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Letters Perhaps we should call them The New Literalists. Or is Nitpickers a better word? Or how about Pixel Pedants?

The Road to Hell looks like it's going to be Tagged With Good Intentions, if you pardon the twisted idiom. There are indeed some painfully earnest people who want to avoid any misunderstanding in our online communications through the sheer power of angle brackets.

No, we're not talking about the Creative Commons crew - but about the quite wonderful taxonomy proposed by former newspaper columnist Dan Gillmor that's designed to promote honest n'healthy discourse: Honor Tags.

(See Are you trying to be funny? If so check [ ] this box).

Here at El Reg, we view it as an extension of our sadly-abandoned Humor Tags initiative, that we first thought of about four years ago.

Now here's what you think of the idea of tagging yourself stupid.

What about smileys, ask Jon Axtell and James Pickett? Reader James wonders how we ever developed without them.

"So once again we have people telling us that the web is a medium in which 'proper' communication is impossible. However this has always been true - in fact it was far worse for such unfortunates as Tolstoy, who was even further crippled by a devastating lack of emoticons. Without the benefit of Flash, FMV or even basic animated gifs, Douglas Adams' attempts to communicate humour are doomed to failure. Such a shame that Flaubert had no tags with which to convey elation and despair.

"However did we manage to evolve a written language? Surely it must be impossible!"

He adds:

"PS this message is intended to be partly flippant, partly sarcastic and partly condescending. On request I can offer an Excel spreadsheet providing a more detailed breakdown. With pie charts!"

You might enjoy this lovely piece on the subject by Geoffrey Nunberg, who had the same idea.

And let's not forget Victor Borges' phonetic punctuation.

"Andrew, I much enjoyed your piece "Are you trying to be funny?" on content tagging," [writes Michael Wojcik].

"I'll note, though, that some of us were well aware of the problems with computer-based communication (or, more accurately, with communication that was both written and rapid, which seem to be the two critical factors) even before "10 years of the net" had passed - in fact, before they had started.

"I published a short introduction to Usenet ('On beyond email') in "Works and Days" 23/24 which mentioned the problem; the issue appeared in 1994, at which time I'd been reading and posting to Usenet for a couple of years (and using BBS-style discussion forums somewhat longer) W&D is an academic journal, so my prose was a bit abstruse, but you can see the general idea."

Now you might have seen something like this before, but it see how it reads in the Blogspheric era of 2005 CE:

"As a communications channel, it possesses an often confusing mix of the attributes of spoken and written discourse, with some idiosyncrasies of its own. Like speaking, Net News generally adopts a casual style (and it is rife with its own jargon), and it allows responses with little time for reflection, so unreserved displays of opinion and attitude are common.

"So are rants, personal attacks, misquotations, threats, and other features of oral argumentation; on Net News, most people don't seem to operate under the face-saving conventions of non-electronic media.

"Conversely, it shares with printed text the authority of the written word and the loss of nonverbal cues, such as expression and tone of voice. Because messages tend to be brief (and long messages tend to go largely unread), it can be extremely difficult to convey subtle tones such as sarcasm."

The final line of Michael's 1994 introduction especially pertinent to today's echo chambers.

"Remember, too, that the audience for your postings is unpredictably large and diverse." (250-51)"

It's nice to see," Michael now concludes, "that the geniuses behind the bull-logging movement have finally realized the same things - though they're still a bit behind in realizing how to deal with them."

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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