How To Win A Flamewar

If you’ve been online long enough to have found this article you’ve probably seen, or even participated in, a flamewar. Seen from the outside, you know you’re looking at two people exactly like this guy:

What do you want me to do?  LEAVE?  Then they'll keep being wrong!
Duty Calls

You don’t normally see flamewars in real life except in special-interest forums: politics, academia,[1] sports,cosmology.

Then there are those special people, the polyflamers who will argue on any topic. No, not lawyers. Geeks.

Something in the geek psyche makes them — okay, us — prone to obsess over pedantic distinctions that ordinary people just don’t care about. If you think about flaming in geek terms, though, you see a way out.

Compiled language

When writing code, a programmer usually writes instructions that are in (somewhat) human-readable form. These instructions are then “compiled” into commands that a computer can interpret and execute. If the output from the computer is wrong, either the commands the programmer entered were wrong, or the compiler didn’t work correctly.

Experienced programmers quickly learn that it’s very unlikely they’ve found a new compiler bug. If there’s a problem, it’s almost always the code they wrote. Sometimes, though, there really is a bug in the compiler. Compilers can get fixed, but not quickly, and not often. The changes have to be small enough that they don’t introduce new problems. And they will potentially break any code that was designed to work around the bugs. Which is exactly what programmers do: They work around the bugs.

Debugging politics

Now think about a political campaign as a computer program. The campaign staff is writing instructions (commercials) that they hope will cause the public to exhibit specific behavior. But the target platform is the brain of each individual voter. Each one has its own rules, so every compiler works differently. But here’s the important part: You can’t fix the compiler. No matter how broken you think someone’s thinking is you can’t change the basic rules.

What you can do is figure out what rules they’re using. Which means stereotyping people. pigeonholing them based on a few characteristics you’re sure of, and assuming that a whole bunch of other things are probably also true. The sad fact about humanity — sad if you’re a fan of individuality, that is — is that this tends to work pretty well.

These are not the earmarks you were looking for

So now that you know each brain is wired differently, and you don’t have much chance to “fix” it, what are you supposed to do about it? Stop using arguments that work on you, and start using ones that work on them. Whoever “them” happens to be at the moment.

[1] Combine two and you get the observation that academic politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small. Attributed to Woodrow Wilson after his time as president of Princeton University.

Someone Find Me a Middle-man!

Photo by egavad / per

If you like dirty jokes, go check out this one from Penny Arcade, then come back.
Read it? Okay, look at that last panel:

They can’t cut out the middle-man! The middle-man is the whole point!

This is a good lesson for any small business owner, or the people who do marketing for them.

When you’re a chef, sometimes you want someone else to cook for you specifically so it’s not just like you always do it. Sometimes it’s not just okay to be a middle-man. Sometimes that’s exactly what your customers want.

Same for garbage collectors, travel agents, crime scene cleaners. You’re not doing anything your clients couldn’t do. They just don’t want to. If they don’t-want-to badly enough, you can make some serious money doing it for them.

This works for managers, too, but for a different reason. Don’t hire people who will do everything just like you. Hire people whose skills don’t completely overlap yours and let them use those unique skills. If your employees do everything just like you would, you keep hiring copies of yourself. That’s not a good strategy. (Unless you’re perfect.)

Remember Your First Time?

No, not that. I mean your first time reading your favorite marketing blog. It wasn’t your favorite at the time, but something made you stick around. Do you remember what it was?

Odds are, that day was nothing special to the blog’s author. Just another day, just another post. They didn’t know you’d be coming by for the first time today.

But there was something good there, something worth seeing. Something worth coming back for.

A reporter was talking to Joe DiMaggio after a late-season game, after the Yankees were already mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. DiMaggio had made a spectacular running catch. The reporter asked why he would risk an injury in a game that didn’t matter. DiMaggio told him:

There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time. I owe him my best.

Most people don’t see your site for the first time just as you’re starting a launch. They show up in the middle of the launch … or before it starts … or after it’s over.

What will they see?

Anyone Can [fill in the blank] … ?

Seth Godin asks in his latest post:

A newspaper asked me the following, which practically set my hair on fire:

What inherent traits would make it easier for someone to becoming a linchpin? Surely not everyone can be a linchpin?

Why not? How dare anyone say that some people aren’t somehow qualified to bring emotional labor to their work, somehow aren’t genetically or culturally endowed with the seeds or instincts or desires to invent new techniques or ideas, or aren’t chosen to connect with other human beings in a way that changes them for the better?

I’ve heard this so many times that it almost sounds true. But then I watch Ratatouille again. Continue reading Anyone Can [fill in the blank] … ?

The Echo Chamber and The Death of Self-doubt

Photo by: Rubber Cat

If you believed the germ theory of disease in the 17th century you might find some obscure texts to support you, but mostly you were alone in the wilderness. To stick with that belief in the face of universal scorn, you had to have some really compelling (at least to yourself) evidence.

Most people won’t persist with an unpopular belief. Until late in the 20th century, if your neighbors didn’t share a belief, for most people you might as well be the only person in the world who holds that view.

Today though, you can pick any outlandish theory — the moon program was faked, 9/11 was a government plot, Britney Spears can sing — and you can find more blogs and news sites trumpeting that fact than you can read in a lifetime. Everything is confirmed. No one has to question their assumptions if they don’t want to. And frankly, none of us really want to.

The current media saturation means it’s possible for the first time in history to read only media that confirms your bias, no matter what that bias is.

How To End Piracy

Photo by: peasap

All the talk of people pirating music — and movies, and software — is enough to make you think it’s a hard problem to solve. But it’s not, really. All you have to do is disincentivise copying. (That’s sarcasm, for those who missed it.)

The MPAA and RIAA have tried licensing, lawsuits, lobbying (I didn’t do that on purpose, I swear) but the copying doesn’t stop. People are amoral thieves!

Or … maybe people remember that when the compact disc format came out, it was supposed to be cheaper than cassettes. They cost less to produce, so as soon as the studios recouped the cost of building the new technology we’d see prices drop. It’s been over 27 years now, have they recouped that investment yet?

Apple to the Rescue

Continue reading How To End Piracy