Putting Our Hot Heads Together

by Carolyn--Wood

41 Reader Comments

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  1. I some what understand people starting to flame at each other. Some times one needs to express his frustration. In forums it may would help trying to isolate the flaming from the discussion by offering a “offical flaming area” as well as obligating moderators to move flame entries into that special area.

    Another idea: Let people rate entries as flames (the opposite of rate them as good). I guess people would like that since it would give them an opportunity to express their frustration while providing a filtering possiblity to the others at the same time.

    (Sorry for my english skills. I’m not natively speaking english)

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  2. Ad hominem arguments usually stink. And they are doubly treacherous in an online forum where you can’t look someone in the eye, gauge their body language, none of that.
    But that said, there are many occasions when it’s perfectly appropriate to voice an opinion about the motives, intentions, and credibility of those with whom you are interacting.
    Judges and juries do this thousands of times every day all over the world and it is both a pertinent and crucial that they do so.
    If someone has a hidden agenda, or is being duplicitous, they should be called out on it. Pure and simple.

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  3. @Richard You raise a good question, particularly for forums and blogs, where the rules of the game are determined by the people who run them. My article’s focus isn’t on forums or blogs (though I believe that both would benefit from many of the ideas in the article), but rather on online magazines and, really, the few of them that take pains to “vet” articles. So, credibility is rarely an issue.

    Motives and intentions seem beside the point to me for the type of articles I discuss. The thing to judge is the article itself and its issue. My advice is to stay focussed on the issue and move it forward, rather than getting sidetracked trying to determine the motivations or intentions of other people in the discussion area. Attorneys, judges and juries have an entire trial to present cases, pro and con, to determine, among other things, motive. Cases built purely on motive are usually called circumstantial. Too, the the purpose of a trial is usually that there is good reason to believe that someone has done something wrong, and our goal is to figure out who. That’s not the purpose of a magazine article, and I’ve tried to point out that when we take trail-like adversarial positions, the result is usually unproductive for everyone involved.  If you think an article author is duplicitous, in that their article is a case of plagiarism, your best bet is simply to contact the editors of the magazine (providing proof, of course).

    In discussing an article’s issue, what does it matter what the other person’s motive is? What matters is the quality of his or her point about the issue being discussed. As for how to respond to people in the discussion area for a well-vetted article, if you think they are duplicitous or have a hidden agenda? I would have three answers to that: 1) If you think they are duplicitous or have a hidden agenda (and it would be extremely unusual for us to know that for a fact), react only to what they’ve said about the issue. Discuss the value of the point they make, pro or con. I see no reason to comment on them personally. 2) If they are, indeed, duplicitous or have a hidden agenda, such as throwing off or destroying the discussion, they are likely a troll, in which case, those of us with a great deal of experience on the web know that the best course is simply to ignore or delete the comment. Engaging them in discussion is almost never fruitful and only helps them succeed in attempts to throw us off course.  3) If they are simply wrong about a point, and you now that for sure, I addressed that in my article, right after the “Cool Kid’s Table” list. Say what you have to say as graciously as possible. Be open to the idea that you might be the one who is wrong, so that you are still able to continue the dialogue. I have found that even in the sometimes wild and virtually endless forum discussions that I think you are talking about, refusing to be thrown off course or sucked in often starts with firmly refusing to make it personal. As I say to the authors in my article, don’t be too concerned about nasty people. They are self-indicting. Is my article a cure-all for problems in the discussion sections of high-quality magazines (or other places online, as well)? Absolutely not. Impossible. It’s simply a reminder for those who have slipped into bad habits (most of us, at one time or another) and a call for more collaboration. When we’re discussing articles about CSS, JavaScript, IA, Content, PHP, Design, and other subjects related to creating websites (and my article was specifically about the web standards world) in public, I see little reason to get personal. Discussing other issues in other areas of the web, which may be more likely to touch on, say, moral, political, or personal issues, may call for the “calling out” you suggest. I still suggest it be done with civility.

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  4. @Frederic Thank you for commenting. Most of us are usually very impressed by people who enter a discussion that isn’t in their first language!

    While online forums aren’t really the focus of my article, your comment about rating flamers had me smiling. I believe that 37signals puts dunce caps next to people who seem to be trolls. Although you idea of rating comments as flames is very imaginative, somehow I think that rating flames would just encourage more flaming. Your idea of moving flames to another area in forums (not magazine articles) might actually work. :) I believe that simply venting frustration is probably best to do in emails to friends, in very small private discussion lists where everyone agrees that the list is for venting, in non-personal Twitters, or in our own blogs, etc. Of course, stating our frustration about a subject in an article is fine, if we aren’t personal about it, and we aren’t venting—that’s my opinion, anyway.

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  5. Please excuse the typos I just discovered in my last two replies. :) I’m supposed to be on vacation this week, and apparently my spelling is on vacation, too.

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  6. I was a bit taken aback to show up on ALA and find an article about a subject I had just covered in a rant on my own “blog”:http://goteama.com/fwiw/articles/19/a-diatribe-or-maybe-just-a-tribe from a different perspective.

    I work in film as well as on the web, and I have been really dismayed by the lack of substantive that goes on around films, particularly independent projects. There seem to be many folks who love film out there who are deeply concerned with ridding cinema of anyone who is not yet a perfect craftsman, noob or not.

    On the whole I have found that the web community is a bit more tolerant of noobs, and experimentation. This medium really allows people to articulate what works and does not about any product in as much or little detail as they like, yet those thoughts are rarely presented as a way to open discussion. Only a way to stick one’s tongue out, finger up and turn the cold shoulder to the rest of the community.

    This was a fantastic article (certainly more coherent than mine) and will hopefully lead to some new ideas in this area. Maybe all of us web heads can come up with a new interface to make commenting more collaborative and less bellicose.

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  7. That’s a great article, thank’s for taking the time to write it, it really changes the perception I had about comments section on a website.

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  8. Carolyn, it’s been said better and with fewer words, but this is a terrific piece, one with equal parts head and heart in it. So thank you for that.

    I thought readers might be interested in a slide deck NY-based agency Bond Art & Science (disclosure: we’re collegial but share no working relationship) made public this week around braving and engaging the commentariat. It’s here:


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  9. One of the greatest tragedies of the internet is Craigslist’s Rants & Raves, which blew a good thing by allowing users to censor content by flagging it. What was once a brilliant board full of crazed vitriol, unabashed bigotry, and occasional moments of inspired brilliance is now mostly about the unabashed bigotry (and Sox/Cubs fans posting a lot of penis pictures while calling each other “gay” here in Chicago). Nobody wants to open the obviously racist posts (or the baseball posts with pictures attached) so they never get flagged. But if you say something smart or incisive enough to piss somebody off they’ll flag that stuff into oblivion.

    You have to allow for some blowing off of steam, I think. When I get my forums up and running, I expect I’ll have one completely anonymous 18+ section that lets people blow their tops and get stuff off of their chests with the one rule being that you don’t get to attack individuals.

    When you give users too much control of anything, you provide nothing.

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  10. @Erik Sure, build as many forums and blogs as you’d like. The “rules” or lack of rules at each is up to the person or group who builds them, as I said in my article. If you’d like them to be places where people blow off steam, that’s up to you. I agree with you (if I understand one of your points correctly) that unmonitored anonymous rating systems can end up as free-for-alls that yield absolutely no information. Good point.

    My article, however, clearly was on a different topic: Sites where carefully crafted, vetted articles are written for people who make websites, and they offer an opportunity to collaborate (even when that means cordially disagreeing). My point was that blowing off steam in these specific places gets us nowhere, doesn’t garner any respect for the “steamer”  (in fact, they almost always embarrass themselves), and is a missed opportunity.

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  11. Granted this article was written a few months ago, but someone suggested it in another comment area. Great piece. To often do I visit someone’s article on how to do something on the web, a new trick, new technology, new way to do things and people come in like they are the Masters of the Web and just criticize the author or people who right meaningful comments about the article.  Like I say in many articles, no one forces them to read the article. It is the web, you can choose another site to go to.
    I really liked this article because it brings to light so many things that people do all over the web. With the comments section open to all opinions there seems to be people who like to start a slugfest and offer no real substance on how to improve something. Case in point is this article

    where the author offers a new way to do something and people come swooping in like the Web police or villans and start bashing the article and offer no ideas of their own to show how something could be different or how they would do it.  Just how they think it is pointless, it sucks, or some other bash they can think of. 
    Great stuff. Love the articles on this site. Very top notch.
    Thank you!

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