Christian Heilmann

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Archive for April, 2012

Arguments on Twitter are causing more harm than good

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

I am tired of Twitter as a “discussion platform”. It isn’t. It is great to give quick updates about what you do or to tell people about something cool you find (something that was reflected in their old slogan before it got all creepy and corporate with “Find out what’s happening, right now, with the people and organizations you care about.”).

It is annoying as a discussion platform and it breeds far too much discontent. From the very get-go when you want to have an sensible and fruitful argument Twitter (on its own – there are mashups that try to work around that like bonfire) has the cards stacked against you:

  • It is very quick moving
  • There is no threading going on
  • People even don’t reply properly so context is lost
  • Different people answer at different times (sometimes a “this is so wrong” comes hours later)
  • There is no proper Twitter archive or search, so the same arguments happen over and over again
  • The limit of 140 characters should work to phrase your arguments wisely and delete pointless parts but in reality makes people leave out important bits
  • It invites people to show off and speak in soundbites rather than arguments

In essence, Twitter keeps us on the edge and makes us want to answer fast rather than reasonable. This is its main difference to other services – it is about immediacy, not about reasoning.

With Twitter a-twitter the last few days with a lot of controversies and interesting discussions about the political views of technology spokespeople and alcohol consumption at conferences I found there was a lot of very destructive and pointless bickering back and forth going on. Let’s not even go into the heartbreakingly facepalm-inducing backlash by #teamiphone (what?) to Instagram being released on Android.

I found one thing to be true though when it comes to people reacting to your tweets: it is never about shades of grey or benefit of the doubt. It is going straight for the jugular. And most of the time it is putting words in your mouth or assuming a much more sinister argument than the one you uttered.

People get immediately into the defence and argue against the sweeping statement that surely is behind your argument – even if it isn’t.

When people pointed out that there are great points in Ryan Funduk’s post about alcohol at conferences the majority of the arguments was “not everybody is binge drinking” or “not everybody at conferences is a brogrammer”. True, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that exclusion happens because of social norms and peer pressure. That is the thing to consider and be more aware of.

When Rob Hawkes pointed out that a lot of conferences advertise with having free bars and it is mentioned as an absolute must by conference organisers when organising Remy Sharp got rubbed the wrong way and started challenging Rob how “he knows what conference organisers do”. Weird. I know both people well and love them to bits – people who can cleverly and calmly argue in real life getting stroppy at each other because of lack of context and immediate defensive action. Nobody attacked the guild of conference organisers; there is no such thing and Remy surely would not be the person to want to be spokesperson. But he felt he needs to make a stand and speak for a larger group that probably was attacked with false accusations – someone was wrong on the internet!

This is not a go at Remy; it is a reminder for all of us how we can annoy ourselves without needing to by jumping to conclusions.

This all brings back memories of last year’s JSConf EU with Chris Williams talk on the the end to negativity and that as people who are visible on the web we should stop arguing in public. The “kids in the back of the car” syndrome as he calls it.

A very interesting point but it seems it is not quite transpiring yet as it is too tempting to go on the virtual throwing of quick punches on Twitter bandwagon.

The ever hovering Jim O’Donnell pointed me to a very clever (albeit a bit long for one point) video on Ted about dealing with criticism and arguing topics that are loaded but need discussing (in this case racism).

Jay Smooth on How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Discussing Race:

My favourite simile there is that people think racism is about being good or bad – there is nothing in between. And if you are not racist, then all is fine forever more. Jay calls that the tonsil argument. You have them removed – all is well. You can’t however have your racism removed. You get influenced all the time – like plaque setting on your teeth and rotting them. So we should deal with argumentation and loaded discussions not with the tonsil solution in mind but apply an oral hygiene approach instead.

I for one will do my best to keep out of Twitter arguments from now on. I am tired of leaving “agreeing to disagree” or leave things unsaid. Twitter doesn’t offer a working search or a archive, so it is a bad place to try to argue. Let’s jump on IRC and hash things out there, or have a 1:1 or 1:n on messenger. Actually, as soon as human speech and vision comes into play, most arguments cease to be violent. Hiding behind the perceived anonymity of an online identity makes a lot of people come across much harsher than they are – and even makes some people more aggressive than they will ever be in real life.

If you have 20 minutes today – use them watching this

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

I like TED. You find educational, interesting and inspiring stuff there. A lot is timely, some things are there for the “wow” factor and others are just good to learn some tricks from great speakers in case you find yourself in the situation to have to speak in front of people yourself.

Once in a while, however, you come across a talk that just leaves you gaping and feeling a better person after watching it. Not that you did anything yourself, but it changes you thinking that you won’t have to change the world, but it would be a good idea for yourself to be better tomorrow than you were today.

Bunker Roy’s Learning from a barefoot movement is one of those videos.

I don’t want to give away too much, but let me tell you that if you listen and you see the consequences of what he says and the differences that he made with what he did (or actually inspired others to do) in these 20 minutes you’ll learn a lot of great things about:

  • Empowering people
  • Finding the right sources for information
  • Gender differences and why women are wonderful
  • Sustainable systems
  • Human communication
  • Group structures and the power of democracy
  • How every learner is a teacher
  • Finding solutions within
  • Why poverty and illiteracy is not the end

Lean back, put on some earphones and go for it:

Isn’t it amazing just how we ended up being bored with literacy, having a free education system (no matter how misguided or broken) and creature comforts? Isn’t it amazing how we arrogantly claim that our scientific endeavours and money will find a way to sustain this planet? The solutions are out there – in the places and communities we think we need to help to get to our level, but in reality we can learn a lot from.

[open tabs] Flash changes, publish what you learn, tech literacy and nothing to hide?

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

  • Myth: Those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear talks about the dangers of biometric data collection explaining that if a government tries to oppress its citizens knowledge about them is the ultimate power. It is a bit UK centric, but a good point
  • Collateral Damage is a post by Joa Ebert explaining his unhappiness about the changes in Flash game licensing by Adobe. Unlike other posts, this one doesn’t lament about the money, but the lack of innovation and overdue language enhancements. Come to the HTML5 side, we need folk like you, Joa.
  • As an answer and to make things more clear for the Flash world, Lee Brimelow released An unofficial premium feature FAQ about Flash, debunking some of the fears of people.
  • Tech, not toys by the ever prolific Jeremy Zawodny explains his unhappiness about schools giving iPads to students. Jeremy points out that iPads, whilst being obviously superior to books do not teach kids technology but are just another consumption device. Instead of giving out iPads, schools should teach kids how to tinker with programming and build things, as shown in the Mozilla Hackasaurus program. I agree.
  • Publish what you learn is a nice in-depth explanation of the simple step to start blogging and show up on people’s radar as explained in the Move the Web Forward web site. I find the article wonderful and inspiring but it gets a but overly excited in the end. HTML5 Boilerplate is amazing but not the “most important front-end development project in the Web’s short history” :). Also, the section about commenting forgets that comments over the last years have become tedious to maintain and attract trolls more than real discussion. I agree that people should read a whole article before commenting, but this is not how the web works these days. I turned off comments here for that very reason, it was a waste of my time. There is some great advice in there about updating your posts as a writer, though!
  • Forbes’ “Women in Tech” series asks if Coding And Tech Skills As The Next Need-to-know Skill Sets? and the article confused me more than anything else. I agree that “tech literacy” needs to be higher, but I don’t think an article stating that “programming, coding and tech skills” are important without explaining what the differences between them are (I am confused about that) helps. I am also pretty annoyed that the US government considers San Francisco the place to find tech volunteers and asks entrepreneurs who build foodspotting and self-branding web2.0 sites as experts. Why not people like Coder Dojo, Codecademy or other programs that try to promote “tech literacy”? Why not use the internet to promote tech literacy rather than trying to pry tech talent from the hands of companies that offer 5 figure sign up bonuses as they are desperate to find people in the South Bay already?

Make me a speaker – revived!

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Summary: Mozilla is releasing a Evangelism Representative program and I’ll be coaching Mozillians to become public speakers.


Five years ago a few well-meaning web folk in the UK were ready to start a program called “make me a speaker”. I blogged about it and there was a Wiki at which is now defunct (Wayback machine archive here). One of the things I also published back then was a Public speaking survival kit.

As with many great ideas, one died quickly as people got busy with other things and of course others thought it makes more sense to offer speaking and presentation training as a service for money.

Two years later I took the idea up again and making myself a developer evangelist I published the Developer Evangelism Handbook.

Other things that happened were the Speaking out events (here, here and here) organised by Laura North.

Now I am happy to announce that a larger part of my job with the awesome that is Mozilla will be taken up doing an Evangelism Reps program. Here is what it is about:

Today the Developer Engagement Team has launched the Evangelism Reps program – a special interest group within ReMo. Each year, we get thousands of requests to send Mozilla speakers around the world to talk about HTML5, new web technologies, Mozilla’s mission, our projects, products and more. Now, we would love for you to join the effort and become a Mozilla speaker too!

This program is open to paid staff and Mozilla Reps of all skill levels and capabilities. If you are a new speaker and have always wanted to represent Mozilla at events, you can take advantage of our advanced speaker training where you can learn from people like Christian Heilmann and Robert Nyman on how to give effective presentations and get access to their best practices. People who are veteran speakers can also benefit by having the tools and resources available to host events, prepare stunning screen casts and be mentors to new Evangelism Reps.


The Evangelism Reps program information is on the wiki:

We anticipate our first training to be held in May so stay tuned for this exciting opportunity.

This means I will be running interviews, give reviews, run a speaker training and publish the Evangelism Reps toolkit – the latter of course being available for everybody (not only Mozilla Reps and employees) on our Wiki.

I am terribly excited about this as it means I can “crowd source” myself much more. It means of course that I will speak less at conferences myself, but that had to be done anyways. I will also sync some of this effort with Speaking Out and the Women of Mozilla programs.

Good times ahead.

Photo by Ben Dalton

Mobile first, and last, and always

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

A wise man said that the only constant is change.
Personally I found I wasted a lot of time lately.
Reasoning with myself, I came to a few conclusions.
I need to stop concentrating on the open web.
Learning this was tough, but it makes sense.

Free software and open systems are stifling.
Open means in a lot of cases lack of innovation.
Open also means that you need to support the past.
Looking at closed innovation, I get jealous.
So I came to the conclusion to only care about mobile.

Let’s face it – surveys show that 7 out of 10 people own at least one brand new mobile device and the others are just saving money to catch up. Innovation happens in closed environments and the real changes that make a difference only happen when new hardware comes out. Now for example we have to re-do all the graphics we had done in the past because of higher resolutions. There is no way end users should suffer a blurry display as we were not insightful enough to prepare for this. Desktops are a dying breed and there is no point in thinking that way any longer.

In the end there should be one platform, one browser engine and one device manufacturer. The web also needs one company to own it so we can innovate and concentrate on building delightful experiences instead of dealing with implementation differences. True, connectivity is an issue, but once we allow companies to step up and control that instead of meddling data protection people and governments that shouldn’t be an issue either.

It is also true that not everybody can afford buying new devices all the time, but let’s think about that: in the end we need to make money from our work, so why target people who don’t have enough money? We could just define our market and make apps that are delightful and beautiful and use all the newest features our users deserve and make sure to keep a constant flow of apps out there. If it is more than a month old, discard it and get a new version. We have to move on! Iteration is for whiners.

Talking about making money: I am aware that a lot of people come here for old articles and information I gave out free. That will change soon – there will be a small fee to access the old content and I will add DRM to the upcoming articles. I got to make ends meet and get the money to buy new devices, too.
I just need to find a way to bill you. As we all know Paypal is evil and hate everybody, so I will probably go with Square. This means of course that only US visitors can pay, so for the time being Europeans and Asian visitors will get creative commons licensed pictures of cats. If you are honest with yourself, you should move to the States anyways as there is no innovation or opportunities outside the valley.

Which also brings me to a personal change that will happen. I’ve been following the rise of “brogrammers” for quite a while now and I love it. American education systems and its concept of sororities and fraternities is a beacon of light and something every market should encourage and copy. As I am too old to be a “brogrammer” I thought it would be a good opportunity to coin a new term. From now on I shall be a Jockleader – it mixes the sexiness and inspiration of a cheerleader with the stamina, determination and competitiveness of a jock. In other words, a pack of awesome.

I am sure you understand, there is no way I can waste my time any longer. Future friendly is for pussies, we need to stalk and bear-hug the future. Maybe high-five it, too.