Comments Considered Harmful or "The Halo Effect"

It’s terrible: Every idiot has an opinion on everything. I think people got it all wrong on the whole democracy thing: In democracies, one may have an opinion, but one doesn’t have to. If you have no idea what you are talking about, just shut the f*ck up. — Dieter Nuhr, German comedian.

[Warning: Bitter words ahead]

There used to be a time when I was a happy KDE contributor. Why? Because it was fun. Everyones work was appreciated by both, fellow developers and the community. I could see that from both being an blogging developer and a KDE dot news editor. Especially with my blog, I found the comments to be helpful to collect feedback. At least that’s how I want to remember it.

I don’t want to go all the way down the “times seem to have changed” road, but the tunes certainly have changed. I’ve gotten fed up by the attitude of a lot of commentors. That is, being totally destructive about work that people do. Often it’s people commenting stories on something that appears to be vaguely related, but in fact they just hijack the story to nudge around, sometimes giving clear evidence that they haven’t even bothered to read the story/blog post.

It’s remarkable that the worst comments are always first posts or grow to become a prominent “discussion” thread, because everybody likes to state his support or say how wrong the original poster is. This gives the whole post even more siginificance. Like a halo, it outshines the other comments, and sometimes even the article (and before you propose it, a slashdot style moderation system is not the answer. For the reason why I suggest reading slashdot).

Let me give you some examples:

Story:“Wikimedia and KDE share offices”.
Content: KDE gets a professional secretary. Developers can get back to their actual work.
Reaction: Pseudo disclaimer, followed by weired stuff about implementation of Wikipedia support (wtf?) and blaming Wikipedia editors of being “elitists”
Halo effect caused by: First post, long thread
Relevance to story: None

Story: openSUSE Packaging Days II Tomorrow
Content: openSUSE announces efforts to package (cross distro)
Reaction: Useless question
Halo effect caused by: First post, long thread
Relevance to story: Little to None

Story: KDE 4.0.3 Released With Extragear Applications
Content: Another bug fix release out
Reaction: only bug fixes for plasma ?
Halo effect caused by: very long thread
Relevance to story: Little

The same applies for many proposals made in blogs. Instead of discussing features the way the author intended it, people prefer to get into bikeshedding or talk about how stupid the author is for developing this particular feature instead of something supposedly more important. That said, I’ve never seen a patch or any contributions from those people.

I have spend quite some time thinking why I lost contact with KDE development. Sure, there’s the time factor: There are exams, exams, exams and now I am starting my thesis that will probably comsume me until summer. But let us be serious: That was never the only reason. Another part of the truth it that I’m feeling more and more disillusioned about the whole community thing, and if it wasn’t for a lot of great people within the actually contributing KDE community, I wouldn’t be part of the project, in fact any open source project anymore.

If getting back into the mood means deleting comments (nowadays we have a quite strict “don’t delete” policy) or disallowing comments even on the dot, I am now totally fine with that. And that’s not only me, I know that a couple of other people in the open source community and KDE in particular feel exact the same way.

If things continue to be this way I can just stop contributing to KDE (in fact to any free software project) entirely in my spare time and make sure I get paid for the pain. It’s called “consulting”.

37 Replies to “Comments Considered Harmful or "The Halo Effect"”

  1. And I dare to respond with a first post 🙂

    I noticed the same thing quite some time ago, the Dot is a really bad place if you read beyond the original article. I don’t read the comments anymore (tip: read the Dot’s RSS feed instead), just not to waste the little motivation I still have left to work on KDE. And I know that you and me are not the only ones being disturbed by those wiseguys over there.

  2. Totally agree, I am for at least a slashdot-like system for the comments on the dots, where trolls get modded down and hidden by default.

    Yes, the comments on the latest dot entry on Wikipedia are absolutely disgusting. I can deal with being called a “censorship advocate” if in exchange i can get rid of these comments.

    To the webmaster of dot.kde.org, please take Danimo’s complaint seriously, there is a huge trolling problem on the dot and it’s very harmful. At this stage I’d even prefer comments to be disabled altogether, than the current system.

    Daniel, i hope you overcome this demotivation period. The ‘community’ is people like you, not random trolls.

  3. Hi there,

    Good point you are making, but IMO the ones that whine in blog comments don’t represent the community at all, because people tend to write stuff when they are pissed of something that when they are pleased with something.

    I’m all for KDE development and i think KDE-devs are making an amazing work in here, but if i read a cool post about some feature and i see 10 responses saying how good something is, i won’t write another comment saying the same thing…

    If we all happy KDE users would have commented how excellent KDE-dev work is, every blog entry would have 500 comments 🙂

    I hope you know what i mean, even when my english is quite… poor.

    Bye

  4. I think the level of noise is a measure of the success of a FOSS project. Only projects that stick out generate interest. You have to live with the fact that not everybody interested in your project is able to participate in mature and reasoned discourse.
    If you go to the general public, you need a really thick skin. Otherwise you should select a forum where you feel comfortable.

  5. Well, as a first poster, I guess I am supposed to somehow miss the point of the whole text (preferably by not reading it at all) and then tell that this is all because KDE4 sucks because I once discovered a bug that was never fixed and because they wouldn’t have never fixed it, I didn’t even report it.

    Or something like that.

    Instead, I would like to thank you for this article.

    I am not sure if deleting is the proper answer to this social problem, it could be simply sufficient to downrank irrelevant comments into the abyss.

  6. > If you go to the general public, you need a really thick skin.
    > Otherwise you should select a forum where you feel comfortable.

    the dot is *the* KDE forum, I don’t think its too much to ask to keep it pleasant for KDE people. I’d say your comment is accurate, but should be geared to those people that are there now scaring the KDE devs away.

  7. Sorry Matthias,

    you didn’t make it first post, so your only chance is creating a long, dull thread. Good luck 🙂

  8. If you wish to set the correct tone for discussion then perhaps a system where for the first X hours all comments must be reviewed/approved before appearing on the dot. If you comment on a story from a big media outlet like BBC or newspaper site it is often like this except they moderate all comments.

  9. I have to agree that the proportion of poisonous comments is getting higher. Not so much the trolls, but the really poisonous comments, that are crafted to hurt.

    A bit like very successful trolls. Except the goal is not just to produce long protracted discussions.

    This is an unfortunate side-effect of linux and KDE being successful. Once upon a time, the community was self-selected: highly technically minded users, developers. Now, average joe users coming from windows (or, god forbid from, of all things, mac) are there. They are used to buying software and have this attitude “I deserve respect: I paid”. They never learnt to give back, and they are not capable of it for the most part.

    They are completely at odds with the free software ethos were those who gave the most deserve the most respect. And they are more numerous.

    Frankly, they are best ignored — or make the dot a register-only forum, where to get a login, you need either a valid bug report or an svn dev account.

    Yes, I am an elitist, and proud of it.

  10. “I am for at least a slashdot-like system for the comments”
    Yes, perhaps with the blog owner handing out points. In a sense the comments are as much part of the blog as the original article. I also would advocate approving comments before publishing. This is not making things easier and weeding out bad comments before they get posted is just as annoying as tolerating them afterwards but the average troll is discouraged to even try to mess up a subject.

    It also shows you need other motivation for working on KDE than making other people happy, like making yourself happy for example 😉

  11. I agree on the requirement for a slashdot type moderation system. It is demotivating to read people just saying “X is shit” etc and I am also starting to avoid the dot for that reason.

  12. Hi

    I don’t contribute any code to any open source project (not my forte), but I use and love KDE. And I can read and think. This is, quite probably, the second or third comment I’ve ever made to anything on the Internet.

    I have always been totally amazed and incredibly respectful of people who take their own time to painstakingly write (excellent) code for others to freely use, with only expectations of constructive feedback and (probably) silent gratitude. This is compounded when people do so collaboratively, in organised groups.

    I think it an extremely sad state of affairs when so many other people who, obviously, have time on their hands, and, one may only hope and assume, have some sort of interest in the matter under discussion, simply let their “gums flap” about that matter, probably just for the sake of soothing a megalomaniacal ego, but devoid of any real substance and true motivation to actually help.

    Once again, my hat off to you open source developers, and please try to ignore the noise in your ears. Daniel’s sentiments are quite understandable, but I had a panic attack when I realised that more developers might feel this way and withdraw their efforts, and I pictured a future without KDE and all the other myriad excellent (sometimes less so, but usually still very nifty, and necessary) open source software around!

    Thank you to all of you, and please don’t stop. Ignore the noise.

  13. Please don’t tell me, you are leaving kde because of my dot comments, it is unfair.
    I always thought that in any internet posting, you have to observe some simple rules; like don’t write things that hurts others feeling like religion, sex, politics, race issues, German Nazi crimes stuff like that.
    And please don’t expect all users to be smart, I am just an idiot ( to rephrase you), but what to do! I just love kde, that’s perhaps the pitfall of becoming a mainstream project.

  14. Comments (and some blogs) are mostly useless, and serve no purpose, as I see it.
    If someone wants to get someones attention, it’s much better to mail them. If you want to show your support, do something useful (if you can’t code, there’s lots of other stuff to do). If you just want a quick discussion on a subject, go on IRC or use a mailing list.
    So I’m all for removing comments on the dot, or at least having a much stricter policy on what you allow (and maybe even requiring some form for registration).

  15. Maybe it would help if DKO would be made this way:

    1. Anonymous posting should be disabled. Anyone should register with name, nickname and e-mail address.
    2. When you first register your comments need to be moderated and approved before publishing. (people with e-mail accounts for SVN could be an exception for this)
    3. Each person would collect points or karma or something with their comments.
    4. When a registered person gets enough karma he doesn’t need to wait for moderation before his comment gets published.
    5. If karma drops below some value moderation again kicks in.

    I’m not familiar with Slashdot system, so if I’m describing their system, please excuse me for the noise here.

  16. I have to agree with you, dot.kde has become really poisonous, especially for some people (like: contributors or developers). Some comments are even not sync with the news topic. Maybe this is a side effect of KDE becomes more popular. Maybe using slashdot or digg like commenting system can help?

    One thing I always notice and always makes me sad is: Some people really like to say this on the dot: “Where is our Webkit in Konqueror, just dump the useless KHTML!”. It really makes me sad (even though I’m not a KHTML developer), because it shows lack of respect to other’s work, but I’m really amazed how KHTML devs still working hard on their baby despite of all those negative comments.

  17. I guess the best would be for you to simply ignore such threads and comments. Sure, it is said that they come up in the first place, but since KDE is extremely successful and is used by more and more people every day there are some people who want to use that success to “distinguish” themselves by posting garbage.

    I was a Wikipedia contributor for a long term and I have a quite successful blog – both brought me several, time consuming and senseless discussions with trolls. In the end I got a thick skin against such things – and additionally I have no bad feelings simply deleting garbage. But getting such a skin is painful and not funny at all. So the best is for you: ignore these things, and be sure that you have a lot of support.

    If it gets worse, implement a voting system into the dot. Or force the users to create a login – and be strict about banning the trolls. I could help there, btw. 🙂

  18. I agree with your assessment danimo. Having everybody and their cat without any checks being able to comment on the Dot makes it far to easy for those with bad intentions to hurt KDE.

    I’ve been thinking about a moderated Dot as well, and a Slashdot-like system would be really good. That way, we don’t take over and control every comment, but we give the community a tool to do something about those demotivating trolls.

    Currently, the underlying problem seems that the Dot is not actively maintained. What was fine a couple of years ago has grown into something where problems arise from. You’re surely not the only one being pissed off by that.

    bottom line: We need someone to take on maintainance and active development of the Dot. That means:

    – Implementing a comment-rating / filtering system for the Dot (it runs Zope and Squishdot AFAIK)
    – Updating the rather dull CSS and images used so it looks more fresh
    – Solve a couple of usability problems (such as getting back to where you came from after posting a comment)

    The first being by far the most important. Unfortunately, I didn’t see anybody stepping up lately who would be able to pull off something like that, although that person could count on my full support.

  19. Agreed, I think we shouldn’t do slashdot though, but a system where the dot editors can fold flames. A real moderator+metamoderator system and points would be overkill imho.

    Yes, I know it creates bias, but then again, all moderators would be biased towards KDE anyway.

  20. Hi
    I agree that there are many trolls on the dot, but please…look at others too.
    I mean, when a dot article comes out, many people read it and give no comment, they probably just liked it and have nothing special to say, so they just dont say anything.
    but when a troll steps in, everyone argues with him.just take a look at commit digest, every time a troll said ‘danny should leave because digest comes late’, many people just told him ‘contribute or stfu, dannya rocks’.
    please, dont just look at the trolls.they exist and KDE community, or no other community, could not avoid them, we just should leave in peace.
    KDE community rocks,but trolls are everywhere.
    sorry for bad English.

  21. I think a public call would be needed to fix the problems with the Dot. I mean, a public call for someone to take maintenance of the Dot, sort of like the post you just wrote.

    I’m fairly sure someone would be willing to do that.

  22. I suggest moderation with by readers and admins. First level would be just + or – marking by readers and everyone can mark once a every post. And when post gets more than -7 or -8, it will be hided by default, admins could hide offtopic more easily, right away.

    I have come to conclusion that very bad comments usually comes from new FOS (Free Open Source) users who have just got to know something free, like Ubuntu. But they still has old negative idea about FOS and how community works around software.

    Mayby biggest problem is inside us, in our community if we allow fighting between projects and espcially, we allow projects to take fame from others, who has made things to happend.

  23. I think this whole “troll problem” lately on the dot is mainly due to the KDE4 release. There were high expectations and people didn’t get the “Hey, we’re releasing to boost up the whole process, this is just the beginning”-thing. Once there’s 4.1 out I hope we’ll see less troll posts.
    And BTW: It’d be a loss if any of the KDE devs stop contributing because of a few dim-witted trolls.

  24. Probably because discontinuing KHTML would be exactly what those trolls want. If I was a KHTML developer, I wouldn’t want to concede defeat that way!

  25. As many replies have already mentioned, I think that the large influx of negative, non constructive comments recently is due to the fact that Free Software, is gaining more mainstream acceptance. But unfortunately, in many cases, acceptance does not entail understanding. We have people coming here who are used to the closed’ness of proprietary software. I don’t think people bitch and moan less about proprietary programs ( HA! as if, just imagine how many negative posts about Vista is out there… ), they just do so in (unofficial) forums that are never read by the actual creators of the software. On the contrary, we offer a direct window into our process and a very direct line of communication whit the people who actually move KDE forwards, and I think this is a very powerful thing!

    Unfortunately, as the success of the KDE project increases, this problem will only get worse. I think the right way to solve it is to try and educate people in a polite way about how the project works and attempt to get them to post constructive comments instead. This will, I hope, help alleviate the problem as it will grow the base of users who actually “gets it” and these will help keep the signal to noise ratio down as new users who “do not get it” ( yet ) arrives. This is hard work, but it is what I am attempting to do on my blog at least, and I think that so far I have been moderately successful.

    In general, am not really in favor of censoring posts, but if it comes down to either that or loosing dedicated developers, I delete away!

  26. Perhaps just run two versions of comments pages in tandem, with one consisting of all comments (including off-topic and troll threads) and another moderated list. The user could click a button on the page to switch between the two as s/he decides?

    This way even the trolls might stop bothering as they would know that most of us simply switch to the higher-value no-trolls version of the discussion and so their attention seeking goes unrewarded and unseen.

  27. > They (new users from win/mac) never learnt to give back,
    > and they are not capable of it for the most part.

    Nailed right on!

    And I feel KDE and the whole Free Software community is all about this: let people see you can Be Free. We can help people to realize this (e.g. through marketing).

    That, and a moderation system at the dot would be really good assets.

    I wouldn’t suggest comment approval: while it’s an assumption, I’d expect a lot more of those “first people” people since they can’t see the same comment has already been made.

  28. I’m torn on this issue. On the one hand, idiots exist everywhere and I think they should just be ignored. It would be nice if there were a simple +/- voting system on the dot, so that trolls could be voted off the page quickly. No matter what activity you do, unless its incredibly obscure you will have these people.
    On the other hand, you talk about how many proposals on blog comments do not meet your definition of useful. This I can’t really understand. If someone is proposing something on a blog and they have comments enabled, then they are looking for feedback from the wider community. Most of the community feedback will not be patches, but instead you might get mockups, or written ideas, or just trolls once in a while. If you’re looking for feedback only from devs, post on kde-devel.

    This seems to be an unpopular opinion, but either you want feedback or you don’t want users at all. Sure it would be nice if every post was positive or constructive, but the very nature of humanity makes this impossible. You have to take the good with the bad, such is the cost of free speech in any domain.

    I think Peter Penz is a prime example of a developer who really reacts well to feedback. He ignores the trolls, but tries to answer negative feedback constructively and occasionally admits when they have a point. His new blog is a very good example of working with users to gather feedback, and as you can see by the number of comments there, everyone enjoys the process. Some comments are repetitive, some are just negative, but the overwhelming majority are positive or constructive (from my perception anyway).

  29. I totally agree with you. I’ve been noticing the same thing for a while on the Dot, especially with the Commit Digests. It’s been really bad lately, almost as immature and inane as the flamebait and subsequent sub-threads on Digg and Slashdot. I also think this stems from the recent influx of new Linux users who don’t know how the system works, are ignorant, expected something completely different, etc., and want to bitch about it. Some noted that this may subside when KDE 4.1 is released, but realistically even then they’ll still find something to bitch about (Where’s feature X that you promised? Why isn’t this 100% bug free? ? wah wah wah). Trolls will exist in every community, but unfortunately they are always the most vocal and visible. Taking (undeserved) criticism is never easy, but please know that for every ungrateful troll there are a (thousands?) of people like me who quietly appreciate everything KDE (and FOSS in general) developers do for us. Thank you, and please don’t quit.

  30. Trolls on the Dot are a lame excuse for you stopping contributing. Isn’t it rather all the time your (new) life fellow demands from you? 😉

  31. Have you considered preventing anonymous postings and/or requiring login to post. The people who care about KDE and are actively interested/involved in the development will not mind signing up, and it’ll certainly keep the noise down.

    Anonymous posting is useful when you’re discussing contentious issues or need whistle-blowers. The dot is not that kind of place.

    Try that as a first step, then look to moderation next.

  32. So my last rant basically made me the dot maintainer. Oh well. Now, as the first act I added a description tag to the RSS feed of the dot. That means that everyone can now read stories with his RSS reader, and without being disturbed by the comments. It a