Strong opinions, weakly held

Quotable: Alex Payne

Alex Payne on online technical debate:

In practice, the conversations that are most widely heard in the tech community are full of inaccuracies, manufactured drama, ignorance, and unbridled opinion. In discussing these Internet-spanning debates with non-technical friends, comparisons to Hollywood tabloids come first to mind. It’s a time sink for an industry that should be a shining example of how to use the newest of media for constructive debate.

Tim Bray weighs in citing Sturgeon’s Law — 90% of everything is crap, which works both ways. Yeah, most everything is crap, but a bigger pie leads to more crap, but more non-crap too. A rising tide lifts all boats.


  1. Both parts are true, and both parts are why I read very selectively in the online technical world. The biggest danger in reading a lot of technical stuff is groupthink leading to premature acceptance or rejection of ideas based on a few “opinion leaders”, some of whom are smart but may not always be right, and some of whom have been right so far purely by chance. Following trends blindly will make you stupid, credulous, uncreative, and unproductive. The drummed-up fear of obsolescence that is driven by the need to sell new product contributes greatly to this. The fact is, most new technologies are not particularly new, and are either not particularly hard to understand (the good ones, e.g. HTML) or are very difficult to understand and therefore unlikely to gain enough acceptance to live very long (e..g SOAP).

    There are technologies that are all of new, innately difficult, and useful, but you’re unlikely to find out about them reading Slashdot, because they’re buried in a thousand stories about the latest warmed-over version of something that was old in 1965 but is now being touted as a work of staggering genius by a new Turing. Reading hype is a waste of braincells.

    There is unlikely to be ANY reliable way of finding out about those things earlier than anyone else, because the number of people pursuing them is large, and until someone has solved them and can prove that they have, all you have is noise. Once provably solved, you will not have the jump on anyone else.

    (Nor should you worry about that anyway, because being the first to know about something new as opposed to learning about a few weeks or months later is no guarantee of having the imagination to do anything useful with it. The classic example there being Google entering a mature market for search and demolishing the competition with superior interface, performance, and algorithms. Another is Twitter, which does nothing that wasn’t technically possible in 1992 – or for that matter, 1982, or 1972.)

  2. Bigger pie leads to more non crap ? Well, I would argue that before growing a system, it’s always nice to see if you can clean it up… Multiplied crap is likely to be worse than the sum of its parts…

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