June 29, 2004 10:08 AM   Subscribe

Harvard Weblogs: How to Avoid Flamewars, by Dave Winer.
posted by Hackworth (47 comments total)
You know, it still sounds condescending.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 10:13 AM on June 29, 2004

Winer posting an article about how to avoid flamewars?

Step 1: Avoiding responding to posts or articles by utterly egocentric developers who view anything other than fawning obsequious responses as a personal attack.
posted by pixelgeek at 10:18 AM on June 29, 2004

I thought I read the name wrong in the link. I don't know if Dave Winer should be giving this sort of advice. I'm waiting for Mark Pilgrim to write his article on how to avoid flame wars.

And sexism towards men. That's the worse kind!
posted by chunking express at 10:24 AM on June 29, 2004

Who is this Winer idiot?
posted by mischief at 10:27 AM on June 29, 2004

Can someone please explain why everyone hates Winer so much?
Cuz I just don't get it - he develops standards and give them away for free. He hosts weblogs for free.
When he can no longer afford to, the people who's been freeloading off him turn on him.

What did he do wrong?
posted by spazzm at 10:31 AM on June 29, 2004

I tried to read this without thinking about who Dave Winer was, as if it was someone I'd never heard of. (I have nothing against the guy. I know many who do, but -- well anyway.)

The piece is a bit pedantic, as well as -- well, who's reading this that would need these incredibly basic kinds of pointers? This is the kind of stuff you tell kindergarteners.

Nothing in it is wrong, but then again, I could write a serious screed explaining how important it is to try not drinking bleach, and everyone who read it would shrug and not change their natural behaviour one whit. Bleach drinkers would still drink bleach, and everyone else would be repulsed and/or apathetic to the message.

Just as a frinstance.
posted by chicobangs at 10:37 AM on June 29, 2004

spazzm: already asked and answered.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 10:39 AM on June 29, 2004

Can someone please explain why everyone hates Winer so much?

Actually there are three MeFi threads that cover the basics of the problems. Personally, I have no opinion, as I have not been a victim of any of these, but I know plenty of other people who dislike him quite intensely.

It does seem like a very odd topic for him to be writing about, although maybe he's the voice of experience in this case.
posted by milovoo at 10:45 AM on June 29, 2004

DrJohnEvans: Exactly - whenever someone ask why Winer is Evil, everyone refers back to some past action of his.
The past action, of course, would be perfectly reasonable had it not been for the fact that it was performed by Winer, who we all know is Evil.

What's the root cause? What was it Winer did that caused all his subsequent actions, however benign or neutral, to be branded as Evil simply because they were performed by him?
posted by spazzm at 10:52 AM on June 29, 2004

milvoo: Yes, there's been previous instances of Winer-hating, but how did it all start?

Did I miss the meeting where we decided Winer is evil?
posted by spazzm at 10:56 AM on June 29, 2004

Winer isn't evil, he's just a very productive sociopath.
posted by majcher at 11:03 AM on June 29, 2004

He doesn't mention what to do if the person in question is really the fuckwit you think they are.
posted by vbfg at 11:03 AM on June 29, 2004

spazzm, here's Dave's first contribution to MetaFilter ever, which features the wonderful opener:
Greetings fellow citizens! You're all full of shit, so you might as well admit it.
That's probably why people meet Dave's latest essay with a bit of skepticism. That quote is from four years ago and he's been prone to do something similar every few months since then. Granted, we all blow up from time to time, but I've never seen it so mean and so regular as what I see from Dave. I guess most people that have problems with Dave have had run-ins with him over the past few years. If you're new to reading his site, I guess keep reading and eventually you might see him blow up on someone or something unfairly. Then a few months later, you might see it happen again. And again.
posted by mathowie at 11:03 AM on June 29, 2004

Did I miss the meeting where we decided Winer is evil?

Winer isn't evil. People can think negatively (whether you accept the justification for doing so or not) about someone without them being "evil".

You either like Winer and put up with his rather obvious warts or you don't like him and are rather offended by said warts.

For the most part people who are offended by him are usually in that state due to being on the receiving end of a lump of abuse from Winer for questioning him.

He doesn't like that.
posted by pixelgeek at 11:08 AM on June 29, 2004

Hm. Okay.
Count me in the 'Winer is an asshole' club, then.
posted by spazzm at 11:09 AM on June 29, 2004

I came this close to posting this link earlier this morning, when I found it on Blogdex. It pegged the irony meter for me (based only on what I've read, I've no firsthand experience).
posted by pmurray63 at 11:10 AM on June 29, 2004

spazzm: it's not so much what he does, it's the way he does things. It's what he's like. SpecialK sums it up neatly in this thread:
He's bad-tempered, egotistical, overconfident, and he's a poor writer and communicator. He a lot of ideas, but his execution is horrible.
He openly abuses people on his weblog and then erases the abuse a few hours later. He campaigns against things he doesn't have the patience to understand, like CSS a few years ago. He gets very defensive and abusive when discussing his work, which is frustrating because of the stumbling-block it poses to access to an otherwise brilliant mind.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 11:11 AM on June 29, 2004

I think the real question is ... will he be following his own advice from this point forward, or is it just another example of him telling other people how they should behave?
posted by Orb at 11:14 AM on June 29, 2004

"How to Avoid Flamewars, by Dave Winer."

Presumably, has the same publisher as "Ethical Treatment of Minorities in Medicine" by Dr. Joseph Mengele.
posted by insomnia_lj at 12:09 PM on June 29, 2004

Orb: Thing is, he thinks he is following his own advice.

I've been watching the man for several years, and am convinced that he literally does not understand that his actions are contrary to his stated ideals.

Personally, wherever possible, I elect not to deal with people who think that public insults are a good way to win over the opposition. And from my own observation, despite occasional flashes of insight, he's just too narrow-of-focus to qualify as "brilliant."

But then, I apply that term very, very, very selectively. I can think of only two or three people I've ever known on whom I'd bestow that epithet.

He also has a really, really inflated sense of his own importance -- e.g., he describes himself as the "father of weblogging" (which, let's remember, under one name or another has been around as long as the web), and he inflates every disagreement over standards or every little public spat into some great freedom-threatening horror. He prates on and on about "community" and "movement" and expresses great Shock and Horror when people don't pull together in the same cause (his cause, naturally) -- while studiously ignoring the fact that the only thing these people share in common is a propensity for posting their own thoughts on the web. And let's not forget his incessant insinuation that he's the sole architect behind RSS, even though his own official history belies the claim.

And finally, his alleged "user focus" just irritates the hell out of me. His software is profoundly arcane and idiosyncratic, and yet he has the gall to pose as an "advocate for the user."

So, yeah, I don't know the guy personally, and he's never personally insulted me. But nevertheless, I find him irritating as hell. He sucks up the oxygen in debates that should just be about what works best for people.

Isn't it interesting to find a character who arouses that much enmity? So few of them. And it's easy to forget that most of them aren't a Howard Cosell or and Ali -- i.e., as you get to know more about them, they just get keep getting more irritating.
posted by lodurr at 12:13 PM on June 29, 2004

posted by brownpau at 12:17 PM on June 29, 2004

I just tried to add Dave as a MeFi contact, listing him as a crush. The server errored out. Who says ColdFusion doesn't work?
posted by yerfatma at 12:21 PM on June 29, 2004

But, the flamewars are the only reason people read him. He'll give you a huge one every few months even if he has to drive his website into incoming traffic to get it. And everyone, friends, foes and disinterested parties alike, get to rubberneck. It's a new-media soap opera, that's all; As The Winer Turns.

I hope, for his health, that he'll take his advice, but I'm betting once his traffic starts plummeting, he'll feel compelled to write something 'controversial' (i.e. a straight-up flame) to bring them back.
posted by boaz at 12:30 PM on June 29, 2004

drive his website into incoming traffic
Bad mix of metaphors, man.

posted by DrJohnEvans at 12:38 PM on June 29, 2004

My bad; that should be oncoming traffic. ;)
posted by boaz at 12:45 PM on June 29, 2004

Ah, that makes sense; I was figuring that incoming traffic was something he'd want driving into his website, but not the other way 'round.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 12:56 PM on June 29, 2004

I'm waiting for the Winer essay explaining how to incite and extend flamewars.
posted by andrewraff at 12:59 PM on June 29, 2004

Greetings fellow citizens! You're all full of shit, so you might as well admit it.

Pompous sociopath or not, you've got to admit, he pretty much has us pegged.
posted by crunchland at 1:31 PM on June 29, 2004

What makes you think I'm a "citizen"?!
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:39 PM on June 29, 2004

The more I hear about this Dave Winer person, the more I like him. It makes me feel not so alone.

"You're all full of shit, so you might as well admit it."

I may just get that tattooed on my arm.

Dave Winer - The hero of cranky, self-centered snarks everywhere.
posted by y6y6y6 at 2:41 PM on June 29, 2004

How many of you have felt the same way when talking to Winer in person? Not that I'm a fan, by any means.
posted by mecran01 at 2:46 PM on June 29, 2004

I think what it comes down to is that he makes himself a public figure, but doesn't play the part all that graciously. A hazard of blogging, I suppose.
posted by mecran01 at 2:52 PM on June 29, 2004

1. Lay on ground
2. Light fuse
3. Run away
posted by RylandDotNet at 2:53 PM on June 29, 2004

From the thread Matt linked:

There are now 30 comments on this thread, including this one.
Matt - is this a record? :-)

Those were the days!

I take it those asking "what's so bad about Dave Winer?" have never had the dubious pleasure of participating in a thread in which he took part. Try it sometime. You won't like it. (Except maybe that proud crank y6y6y6.)
posted by languagehat at 4:01 PM on June 29, 2004

Here's an interesting perspective that tickled my noggin just now, reading the reasons Winer has made himself unpopular (distorted self-image, rewrites history, etc).

These critiques are pretty much equally applicable to (insert name of admired and or influential character from computer science [or even just science] history here: Steve J, Bill G, Stallman - pick your own cranky, poorly socialized genius, my list is by no means complete).

What's different is that Winer has conducted this behavior via blogs, largely. Interestingly, this scrutiny does seem to have a cumulative negative effect on Winer's public image, in that threads like this (where someone wonders out loud, "Why is this man so slagged?") occur regularly. Where we used to educate the newbies NOT TO USE CAPS, now a part of the socialization process is learning about Dave Winer's personality flaws.

Which, really, is pretty interesting.
posted by mwhybark at 5:36 PM on June 29, 2004

What's different is that Winer has conducted this behavior via blogs, largely.

Yes and so have the people he has been in conflict with.

Winer gets the reputation he has precisely because of the ability of his opponents to present their own sides of the story or to present material that casts Winer in a negative light.

Unlike other public figures Winer shares the same access to the medium that propagates his message as do his opponents.

Its not like TV, or print publishing, as you note, but its not that Winer's posts make him more open to scrutiny (anyone could watch TV and see the mistakes Limbaugh made) but that the rebuttal and response to his posts are equally as accessible. And since weblogging is a meritocracy (of sorts) it means that in some circles the people responding have a wider audience than Winer himself.
posted by pixelgeek at 6:17 PM on June 29, 2004

I hit his site now and then, as he does dig up some interesting links now and again, but he is SO fucking high on himself I can't stand it. His response today to this thread's "full of shit" reference reeks of weaselish back-pedaling. Don't take my acknowledgement of you as a sign of respect Dave, it's not.
posted by Scoo at 7:46 PM on June 29, 2004

I feel about Winer the way I feel about vinyl siding.

You mean, that his plasticizers evaporate after a while and then he fades and cracks in the sun?

... pick your own cranky, poorly socialized genius...

There's a key difference between Winer & most of your examples: They're successful, on their own terms. (I'd wager Bill G doesn't even really believe he's a nerd.) Winer has to keep reinventing his terms to declare himself successful.
posted by lodurr at 9:32 PM on June 29, 2004

On afterthought: I'll take that back about Stallman. My impression of him is that he would never think he'd been successful on his own terms, even if everyone did everything his way.

Stallman and Winer make a really good contrast, I think. Both are cantankerous contrarians who like to present themselves as important and influential characters. But for Stallman, it actually happens to be true...
posted by lodurr at 9:35 PM on June 29, 2004

Just because someone thinks a lot of himself doesn't mean he's wrong.

I was going to stay out of this, because I stand to benefit commercially from adopting Weblogs.Com sites from Dave, so my opinion is suspect.

But if you don't think he's important or influential, you'd have to be ignorant of his work on XML-RPC, RSS, weblogs, Web content management, and outliners.

On RSS alone, he ought to be considered one of the most important Internet developers and evangelists of the last 10 years.
posted by rcade at 9:50 PM on June 29, 2004

I looked at that first Winer thread and read this by a much younger holgate:

And if weblogging is "about" anything, then it's not about being a blockhead.

Now is that comedy gold or what ?
posted by y2karl at 11:05 PM on June 29, 2004

rcade: Just because someone thinks a lot of himself doesn't mean he's wrong.

I'm in agreement with you there, and I love the RSS. It's not that Winer hasn't made important contributions to net technology, it's that his smugness is totally out of proportion to them.

Contrast this with the famously irascible Steve Jobs. Jobs can be a total bastard, but his contributions to computing, industrial design and animation outweigh his personality flaws. Besides, unlike Winer, Jobs is also capable of being incredibly charming.

Seriously, whom would you rather have dinner with?
posted by Scoo at 4:31 AM on June 30, 2004

I've had lunch with Dave. I recommend the experience to any programmer -- you go away from it ready to invent new protocols and software, totally reinventing the way you do things just to see what happens next.

The Web is better off because he didn't find other interests when Symantec bought his company for millions in the '80s.

Regarding your assessment of Jobs, I can't find the logic in using a person's professional accomplishments as a reason to excuse aspects of their personal lives. For instance, which accomplishment of Jobs' career compensates for fathering a daughter and having little part in her life until age 7?

I think we spend too much time on weblogs debugging each other's personalities.
posted by rcade at 5:08 AM on June 30, 2004

I think we spend too much time on weblogs debugging each other's personalities.

True enough. Would that it were not made necessary as an entry fee for certain acitivities -- such as participation in standards definition processes...

I know this as an outsider, of course; but sometimes outsiders have a clearer view of the situation. As a student of human interactions, I watch such things with keen interest. And yes, there is a lot of highly disfunctional wheel-spinning going on in the "weblog standards community". My own experience working in development teams is that such dynamics are often, if not usually, traceable to one or two individuals who hold instransigent positions for one reason or another.

In other words, if you can get the biggest loudmouths to shut their mouths -- and it has to be both in meetings and in the corridors -- you can start to actually accomplish things. Contests over intellectual territory are just about always bad for both productivity and creativity.

BTW, rcade -- I'll be extremely surprised (and suspect you would be, too) if you ever benefit very much financially from the Weblogs.com thing. It's not that I don't think you could handle the business aspects -- it's just that hosting is a nasty, narrow-margin business. Especially on Windows. And I expect you knew that going in. So I, personally, don't think your financial interests matter. I think it's oddly short-sighted that so many people seem to be calling you on that connection.

Now, as for The Steve...that's another rant for another time. Suffice to say that I wish he'd be as frank at least once as McNealy was when he remarked that if he'd been born 100 years earlier, he'd probably be in jail (presumably for grifting). (Not that McNealy's any hero of mine, either...)
posted by lodurr at 7:28 AM on June 30, 2004

Regarding your assessment of Jobs, I can't find the logic in using a person's professional accomplishments as a reason to excuse aspects of their personal lives. For instance, which accomplishment of Jobs' career compensates for fathering a daughter and having little part in her life until age 7?

None of them. It's definitely a black mark on Jobs' record, but one that perhaps has been reconciled with his daughter; that's between them. He seems to be a very devoted family man now, however.

Winer's personal history I know very little about, perhaps he's a wonderful humanitarian, I don't know.

My point is more about arrogance, and how much of it I am willing to tolerate. Winer just oozes it, and I don't think his resume justifies it. Jobs' does.

In the spirit of the thread, I'd like to point out someone who Jobs, and especially Winer could stand to borrow a page from: Steve Wozniak. Super smart, super accomplished, super nice. Him I like.
posted by Scoo at 7:44 AM on June 30, 2004

I always admired Woz for what he's done since leaving Apple. To have accomplished what he did -- to have lead others and inspired them to create and excel -- was a good thing to be remembered for. But he's since inspired literally several generations of students, given his money, time and clout in good causes, and generally tried to give back to his community. These truly are things to admire.

And all without flying off the handle at people and inflating every little thing to a crisis pitch. Imagine that.

From the stories I've heard, he had his own cult of personality at Apple, but it was kind of a secret cult -- one he made no effort to encourage, but which continued long after he was clearly and permanently gone. I've known a few managers and lead developers who had that kind of reputation. It makes a huge impact on an organization when its strongest, brightest, and best give of themselve freely; it encourages everyone to do so, creating virtuous currents throughout the organization.

By contrast, many managers and leads seem to function on a theory of competition for scarce intellectual resource. That's the core metaphor in most American business theory (Demmingism notwithstanding). And yet, it's consistently obvious that the organizations (or teams or institutions) that are able to accomplish the most with least are the ones where people give of themselves freely, without bullying or browbeating.

This is obvious stuff. People who don't see it should rightly be criticised for their lack of vision.

FWIW, I think guys like McNealy and Jobs do see this, and they exploit it. They're born pitch-men -- confidence men playing a lawful game -- and they understand the dance of inspiration, and how to leaven encouragement with occasional ridicule to set up the perfect paternal dynamic. They understand that "happiness" doesn't per se have anything necessarily to do with that free spirit of giving -- their goal is their goal, and if the workers are happy, great, if they're not, too g.d. bad, and I suspect you could even get them to admit that.

Then there are other folks who really do live to browbeat. They live for the pleasure of bullying others. I've worked for such people, and dealt with them across organizational lines; I've networked with them professionally. They get loyalty through fear. People even seem to fear their memory. In my experience, such people can be very good at getting quick results, where they're supported by an organizational structure; where not, they can occasionally build small cult followings made up of a combination of people who fear or admire power. But they don't get good creative contributions, because people aren't very creative about anything but survival when they're afraid.
posted by lodurr at 10:36 AM on June 30, 2004

Just to be clear: there is absolutely no sarcasm in the statement below.

Wow, lodurr...that was a great comment. Thank you.
posted by ltracey at 11:25 AM on June 30, 2004

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