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Web and Internet Ethics For Beginners
What ethical rules do you wish everyone would follow?

 10:53 pm on Mar 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

So after 5 years of playing poker online for a living, I'm going to start to seriously transition toward web development as a new career. Poker has taught me that the difference between the professionals and the amateurs is that pros were fanatical about building their foundation in the beginning. Those who lay a good foundation to their game make it, those who don't die off. So I am going to take this same approach to web publishing. The first step, as I see it, is to get a comprehensive and rigorously thought out ethical base. For a lot of things, this is very simple to do and for a lot of you, you may think that this is very simple when it comes to the web as well. For those of us just starting out, the many lines between ethical and unethical behavior may not be so obvious however.

So please post the ethical codes (or just one or two important pieces to it) that you follow. What are some common ethical traps that a noob may be tempted to fall into? What are some things that other webmasters do that are unethical and make you angry? Have you any other "best practices" words of wisdom you wish more people understood or followed? What are some non-obvious ethical considerations which you think too many people ignore? Any common ethical rules with which you disagree? Anything tangential to this subject you would like to add?

I did search the forums a bit and found a few threads on very specific ethical issues, but not one catch-all. I hope this thread is appropriate and potentially helpful. I'm not going proceed toward any of my web business plans until I have a very rigorous ethical framework established in my mind, so I will appreciate even the smallest contributions very much.




 11:39 pm on Mar 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

Ethical? Unethical?

I know it when I see it.

That's probably not the answer you wanted...


 8:41 am on Mar 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

While I won't presume to lecture on ethics from a content standpoint there are some basic traps many webmasters fall into, and learn from the hard way, early on.

#1 - Unique website, resist the urge to copy what others are doing.
#2 - Copied content, avoid anything "automated", write it yourself.
#3 - Buying links, don't do it else you forfeit long term benefits.
#4 - Learn your site, Study SEO, internal link structures and proper titles.
#5 - Spend more time writing content than looking at your adsense stats.

That last one is a biggie, i've seen threads in which someone is complaining about low returns of whatnot only to figure out their site is 8 days old and they spent 20 minutes creating it but they've spent 6 hours a day looking at adsense and analytics stats. Seriously...


 9:43 am on Mar 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

That last one is a biggie, i've seen threads in which someone is complaining about low returns of whatnot only to figure out their site is 8 days old and they spent 20 minutes creating it but they've spent 6 hours a day looking at adsense and analytics stats. Seriously...

They put that much into it and spend so little watching adsense?

I think JS_Harris has it neatly summed up. My only other thought is that anybody who offers you an easy way to get mega traffic is lying. It takes time and hard work.


 11:19 am on Mar 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

Adding value to the web rather than taking value from the web covers a multitude of sins.


 11:46 am on Mar 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

Personally I subscribe to the highest level of ethics possible, on and off the web. Apart from when it's more convenient not to, obviously.


 2:50 pm on Mar 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

So please post the ethical codes (or just one or two important pieces to it) that you follow
  • Don't steal content - don't copy content
  • Don't fool or play with the visitor
  • Give priority to the ones who need support (interviews)
  • Don't buy links
  • Don't use the sites as "look what I can do!, I'm a master" There are good people doing great things in silence... making noise attract attackers. There is plenty of wannabes using their sites to build their personality.
  • Don't hate me for this...: but insert here and there some advice to make people consider a healthy life (including turning off the computer). Enough of promoting vicious dependency. Plenty of people strive on that and then can't handle their own visitors.


 4:08 pm on Mar 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

So please post the ethical codes (or just one or two important pieces to it) that you follow.

As a web developer . . . not from the aspect of ethics in the sites you create . . .

Don't bash to get work. One of the most frequent "attacks" I find in someone trying to steal my work is that they will pick one one two irrelevant items on the site to exemplify my incompetence. This only shows their weakness. Many of those customers come back, on their knees, and the effect of "negative referral" works against the basher. This is just common sense, and often called kharma.

"I don't know" is a perfectly valid answer. In stead of bull****ing your way to a cashed check, honesty will carry ten times more reward than the short term of a quick project. One of the most annoying things I see in many web message boards is "Hey I just contracted this job and have no clue how to do what they are asking." So they go online to get free advice from those who should be doing the job!

Stick to the meat, even if you're vegetarian. What do I mean by this? I will use the SEO example. SEO folks, don't take offense . . . There are companies out there that will sell "top ten positioning" for 5K or more. Some of them are steadfast, some of them have no ethics at all. I built a customer's site, after a year he calls, and says, "what the heck, I just typed in [keyword] and came up #1 out of 11 million! How did you do that?"

I did not charge him 5K. I build the site correctly, with good solid non-spammy meat. No fat. So when you approach a project, don't allow yourself be diverted by SEO, or Bells and Whistles, or Affiliate programs . . . . keep your eye on the prize, stick with the core concept, what is going to solve this client's problems with this web site.

Long term results are most important of all. I had some examples but removed them . . . the idea here is to think about what will benefit the customer, not YOU. People get antsy and just want the project "off their desk" so they take short cuts, tell them what they want to hear, button up the project in a sorry state, and never look back. Neither does the client. Doing them right the first time insures not only will they return for more business, they will refer you. Priceless.

Remain humble. If there is one thing I've learned in my 13 years of doing this, it's that the more you learn, the bigger the world gets. There's always someone smarter, faster, and better than you and will do it for less money; but more importantly, when you think you know everything, someone or something comes along that proves you still have a lot to learn. This is almost as much an "ethical" consideration as anything else: don't let your ego get in the way of your success.

Of course, there are two rules in business.
1. Don't tell everything you know.
2. See #1. :-)


 7:05 pm on Mar 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

Give as much as you get: This can seem really hard, especially when you're new, but there are always ways to give back to the community. Years ago, in the days before Google Analytics, I was using a free stats tracking service that was really helping me out. I started poking around a bit, and realized that the whole service was run by 1 guy. He was making an Ok living off it, but as the service grew more popular, he was having scaling problems, especially when it came to customer support. He was spending 80% of his time answering posts on his help forums, leaving 20% of his time to handle code upgrades, server side issues, business issues, managing his advertising, etc...

So I volunteered to help out as a Moderator on the help forums. It didn't take any technical skill on my part, really, just had to check in on the forums a few times a day to check for new threads and questions, and answer all those "easy" questions that crop up. A couple other people in different time zones pitched in too, and pretty quick he had 24/7 support on his forum. He got to spend his time working on his code and his business. His customer base grew like mad as he got a rep for having great customer service. Everyone got a better service.

And the people who moderated for him? Talk about getting great contacts and credibility. That was never my intent. I just wanted to help a fellow indy as a bit of payback for all the help I'd gotten over time. But man, it paid off in ways I'd never dreamed of.

REMEBER: What little you know might be more than someone else knows. Share what you know with others, never condescend, and others will return the favour.

And starting a thread like this is a good sign for the future. It shows you want to participate in the grand discussion.


 7:16 pm on Mar 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

I agree with grelmar, there are a few "causes" that I contributed in my own way some years ago without looking for anything back and it got me a few high PR links in the end that made a difference. Don't be afraid to get involved or give back. You could also find trusty online associates for life.


 8:12 pm on Mar 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

Make a website that you would want to visit, and come back frequently. Make it and market it in such a way that if everyone knew what you did and how you did it, they would still praise you. Never try to outsmart anyone, never underestimate your enemy.


 9:04 pm on Mar 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

I'm now unclear where this discussion is going. Are we talking about moral principles and right or wrong, which is what ethics is all about? There are a lot of right ways to develop a website and a lot of wrong ways which have nothing, IMO, to do with ethics.

The web is replete with discussions of what is whitehat and what is blackhat. Most of what falls within blackhat might be considered unethical, by some, but simply achieving an edge over competition by others. If you use blackhat strategies and tools to outrank your competition, is it unethical, or just a lapse on the part of the search engines? My point is that what can be considered unethical has to be judged within the culture of webmastering.

Ethical webmasters do not copy the work of others, but, if they're any good, the do engage in many of the tried and true SEO strategies to seek better rankings. In that sense, the SEs are gamed, and is that, in any sense, unethical?


 9:35 pm on Mar 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

Mattur, that comment cracked me up!

Aside from that, I think there is one key ethical rule which will keep you feeling good about yourself and which will pay off. Everything you do should be aimed at the long term benefit of your readers. Keep them happy, and expend every effort to do that, and not only will your readers be happy but you will sleep soundly at night.

Good luck.


 10:09 pm on Mar 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

Hate to be a pessimist. I've been copied and scraped so many times over the years I have lost faith. Here is my contribution:

Often newcomers will inquire about how to start, build and grow a site as quickly as possible. They also often want to know what products to sell, affiliate programs to use, and the best niches.

Long story short, if a vet offers you advice that may not be what you want to hear, at least have the courtesy to thank them. Most of us are just trying to be helpful with long term advice, but often get ignored unless we give away a secret or sacred keyword.

I gave up helping newcomers long ago because of this.


 11:25 pm on Mar 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

I just thought of something a bit more concrete...

Don't sell/trade/give information about your users unless you are very, very clear in your TOS/Privacy policy that you are going to.

Marketing data is worth $$. I've known webmasters who look at it as easy money, and are all to willing to sell analytics data to whoever ponies up a cheque.

If you use a third party analytics solution, then say so in your TOS/Privacy policy. And be aware of that third party's privacy policy. On sites where I have Google Analytics, I say so. I don't trust G to play nice with my traffic data, so it's only fair I let the users know this.

If your advertising solution uses cookies and tracking data, the rule above also applies.

A great many websites play fast and loose with their user data in pursuit of $$. It's become almost accepted. That doesn't make it right.

(side note: perpetually moving sites off Google Analytics. The data provided is wonderful, the service is easy to use and great. I'm just not super keen on giving Google even more info).


 4:00 am on Mar 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

I'd say "content bait" would be very unethical, i see it all over more and more these days.

There is no "one catch-all", you do what you learned how. 1 thing to remember - you become who you hang with, eventually... Itís knowing what you want to do that matters. As you say foundation is the key, only you will decide on what that foundation is, with time you get better, or you fail, unless you determination to start over by the time you have learned otherwise is stronger, only you know when that will be.

Say Hi to Santa once in a while!


 5:28 am on Mar 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

What a strange question. Who seriously cares about ethics these days?

Anyway, I'd say it depends on local ethics. A lot. What may be frowned upon in one region may be 100% OK in another region. What may be borderline illegal in one region may be 100% OK in another region. Ethics in this context is probably a very personal viewpoint.

(Key learning: if you want to make money from your site, you probably want to move to a country where the ethics standards are low, so you can sleep well at night with no ethical concerns.)



 5:38 am on Mar 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

@grelmar, Ouch, I know what you mean. Lots of hard work copied by some other guys... it hurts...

The amount of people NOT creating content but wanting to have websites is growing, so we hear more and more the "people need to change copyright policies"... It was already there (lazy people wanting others people content), then the "blogs" came in and made things worse. Everybody wants to have a website and put adsense on it.

Keep the good faith, the lesson is those guys copying content don't get value links at the end.

Hard work has proven to be the only effective way that works and stay over the years (in many many areas).


 7:48 am on Mar 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

Adding value to the web rather than taking value from the web covers a multitude of sins.

That is the key.

This implies (among other things):

1) Do not copy content.
2) Acknowledge sources. Not always easy because I check so many for some articles, but at least acknowledge the important ones (i.e. the ones that had the most effect on what you wrote). Plagiarism is much worse than breach of copyright.
3) Do a good job. Do not publish something that is just good enough that a reader will not realise that you have been sloppy.
4) Do not mislead users - no deceptive links, no inaccurate meta description, make ads look different from content. Advertorial counts as ads!


 10:07 am on Mar 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

for me give credit where it's due...

link out to those that deserve credit, without being tricky about it.

and ditto the many comments above regarding copying content (of all types)


 8:51 pm on Mar 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

There is no Web ethics. There is ethics.

brotherhood of LAN

 9:03 pm on Mar 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

"netiquette" has not been mentioned! ;)

I'd like to think if people stick to the rule of "if it doesn't have value for anyone else, then don't do it", then the web has served its purpose.


 9:35 pm on Mar 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

you know... do you really have to *ask* what rules you should follow?

I mean if you are conscious about these things IRL, and follow those principles on the net, you'll know how to preserve your good karma.

now, if you wanted to ask...

"what are your experiences w/ pushing everything to the extreme without blowing others' fuses?"

... I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to help you.

Don't do stuff on the net you wouldn't do face to face.
Though with all that said, who knows what your offline persona is like *heh*

as with everything, there's short term and long term, risky and safe. I'd say most of us here would vote for 'long term', meaning the more you get involved, the more you should avoid risks.


 3:20 am on Mar 30, 2009 (gmt 0)

Copyright infringement is nasty stuff. Screwing with someone else's content is little different than stealing.

Except there are countries where not only is doing so quite legal, it's common accepted practice and people don't see anything wrong with it. It's quite ethical.

I recently had someone describe paid blogging to me as nasty as well. I believe they might change their tune if they were in a country where it was not only perfectly acceptable and routine, but if in doing so they earned $5US and that was going to feed their kids for the day. I'm pretty sure their high horse would find the distasteful all of a sudden quite palatable - and ethical if it meant the difference between putting food on the table for your kids or not.

I could care less about your ethics, particularly on the web. I have my ethics and reasons for them, and I'm relatively consistent. And I certainly don't see things that are illegal where I live as being prone to much leeway. But ethics on the web? Puleeeze. right for you <> right. Ethics on the web is just an excuse for the narrow minded to act in a dictatorial fashion.

And don't get me started on the idea of karma. that's right up there with santa claus in my books. There is no karma. Plenty of people make lots of money and live very well simply by screwing enough people over. And plenty of very nice people live their life getting screwed over. Neither santa claus nor karma comes to visit - whether or not they're on the naughty or nice list.


 5:00 am on Mar 30, 2009 (gmt 0)

Be ethical (honest) when you charge customers for something:

Lying about number of visitors to your web site.
Lying about number of hours to complete a project.
Taking advantage of customers level of knowledge when it comes to performing a service.

Things like that. It's all pretty simple. Most people know what's ethical - and I've found out most people are willing to be unethical in business.

Not me or you though; it's the other guys.


 8:21 am on Mar 30, 2009 (gmt 0)

Enter your new profession primarily because you enjoy doing it, not for profit. No reason there to breach ethics.


 11:12 am on Mar 30, 2009 (gmt 0)

>>>> because you enjoy doing it

Fantastic- you didn't say "passion".


 12:05 pm on Mar 30, 2009 (gmt 0)

Ethics in the online environment should be no different than the offline environment, but the nature of the internet's connectivity and global reach throws up some very interesting points for ethics professionals. For example Ethical relativism posits that our ethical frameworks are governed by culture and are therefore localized. But, when that (and the "that" could be a website) gets displayed in a global community you expose it to a wide range of beliefs and ethics, with each one having equal value and validity.

I've thought and read quite a bit to try and start to think about how you take a global medium like the Internet and hold ethical principles true for everyone. I have to say that I don't think you can. For example, I read a recent study on Egyptian and American business students which showed that American studens were more individualistic in their judgement of whether an action was ethical or not, whereas the Egyptian students were more considerate of the implications of their judgement for the community as a whole. Another study tried to match countries together based on commonly held ethical similarities. Interestingly it was Australia that had no similarity with any other country in the World (weird huh!). Still it doesn't really provide the complete answer.

Within the area of our own localized reality I think that we all know what is right and wrong, but because business is an entity is not a person, we allow it to get away with unethical practice when in fact we actually need to reign it in and teach it a little bit about living on planet earth. In the words of Immanuel Kant "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law". In other words, unless you'd want the action you are doing to become true for everyone else (including yourself), don't do it!

I think that every business should have an ethical code of conduct that accurately maps out the thinking of the company online. In this way, even if the person looking at your website is of a different ethical standpoint, at least you convey to them what you stand for, and it also projects something deeper about your business. It is an ethical code that will help you weather unexpected problems in the business sphere by providing a reasoning framework. You won't get pulled by shareholders or managers, but something more solid.



 2:37 pm on Mar 30, 2009 (gmt 0)

don't mass spam blog comments with ads for free movies, music, ed remedies, and hardcore #*$!; don't spam blog comments with anything unrelated.


 2:46 pm on Mar 30, 2009 (gmt 0)

Taking advantage of customers level of knowledge when it comes to performing a service.

If the IT industry did that, it would be a LOT less profitable.

This 38 message thread spans 2 pages: 38 ( [1] 2 > >
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