Monday, December 17, 2007

Accidental mob justice

Sometimes, the free software community decides to "mobilise" on an issue, and it pays dividends: a good example of this could be software patents in Europe, where everyone spoke up at the same time to ensure that they were heard.

Other times, it doesn't work so well. More often that not, problems occur because someone got the wrong end of the stick about something, blogged it, and the wider community decide to get active. Two good examples recently:

  1. A number of sites, including Slashdot, have run a story about a school student being given detention for running Firefox. It turns out that this is a hoax based around a doctored detention letter, and the school had to respond after meny people started contacting them.

  2. The WHAT-WG mailing list was deluged earlier this month after everyone and their dog blogged about Ogg being removed from the HTML 5 spec. Many people didn't realise that decision was merely one step on the path rather than the final position, and consequently many angry contributions were received by WHAT-WG, rather than more considered arguments in favour of standardizing on Ogg.



It's very easy to publicize "scandalous" issues, and get people to respond. It's a lot harder to undo. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple e-mail to check a fact out before releasing the hounds.

4 comments:

Qarkeed said...

This blog is awesome! It's certainly quite needed and I'm adding it right now to my GReader feeds.

Congrats on the great work, keep it up! I'm sure you'll soon become a staple in the community.

m said...

Came here from Planet gnome. Congrats on the blog.

I recently read an interesting paper on Linux advocacy from 1999 which I found very interesting:

http://www.linuxprofessionalsolutions.com/pavlicek/oreilly/1999/als-fullpaper-1999.txt

Here is the part that I liked:

"Don't spread FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt). If you can't deal from
the deck of truth, don't play the game. Let the FUD be characteristic of
your opponent. Remember: you need to build trust. If the listener knows
that you won't resort to cheap tactics, his ears will be wide open. If he
realizes that your opponent will do anything in his power to win the point,
even resorting to unsavory tactics, the listener will be more cautious
about accepting what he has to say at face value."

Good luck with the blog!

Miguel.

Fact-Finder said...

Thanks for the comments, guys.

Miguel: I definitely agree with that paper. I would go further, and say that those who spread FUD actually do themselves a disservice, because they sometimes pick up on things which really are a problem.

I was a bit hesitant to write about the WHAT-WG situation, because my personal opinion is firmly in favor of Ogg being a baseline codec in HTML 5, and many of the points people raised in the subsequent discussion were quite valid: but then, they made it difficult for people to listen to their arguments by coming across extremely aggressively, misunderstanding the decisions taken, and I think made it harder for those advocating for Ogg.

There is a kind of "boy who cried wolf" element to some bloggers; and if they cry wolf too many times, they may not get heard when they really see the wolf.

pvanhoof said...

Thanks a lot for doing this fact-finder. Your blog is much needed indeed.