Open discussions

This is the problem with encouraging debate via social media: everything you say hangs around, and thanks to search engines people will remember what you say. Especially if you “give bile a permalink“. So you need people to be prepared to stand by their words, but nothing freezes people in the act of creation more than realising that what they say will be remembered forever. So let’s allow anonymous posts, then we just get the good stuff, right? But, nothing encourages bile like anonymous ill-informed website comments, especially when I’ve had a drink.

But then, for the people wanting to really share information nothing beats a no-holds-barred meeting where you can say what you need to say. Trust is a precondition, and you keep it open, honest and candid then you can really get something done. The precondition for trust is stability, so that what goes around has a chance to come around. Really that’s the foundation of any community that extends into the future.

For examples to the contrary see basically any page on The Internet and cf the eternal September.


But how can you go forth and use that information given so openly? That information was given in a trusted environment, that can’t be blown by re-tweeting. The ideal – to me – would be some sort of online version of the Chatham House Rule

When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.

Which doesn’t exactly square with the typical 360 review convention. But not everything is a single-person rigorous opinion. Sometimes we are trying to establish a Body of Knowledge or even a *gasp* consensus because we can only make progress together.

Speak up

Developers are also really great at criticising stuff; especially things that are full of interesting ideas which aren’t universally true under every condition that I can think of. That means that the balance is on people not saying anything, whereas on the Internet we have an environment that is toxically full of so many low quality ideas that you can’t even delete them fast enough, never mind convince people of your idea.

So, being in a company where people hold themselves to high standards, and are naturally snippy, the environment becomes very critical and it is very hard to put your head above the parapet to say something; even an un-original idea or just telling people why you did it; but you can start by encouraging others when they do so. You don’t have to sugar-coat anything but remember that there are no facts, there are only points of view*.

Encourage discussion by participating in it, and not only by reacting to what other people say. You can try creating something yourself for a change and see the difference between refuting someone’s idea and creating something yourself. Oh, you didn’t like what someone made? It was bad in some indefinable way? You could have done more? Well why don’t you show them the difference between something that is truly “excellent” and merely “the best you’ve seen so far”.


*Hold back those comments, don’t tell me that there are some facts. Before you tell me that 1=1 and that’s a fact. A) you already know that I mean non-trivial assertions about the real world B) you are doing that criticism thing already C) that’s an axiom not a fact.

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