Too Many Unproductive Comments

It seems as though there is an epidemic across the web. Bad comments. Not spam, not flames, not even rude remarks… just plain drivel. I spent the last few weeks reading all the comments (or as many as I could stand) on the hundreds of blog articles I read every week. They fall into two major categories, which I’ll discuss below.

I’ve linked to this in the past but I’ve really taken it to heart: Your Shit Does Stink — Good Friends Are Hard to Find.

What the gentlemen at Less Everything were saying has just continually amplified in my mind over these last few (dare I say “trying”) weeks. Their article is short, and worth the jump, but to put it in context:

It’s easier to just smile and nod and say, “that’s great,” and that’s what most of us do. But a true friend will tell you to polish it up or go make changes or start again.

The same applies to comments on a blog post. The idea is to inspire discussion, clarify points, etc. eventually enriching the value of the article itself. Instead, in a number of sites I’m seeing “fluff” comments, which just make the entire experience of reading comments a downright drag when I’m actually interested in the content. So, I counted…

I took a well written article with over 100 comments and counted more then 50% of the comments were of this “fluff” nature. Although not directly from the article where I calculated my statistics, I pulled this paragon of an example:

Useless Comment

I made little effort to hide the identity of the user and the website (which I have the highest respect for). The fact of the matter is that this comment is not only worthless, it pollutes the pot of potentially worthy comments and thus detracts from the value of the article itself. In this particular example the commenter actually admits to not reading the article but then claims he knows it will be awesome?!?! Give me a break. Hell, if I was the author of the article I would be upset at such an ignominious comment (yah, I looked that one up).

I’ve gone years on this blog without making a rant. This is my first. So, admittedly, I did not hold back. However, eventually I calmed down and tried to really think about this “problem.”

From the author’s perspective this simple “praise” is uplifting. For those offering the praise its quite simply that… many want to portray honest thanks and support to the author. This is all well and good. However, there are still many reading the article intending to engage in discussion. Undoubtably the author should both encourage and look forward to this kind of discussion; even more so then the praise!! Why? Because its in our nature. We write so that others can read. We enable comments so others can tell us what they think. If we didn’t care for other’s opinions or views then comments could just as easily be disabled.

So, essentially there are two categories of comments, Praise and Discussion. So, I think that this should become a model. The more recent up/down voting scheme is not the model to use for most blog articles. It works well on ranking sites like StackOverflow and Reddit where correctness or opinion influences the votes. However in this case there is:

  • Praise – essentially always an “up-vote.”

  • Discussion – a level playing field likely to contain constructive criticism as well as support for the article.

Both avenues should be available so that the author and all the commenters have the freedom to interact with whichever degree they feel is appropriate. In the end the discussion is separated from the “fluff” and everyone wins.

I’m thinking of the current system of WordPress with comments and trackbacks/pings. They are handled separately, but that is because fundamentally they are different. To make a system like I’ve suggested work would either require user action, moderation, or a (likely) sophisticated action. Two of those don’t scale and the last is probably too complex to be reliable. If I’ve learned anything from StackOverflow its that they have actively crafted and trained their community of users to “do good” and do all of this low level work willingly and it has paid off very well.

For starters “commenters” must at least be given the choice: to contribute to a discussion, or to thank the author for a well written article. I don’t intend on building this system yet, because I personally don’t have the influence or the popularity to make an impact. Yet.

Just keep this in mind the next time you comment. Actually try to “add value.” To rip off the Army… The whole world can read what you’re writing. Is it worth reading?

Cheers?

Brian Amerige – Some Praise to the Developer of Flow

In this blog post I’m going to give praise to Brian Ameriage, the developer of the Flow FTP Program available for Mac OS X Leopard. I’ll quickly go through some of the ways that Brian has impressed me over the short time I have known him over the web.

1 Flow

I was involved in the Beta testing of Flow for a few months and as expected I ran into some problems. There was one, rather complicated problem that I decided to send in a bug report regarding. As a developer myself I knew what a good bug report would look like. I started from scratch, listed the steps to produce the bug (100%), etc. To my surprise I got a great personalized response:

Joe,

These issues should all be cleared up in Beta 5 (not yet released.) Keep in mind, though, that the issues you are experiencing are likely related to keychain, however, so it’s worth a shot remove all of your bookmarks, and to open up Keychain Access and remove any bookmarks tagged with “ConnectionKit Password.”

Thanks for the detailed report :-)


Thanks,
Extendmac, LLC.

Not only did he say that it was fixed in the next release, but he gave an indication as to what the problem was, a possible workaround, and appreciation for the report. From that point on I was sold on Flow. I continued to submit bug reports and they were all answered quickly, from a few hours to a few days after submitting them. They were all eventually resolved, and sometimes under extreme conditions. Did anyone ever wonder why there was such a quick jump between Beta 7 and 7.1 (or was it 8)? Turns out Brian stayed up past 2:30 AM hammering out some bug fixes.

2 Passion and Dedication

I think Brian’s most recent blog post, Arrogance in Engineering sheds some light on this topic: (my emphasis)

There’s a tremendous difference between an engineer on paper and an honest-to-the-bone engineer. The great kind are tinkerers. They build things in their spare time and are positively eccentric about it.

Passionate developers do the best work because they are always thinking about how they can improve things. Developing, Engineering, etc. its not a 9-5 job… its an ongoing, never-ending, adventure to improve, innovate, and create. For a number of people perfection is not a goal, its the standard. I sensed this quality in the way that Brian handled himself developing Flow, supporting it, collecting critical feedback, and keeping patient by not releasing it before it was ready.

The release of Flow has been a great success. I saw minor improvements made over the last few weeks, and even hours before the launch (I was in email contact late that night) where Brian’s attention to detail, aim for excellence, and dedication really stood out.

3 Finally, Composure

Composure is very different then Passion. The combination of the two characteristics is rare, but its something that I saw in Brian. Its especially something that I saw in a number of Brian’s blog articles (some of which I think have been lost). I remember seeing the blog posts and realizing the thought with which he put into his reasoning and his supporting arguments; knowing that what he was saying might not be the idea of the majority. Blogs are often just diaries, outlets for emotion, but those can easily be confused with rants. Either by design or not, Brian’s blog had reason and logic far beyond his years.

Brian who?

To steal a little content from Brian’s website, here is a just a small portion from his Bio:

  1. In that sense, I design how software works. That encompasses engineering the architecture, writing the code, and illustrating the interface, but more importantly, thinking about how people will use it.
  2. It’s not about technology, it’s about what it does. My passion is making tools for people.
  3. I’m 17 years old. (And yes, I’m both embarrassed and depressed by the behavior of most people my age.)

There are Others

People like Brian are not a dime a dozen. I’ll admit he is one of my mini-heros. There are plenty others, who’s names I’ll leave out in the hope that I can contribute an entire article to them as well. But I figured I’d swallow a little of my own medicine. Now I better get back to writing some real programming on this blog before all my readers get confused!

You deserve it, Keep up the great work.
– Joe P

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