What would Linux users do without flamebait?

Posted by tadelste on Feb 13, 2006 7:16 AM
Lxer.com; By Tom Adelstein

People new to the Linux community may not understand the controversy created in comment sections, mailing lists, etc. At first, I never did understand it myself. As a writer I learned that the craft has two jobs or functions: Interpret events so the reader can better understand them and challenge people to think in different ways. Let's take Pamela Jones as an example.

I consider Pamela Jones of Groklaw one of the best journalists on the planet. Give her credit for getting the job done the way no one else could. She interpreted the events surrounding the SCO controversy profoundly. She also made us think in different ways. I would say, she has put her stamp on the Free and Open Source software paradigm indelibly.

I also consider Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols a serious candidate for top journalist. I don't think of him as a person who makes me think in different ways but he certainly interprets events. He also does so prolifically.

Other writers on the Linux beat do a great jobs of reporting events. Ingrid Marson puts less of a slant on her work and focuses on news. Carla Schroder and Sean Michael Kerner perform in different areas but each have a nice touch when it comes to making us think differently. Carla is more adept at interpreting events in my opinion.

I don't mean to leave out other good writers. We have a rich heritage of people who can articulate issues. We just can't list them all now.

Regardless of the writer, you might want to ask yourself if he or she interprets events in a way that puts a shine on new distinctions for you. Secondly, do they make you think about things in a different way?

If so, don't give them the benefit of the doubt, but think about what they present. That's their job and if they perform well, you might benefit by dropping any defensiveness.

Which leads us to flamebait

One journalist back in 1999 wrote that Linux makes one thing well: news. And back in that time frame, Microsoft started the conversation which created the Linux market and of course news.

In a cross examination of an expert witness, Microsoft enabled Linux by asking the expert witness about Linux. The attorney for the defendant then presented a Red Hat 5.x box and asked the expert about Linux. The expert witness never heard of Linux. But Microsoft made it an issue and suddenly we had a Linux news ecosystem.

So, in an attempt to wiggle out of an anti-trust action by the Federal government, Microsoft created an intense interest in Linux. But, Linux had around 2 million users at the time. We barely had a desktop and we barely had a browser in Microsoft/Apple terms. What we did best was make servers and those were more of the low-end variety. We made a pretty good file and print server and did a good job as a web platform.

With the Microsoft trial, some interesting Linux characters emerged in the press. I wouldn't have necessarily gone with the people chosen, but they were visible and made themselves accessible. I co-hosted a talk show with Francis Gaskins and Gary Murphy at the time. It ran on Radiowallstreet.com twice a week and was called the Linux League.

We interviewed the highly visible and highly available personalities. Few of them make news today. But back then, I got to know nearly everyone.

The emergence of Linux news made a couple of web sites popular. The first big web site for Linux was - you guessed it: Slashdot. LinuxToday emerged as the next and we saw serious competition between the two sites. That's about the time we discovered a new phenomenon - troll warfare.

The writer who once said Linux makes more news than anything else had interpreted the events correctly. So, we saw a lot of articles that you can classify as flamebait.

Lets go back to September 1, 2000 and look at an article entitled, KDE: Official Response to GNOME Foundation. Talk about flamebait. That article generated incredible amounts. Here's a comment from the story:
Great, KDE seems to have all the ingredients to be in it for the long haul. I run both, and while IMHO KDE is more stable and advanced, competion is a good thing. I would now like to see both KDE and GNOME do what they do best, write code. Any more stories on this is just flamebait.

All this GNOME Foundation stuff, while it is good press, is little more than hot air right now. I like a lot of what they are trying to do, but it will be years before any of this air bears fruit.

Now that KDE and GNOME both appear to be around for a while, can we just move on and stop feeling everyone has to explain why CORBA is better than Kparts, or get in the endless flame of why C is better than C++? If you are programming at this level you can make up their own mind. What do I use? Now that's flamebait.
iksrazal made the comment and I don't know who he was, but he criticized the article as flamebait while flamebaiting. Did his comment have value? I think so. But while adding value, he put some people off with his wording.

Here's the value from his comment: competition is a good thing; If you are programming at this level you can make up their own mind. That's good advice. He also does some complaining about the noise level of the argument and that may have put some people off. But still, you could see through his annoyance.


I consider controversy within a community healthy. It takes a thick skin sometimes to deal with the criticism. But if you look past the non-essentials, people often have some brilliant observations. I ask myself does it make me look at things differently and does it help me interpret the events? Any of us can handle it if we want. And sure, the first reaction will often involve becoming defensive.

Another kind of commenter exists in the community that has only one intention: Push your buttons, insult and add no value. We call them trolls because J.R.R. Tolkien adapted the characteristics of trolls from folklore to be large humanoids of poor intellect.

Scandinavian folklore treats trolls as forest creatures, morally ambiguous, and not necessarily evil. Unfortunately, the tag of troll in the Linux community fits the modern adaptation.

Often, you will find trolls that have specific reasons for following someone around. I collected a few after I dismissed some employees when I ran a Linux company. I doubt that many people understand why they get terminated.

In Texas we don't say why because of the repercussions from the Texas Workforce Commission. But, usually the cause relates to absenteeism, lack of performance and misrepresenting ones abilities. In my case, our wonderful VC's had more to do with it than any one could imagine.

My trolls looked for any article or announcement and attacked viciously. One who falsely reported our company to a BSA-like organization created all kinds of problems. Today, we get along pretty well and even post each others articles. He wasn't a typical troll, obviously.

Then, you have some mean spirited people who just don't have anything better to do. With them we have a rule: Don't feed the trolls. They come out of their holes more often if you do.

What would Linux users do without flamebait?

I find it difficult to answer this question. Would we act like a polite society and allow silence to rule the day or speak with politically correctness? Would we avoid controversy at any cost?

I see no value in silence where injustice exists. Sometimes what looks like a troll's flamebait is an awkward attempt to deal with an issue that might make someone uncomfortable. The person initiating an interpretation of events or attempting to make us think differently is like a coach.

As I said in a post, an elite athlete can deal with his coach in one of two ways. He can call his coach fat and ignore him. In that case the athlete attacks the messenger.

Another way to deal with the coach involves dealing with the discomfort and looking for the value in what the coach suggests. That requires a different way of thinking about things. It means you don't just react defensively.

Given the the choice, I prefer the flamebaiting to political correctness and silence. I want to get people involved in a conversation because ultimately life is a conversation.

On a final note, I took a break Friday and watched a Sci Fi show called Stargate Atlantis.Okay, science fiction buffs, I know. But, I heard a remarkable thing. Two of the cast were explaining that people on Earth sit in front of boxes for entertainment. The non-earthlings thought that was crazy. "You mean the vast majority of people on your planet sit in front of a box for entertainment?"

I really liked that comment because it made me think differently. Then one of the main characters in the discussion interpreted the reason. He said something like: "It's all made up with attractive people pretending they're doing something dramatic or entertaining."

I probably got the dialog out of sequence, but you understand the gist. The characters making fun of their own medium opened my eyes. I thought it unusual and probably controversial for the network.

Return to the LXer Features

Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
StarGate SG-1 and Battlestar Galactica are better jabby 10 1,920 Feb 22, 2006 4:32 PM
True Origin of Trolls patrokov 2 1,591 Feb 13, 2006 4:54 PM

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