Sunday, September 9, 2012

Internet Etiquette, aka How Not To Be A Jerk

Hi all.  For those of you who have met me in person, this won't come as a surprise.  For those of you who may just be getting to know me online, you may want to sit down.  My name is Katie, and I say what everyone else is thinking.  I'm "That Friend."  You know, the one where your other friends say, "If you want to here things the way they really are, ask Katie."  I don't sugarcoat things, and I will always tell you the truth.  I honestly am not trying to be mean, and I always avoid being cruel as much as possible.  However, sometimes the truth hurts, and if you want to know how things really stand, feel free to ask.

That being said, one thing I absolutely do not consider myself is a prolific or popular blogger.  I'm not a big name in reenacting or costuming; I just kind of do my own thing and post pretty pictures when I have them.  That's cool.  I'm fine with that.  What I have been, though, is involved in internet communities in many different forms for almost fifteen years now.  I currently moderate a community of fiction writers, and have been part of many different TV and movie fandoms in varying genres, from anime to sci-fi.  I plopped myself into the costuming community about ten years ago, and in the past few years have transitioned more into reenacting--but reenacting vs. costuming is a totally different post, so we'll just leave that there for now.

One thing I have seen as a constant in every internet community that I have ever been a part of is this, though:  Copying is Not Okay.

I'm not talking about copyright infringement, intellectual property rights, or anything like that.  I'm talking about something much more amorphous and personal.  You know that saying "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?"  That's what I mean.  And pretty much across the board, it's a bunch of bullshit.

The plain fact is, pretty much nobody likes being copied.  Especially in a community like this, where the people who are big names do a hell of a lot of work to produce original content with documentation and high-end craftsmanship.

And you know, I understand--I really do.  I started out at age teen-something and looked up to a lot of people in the hobby.  I bookmarked their websites (back then blogging was not a Thing) and visited them often for inspiration.  The urge to be just like your heroes is a strong one.  And to a certain extent, that's a good way to dip your toes into a new hobby.  But when you find yourself thinking, "Oh, that [insert project here] is gorgeous--I want one just like it..."

Stop.

Think.

Think hard about your life choices.

Because in my experience, no matter how nice that person is when you post pictures of your own copycat project, inside they probably feel a little dead.

This is an outstandingly kind and welcoming community.  Costumers and reenactors are pretty much always glad to share their information and enthusiastic about it when someone else wants to join in the fun.  If you show up to the Oscars wearing the same dress, so to speak, the veteran costumer is most likely going to be very nice about it.  But you know what?  That's never a good feeling.  You watch someone else walking around in a copy of a garment that you spent hours researching and crafting to the best of your ability, and you kind of want to vomit a little bit.

Now admittedly, things get trickier when it comes to inspiration.  A lot of people do this thing where they find an example of something really cool in a museum and then go reproduce it.  And when something is really fantastic, sometimes more than one person wants to recreate it.  However, a lot of times, the way people find stuff on museum sites is by trawling through other blogs, stumbling across someone's entry linking to that museum object, and then they decide that the thing in question is so cool they have to have it.

In cases like that, the best thing to do is to be honest about how you found your inspiration.  Nobody's going to be mad at you for looking at their blog.  What they will get mad about is if you take credit for doing the work that they actually did.  Museum websites are no picnic--it can take patience and perseverance to find good information there, because often the sites are confusing or hard to navigate.  So, if you weren't the one that spent four hours combing through online collections to find that one outstanding picture, tell the truth.  Link back to the original researcher's blog. Maybe even email them personally.  In this case, is is not better to ask forgiveness than permission.  By the time you're asking forgiveness, you've already put a bad taste in that person's mouth.

The bald truth is that nobody enjoys feeling like they've been ripped off.  If you're going to use part or any of someone else's documentation, crediting them is vital.  The better practice, though, is to take what you've learned from that original person's work and build on it to do something of your own--something different, so that nobody feels like their toes are being squished.

For the most part, people on the internet are overwhelmingly generous about sharing their experiences, information, and research.  However, just because it's out there doesn't mean it's free for the taking.  Research, sourcing of materials, and experimentation with techniques are all hard work as well as a time investment, and it's important to everyone who does that sort of thing that their hard work be recognized and appreciated.  It's a double-edged sword--the internet lets us share our lives with so many great people, but it also makes it easy for less-than-great people to hurt us.  All it takes is one person peeing in the pool to ruin it for everyone.  Don't be that person.  Give credit where it's due, don't copy someone else's work, and don't be rude.  Really, that's the number one rule of any community, online or off.  Don't be rude, and we can all keep having fun together.