A good example of such disclosure can be seen on TechCrunch. Check the bottom of the “About” page and you will see that Michael Arrington discloses all the companies that he participates or has invested in.

7. Disclose sponsored posts: sponsored reviews represent an efficient way for advertisers to build buzz and for bloggers to earn money. It is essential, however, that you make your position regarding those posts transparent in front of your readers. First of all you can insert a disclosure notice at the end of the sponsored post. Secondly you can create a dedicated page on your blog outlining how sponsored reviews will be treated and what the readers should expect from them.

8. Be transparent with affiliate links: many affiliate marketers use techniques like “link cloaking” so that readers are not able to identify affiliate links. While this method might increase your revenues on the short term it will probably be a bad idea over the long run. A deceived visitor is a lost visitor. Focus and on creating value for the reader and you will not even need to hide your affiliate links; if people believe in your work they will certainly accept your recommendations for products.

9. Respect Tax Law: bloggers and webmasters tend to equate online money with tax-free. Under the U.S. Law any income you make is taxable. If you win money playing online poker you will need to pay taxes. If you earn money through donations on your site you will need to pay taxes. The key factor is whether your blog is a hobby or a business. There is no definitive answer for this question, but a good starting point is whether your earnings are higher than your expenses. Do not forget to take into consideration the contributing writers as well. If you pay them more than $600 yearly you will need to file a 1099 form. You can read more about the Tax Law on the IRS website.

10. Avoid “blackhat” methods: there will always be people trying to game the system, trying to find the shortcuts. Guess what, there are no shortcuts. If you want to make your blog or website popular or profitable just work hard and the results will come. What is more important, the results from hard work are solid, they will not vanish over night. By “blackhat” methods we mean trying to cheat social bookmarking sites (i.e. buying Diggs), trying to cheat search engines (i.e. hiding text behind images) and the like. Those methods certainly will bring some benefits, but they are not sustainable. It is like building a sand castle, sooner or later the sea will catch up with you (if you are looking for some “whitehat” methods read the article “25 Tips to Optimize your Blog“).

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– Daniel Scocco

29 Responses to “10 Rules for Responsible Blogging”

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  2. Daniel, awesome article as always. I like these rules much much much better than the “Code of Conduct”. I definitely picked up a few good pointers from this one.

  3. Brian, thanks for stopping by.

    The Code of Conduct does have some good points also, I just think it is not structured in a pragmatic and consice way.

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  5. Great article! Very informative, and one that bloggers should definitely read! Am passing this on to my blogger friends for sure!

  6. I’d like to question the following statement in your post:

    “After all they are written by individuals and not by professional journalists or writers, they have no filters or editors, they might be biased

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  9. Mark,

    We agree that the statement doesn’t hold water. Which is why in the next paragraph Daniel states “In reality it is the practice of a small number of bloggers that end up inking the whole blogosphere.”

  10. Mark, yeah its like Jarrod said, the statement is what some people think in regard of the blogosphere. It is not always that way, in fact it is often the opposite.

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  19. hello. this is really a great article but i’d like to ask a bit about the taxes thing. if i’m a blogger from another country and i’m being paid by an American company, does this mean i still have to pay taxes to the American government?

  20. Sirok,

    No, you only pay taxes to the American Government if you are a resident of the United States, or on some sort of work visa.

    This is one reason why it is advantageous to outsource work to other countries.

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  24. Hi there , Daniel.

    As one directly involved into stop Tim O`Reilly and his code of control freedom of speach of bloggers, I`m happy I see you`re also not very agree with his idea. :-)
    As by now is clear, that over-reaction of Tim was a use of a local importance-less event to raise up visitors to his blog-site just before his famous web 2 conferrence = read it free advertising.

    If I`m allowed, I`ll make few “adjustments”.

    1, 3, somehow 4, related to 6 :
    Blogging – as hobby, for money, as job, whatever – is a personal option. There for blogs are not breakin-news site. Are personal position, expression of personal opinion, face to face to something outthere. This is so important that I think deny anything else. Unfortunately, is not clear enough stated anywhere, so both bloggers and blog readers to have it in mind when write or read. As this rule is preserved (not news, blogger opinion about the news), together with 2 and 5, blogger will build around him a community of people sharing same thoughts, opinions, intentions.

    7, 8 :
    Maybe I`m wrong, but I don`t want to hurt inteligence of a blog reader. Most of bloggers attempt to make some money with them blog/site, at least to cover them online expenses. Some manage to, some just in part, some can`t. Most people I know use to not click on a affiliate link. Of course, is nothing wrong to do that, you may help a friend do more. But is natural human beings behavior to not want to be “under”… yet, hidding affiliate link is highly controversial. Is 50/50 fro me that, but, using a propper style (the best is to keep blooging style), a review not need to be marked with “this is sponsored” badge. Becouse I think (hope) the review is made for something is spirit of the blog, completing the usual informations and opinion. If I`ll blog about cats, is natural I`ll try to have sponsored reviews of cats`s related sites-offers-whatever. Use of a “this is sponsored” will actually cut off my credibility. But if on same cats blog I`ll review a shoping cart site or a car site, that`s so obviously sponsored, that saying it would be useless and again, repeating it would cut off my credibility among cat lovers … In my humble view, this is again related to fact that blogs are for personal opinions not for rough news …

    9 :
    “Pay your taxes according to your country – local laws. Think that, despite politicians founds abduction, still some percents of those money will reach to proper destinations – culture, education, medicine, research, social help and so on.”

    10 : 101% agree.

    My 2 cents.

  25. [...] Be aware of your responsibility. Check your facts, consider the implications, control the comments, give credit where credit is due, disclose professional relationships, disclose sponsored posts, avoid “blackhat” methods. [10 Rules for Responsible Blogging] [...]

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