San Francisco Columnist and longtime Well conference host Jon Carroll weighs in on the blogger code of conduct controversy today, comparing it to the lessons learned on the Well over the past twenty years. Good stuff. I liked this part in particular:

Almost as soon as the Well started, the calls went out: There should be rules. The people online then were disproportionately libertarian. They were First Amendment absolutists. Say what you want, and let the community sort it out. Good information will drive out bad.

But then exceptions began to spring up. What do you do about mild-mannered crazy people? What do you do about angry crazy people? What about posting someone’s home phone number without his permission? What about sneaking into a private women’s conference by pretending to be a woman? (On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.) What about fraud? No one wanted to do anything to alert the authorities to our cool little secret fort; on the other hand, no one wanted the Well to become hopelessly polluted.

Various codes of ethics were proposed. Codes turn the quarrelsome into lawyers. People found ways to skirt the spirit of the codes. And bad guys just ignored them, which is what bad guys do. Voluntary codes work only with people who approve of voluntary codes.

The Well continues. It’s not the coolest place around anymore; it’s hardly on the radar. But it’s a calmer place, in part because 20 years is 100 years in cyber time, and the community has grown wiser even if the participants have not.