What to expect

When I redesigned this site I made the decision to remove a post. I felt it did not reflect the level of quality I wanted here. It was a ranty and vague assertion of an unimportant idea, relied upon stock images to make a point, and ended in an inflammatory attack on a unrelated company just to make a joke. You can see the original source if you want, but I’ve decided to remove it from general availability.

It’s not totally appropriate (I don’t serve the correct status on this site yet, for example), but I’m reminded of a favorite quote:

"Embracing HTTP error code 410 means embracing the impermanence of all things." Mark Pilgrim

While writing I try to strike a balance between my personality, a vague picture of the audience I’m speaking to, and a degree of professionalism. By professionalism I mean a sense that things that one puts on the internet have a habit of staying up there (HTTP 410 notwithstanding), and you can’t completely define the scope of individuals and organizations with which you will work in the future.

When I started this site, I wrote “don’t worry, I’ll keep the personal opinion stuff pretty mild”, which was a way of hedging toward professionalism and audience. I now view this choice as a mistake. Keeping personal opinion out of writing is a direct path toward bland, emotionless content. I get to write that kind of stuff in technical documentation, but won’t be doing that here.

But a bias toward writing whatever I feel like can lead to the types of posts which I wound up removing. So I’ve been working on the types of principles which will help guide what I write about and how I write it, hopefully without sacrificing my voice in the process. I’ve thought about these for a few weeks now, and they are:

Focus on the positives

Search Hacker News for “hate” and you find posts titled:

  • Great work Visa, now I hate you
  • Why I Hate Android
  • What I Hate About Git
  • Why everyone hates MongoDB
  • Everybody Hates Firefox Updates

Now I’ve been there too, and from time to time get frustrated and emotional over something which just doesn’t work the way I want it to. But to go and so prominently express an emotion as strong as hate over something so unimportant as a database implementation seems distressingly petulant.

I’m sure the engineers behind Visa, Android, Git, MongoDB, and Firefox work hard to provide their products and services to the world. It’s disrespectful to assume things work the way they do due to incompetence or malice. The “be positive” filter helps me provide feedback in a way which is constructive to those folks, since I know how difficult it is to read something so blatantly antagonistic toward something you put effort into.

Which is not to say that I won’t talk about things I don’t like about FOO, just that instead of writing a post framed as “I hate FOO” or “Here are things I hate about using FOO”, they’ll be more in the line of “What I like about (FOO competitor) BAR” or “Features which would make using FOO better for me”. Of course if you look at my Twitter feed you’ll find plenty of snark. I’m not happy all the time, and I don’t find all things wonderful. Twitter is a release valve for some very raw thoughts. But it is relatively ephemeral. I’m not going to sit down and spend hours or days writing a permanent post tearing apart something else that someone created.

When Conan O’Brien was kicked off of the Tonight Show, he had plenty to be cynical about. Instead, his farewell address contained one of my favorite expressions of this idea:

"I hate cynicism, for the record it's my least favorite quality. It doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen." Conan O'Brian

Avoid punditry

Search Hacker News for “will beat” and you will find posts like:

  • Why OpenStreetMap will beat Google and Apple
  • Why Google predicts Microsoft’s next game console will beat Sony’s
  • A new startup that will beat kickstarted and pinterest
  • Why Google+ will beat both Facebook and Twitter
  • Why Windows 8 tablets will beat Android

Aside from treading so closely to the “focus on the positives” principle, I will attempt to avoid such punditry because there are already no shortage of sites which will offer such guesses, disguised as careful analysis. These predictions are typically without value.

I’ve just finished Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — but Some Don’t. He has a really interesting analysis of political predictions, including a section on the McLaughlin group, a long-running show which gathers political experts and asks them to make predictions about current events. Nate showed that experts were correct about 50% of the time - no more informative than a random guess. So while I have seen some tech pundits pat themselves on the back for correct guesses, I haven’t seen any which keep track of their long term success record. And while “FOO will beat BAR” type articles can be considered interesting thought experiments some of the time, they typically don’t contribute actionable information.

To put it another way, there’s no shortage of people who don’t work at Twitter but assume they know enough to tell the company how to run itself:

  • Twitter Should You Pay For It?
  • Why Twitter Should Buy Hashtags
  • Twitter should buy Mr. Tweet
  • SocialWhale AKA “How Twitter Should Be”
  • How Twitter should make money
  • Twitter should copy Google+’s circle feature

I guess there’s room for a “assume I don’t know the whole story” proto-principle here. At the very least I will attempt to back up my opinions with facts, data, and/or my own experiences rather than rely on being an “industry expert” (I’m not). And I hope people call me out on it if I don’t follow this principle, because it’s easy to forget.

Write about anything interesting

I first started this site to put up technical content and found myself sterilizing my subjects and how I wrote about them. Writing the content became a chore and I didn’t want to do it as often. I found myself looking for other expressive outlets (such as Twitter). Since I’m putting more effort back into this site, I’ll assume:

  • This site will be an expression of myself.
  • People who like this site may be interested in things I am interested in.
  • I am interested in more than just technology.

So I’m not going to preemptively censor myself just because the subject may not fit in some theme. This site is a record of my own thoughts over time, and I like reading what I was thinking in the past, even if I don’t agree with those thoughts any more.

I’ll still primarily write about programming and technology (since those interest me the most) but be prepared for the occasional recipe or book review as well.

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