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?


  1. Make it very moderated unless you want those 'hostile jerks' posting hundreds of flames.

  2. "...but ignoring those “hostile jerks” and allowing them to run amok isn't the answer either."

    Problem is, why should you or someone else be the one to determine who "I" see as a "hostile jerk"?

    Just give me the etools I need to "ignore" the ones I conclude are "hostile jerks". Eg. NGs sometimes have a why to hide messages posted by certain people.

  3. This is a tough questions. The non-tech newsgroups I avoid simply because they seem to be more negative then anything else. I dont know what the answer is - maybe a way to hide users as a prior poster wrote?

  4. Borland attracted a lot of criticism because there was an official version about what was happening that didn't match with the reality, much less with customers' desires. That created frustration and lot of angry customers that, by the way, would be a little unfair to call "hostile jerks".

    Companies can't always content everyone, but they can always say the truth. Being honest with their customers, CodeGear will gain the loyalty of its community enough to keep a good tone in the discusions.

  5. I've noticed that even the most private forums can be fairly rowdy, even when people know each other. I'm reminded of the Dilbert strip exchange between Wally and Dilbert that goes "You're mighty brave in cyberspace, flameboy".

    Is there a solution? Today's malcontent is tommorow's warning cry.

    The problem is that people can't seem to ignore what they consider flamebait, and can't seem to resist flaming in response - regardless of any original intent.

    Face it, people communicate badly at the best of times. After all, more wars have been started with talking than have been ended with it.

  6. I think both Allen and Cory Doctorow miss a big part of the picture by ignoring aspects such as intellect and professionalism. The different CodeGear fora are not just communities; their primary purpose is to serve as place to exchange technical information. If you disregard that, I think you miss something important.

    If you attribute the wrong motives to "trouble makers", a professional who knows he is right and desperately tries to get his views through to dim-wits who either appear miss the point or to listen to false authorities, is easily mistaken for an attention seeker who only tries to get his ego through.

    An important difference is that you *can* reason with the professional, but not with the attention seeker or a troll. Another equally important difference is that reason might be the *only* way to address the professional and that any other approach (that might have worked if he or she was just an attention seeker) might only make him or her even more upset.

  7. To me I like the idea of the ignore option. However one big problem I have found in other forums and online communities is that some of the "Hostile Jerks" are in fact the moderators of that community. To me one major requirement to having a set of rules that members must follow or get banned etc, is that these same such rules must also apply to the moderators. If not then it can never work. As it is always very easy for the moderators to yell the rules, and then in later posts/messages break those same rules, knowing full well that nothing will happen to them.

    As to the rest, there is no perfect system for this, and unfortunately never will be as we are all too different. What to one person may just be an innocent comment, to another is a slap in the face. The best that you can hope for is to try and balance the rules to the majority of people, and make sure that those members that enforce the rules also live by those same rules.

  8. Sometimes the Team B moderators don't take a impartial view of things and fan the flames.

    A big violator of this is Craig Stuntz, he is the biggest hypocrite around and many times makes stupid and snide comments or sticks his nose in business that does not concern him.

  9. Here is a great suggestion, don't allow TEAM B to be the moderators of the newsgroups they, as stated before are not impartial to certain products etc and many many times fan the flames themselves.

    A better solution would be to have a separate group of people as strictly modorators. it might even be a good idea to pay them a small amount for their time. That way TEAM B can do the technical questions and leave the moderating to someone more impartial.

  10. Limit a single IP to 5 posts per day per group, then people will be much more careful what they post :-)

  11. Seriously Allen, GROW A THICKER SKIN. In the absence of you citing any examples so that we can see exactly what the context of your complaints actually mean, this is the best advice. It can also be translated as "Do nothing, except listen better in the unlikely event that you are being told something unpleasant, yet useful nonetheless".


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