24th August, 2005

Part 2: CSS showcases - the trolls

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.

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