This is the celebrated journal of Mr. Simon Collison A.K.A Colly

Part 2: CSS showcases - the trolls

24th August 2005

So, in part one the showcase sites got a taste of their own medicine, and I don’t think I upset too many people. Think of our industry like the music industry - you create music, therefore you open yourself to criticism. Bands slag off other bands, critics slag off albums, bands get upset, but bands get stronger as a result (or maybe die a painful death). The web is no different, and to avoid complacency we need constructive criticism.

In this second part of this mini-series, I’m shifting my focus toward the community of commenters. I never cease to be amazed by the moans, groans and gasps of those that seek to pour scorn on the reviews that are always added in good faith. I’m talking comment trolls, false accusations, jealousy, inaccuracy and the damage this can do.

What’u talkin’ about, Colly?

I’m talking about accusations of plagiarism, tangible jealousy manifesting itself as blatent slagging off, wholly inaccurate observations, suggestions of nepotism, the questioning of the showcase’s submissions policy… oh, and thicky idiots with nothing better to do than flame a reviewer or designer out of boredom or frustration.

Let us go through some of these. No names, and no links to specific reviews. I have selected all of these quotes as they are typical, and I do not want to draw further negatives to the work of any particular designers.

Accusations of plagiarism

Hugely prevolent, incredibly annoying,  and mostly incorrect. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read of cloning, only to find the sites in question share, erm.. green links or something. Oooh, green! Call the cops.

From Stylegala:

I don’t get it why you people keep adding this guy. His first version was similar to Justwatchthesky, this is similar to Neubix/Justwatchthesky. No, no, no… This is not the way to go. Don’t think something like this belongs here.

These comments make me wonder if these people have human eyes, or mad alien eyes like kaliedoscopes. It is possible to create a design that is similar to an existing one without actually knowing it. Think twice before you slag someone off, and do be absolutely sure that there really are similarities.

Inaccuracies, jealousy and getting personal

I get very angry over the personal insults. They tend to conclude minor spats that get out of control, say fifteen comments in. The evil-do-er gets carried away, everyone starts kicking back at them, and before you know it, people are being called “twats” right before your delicate little eyes.

From CSS Beauty:

Different smifferent. This guy checked out Template Monster, to be sure. I’m not discounting his Photoshop skills, but who can’t make a ‘paper’ website. Been there, done…

Was that constructive? No. Inaccurate? Very much so. It was about a site I had designed, so I’m quite sure. Template Monster indeed.

if you let yourself be displayed on a crappy page, then that in turn is your work too. you are a part of it, therefor he is a crappy designer.

Oh dear. This guy went mental in a thread that saw the administrator forced to step in and cool things down. A very public tragedy.

From Stylegala:

You say international agency, yet you don’t have a single web design in your portfolio other than some nameless horror with a handshaking image. It’s not only unethical, it’s theft of intellectual copyright and you are liable to being sued. I hope, anyway.

That comment might well be accurate, but the “I hope, anyway” invalidates it. The suggestion was also that it was a copy of the commenter’s site (it wasn’t), and as a result jealousy prevails. To everyone on the thread, this commenter was clearly out on a limb with the plagiarism allegation, and was so obviously jealous that I almost cried for humanity’s sake.

From the Vault:

I for one am suprised they let people like you use the Internet.

Ouch. And…

I shit out better designs.

Now where does that get us? I’m all for swearing - it tickles my funny bone, but please think about what you write before you click “Submit”. These persoanl attacks come in many guises. Think also, if a site has a ratings system, are readers voting with integrity, or is their jealousy causing them to mark down exemplorary sites?

Suggestions of nepotism

If the last crime makes me angry, think how I feel about this one. Only today this came up again on Stylegala‘s A List Apart review. Here’s a belter from another recent Stylegala review.

There are hundreds of sites better than this that I am sure have been submitted. It makes me wonder sometimes that is there some exclusive buddy club on stylegala that gets sites like this showcased? Sure - showcase what you want but to me it just devalues your site and patronises people looking for unique groundbreaking sites. Sorry but this site just stinks.

You are “sure” are you? Have you hacked into the admin panel? For me, the accusation of an “exclusive buddy club” seals this commenter as a wanker. Always be very careful before you level an accusation at somebody, especially publicly. The review was for a site made in Hawaii. I know nobody in Hawaii. Such comments force a sensitive reviewer like myself to think twice before reviewing another site, perhaps making me feel guilty about reviewing a British site for fears of being called a nepotist. The commenter was anonymous.

This is from a Web Standards Awards review:

It does seem that there’s a certain amount of old-boy-network back-slapping going on sometimes with a lot of these “standards recognition” sites, which can be quite disheartening to those of us doing this day in, day out on some pretty large-scale projects.

Erm, maybe you need to tighten the way you code, market yourself better, or shut the fuck up. I spent years working with artists who believed they deserved recognition, and resented the success of others. You know what? Most of them were crap. Really crap. I’m not saying I haven’t ever questioned certain high-profile bloggers collecting way too many accolades, but it is one thing to think it and realise it is rubbish, and another to commit your allegation to history for all to see. You just end up looking stupid, bitter and jealous. You also guarantee that your site will never, ever be featured.

Questioning the showcase

This happens a hell of a lot. No quarter is given for the personal taste of reviewers, and the community are quick to jump on anything that they feel is inappropriate.

From CSS Drive:

Ha, see how poor of a “showcase” this site is? look at the comment numbers, they can’t even count right.

I saw some comments that sensibly challenged the criteria of some showcase sites. There is a way of approaching the subject, and it should never get personal. I think there is a responsibility on the part of the reader to check the submission criteria before posting. I totally agree (as I stated in part one) that some poor designs get showcased, but there are ways of approaching the subject, and doing so alongside an individual review is not fair for the designer, and can be completely misunderstood by any of his/her clients. Email the showcase site’s administrator, use a forum if possible, but don’t attach your anger to a review. For all you know, that designer probably didn’t ask to be reviewed.

Please also account for the reviewer’s personal taste. Ever read any of art critic Clement Greenberg‘s essays, or the music reviews of Lester bangs? Single-minded visionaries that helped shape and define whole genres.

Here’s another from CSS Beauty:

Again…what is the point of showcasing sites like this which have nothing unusual or different. It is no different to any other site. very plain and very boring. I don’t get your criteria CSSBeauty.

Poor CSS Beauty has some of the most bitter, angry, jealous, vindictive readers of any site I have ever visited. This is one of the kinder ones - I could have picked from dozens of vitriolic outpourings.

A clarification

Let me clarify that I am not talking about everybody here. As I stated in part one, the importance of feedback and ongoing dialogue surrounding individual designs, industry trends and the “roadmap to standards” is hugely important, and it is very necessary for us all to engage in conversation (especially publicly) about these issues.

Equally, I do not expect, nor should anyone, that all dialogue and discussion will be positive. My aim here is not to discourage visitors from speaking their mind and bringing reviewers to account. My background as a visual arts writer taught me this. Write a review, and you may as well pull on a target t-shirt or “kick me” sticker. On-topic debate is usually enjoyable, often inspiring and definitely welcomed. That said, there are unwritten rules that are often ignored.

To conclude

Probably four fifths of all comments across the showcases are on-topic and acceptable. Whilst a fifth might be of the “it’s nice”, “I like it” or “Hi, my comment couldn’t be more boring if I tried” variety, three-fifths are often very constructive, based in fact, useful (browser display issues etc) and lend themselves to enjoyable dialogue. I’ve personally learned a hell of a lot from ensuing dialogues.

The problems arise when one (and it is often just one) troll comes along and seeks to subvert the dialogue with one or several of the aforementioned evils. It is unpleasant for the reviewer, it is surely unpleasant for the designer, and it’s a recurring nightmare for the administrator.

To quote from a Mike Davidson comment on the WSA site:

Relish the naive criticism. It’s the sign of greatness.

Couldn’t have put it better myself. By all means seek to be reviewed, add your comments, engage in the dialogues, but do take a large pinch of salt with you, for comment trolls will always plague the threads. The exhilaration that follows being selected can soon give way to exasparation once you get trolled, and such attention could even harm your business. Be careful.

In part three…

...I’ll walk you through what I think are the most common errors that see submitted sites get ruled out immediately. I’ll throw in some advice and see if we can’t make the job of the reviewer a little harder. Stay tuned.

Related articles

Part one: CSS showcases - the sites.
Part three: CSS showcases - be selected.

Responses

# Ryan Latham responded on 24th August 2005 with...

Well since you work on Stylegala and I know what I am dealing with let me break it down how I see it…and no offense to anyone, but I am going to call it how I see it.  And you can quote me on this and I will make it real evident for you:

THIS IS THE BEST WE HAVE TO WORK WITH.

It’s either choosing between a design that maybe less than ground-breaking, posted elsewhere and/or has some shortcomings versus not posting at all.  Either way it is a lose/lose deal for us.

And here is the really amusing part. All these people who say “terrible work” or something to the extent of “why the hell would you showcase this?”  Snicker…snicker. For some reason they have no site linked on the comment, a link that takes me to a “under construction page” or the highest grade of mark-up filth I have seen.

Now maybe it is the fact that they submitted their site to us and we didn’t list them. They may be thinking “hey, my design is better than this,” and become very flustered with us.  These people need to have some modesty and be humbled. Thinking that your template which has no more tweaking than a “custom” header image is somehow special is a bit powerful of your ego.

Spiteful? No. Just being honest. I know a lot of the people who I get submissions from are just getting started and are proud of what they have done.  I feel as if I am stifling them by not accepting their submission, but I look at what they have put before my eyes and can’t even fathom the backlash I would receive from doing so.

There are no ground breaking designs that go un-listed.  When we have those awe inspiring ones we post them quicker than I get out of the parking lot at work on a Friday.  I have semi-battled this by my “recent submissions” addition to Unmatched Style, allowing my visitors to see why there is perhaps a day where I go without a new submission.

I do agree that the community around these gallery sites can be vicious and restless.  And I think that there is no way to go about stopping it.  If we delete a comment that we feel violates a policy we attempt to enforce, to the writer of that comment we are now an asshole.  If we leave it sit, as we always do, now we just have content on the site that ads no value whatsoever except to add several hundred bytes to weight of the page.

I hope Part 3 is about owners of these sites who write more in the comments of other peoples sites than they do on their own.

# Faruk Ateş responded on 24th August 2005 with...

Excellent article Colly. Can’t wait for part 3 :-) Should prove to be very interesting indeed, as yes, it’d be great to make their jobs (even) harder.

I do feel that the jealousy thing is, well, “underestimated” often, even in posts like these. More than half the time, such wanker-criticism should really just boost your confidence, because when comments drip with jealousy like that, it’s really just a testimony to your skills. Embrace the jealousy of others like you would a king’s robe. Or something.

# Jonathan Snook responded on 24th August 2005 with...

Ryan: where’s my site on Unmatched Style? Oh wait, you only take good designs? My bad…

(Colly, I agree. Yup, can’t get much more boring that that. ;))

# Ryan Latham responded on 24th August 2005 with...

Johnathan—Perhaps if you didn’t spend so much time working with crappy languages (joke, I do the same thing) you could come up with a more original design (joke also people).

Although I will say this about your most recent entry. I don’t care how well written it is, how detailed it is…you can still not write about JOIN’s and have it be a “fun read.” That’s like me sitting at work with nothing to do reading up on MSDN database; it just makes you that much nerdier :P

# Brian Behrend responded on 24th August 2005 with...

What are you talking about man, a site is clearly a rip off if they both use any shade of green.....

# Brad Chmielewski responded on 24th August 2005 with...

Colly I am Loving This Topic!

Ryan, I agree I wonder to about some of the people that don’t post there work in their profile. It may to with them not having good work to show but it also could be they do not want people knowing who they are. Easy to attack when no one knows you.

# John Peele responded on 24th August 2005 with...

Colly,  Thank you for having the balls to approach this subject!  I have been wanting to vent on this topic for a while now.

It all started for me with the December 04 review of my site on Stylegala.  David had to step in and stop the bleeding, the commenting was that bad.  I currently hold the 7th all-time lowest rated site on Stylegala, there are only 6 sites rated lower, but I share company with the likes of Mark Boulton and Ryan Sims (go figure).

And now I get to see the other side of the fence as a reviewer (how’s that for poetic justice?!) and I have the same apprehensiveness about submitting reviews.  Fear of being flamed for reasons totally alien to the intention of the site keeps my reviews to a minimum at times.  Is that silly or what?  And then you get some people who seemingly vote a site low on purpose, as if to teach both the designer and the reviewer a lesson.

70% of the sites on Stylegala hold a rating of 4.9 or lower.  That blows my mind.  For every obivously poor site there are atleast 3 very good sites worthy of good reviews, comments and ratings.  I could go on an on…

So another thank you for taking the time to address the issue.

# Simon Collison responded on 25th August 2005 with...

Hmm, the trolls have been strangely absent from this debate. Scared, I reckon. You gotta have balls to have a go on a topic like this. I’m not saying I’m right about all of it (probably far from it), and I like to be put in my place when necessary…

John: Agreed about the Stylegala ratings. They illustrate that for every one bad comment, there are ten jealous ratings. Shame.

I say we stick to our guns and review what we like. Fly in the face of criticism.

# Sebastian Schmieg responded on 25th August 2005 with...

IĂm not saying I havenĂt ever questioned certain high-profile bloggers collecting way too many accolades, but it is one thing to think it and realise it is rubbish, and another to commit your allegation to history for all to see. You just end up looking stupid, bitter and jealous. You also guarantee that your site will never, ever be featured.

Colly, you’re so wrong (at least with this paragraph). I wished there were more people that would speak their mind without thinking of their reputation, their status etc. But instead, everybody tries to be seen as a nice guy, one of the “cool gang”...

Funny think is that you’re implying that not beeing featured doesn’t always have something to do with the lack of quality but indeed with the designers/submitters personality.

# Simon Collison responded on 25th August 2005 with...

Sebastian: I think my tone was a bit too heavy in that paragraph. Having an opinion should NOT remove anyone’s right to have their work added to a showcase, and I retract that statement. It hasn’t been something I’ve had to face yet, and I should point out that reviews are made on merit, not personality. Sorry for the confusion there.

By the way, how many people have accused Stylegala of “old boys club” selection over the ALA review? They should be ashamed.

# Sebastian Schmieg responded on 25th August 2005 with...

ALA’s a killer. It’s that damn philly style of awesome… I’ll move to Philly, soon.

But that’s a good example where all the “old boys club” accusations are simply stupid. It’s a shame we aren’t cool enough to simply ignore them.

# Sebastian Schmieg responded on 25th August 2005 with...

btw. Colly, where have all my submissions for Stylegala gone? Those were all top-notch grungy sites… ;-) well, one has been reviewed, now being one of the lowest rated ever. But actually I think some of the lowest rated are the real winners.

# Lea responded on 28th August 2005 with...

Colly, you stole the words out of my mouth… I ranted about the alleged nepotism in my site as well, and it’s also what annoys me the most. However, you seem to succintly hit the points much better than I have. ;-) Cheers.

# Rob Mientjes responded on 29th August 2005 with...

Colly, all due respect, but I wonder…

It is possible to create a design that is similar to an existing one without actually knowing it. Think twice before you slag someone off, and do be absolutely sure that there really are similarities

What if indeed there are those similarities that make it an obvious “over-inspired” design (to keep it in your vocabulary), what if the designer damn well knew and decided to just copy the whole concept and give it his/her own shot?

Either you’re trying to take our attention from the issue at hand or you forgot about it.

# Sasha responded on 2nd September 2005 with...

Veri nice site!

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