Be Part of the Solution

Posted 30 April 2009

A blog post over on Vitamin (a fine resource for Web application development articles) got me reading a commentary by Virginia Hefferman at the New York Times Magazine about the knee-jerk reflexivism so rampant in online "commenting" tools. It’s a worthy read (even if she fails to make the distinction between generalist sites (ie; newspapers) and specific, targeted communities).

It got me thinking, though, about something I’m making a conscious effort to do in my everyday Web application development work: be part of the solution to a problem and encourage others to be the same.

Here’s the crux of the matter: You can’t just say that a Web application or framework or library is terrible. You have to be willing to say how to make it better. It’s easy to dump in 140 characters or less, but how about you try to figure out a way to make it better? Here’s a classic example of this, refracted through the lens of my day job:

Faculty member: This is the worst application I’ve ever had to deal with.
Me: If you have suggestions on improving or fixing the application, I’d love to hear them.
Faculty member: [Silence]

Now this may just be a case of a user feeling that they have vastly more important things to do than figure out how to solve someone else’s problems, or that we should be good enough at what we do to just get it right the first time out. They’d be partly right on both fronts. But it’s so easy, so trivial to dump all over the work of others, particularly when enabled with the commenting power found in blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere, that we forget that if we know how to do it better, we should ourselves up to the same possibility of negative attack and offer how to do it better.

I’m not saying that you then have to go out and implement every feature request or idea someone comes up with (and a single feature request should rarely turn in to an implemented feature), but you can — should — demand that they who complain be part of the solution.

I’d argue that the same should go for movies, literature, and politics, but that’s a whole other post.

Categories: UI