Check out Mark Pilgrim on why specs matter; a typically-excellent piece which begins with the proposition that in the context of standards, most developers are either morons or assholes. I count myself as proud to be (in Mark’s terms) a moron. Mark however omits to note how the Web encourages moronic behavior (and why this is good) and avoids a third category, Flamers. So I’ll cover those bases.
The Moronic Web · I totally fit Mark’s profile of the moron who doesn’t read specs, they just do a “View Source” or equivalent and code away based on what they see. In 1995 I wrote a Web-scale spider that fetched, in aggregate, a billion or more web pages for indexing, without ever having read the HTTP specification. And it kind of worked. Then I had to read the spec because things broke, and things worked better.
And all this is just fine, and the fact that the Web empowers this kind of constructive moronic behavior is one of the reasons we’re all having so much fun here.
Except for when we’re not.
Flamers · I’ve been one, you’ve been one, we’ve all been one; it’s something about email. It’s not hard to explain in general, but it’s hard to understand why some email communities are relatively civilized and others tend to be juvenile and nasty. The world of syndication, historically, has been about like a fifth-grade playground. One of my central hopes for the Atom project was that we’d manage to be more polite and grown-up. So far, it’s not going very well. Partly, it’s my fault. But I haven’t given up.
It is particularly maddening that some of of people who are unusually bright, insightful, and helpful in sorting out the technical issues around Atom are also the usual leaders on the way into the gutter.
If I’m going to be honest, I’m part of the problem. On two occasions since the mailing list became an official IETF WG, I’ve gotten abrasive enough that Paul Hoffman, my co-chair, has told me off (appropriately). So: I’m sorry. I won’t any more, that’s a promise.
The other thing is that there are several people on the list who are now mad at Paul and me for hollering at them (usually off-list and politely) to calm down and grow up. They say we’re micro-managing, we’re getting in the way of the debate, we’re being intolerant of things that are normal practice elsewhere. Who knows, maybe they’re right and we’re over-reacting; we’ll bear that in mind.
For what it’s worth, it is possible to hash out contentious technical issues in a civilized, grown-up way. The original mailing list that designed XML is the best example I know of; it was passionate and occasionally even angry, but we just didn’t do cheap shots. I repeat: we did not do cheap shots.
Consolation Prize · I think Atom is going to be useful. Very useful, in a lot of ways we haven’t thought of yet. If that happens, history’s memory will give all this childishness that happened along the way exactly the level of attention it deserves: zero.
But between now and then, how about no cheap shots?