I had an interesting conversation by e-mail last week, around the role of software reviews, within the context of that last post when I said Linus was right. My correspondent wanted to know if my process or stance had changed since Gamergate, in the way I approach software, phrase my posts or communicate with developers.
I had to look it up. The only context I had for gamergate was leftover from my primary school biology classes. But after I knew what the hubbub was, the short answer was no.
The long answer went something like this: No, because I wouldn’t call myself a gamer — or at least, not any game that’s likely to still be played on a large scale — so the events of the last six months were a minor surprise. It’s hard for me to relate to triple-A titles on the market now when I still think a few hours of Deus Ex is a good day of gaming. 🙄
So whatever swirl of sewage has engulfed the gaming market on any given day is a bit distant for me. I have no immediate context for the latest clickbait drama.
And I wouldn’t call myself a reviewer either. Sometimes people ask me specifically to “review this program” or “review that application,” and I don’t split hairs over the use of the verb. But “reviewer” to me implies the ability to apply a standard of measurement, which in turn implies an equitable level of prowess, which in turn implies a quality of wisdom and the ability to evaluate through comparison. And when it comes to writing and designing software, I have … hmm, let’s see … uh, okay … none of those things. 😐
So what do I bring to the party? Only a perspective built on practical use, learned the hard way over a decade with Linux … and over a decade more with day-to-day computer use in general. It’s true, I draw on experiences that reach back to the dark days of mainframes and dumb terminals, but I don’t count that as any special talent for “reviewing.”
I also have the luxury of working with free software, and removing the money element from the equation changes things drastically. The author of a poorly designed, poorly executed script posted as a freebie on Github is unlikely to take umbrage if I tell the world it’s poorly designed and poorly executed. Chances are it does whatever the author wanted, and everyone else (including me) can go get stuffed.
But it also means people aren’t usually reliant on their work as a source of income, and that deflates the situation. So again, if I point out that text editor X doesn’t actually edit text, no one has really lost financially … except for me, in the sense that time is money, and I lost time to find out that it didn’t work. 🙄
And in a smaller sense, I do this for free. It’s the last vestige of a hobby that evolved from a diary that kept track of an experience which turned out to be life-changing, and was never monetized, and never will be. So both parties are on equal footing, in terms of money flow.
That’s not the case with big-name, high-budget software — the developer is always looking for money, and the public is always trying to keep it. A negative review might wave off a few potential buyers and put a dent in the corporate balance sheet, or it might wave off a few potential buyers and prevent someone from wasting their hard-earned dough on a real thumbsucker. I don’t have to worry about that here.
There’s one more thing though, and this might be the most important: You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. It’s not personal. There has never been a name — a real name, mind you — attached to “K.Mandla,” and there never will be. If I say something crass about your opus magnus, it’s not directed at you. It’s directed at your work, your product, and its overall usability.
It may be that I don’t have a frame of reference for what you want to do, and I usually acknowledge those cases. It may be that our systems are incompatible or improperly configured, and I acknowledge that too, when I suspect it. Or it might just be that your program is crap, and it’s plainly obvious that it’s crap, and everyone can see that it’s crap. But it’s got nothing to do with you as a person.
I don’t care if you are a man or a woman, just like you probably don’t care if I am a man or a woman. I don’t care if you’re an ancient Linux guru, or a 14-year-old programming kernel modules out of your dad’s basement. I don’t care if your skin is black, white, brown or green with flecks of purple that sparkle in the moonlight. I don’t even care if you’re actually a dog, and nobody knows it.
None of that really matters if your software is crap. Me telling you, and whoever else in the thousand people that might wander past this page in the course of a day, is really only pointing out a deficiency that’s plain to see. If it damages our relationship … well, we never really had one to start with.
I do try to be understanding. If someone is obviously learning, I can make allowances for that. If a program is obviously incomplete, I make allowances for that too. People occasionally write back to me and say, “You know, that program was never really intended for wider distribution. I just posted it to keep it handy.” That’s fine too, and if I know that, I try to be fair.
But there are times — oh brother, are there ever times — when software is junk, and we all know it’s junk. And you’re just going to have to deal with that fact. Me saying it here, and perhaps wounding your ego in the process, is only drawing a line under a fact that we all see.
So no, Gamergate had no real impact on the way I do business here. I don’t soft-shoe my posts or sugar-coat bad news, and I don’t think I take responsibility for program failures more often than I should. If your program is good — and we’ve already seen a lot of those this year — I try to say so, and we all can applaud it. And if it’s crap, I try to say so, and you can just deal with it.
Once again, welcome to the real world.