Friday, May 18, 2007

Softening stance...

After thouroughly reading this article about How To Keep Hostile Jerks From Taking Over Your Online Community from the other day and having some time to really think about it, I'm beginning to rethink a few things.  First of all I want CodeGear's online community presence to be as comfortable and inviting both for our loyal customers and “fanboys” ;-) in addition to making sure all the tire-kickers out there are not immediatly put off by a negative environment.  Some would argue that “that's just the way it is and to grow a thicker skin.”  But the old adage that you can catch more flys with honey than vinegar is as true in the online world as it is anywhere else.

I remember many years ago reading this book, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.  I think that many folks tend to forget a lot of these simple truths because they are somehow “enlightened” or “educated.”  Posturing and “oneupmanship” dominates a lot of online communities.  I specifically did not use the word “competitive” because what many folks view as competition is in fact nothing of the sort.  It is actually elevating oneself at the expense of others.  Recognition and prominance cannot be done by yourself.  I remember an old story that my father used to tell to illustrate the point that it is perfectly ok to ask for help and that every now and then you need this help to solve problems and get yourself out of a bind.

The basic story talks about a little monkey that rejects everyone's offers for help and wisdom.  He is repeatedly told to never go into a certain section of the jungle because of the pools of quicksand.  The problem is that it is also the best location to get bananas.  So in defiance to his peers and parents, he ventures into that area and promptly gets stuck.  The other jungle animals rush to his aid and he just tells them to go away because he can get himself out.  The problem is that his solution is grab his own whiskers and pull himself up.  Even very young children immediately understand the folly of such a tactic.  Yet little monkey keeps eshewing all offers for help and is, in return, abusive and rude to all those who offer help.  Ultimately the monkey succumbs and the last thing seen of the monkey is two fists full of whiskers above the pool of quicksand.

What is the ultimate solution for creating an online environment that is provocative, inviting, fun, and most of all informative and helpful for developers of all levels?  I don't know if I have all the answers, but ignoring those “hostile jerks” and allowing them to run amok isn't the answer either.  Clearly this is not a simple solution because it is not a simple problem, right?  In keeping with the whole notion of constructive, reasoned and productive discussion, what do you think?  Do we throw up our hands in despair?  Should a hard-line no-tolerance policy be put into place?  I suspect it is something in between, no?