Saturday, August 2, 2008

The revenge of the Linux munchkins

Working with Linux means being introduced to new environments and techniques all the time and sometimes – after you have been working with a particular program for some time – you think: "This can't be true. This thing was getting so many good reviews but for me it just doesn't work."

Nowadays it is quite easy to vent your anger and write an article on the Internet, explaining in detail what has happened to you and why other users should be cautious. If it is a small project you're commenting on you may get a single comment from the programmer – or may be none at all. But beware when you're writing an article on some major project. The munchkins may come and get you!

We have known about the Microsoft muchkins all our lives. Those are people who are paid to scan the Internet for unfavorable articles and use the comment facilities to do what Microsoft does best: spread FUD. As far as I know there is no such equivalent in the Linux world. It just seems like that.

Linux munchkins are a mixture of hardworking programmers, fanboys and trolls and they will do everything to debunk your article with varying degrees of politeness. Let's make it clear that I don't want to deny anybody the right to comment on an article, especially when he is right. But I doubt the usefulness of some comments. Let me give you a small summary.
I just think your being a sensationalist for your own gain.

How about making sure you install the software properly before telling the world.

I agree with many of the posters that reviews like this do not serve the community well. Your mistakes in your initial installation soured the tone of this review from which it could never recover.

For someone who calls himself a "guru" this is no good promotion for your reputation.

I wish bloggers who play at being journalists had enough pride to actually research something before posting.

And the list goes on. Let me stress that most programmers remain relatively polite, it is mostly the community that acts like teenagers with Britney Spears posters above their bed. Yes, such articles may hurt a project. But if the project is sufficiently good I'm sure there will be other articles as well. If not, it may give a project enough stuff to think about and adjust their course. And what kind of impression do you think you leave? At least that we are infighting instead of discussing an issue. Do you think that helps?

But whatever you think of amateur journalists, they are users as well and I think their experiences are genuine. If not, it is FUD and you can flame that to hell as far as I'm concerned. These users spend time installing a program or research their issue as well as they can – and then they write an article. It all takes time, time they spend on their community, a thing we are all part of.

The community will always benefit from blogs. Maybe their documentation needs an addition or clarification. Maybe they picked up a buzz that is important and needs addressing. Everybody makes errors. Programmers, project leaders and bloggers.

If you are a blogger and you made an error do as the professionals do: write a rectification or followup. Make sure your original blog links to it. Work together with those who pointed out where you went wrong. In my experience most are quite helpful.

But those who consider themselves to be part part of the community I'd like to say, note that publicity and a healthy blogosphere are in your interest too. Nobody is interested in "corporate" and biased communication. Real blogs draw much more attention. And decent, to the point comments make it even more interesting.

Hey folks, let's keep it civilized, huh?

Update: Ten days after publishing this blog KDE e.V. endorsed a "Code of Conduct" like Ubuntu had done a few years ago. It stated: "We do not tolerate personal attacks (..) Disagreement is inevitable, from time to time, but respect for the views of others will go a long way to winning respect for your own view". I'm not as arrogant as to think that this blog had anything to do with that. Sometimes two things just happen at the same time. I'm sure more major projects will follow. Regettably we seem to need a code of conduct in order to survive as a community.