You Just Can’t Make This Stuff Up

This entry was posted by on Thursday, 4 October, 2007 at

My conspirator Fitz and I have given a talk (about 12 times now!) called “How to Protect Your Open Source Project From Poisonous People”. (You can see the slides or watch the video.)

And today, we found an actual poisonous person in the Wild! His posts are textbook-classic; we should bottle him up and show him to Summer of Code students.

The scenario: a guy found some javascript bugs and/or confusing behaviors on a Google product. So he came to the mailing list that provides tech-support for the service and enumerated his complaints. The problem is, his attitude was so condescending and full of bile, he ended up attracting more attention to himself than to the bugs. If you search the net, you can see that this guy hangs out on various javascript lists, and does seem to be a javascript guru of some kind, so his criticisms are probably legit (and valuable!)… but putting on my psychologist hat, it’s pretty clear that his primary goal isn’t to report bugs. His goal is to get people riled up. I guess some people get a kick out of that.

Let’s examine his posts by beginning with what a reasonable, respectful person would say, and then compare that to what this person actually said.

What he meant to say

Hey folks, I found a lot of bugs when using this service. Is this the right place to report them?

What he actually said

This is the worst interface in history. Who designed this miserable thing?

Yes, this is actually how he started the thread. No actual bug reports, just a trolling insult to get people’s attention. Eventually after people posted some “OMG what a jerk” responses, he comes back:

What he meant to say

These bugs have frustrated me and made me not want to use the service. […] Here are some bugs I found: […] I’m suprised these bugs are present, given Google’s reputation for building web applications.

What he actually said

I’m sure I won’t [use the service]. I tried it out once and realized it was a typical piece of Google incompetence. […] For starters: [list of bugs] […] And as usual for Google, JavaScript errors appear randomly. How is it that a company this large that relies on the Web for everything can’t find competent Web developers? It boggles the mind.

Notice that he’s unable to simply enumerate the problems: he attempts to directly insult Google (and its employees) at every opportunity.

When somebody asks him to please “go elsewhere and spare us these useless, trolly comments”, his reply makes it clear that he’s deliberately looking for a fight. Rather than apologize for his attitude, he tells the person to screw off and asserts that he has the right to be a jerk anywhere, anytime:

I you don’t like it, then ignore it and read the next post. I’ll post where I feel like it.

When someone else (nicely) points out that his ranting just makes him look like an idiot, his response indicates that he thinks of his initial post as a sort of “gift” to the rest of us:

I posted one sentence to express my displeasure. Subsequent posts were replies to queries for details as Google’s clueless developers clearly wanted some direction. I’m sure they are glad I clued them in on some of the more odious aspects of this thing.

The guru has expressed his displeasure, and fired a shot across our bow! We better beg him for his thoughts… thank goodness he’s here to help us!

I’m proud the response from Jason, our lead UI developer. He completely ignores the troller’s attitude, and addresses only the criticisms themselves in a technical discussion. This is the proper way to deal with such folk: rather than feed the energy beast, extract bug reports calmly. If it becomes clear that no more bug reports are forthcoming, then simply detach from the conversation. These sorts of people just wither away when they’re no longer able to drum up attention.

3 Comments to You Just Can’t Make This Stuff Up

  1. Andy Chilton says:

    October 4th, 2007 at 10:16 pm

    As a long-time subscriber to the google-code-hosting group, I was sad to read this thread this afternoon. I saw his first post this morning and just chose to ignore it. In fact, the only post in the entire thread worth reading is, as you say, Jason’s down-to-earth explanation and discussion of the technical issues.

    As I’ve said before in the mailing list, thanks a lot guys for a great (not to mention free) service. It makes me happy that a large company like yours can contribute back to the open source community by providing us code hosting services.

  2. Gavin says:

    October 5th, 2007 at 7:21 am

    As the first to reply to the thread, I can only apologise, I held my breath, counted to 10, watched your slides for the umpteenth time, then bang, pressed the Enter key, oops.

  3. Robert says:

    October 5th, 2007 at 11:20 am

    Wow, Jason really took the high road, I’d have been a quivering screamer by then.