Genii Weblog

Make sure your Troll-O-Sensor isn't set too high

Wed 31 Aug 2005, 01:09 AM

by Ben Langhinrichs
We Notes/Domino zealots have suffered a lot in recent years from rampant FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) spread by various Microsoft apologists, and we have been particularly annoyed by trolling in the various Notes/Domino forums.  A troll isn't really looking for information, and isn't really open to reasoned argument.  A troll simply wants to start flame wars and cause trouble.

Given this history, and with Notes/Domino 7 just released, many people in our Notes/Domino community may be just waiting for the inevitable trolls to start downplaying the accomplishments and spreading more FUD.  All well and good, but I'd caution you all to keep your Troll-O-Sensors set just a bit lower.  Just because someone asks a question about Notes/Domino, or even expresses a concern, doesn't make that person a troll.  It may just make that person a potential customer who has reasonable worries, or who has even been confused by the FUD being spread around.  But do you really think it is going to convince anyone that their worries are unwarranted by jumping up and down on them and screaming.  Not a chance.

The specific example which brought this up was on the (now) Notes/Domino 6 & 7 Forum, where an Imran Ashraf  asked about Notes Technology Risks.  Some of these concerns are legitimate, some are not, but all are quite plausible concerns that a company might have based on the press and analysis out there in the media.  What bothers me is not his list of questions, and he is asking people's opinions of these risks, not simply stating that they are facts.  What bothers me are the responses.

Aside from my response, where I actually addressed each perceived risk as best I could, here are the responses.

1) The first person asks if he is just "fishing for a batch of indignant objections?" and ignores all specifics and says these same risks would apply to any technology, which they certainly wouldn't.

2) Someone chimes in that he would "venture to guess that the is (a) MS developer" and derides that choice.

3) Another person piles on saying that these would mostly apply to any platform.

4) Finally somebody who is not a regular in the forum and didn't "get the memo" actually responds to a couple of concerns.

5) The last comment, thus far, is from another regular who asks, in a somewhat confrontational one-liner,  "Ok, you (-or your company) are entitled to your opinion, but why not get qualified advice from this group, or a consultant company?" and seems to ignore that that is exactly what the person did just do, and got fairly soundly blasted for doing.

Now, if this person is an MS developer (which his IP address suggests he is not), then everybody has just done exactly what he wanted by responding and drawing attention to the comments without refuting them at all.  If he is a potential customer, or even an existing customer, everybody has just made him feel like he has no right to ask any questions, but must unthinkingly remained devoted.  That tends to work... not!  Finally, anybody else reading the forum is likely to feel like the residents therein are a bunch of rude bozos who aren't willing to listen to any possible objections to their chosen platform, which would have the opposite of the intended effect, since it would tend to discredit their objectivity and make it more likely the questions being raised ARE legitimate.

So, all I can say is, let's show a bit more sensitivity when people ask questions.  It is a good and wholesome thing to ask questions, and also a good and wholesome thing to provide reasoned, intelligent answers which convince people you know what you are talking about.  That will better serve to bolster both our credibility and the reputation of Notes/Domino. in my humble opinion.  Sure, sometimes there will be trolls who ask questions in such a way that no reasoned answer is appropriate ("Senator, is it true that you have stopped beating your wife?"), but there are also people out there who have used Notes since it was a glimmer in Ray Ozzie's eye, and who may have questions that they would actually like answered.  Let's be aware of them as well.

Copyright 2005 Genii Software Ltd.

What has been said:

359.1. Ethann Castell
(31/08/2005 12:54 AM)

I'll start by saying that you did a fantastic job of answering Imran's questions, and you represented the Notes community if fine fashion.

However I was a put off by the way the posting was worded:

"Notes is a niche technology and as such has proven difficult to deliver a predictable solution."

I stand by my comment that many of those "weaknesses" could be applied to just about any platform" e.g. you could easily make a case that .NET doesn't integrate well into larger solutions.

I agree that we need to welcome people into the Notes community and I'm all for people asking questions. However, even on re-reading that posting it seems to come from a position of "Here's what's crap about Notes, any comments.", rather than an evaluative position. Still the comments need to be addressed and thanks again for doing that.

I check Imran's profile on Developerworks. His email address is from a Uni in Canada so he may even be a student collecting info for a project.

359.2. Nathan T. Freeman
(08/31/2005 01:43 AM)

Ben, I'm just glancing at the post now (was out yesterday) but look... there's not a single QUESTION posed. There's a series of statements. There is a request for opinions about those statements, but that's different than asking a question, and comes off as immediately confrontational.

Imagine it posed in a situtation where you were technology-neutral -- maybe if the statements were about Oracle posed on an Oracle-hosted forum. Would you not think that was a pretty disingenuous means of presentation?

359.3. Ben Langhinrichs
(09/01/2005 07:20 AM)

Ethann - And his IP address was from Tornoto Dominion Bank, so he might also be a consultant (as he says) with different addresses.

Nathan - It may have even been meant to be a bit confrontational, but it is not clear that it was. In any case, reacting without answering makes the situation worse, whereas reacting as if the opinions sought were genuinely wanted makes the responder look better and defuses the FUD in the questions themselves. Now, if he had acted like a troll and attacked every positive response, that would have made him look bad quickly and could have been dealt with appropriately, but it felt to me like a number of people were too quick to react, making them look worse and his statements look more plausible. That is my concern.

359.4. Bill Pappert
(09/01/2005 11:39 AM)

Having read the entire thread in the forum before coming here, Ben, I have to give you an ovation here... Particularly as I read this post after seeing the (to date) final posting from Thomas Kennedy which includes assertations of bullshit, cluelessness and "aren't necessarily stupid." If I look at this through the eyes of somebody looking to the forums for help, I'd have found that thread enought of a put-off to have me look elsewhere, anywhere to find an answer rather than risk being savaged like that.

You say that the first post may have been meant to be confrontational. I don't see it that way, Ben. When writing up a list of limitations, the perceived limits may seem to be harsh criticism when in fact it's not intended to be. Since the post was entitled "Notes Technology Risks," I expected that things could be a little cold and clinical sounding (which this was). Perhaps that's what came off as confrontational to some?

359.5. Gregg Eldred
(09/01/2005 07:24 PM)

I will admit that when I first saw the post, "indignation" was my first reaction. However, like most things electronic (e-mail, LDD, listservs), I stop, think about it a little, then go back and look at it again. By then, the thread was rolling and there was nothing of importance that I could add. The part that I didn't like was that the poster seemed to disappear, thus making me think it was a fishing expedition (trolls, if you will). Unfortunately, in the LDD forums, you do not have the ability to actually SEE the person, so it is impossible to gauge what it is that they are asking, body language, tone, etc. Some of the responses were pretty harsh, yes, but others were professional/measured responses. That is to be expected. I hate to say it, and it is probably a bad generalization, but we (the Notes community) can be thin skinned and quick to react.

That said, we may have alienated an individual. We will never know.

359.6. Ben Langhinrichs
(09/02/2005 08:28 AM)

Actually, we do know. Imran responded and thanked everybody for the information. Specifically, he said:

I just get to check the responses today. Thanks to all of you who responded and provided valuable information. I will take this up and respond to the architecture team accordingly. It is great help!

So, I am glad there were more positive responses after I posted this blog notice, and it also seems to confirm my view that we should be careful not to jump too quickly to conclusions about such questions/comments.