Last week Gail Shaw made a post about Bad Advice and the impact that it has on credibility of not only the person posting it, but also on the site where it was posted. This got me thinking about what kind of credibility a person might or might not have based on what others perceive them to have done.
So how do we build online credibility? Is it by consistently posting valid and accurate content? Unfortunately not all of the time. I spend a fair amount of time responding to questions on the forums, and one of the ways that the forums rewards people for responding to other peoples posts is to award 2 points for each response and 10 points if a response is marked as the answer to the post.
Next to any persons name who posts on the forums are five medals that get colored in at certain accumulated point levels. This provides a form of credibility to people who post regularly on the Forums, and people seem to pay attention to that. The problem with this, is that it could be false credibility. I know of two people on the forums that have been conferred online credibility because they have five colored in medals, but if you read the forums frequently enough or actually look at their profile, only one in eight responses is ever an actual correct answer. The rest of the posts generally tend to either be the same exact response to every problem regardless of the information that is posted by the original poster, misinformation and or Bad Advice as in Gail's blog post, or completely off topic or on the wrong post.
Providing obviously incorrect advice is one of the things that bothers me the most when reading the MSDN Forums. I have been wrong in my responses at times either syntax, through a misunderstanding of the request, or trying to help someone on a problem I have never seen before, but where no one else is responding. However, I have never posted a response that was known to be dangerous, harmful, or against best practices without first providing explanation that such things could be career ending. For example, every time I reply to a request for how to do Dynamic SQL, I plug in information about SQL Injection, provide a few links and some explanation. Then I have at least warned the requestor of the pitfalls as a part of my response. If someone wants to shrink their database, not a problem I can explain that, but I can also provide information about why you don't want to do that versus reasons that you might do it, and leave it to them to decide.
The problem comes when someone with "conferred credibility" from over posting to every question that gets asked is wrong and a person with actual credibility, (ie. a Moderator/Answerer/MVP) calls them on it. To people who don't frequent the forums, we are all the same in their eyes, so they immediately seem to jump in to defend the person who is posting bad/dangerous advice. I'll never understand that myself, but there have been cases where I have had to request another Moderator/MVP or recognized person like Paul Randal to chime in on the post to help set things straight. Sad that it boils down to this simply because someone else isn't considering their credibility to the community and the information that they post.
Other ways that you gain credibility online is by who you know and what they say about you. I happen to have a fairly large network of friends online from answering posts on various forums, being on twitter, and speaking in local user groups and events. For me personally, one of the greatest signs that someone has credibility is when other people repost or link to what you have written or said. This provides added validation of the content being mentioned, and it spreads your name around. This is one of the reasons why I make two posts a month about little known blogs with good information in them. It builds other peoples credibility and helps people who might otherwise go unknown get noticed. (I am really just paying it forward. Jason Massie gave me a bump last year on his blog.)
So how do you lose your credibility instantly? There are a couple of ways. As previously mentioned in Gail's blog, post something really wrong/really dangerous like delete your transaction log file if it gets to big. Now to be honest it could happen as a part of a honest mistake, and how you handle the mistake afterwards goes a long way to how much damage may or may not be done to your credibility. Some people for whatever reason just can't admit it when they are wrong. They usually have the most damage done to their credibility.
Another way to lose credibility is to reuse someone else's work and NOT provide reference to the original work. I did my undergraduate studies in college in History, so you will notice that I consistently provide links to references that I mention in any blog post. It is a habit for me to cite the works that I use. You might think that you won't get caught, but I can almost guarantee that someone will eventually catch you. For example, there is a blog that has verbatim the contents of KB873235 in a post with no reference that the information came from a Microsoft KB article. This was mentioned on twitter by someone, and it was really easy to find using a search engine.
Another instance of this was done sadly on SQL Server Central where an article was a complete rewrite of a previous article from SQL Server Central a few months back. In this case, the damage to the plagiarizer is fairly substantial. It was caught almost immediately, and the article was pulled down, but article with his name on it has to remain because the link is attached to every newsletter sent out from the SSC Site. To make matters worse, it has been widely discussed on other networks like Twitter and triggered the writing of this blog entry.
If you are going to use someone else's intellectual property or information provided in print somewhere else, cite the source as a reference. Doing so helps build your credibility, and failing to do so destroys it complete.