Be kind to one another

Something I have always loved about the web industry is the kindness and openness in the profession. We have all learned from each other, we all build on each other’s work. Throughout the history of this industry we’ve been creating things, sharing them and someone else has come along and built on the technique. Or perhaps someone has developed a new method and proved why it works better. Great! We all move forward. We all understand more. We all make better stuff.

A few years ago (pre-Twitter!), if you disagreed with some technique, you had to post to your blog or at the very least write a comment on an article. Blog posts of 140 characters telling someone they are an idiot tend not to get much of an audience. So, one would have to actually write up an alternative point of view, a proper argument. Proper arguments are excellent, they are how we are where we are today. Through reasonable debate we hammer out what does and doesn’t work, and in which context. This is really important because we all have different parts of the picture. Someone who has experience of high traffic, high performance sites, working in a team of 50 developers is going to propose different solutions to the person whose experience is in helping small businesses get their first website online. The correct solution for a person on shared hosting who has very little control of the stack, is going to be different to the person with access to their server configuration. We all see solutions from inside the context we work in and all of that experience is important and valid.

So, argument is good. Disagreement should be encouraged. However, what is not good and what should not be encouraged is personal attacks and one-liner snarky remarks on Twitter. Abusive ad hominem attacks do not encourage good argument, they usually serve to simply entrench positions on either side. They leave people afraid to contribute, and then we all lose out because we lose that person’s knowledge and experience. I know from experience that once you get a couple of personal, nasty remarks about something that you have contributed, it is then very hard to be open to the constructive comments and sensible criticism. It’s easy to go into “everyone hates me” mode at that point. Do we want to be an industry where one has to be thick skinned and aggressive to succeed? I hope not.

We should continue to disagree with each other. This is an exciting time for the web. There are so many new techniques being hammered out, we can do so many interesting things and some of those things don’t have a “right way” to do them yet. There will be disagreement, we’ll argue this stuff out together. However let us not do so by silencing the voices of all but the most thick skinned. Let us be kind to one another, and as an industry give no time and attention to those who try to build themselves up by attacking other people.

Comments

Vicky: 08 Dec 2011 at 15:27:01

Totally agree with this. I was taught to never say anything about someone that you wouldn’t be prepared to say to their face, and I think that this is the right line to take on what you say on the web: if you put in enough effort to justify your opinion, then it’s not just about flaming anymore. Save the snark for the pub meetups, where you might also get given some perspective by other people!

Luke: 08 Dec 2011 at 15:34:09

I’ve picked up so many skills from some very kind and sharing people over the years. I’d like to do the same but fear that the techniques that I use or want to share don’t meet the standards, or I’m such of a nobody, that my sharing wouldn’t be received well.

Instead I keep it secret, never quite sure if it could be improved on or even perhaps appreciated by others.

James Young: 08 Dec 2011 at 15:38:48

Great points Rachel, it’s certainly a tough and very public industry we work in and this particular topic seems to crop up every couple of months from a select few vocal complainers who are borderline accusing others of cyber bullying because they offer a differing opinion or maybe don’t provide the perfect A++++ eBay style love on a piece of work or a post..

I know of at least person that I respect highly who has been called a “troll” for daring to disagree and calling a spade a spade and to me this is just as bad.

In some ways (when it comes to Twitter coverage in particular) there’s a few dangerous folks out there with 5 figure followings who levy these accusations pretty readily and they’re tweeted by a large number of followers.

There will always be people who are less subtle than others, people who are no so thick skinned and feel the world is against them and then there is the vast majority who do the great things you mention – share, contribute, improve and generally help out on Twitter/Blogs etc.

I don’t want an industry where only the thickest skinned individuals flourish but by the same token, I don’t want an industry where nobody is ever just wrong because we’d end up with a situation a bit like our schools where children are growing up never losing or failing at anything because it’s no longer politically correct to finish “last” in a race.

Balance is needed at both ends of the scale and sometimes it’s the vocal minority on both ends who cloud the issue and don’t consider the masses of great folks.

Cheers :)

J.

Rachel: 08 Dec 2011 at 15:44:56

@Luke please do share your stuff! Creating a blog and putting it on there is a good place to start. Alternatively getting involved in an online forum where you can help other people who are asking questions is a good way to start ‘giving back’. I used to do a lot of that in Dreamweaver forums when I first started on the web – I didn’t know much but there were always people newer than me, and I felt I could answer all the easy questions :)

Gordon McLachlan: 08 Dec 2011 at 15:54:02

Well said. Are there any occurrences you’re talking about in particular? I tend to be oblivious to a lot of negativity :)

I think part of peoples poor behaviour online is due to the anonymity the Internet provides. Somehow it encourages folk to act without restraint which is both peculiar and highly annoying. It’s little wonder why social networking sites like Google + are enforcing real name identities.

Rachel: 08 Dec 2011 at 15:54:12

@James Young I hope it’s clear from my post I am in no way advocating that we should all agree with each other. We absolutely shouldn’t! However you can debate passionately and still remember that there is a real person, with real feelings on the other side of the discussion.

I think Twitter leads a lot to the problems you mention. If someone I know puts something out and it is good, I’ll say that I like it on Twitter. If I spot a problem with it I won’t try and explain in 140 chars, I’ll drop them a line. So it then looks as if all that is posted is praise. I won’t apologise for that as Twitter just isn’t the forum for critique or pointing out issues, it has a tendency to come across badly, better to take it ‘off the forum’ if possible.

To be honest the sort of things that prompted this post were not even criticism, just nastiness. There is never an excuse for that.

Gary Aston: 08 Dec 2011 at 16:47:11

Good post, Rachel.

I can’t help but feel there’s been an unfortunate shift in what’s considered “success” in our industry lately.

To many, it seems that the measure of success is thousands of Twitter followers, regular speaking gigs, appearances in magazines etc. This is of course all peripheral; these things follow success, they don’t preempt it.

Unfortunately I think many starting out have this slanted view of success because of the legion articles on self-promotion that advise building a twitter following, getting speaking gigs, etc.

If only these folks could see that real success is doing great work for your clients. Of course, going on to share how you made a success of a given project is how the community was built, and I share your fear that this openness may be lost.

Rachel: 08 Dec 2011 at 17:23:23

@Gary Aston there will always be people who look at success as those things. Me, I’m no web celeb, but I get the odd speaking gig, mainly because I write a lot. However I only write, or speak about what I know – it’s the same sharing. I couldn’t write about any of this stuff unless it came from real experience, on real projects. The same is true for most of the speakers and authors I know in this field. We do interesting things and want to tell people about them :)

It is great fun (if a bit scary) to speak at a conference but I’d be sad if anyone thought that my doing that meant I felt I was in some way better than anyone else. Conferences are scary to me because the audience are my peers, I fully expect they’ll be hunting me down afterwards at the coffee break to tell me that I am wrong!

Gary Aston: 08 Dec 2011 at 17:42:16

“We do interesting things and want to tell people about them”

— and lots of people like me are grateful for it; long may it continue. I’ve learnt things from kind and patient people in the community I couldn’t learn in any academia.

As I think you alluded to earlier in the thread, there’s always someone who knows more than you, and always someone who knows less. Take a penny, leave a penny :)

Chris Garrett: 08 Dec 2011 at 20:51:59

Good post Rachel. My thoughts pretty much echo James Youngs. I’m well aware of how easy it is to seem crass or insulting using Twitter, I’ve been guilty of it myself before now.

However, when mis-information is spread, it needs to be addressed, much like you’ve said Rachel. In software/programming, if we spot an issue, we fork and fix it. Perhaps we need something like this for thoughts/statements/presentations?

Paul Johnson: 09 Dec 2011 at 16:52:22

Great article. I have written in the past on this subject. Cyber bullying takes many forms, Twitter is one of the worst. An ill thought 140 characters can have deep and hurtful impact to the recipient.

Ultimately the people making the ill comments make themselves look stupid. I am fairly thick skinned but I have had individuals rant about me on Twitter in the past, it hurts.

Be nice out there, before you hit the ENTER key, think about what impact your message will have on the recipient, and you!

Kris Noble: 09 Dec 2011 at 17:24:00

Well put, Rachel.

Disagreement can be a very positive thing, but only if it’s backed up with reason and civility.

@Luke please don’t be afraid to share your stuff! The majority of people are very receptive and helpful, don’t let a few idiots put you off.

Ana Adm širola: 10 Dec 2011 at 14:13:02

Our industry is teenager, unfortunately!
Some years ago the industry was a child, open for learning new things, experiment, disagree with others but ready to forgive and compromise. Now it is a teenager, showing off, , selfish, less communicative than ever and insecure. It all resembles highschool from US TV movie. You have school stars and their followers and you have rest of the crowd. Ridiculing others is popular amusement.
What kind of adult we will all become is yet to be seen. Our best chances of growing up into quality community is in establishing some kind of Communication Web Standards and supporting them as intensively as we have been supporting Web Standards, or HTML5 or any other technology that we as community believed that it was worth supporting.

Craig Morrison: 10 Dec 2011 at 18:38:31

I think that needed to be said and thanks for putting it so well Rachel, it’s almost impossible to disagree with such a sensible position. Ad hominem attacks in particular only make someone look stupid because an intelligent response should at least have a specific criticism if not a counter argument.

There has been a lot of talk about responsible criticism and what the right channels for that are but I think we should keep in mind that authors have certain responsibilities too. If you are writing something that is innovative, controversial or just out-there (or might be any of these things to different people) then you have to expect the response to contain some contrary views and criticism. If you are writing such an article then I think you also have some responsibility to readers to preempt those views by explaining your thought process, your influences or where you believe your position is better than the alternatives. If you don’t take time to do this then sometimes you views can appear bizzare, arrogant or unduly dismissive and that’s not a very good place to start a conversation.

If there is a lesson here I think that’s it’s to consider what we publish, whether it’s asking a friend to read over an article or just taking a few seconds to consider if a tweet is something you really want to share publicly. The web is a wonderful and exciting medium but it’s made sharing our ideas so easy that sometimes we forget to think first.

Mark Hernandez: 11 Dec 2011 at 01:49:45

This is a multifaceted multilayered challenge. I think Ana hit the nail on the head in that “the industry is a teenager.” The adolescence has more to do with the venues of access rather than the participants themselves. There will ALWAYS be rude kids of every age. They exist all around us in real life, but the nature of real-world interactions doesn’t allow them to all show up everywhere and spew.

As things mature, we should be able to filter more, and be less of “one giant room with everyone of every age and point in personal development showing up all at once.”

There was a great article in the New York times that talks about how anonymity can breed contempt (the title is an oversimplifcation, so please read the article.)

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/30/opinion/30zhuo.html

As the internet evolves, and people are more their authentic selves (e.g. Facebook) then the rudeness will subside.

On the other hand, because of the very nature of “total access by anyone” such as here on your blog, we will never be able to avoid the crazies, or people with underdeveloped critical thinking skills, but we can still delete them. Even on Twitter you can block people.

It’s great to wish for a better world on the net, but if we actually heard all the things that people thing that we pass by in the supermarket, we’d want to start with the real world first. :-)

Molly Holzschlag: 11 Dec 2011 at 04:47:09

Couldn’t have summed it up better, Rachel. Thank you for this post. :)

Andy Walpole: 11 Dec 2011 at 07:34:50

“Let us be kind to one another, and as an industry give no time and attention to those who try to build themselves up by attacking other people.”

Good post Rachel but unfortunately it is not just a problem with (some) of the web industry but across the board (read this to be shocked: http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/laurie-penny-a-womans-opinion-is-the-miniskirt-of-the-internet-6256946.html).

I think a time will come when it will be necessary to overhall the web architecture to prevent this degeneration into regular and usually unfounded abuse of web writers and contributors, Twitter and elsewhere

Jordan: 28 Dec 2011 at 12:43:17

Like @luke, I have always been afraid to share my “knowledge”. mainly through fear of getting it wrong. I do think that some people would be overly harsh. I have spent some time thinking about it recently and I have decided that criticism is good, it just depends on how some people choose to deliver the criticism which needs to be changed!

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