(This is a snapshot of my old weblog. New posts and selected republished essays can be found at raganwald.com.)

Sunday, December 02, 2007
  Off Topic: Whole Lotta Nuthin'

For the first time in a very long time, I deleted a comment. (I delete the obvious spam all the time: “Kewl Blog! Here's my blog about how to Make Money Fast”). But this was just a garden-variety criticism.

I forget the exact words, but I think they went along the lines of, “You sure expanded a short quote into a lot of BS.” And quite honestly, I had given my serenity the day off work. I was irritated. Very irritated.

My feeling is that a certain kind of criticism is healthy. It indicates that the blog is putting out actual opinions and not just hand-waving.

I can write a post about interviewing. If I don’t want criticism, I can say things like, “I review the candidate’s track record and accomplishments with her, discussing her problem-solving approach and evaluating the cultural fit.” Sounds great. Now, what did I say, exactly?

Did I say, “I don’t hire her because she’s a woman and our office is full of guys?” Did I say, “I hire her because she rails against cowboy coding, so I have a good feeling about her, even if I didn’t actually find out if she can write any code herself?” Nope, I didn’t say anything you could point to.

Compare and contrast that to talking about any specific question you ask in an interview. Whether you talk about a software design challenge or an easy coding problem to screen out people who can’t actually program, someone will criticize you because you have said something specific. You can’t even suggest asking a candidate how they got into the industry without somebody suggesting you are using behavioral interviewing techniques and telling you how wrong that is.

Criticism of ideas is a sign that you are actually putting out specific ideas, not just platitudes. And as an extra special bonus, those criticisms add value for everyone who reads the ideas.

I recall Reiner Zwitserloot saying that I just don’t get it about static typing, that it is all about the tooling, not the safety. I really like that kind of opposition, it adds a lot of value for people reading the blog. It makes me re-examine my thoughts and convictions. I am grateful for that kind of feedback, even if it comes in a refreshingly frank form.

However, the comment I deleted actually says nothing about the idea in the post. Well, it sort of says that I contributed nothing new, that I took a quote and added hot air. That is a kind of criticism, one that criticizes my writing style.

But still, it says nothing about the underlying idea. This is not a blog about blogging. It is a blog about (at various times) career issues for software developers, software development, software, and most often, programming.

Readers come here for those subjects. How does criticizing my lack of writing skill add value to their experience? If someone is reading a post and you point out that twenty paragraphs could have been one paragraph, how have you helped them decide whether that one paragraph is right, wrong, or not even wrong?

I probably won’t delete a comment like that if it comes up again. But I do want to encourage everyone to consider the other readers of this blog before commenting.

Your comment is an opportunity to make the world a better place, to help someone else avoid the pitfalls and to steer them towards success. Don’t squander that on criticisms that are way off-topic. Are my words full of BS? If so, take a moment to explain why.

Comments on “Off Topic: Whole Lotta Nuthin':
I've found that most of the comments on your blog have been pretty good or at least considerate, and your posts in my opinion are very excellent.

On the flip side, if you ever got in front of the Digg crowd (or crowds similar to that) I would hope you'd be a little bit more liberal about deleting comments. Most of the comments from those folks are brain-damagingly asinine. I've seen too many great blog posts turned into a flurry of bathroom stall scribblings when put within reach of online mobs like them. I suppose it's none of my business, but I do like reading intelligent comment threads.

Thanks for the great thoughts, and keep it up!
The only deletions that are highly suspect are those that criticise your viewpoints.

It's a blog. Critiquing writing style is like shooting fish in a barrel - 98.5% of all blogs out there aren't written by wordsmiths. If it was fair game to comment solely on that, the criticisms would never end.

Your writing style is top-of-the-line of the middle tier to me. It doesn't read like you're a budding shakespeare (like waitterrant.net does), but other than that I usually read all the way through your longer missives even if I don't particularly care. That's got to be a good indicator of capable writing style. Even if you sometimes read a little too much into quotes :-P
Errr... http://waiterrant.net/ - I cna't spell tiday.
I consider -good- blog comments to be of huge value. Your posts may be great, but if they are not followed by interesting and thought-provoking comments, I feel like I'm only getting half the story.
An intelligent and active group of readers/commenters is the main reason I read Coding Horror, for example. I like Jeff's writing and am interested in the topics, but the comments to his posts (and his replies) are what make it worth my time. It's especially important to me to see a high signal to noise ratio in comments: I don't want to have to sift through pages of idiotic rants that add no value whatsoever (unless, of course, they are funny).
Please keep deleting comments as you see fit: you are not just discouraging bad posts, you are building a better community around your blog.
Interesting thoughts on a blogger's relationship to the reader.

On good days, I get comments on my blog that point out tools or techniques that I wasn't aware of. If I'm lucky, I occasionally get a healthy dose of reality and one of my ideas that seemed good in the safe isolation of my own mind gets exposed for its weaknesses.

Then there are days when I get comments like the ones you describe and I just sigh and move on. I don't think I've actually deleted a comment yet, but I've been tempted. It's your blog, so it's fair game.

Keep up the excellent work,
Russell Ball

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