Finding the silver lining in every black cloud - and why the Anonymous Coward has no place

May 13 2009

It has been a fairly interesting week in my world - and I want to highlight 3 events and two threads that tie them together. Those events are:

1. The closing of 3D Realms and what seems to be the end of the line for Duke Nukem Forever (4)
2. The Office 2007 Service Pack 2 inclusion of Open Document Format (ODF) support and the fallout surrounding
3. The relaunch of OpenNTF.org and the reaction in the Lotus bubble

You might look at those three things and wonder what could ever tie them together. Funny, I found two consistent thoughts that came into my head as I read various sites and comment threads about all three.

When did we all decide everything was negative?


So those reading the blog subject might see the reference to a highly anticipated album, but it really is a thought that has been in my head lately. No matter the issue or topic, it seems that most people start out looking for what is wrong. How this will impact me negatively. What can I do to find fault and then point it out - and maybe make a name for myself. I am guilty of this at times - and this is one of the traits that I work most hard to change.

In the case of the demise of 3D Realms, so many people were making comments such as "OMG - you have ruined my life!" or "HA HA HA - I hope these people never work again - they suck and should die" - and if you think I am serious - go read sites like Shacknews.com or Duke4.net. The comment are outrageous - but mostly people who are trash talking the people who worked on the game for the past 12 years. Not just the owners of the 3D Realms or the publisher Take2 (which had nothing to do with this), but the folks who write the code or animate the models. Pure rage, hate, and very dark thoughts.

The Office 2007 SP2 ODF discussion went down some really negative roads as well. Instead of focusing on just the core technical issues - which there are many - we had people claiming Microsoft was going to fork ODF, going to take over the Technical Committee, and even some calling for others to leave the ODF community. I know that this is a passionate topic, but I LOVE that ODF and document Interop is getting so much attention and discussion. There are more people talking about ODF implementations and the technical aspects than EVER BEFORE! That is great! It will make more folks aware of the issues and possibilities. But instead of finding a way to solve the problem by making suggestions, coming up with implementation guidelines, we have people falling back into the "Microsoft is EVIL" or "ODF is run by IBM and they have an agenda" - which just enflame the discussion. And one item that I have not seen anyone mention - the number of people who now have access to ODF increased by an amazing factor (ten times? who knows - hard to measure). And that will continue to increase. There are always going to be issues - but we can solve them. I guess I just wish the conversation would morph into solutions vs. end-of-the-world diatribes.

In the OpenNTF.org relaunch, many changes came all at once. A new user interface, bringing the catalog to the forefront, the introduction of the new steering committee, and the new Apache licence and everything that brings. For me, I am biased. I knew about the change to the Apache license and am a big proponent of that. I have had too many customers tell me they can't use anything from OpenNTF.org because of the license issues. All of these same customers are using open source software that use the Apache license - because the lawyers trust it. Yes, it means you have to fill out a document - but I bet most of you working at companies are supposed to do that anyway if you look at your employment agreement. I know I had to. And don't get me wrong, I love that Declan was so passionate about this that he brought up his thoughts. I do not want to discourage any discussion at all. He focused on the issues a developer who contributes to the site would have vs. if the site worked with or without the 'www' in the url. But his comment that the steering committee folks may be more into the marketing aspects of having our logo on the front page was such a negative spin to me. And then the pile on effects - some with no basis that were pure emotional reaction. There is nothing wrong with that, but why is the first reaction to believe that big brother is out to destroy something? Why not look at this as an opportunity for growth and excitement? Why always start with the negative reaction? How many people who want to see change are using the IdeaJam instance on the OpenNTF.org site? Only one new suggestion added this week ... so not many.

I have no answer for this so call this just an observation. I am not going to ask others to change either - just a personal goal to keep my thoughts and reactions to situations on the positive side. Much more work for me to be on that side of the coin with every reaction.

Why I believe anonymous comments have no place


In all three of the same events I mentioned above, we saw anonymous comments enter the conversation and attempt to change the tone. Websites like Slashdot.org (known as /. here) allow for anyone to comment without providing a name behind the comments. For me, its not that someone does not want to use their real name - its that they have provided no background. I don't care if someone comments with a real name or a nickname - I went by starfish711 on many game boards for years - but I can't track their comment history. I can't judge their experience or knowledge of a subject. For instance - if I write a comment on Rob or Doug's blog, I want people to know it's John Head - to provide context and a reason why they should take my comment with any value. I believe the whole anonymous commenting practice removes that - its just a single statement in time with no background or way to evaluate it. Yes, I know, on /. I can change what I see - but how many people do that? How much time is spent on anonymous rants and spin?

Websites like Shacknews.com require someone to log in with a username to comment, but people have found a way around that. Want to throw out a scathing comment about the employees of 3D Realms? Just create a new email account at any webmail service (gmail, yahoo, live, msn, hotmail, etc) and then create a new user on the site. Post your comment and then throw both away. There is no way to prevent this, but for me, it really brings down the conversation. I want to invest in a conversation that I get involved in - and I need the others in the conversation to be that way as well. I know I can not force others to do that - but I can walk away from the conversations that don't provide the level of information I want.

Lastly, I have heard way to many forms of this in the past week ... "I had a bunch of people tell me this but they won't say it publically" - and that includes the OpenNTF.org discussion. I fully realize that some people won't post what they really are thinking - I am not being unrealistic. But to me the phrase "a group of people" just means I should ignore the statement. Either name names - or get them involved in the discussion. And this discussion does not need to be on a blog or blog comments - there is email, IM, and so many other ways to engage in a discussion. Heck, we all have cell phones. I know some folks can't comment publically based on personal or employer reasons. But trying to make your point seem more valid or weighted with an anonymous mob behind it - yeah, its worthless to me. And for the record, I know I am guilty of this as well. Another item on my list of actions I want to purge myself of. But I am putting myself on the record here - I will not accept the anonymous mob in any argument - and expect those to smack me if I try to do the same with you.

Final Thoughts


Maybe I am being way to idealistic here. Maybe there is way to much negativity in our world that we are subjected too on the nightly news - war, death, disease, crime, failure - to be able to have a positive outlook when we are presented with a new situation. Who knows - but it would be nice to start a discussion on the high note. To debate an issue, and debate it passionately, with an expected outcome of movement to a solution was the desired outcome instead of generating chaos. Maybe I need to take off the tinted glasses and just get real. Or maybe not. Maybe I will stay idealistic and a glass half full person. Yep, I like that idea better.

13 Responses to “Finding the silver lining in every black cloud - and why the Anonymous Coward has no place”

  1. 1) Henning Heinz says:

    Ironically you are taking three topics with a somewhat negative background and write your thoughts about it.If you are a half full person then why not only write about the many good things that happened too?

  2. 2) John Head says:

    I have written about many of the good things that have happened Henning - and even tried to turn the ODF discussion to a solution/positive direction myself here. But just because I am looking for the positive side doesn't mean I am going to ignore what comes. I have three communities my blog serves - and all three happened to have the same actions all in the same time period. I found it interesting and wanted to document what took place. Talking about things that have happened is not a negative act.

  3. 3) Doug Mahugh says:

    Yeah, anonymous comments are always a challenge, and it's not clear to my why so many people in the document formats discussions feel a need to hide their identity. I let the anonymous comments through, but they're more likely to include personal attacks and less likely to provide any useful information, when compared to people who post under their own names.

  4. 4) Mike McP says:

    There's no way to stop anon comments. I ran a bulletin board way back in the day (remember those?!). Basically, I had even less opportunity to see who the trolls and users with multiple accounts were back then, because it was strictly modem users who would dial into my system...no IPs, no providers, etc.

    What I'm getting at is that you can't win this battle. It's like DRM...when there are those who want to prohibit something, there are always more folks on the other side who will make it possible. You can try to stop anon by requiring login, etc, but it's futile...if people want to post anon, they will find a way to do it.

    Slashdot is a pretty good example. Their rating system keeps the troll/useless posts so that they get modded down and out of sight. This method is great, but only works on large sites, where rogue bands of users can't impact the overall outcome of the site by colluding to mod down posts that they don't agree with. What we need is a community drive method for modding up/down content on small sites, regardless of whether it was posted anonymously.

    I never really thought about this, but what if I planetlotus could allow readers to mod up/down blog authors? Then those very blog authors would be almost like elected officials, who could mod up/down content on the various sites linked to from planetlotus? If I saw a post that was informative, and it was modded down, I could see how the authors voted on the post. Even better would be to start an independent site, where you could register your unique nick somehow, and you could use that nick on any site, and your credibility score would carry over to every site you used it on? You'd need co-operation from the forum developers to use your 'plug-in' for registered nicks, but it's a cool idea. Basically, when a forum user signed up, it would check the 'authoritative' site to see if that nick was registered, and if so, they couldn't use it.

    Just rambling, but I love this kinda stuff....

  5. 5) John Head says:

    Well Mike, there are no anon comments on my blog - I delete them. So does Ed. So you can deal with them, you just have to be willing to se the rules and then enforce them. On a site like /. or Shacknews.com - yeah, much harder. But its the attitude they bring with them that I just do not understand or approve of

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