I’m typing this at about 38,000 feet in the air. I’m travelling home from the Oracle Latin America tour – it was a great event, but I’ll save the details for another blog post. In reality, I should be sleeping, but as luck would have it one of the lights on our plane is malfunctioning. So whilst the rest of the plane is sleeping happily in restful darkness, my row and the rows around it are bathed in blazing artificial light
Ah…the joys of travel. Anyway, I digress.
Before I boarded the flight, I did what most people do in the airport. I signed my life away to a deluge of advertising emails as one does in order to get 30 precious minutes of free wi-fi. I checked some emails, and had a glance through twitter when I came upon this one.
As you might expect, there’s plenty of social media activity about this tweet, much of it about the contradiction between the language and what you might expect to come out of the Office of the President of the United States. I’m not going to enter into that debate, or get into political discussion. Let’s face it – Donald Trump strikes me as more a Sybase man (Hey don’t flame me Sybase readers…these are just jokes ok?)
But the tweet made me think about the kind of language we sometimes see on AskTOM and on technical forums in general.
So let’s talk about etiquette on technical forums, or “Techiquette” as I’ve coined it.
We’re actually pretty lucky in technical circles with our discussion forums because most of the conversation resolves around topics that can be backed up with cold hard facts. In those instances, even robust discussion stays civil because it’s pretty hard to disagree with solid evidence when its presented. A hypothetical example might be something like:
Forum Participant #1: “I need to have a table with 500 columns”
Forum Participant #2: “You cannot – Oracle is limited to 255 columns”
Forum Participant #3: “I disagree – here is an example DDL demonstrating 800 columns”
Participant #2 can’t really dispute the response, because the example is right there in black and white.
But here is where I think conversations can go off the rails and slide downhill into a abuse and insult. It is when the content is both technical and emotional, for example:
Forum Participant #1: “I love using RMAN – it made our backup processes much easier”
Forum Participant #2: “RMAN sucks – it is too complex, anyone using it obviously has no clue about anything”
Forum Participant #1: “Dumb ass”
and away we go…The conversation goes from friendly to flame war.
The problem is – I don’t want my forums to be devoid of emotion, even when the topic is technical. Ever been to a presentation where the presenter does not show any joy or enthusiasm for the material? It’s like spending 45 minutes having root canal work on your teeth. We want people to be passionate about the things that interest them.
So how do we avoid forums descending into abuse whilst still encouraging emotion, and hence potentially emotionally charged content?
Here is my ground rules:
- Expressing an affirmative or agreeing position? Positive emotions 100% allowed and encouraged.
- Expressing a negative or disagreeing position? Express it as dispassionately as possible. Stick solely to the facts.
Simple mathematics tells us that if we can stick to the above, the average “positivity index” in a tech conversation will always be greater than or equal to zero.
I’m not claiming to be an angel here – I don’t always manage to follow my own guidelines as well as I should. But I’m always striving to improve, and hopefully if we can all follow them to the best of our ability, then in the main, we’ll have much more civil and interesting community conversations as a result.