Alex Payne is known by thousands as al3x. He’s a developer at Twitter. I’ve been a fan since he wrote what I consider to be the single greatest tweet ever by anyone. He just published Mending The Bitter Absence of Reasoned Technical Discussion, which is good, but wrong in an essential way. Ted is Theodore Sturgeon.

Alex had previously, and correctly, lamented the quality of tech journalism. In this outing he deplores the general quality of online discourse. He speaks from experience, having gone on the record about Ruby performance issues and Twitter’s use of Scala as an alternative; this drew the outspoken ire of the Ruby religiosos. For a polite example see Obie Fernandez’s My Reasoned Response about Scala at Twitter. I’m not only a Ruby fan but a Scala skeptic, and I found Alex’s commentary illuminating and useful.

On the other hand, Alex is largely wrong about the quality of online discourse. We are in the golden age (in my profession at least) of high-quality well-informed analysis and insight on the things that really matter.

Well, yeah, there’s a lot of flamage and stupidity too, and Alex is hardly alone in his observation of behavior that can be called at best “tribal”. Well, so what? At this point I appeal to Sturgeon’s Law, usually stated as “95% of everything is crap”.

The key thing is, you have to do some mental filtering and look at the other 5%. The Internet helps via PageRank and friends, but independent thinking is required too: make your own finding as to who’s worth listening to. It seems a low price to pay for the privilege of being the best-informed generation in history.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Bob Aman (Apr 06 2009, at 06:00)

I couldn't agree more. One of the best things I ever did for my sanity was to stop subscribing to 100 different blogs, and slim that down to 5 or 6 trusted voices.


From: Bob Aman (Apr 06 2009, at 06:15)

It occurred to me though, after rereading what Alex wrote, that he probably is well aware of "Ted"'s law, and if anything, is just trying to get people to stop wasting time in the 95% realm. While I usually prefer the "ignore" option myself, I don't object to his optimism in the slightest.


From: johny boyd (Apr 06 2009, at 08:56)

Unfortunately, the 5% you refer to, in this case, includes the "Ruby pundits" who seem to have got all knotted up on his talk/email/blog. Without really understanding or appreciating the main point:

You do NOT want to use interpreted languages - especially Ruby, for creating high-performance messaging systems. Horizontal scaling and all that stuff not withstanding ...



From: Paul W. Homer (Apr 06 2009, at 09:15)

I sincerely hope that this is not our golden age of discourse. There are pockets and pools of interest, but the masses of programmers building things out there are more disconnected than ever. We don't talk about technology as much as we advocate a particular brand of dogma. A sort of "mine is good, yours ain't" mentality, that is independent of the topic.

At least in the past, while the stream of information was very limited, it was of significantly better quality. Now, we have an endless supply of information, yet no way to know what is true and what isn't. And all the discourse is just adding fuel to the fire. I'd hate to be young again, lost in this sea, because it must be so confusing to know what to hang onto.

Is way more low-quality information really better? Or is the noise just drowning out what really matters?


From: Christian Romney (Apr 06 2009, at 10:42)

@Bob, the problem with that approach is lack of diversity. I'll bet you're missing out on some great content. Paul Graham talks about a bozo filter approach on Hacker News that seems to work well for him. He posits that comment length is a (good enough?) indicator of post quality. Seems like a nice feature for aggregators.....


From: Joe Pallas (Apr 06 2009, at 11:35)

So, in a piece about the quality of online journalism, you, umm, er, had a factual error that could have been avoided by simply following the Wikipedia link you included. I'm sure that says something, although I'm not sure what.

Or maybe Ted is no longer current, and the proportion of crap has risen from 90% to 95%.


From: James Abley (Apr 06 2009, at 11:47)

@Johny boyd: I would have to disagree. I contend that the language isn't the problem; the platform is. I think you could quite happily build solutions to that problem on the JVM, and use one or more of many JVM languages to do it (JRuby, Scala, Java, Jython, Clojure, Ioke, take your pick). Some of those languages have better primitives / are more expressive for particular problem domains. As for Twitter, I <a href=" title="Public Whack-A-Mole">applaud</a> their transparency and hope more people are encouraged to have that level of honesty with their customers / user-base.


From: Erik Engbrecht (Apr 06 2009, at 13:06)

Golden Age...oh god...if what we have now is the golden age it's time for me to fall on my sword before the barbarians invade...

On a side note, I think PageRank and friends are more part of the problem than the solution.


From: Alex Payne (Apr 06 2009, at 21:16)

If social media did a better job of floating the 5% of non-crap to the top, I'd be more persuaded. But I think you have a fine point, and we really are in a golden age. If you have the online research skills and a good bullshit detector, there are so many questions you can answer without leaving your desk.


From: JulesLt (Apr 07 2009, at 13:15)

If I recall, Usenet forums and mailing lists were every bit as bad in 1989, as were my platform / language debates . . . they were just far less visible, and less likely to be the first resource you'd come across, pre-search engine, and had far less ability to actually affect things.


From: Robert Young (Apr 10 2009, at 10:37)

>> The Internet helps via PageRank and friends

Well, no. Well, Hell no. The issue comes down to the belief (or not) in the phrase: wisdom of the crowd. I do not, and the notion of page ranking or mass acceptance or whatever is just codifying that the Emperor really does have fine suit.

xml as universal everything and name/value as datastore come to mind.


From: Wu Ming (Apr 13 2009, at 14:51)

Funny thing, Tim.

20 years ago me and a bunch of close friends came with the following thesis one day:

"Only 5% of anything is worthwhile".

We were discussing some music we had been listening to and suddenly it just seemed pretty clear that 95% of everything is crap.

Well, we didn't have this pervasive internet back then to announce it and get some fancy law with our names -;


From: Wu Ming (Apr 13 2009, at 15:06)

Reading about Ted, guess we were 30 years late to the party -:(


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