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It's Time for Quality Tech Reporting

By roblimo in Op-Ed
Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 01:36:36 PM EST
Tags: News (all tags)

I've been covering technology news full-time for about five years now, and concentrating almost entirely on Linux and Open Source for the last three. Before I got heavily involved with the Internet I did over 10 years worth of (print) free-lance investigative reporting and feature writing. I find that online tech reporting in general is poor compared to most newspaper and magazine journalism. Can it be improved? And, especially when it comes to Linux and Open Source, does anyone really want quality journalism?

First, let me get "journalistic bias" out of the way: In my experience, the only journalist a reader considers completely unbiased is one who agrees totally with his or her point or view. So let's assume that, to most readers, most journalists are biased in some way. I have often found myself accused of bias in different directions by different readers of a single article, so please excuse my cynicism on this topic. I come by it honestly.

Now on to the meat: There is a tendency in all areas of journalism to spend too much time covering what I call "manufactured news," a category in which I place all press releases, political debates, press conferences, and statements by official spokespeople of any kind, including the craggy-faced senior firefighter every large fire department has around whose sole job is to look good in front of a burned-out house on the nightly TV news.

Pumping out manufactured news is easy for reporters, most of whom aren't paid nearly as much as programmers or sysadmins despite being under constant deadline pressure, especially if they are writing for Internet media. Corporate spokespeople are always happy to say something glowing about their companies' products and services. Groups like the EFF and EPIC have agendas they love to push, and sympathetic though you or I may be to those agendas (note the bias here!) repeating their spokepeople's public statements is not real reporting.

So what is real reporting? In the case of advocacy groups, I believe the most important coverage should be of the advocacy process itself, preferably told from the point of view of people in the group doing the actual work. From this perspective, the person selling EFF tshirts at a trade show is a valid interview subject. He or she is exposed one-on-one to trade show attendees' views of the EFF. Do different trade shows (i.e. LinuxWorld and Internet World) attract attendees whose views of the EFF differ? Is one crowd more likely to buy EFF shirts than the other? Does one group tend to subject EFF shirtsellers to vicious harangues, while the other says things like "keep up the good work" most of the time?

This could make an informative article that would not necessarily be biased either in favor of or against the EFF, and the preceding paragraph also points out a wonderful (and underutilized) feature of the World Wide Web as a reporting medium: that instead of explaining the EFF or even mentioning that the three letters stand for "Electronic Frontier Foundation," I simply linked to their Web site so that readers who already knew about the EFF weren't forced to scan a boring explanation, but those who hadn't heard of it could instantly find out all about it, straight from the source.

I believe links are underutilized in online reporting, especially by the so-called "straight" press. Stories on the New York Times Web site, for example, tend to be almost or entirely link-free, which has always bothered me. I love the fact that, with a few keystrokes, I can insert a link in a story that will send readers directly to the source of my background information This allows readers both to check my work and to go beyond my few words and do their own in-depth research if my story interests them in a particular subject, and since getting readers interested in subjects they might otherwise not have thought about is one of my main personal goals as a writer, I tend to use a lot of links in my online stories.

By using links correctly and profusely, even manufactured news can be made interesting and informative, but I am still against it in general. Press releases and other announcements often contain potentially important tech news, but I would just as soon run them in their entirety, clearly labeled as press releases or announcements -- which is how we do it on NewsForge -- rather than regurgitate their content in bylined stories. By doing this, we're assuming our audience is smart enough to tell the difference between promo copy and real news, and I feel this is a safe assumption most of the time. And by running press releases as press releases, we are then free to put our own energy into researching and writing "real" news, which is a rough and time-consuming job at which we are only partially successful so far, but working hard to improve at every day.

The biggest problem we are running into with the idea of trying to bring "real reporting" to Linux and Open Source is that most coverage of this area has been closer to fanzine-style hagiography than journalism until now, and anyone who tries to write anything that might be considered even slightly negative about any Open Source or Free Software icons is instantly slammed, even if their reporting is totally accurate. I stepped into this problem big-time about a year ago on Slashdot, when I did a small writeup on a minor potential hole in the GPL's coverage of ASPs. Flameville! How could a non-programming ignorant schmuck like me dare to say anything even remotely non-positive about the great Richard M. Stallman? Hundreds of comments and emails echoed this refrain, but Stallman himself didn't seem to take my short article as any kind of attack; indeed, some of the work now going into GPL3 is designed to correct the very deficiency I was slammed so hard for having pointed out.

Part of the trouble in converting the former "Gosh! Golly! Ain't all this Linux stuff wunnerful" cheerleading that passed for Open Source news coverage for so long into truly unbiased reporting is that many people in the "Open Source Commumnity" (which is really a whole bunch of different so-called communities, not a single monolithic group) haven't grasped the fact that the revolution is over and we/they have won. It is a similar position to the one in which the Italian Communist Party found itself when it started to win local elections in the 1950s; it was easy for the Communists to criticize the Mayor and City Council from the outside, but when they got into office themselves they suddenly found that they were the ones getting criticized, and they had a rough time learning how to deal with all that negativity, especially when it came from publications they had considered "friendly" while they were out-of-power underdogs.

I'm not saying that all Open Source and Linux news is or should be negative, but that there is going to be some bad mixed in with the good. Stocks prices for Linux companies currently suck, for instance, and that's valid news, just as reports of huge first-day gains for Linux IPOs were big news a year or so ago. Burlington Coat Factory and eMusic adopting Linux for big-time enterprise applications is big news, but if a company that turns to Linux later decides it would be better off with Windows 2000 or a proprietary Unix instead, that is news, too, and deserves just as much attention as an Open Source success story. And those of us who write any of those stories, whether positive or negative, are going to get flamed for "bias" every time we say anything either "good" or "bad" about what we cover, and if we try as hard as we can to avoid coming to any kind of conclusion at all, or even from quoting others' conclusions, we will probably get crucified for being wishy-washy or some such.

But like it or not, and despite yow-yowing from GPL believers, GPL haters, Microsoft bashers, Microsoft boosters (yes, there are still a few out there), die-hard Apple fanatics, Amiga lovers, *BSD believers, and all rest of the people who follow tech news closely and have something to say (usually rather loudly) about the way it is written, coverage of Linux and Open Source will gradually mature and become more even-handed, as will all coverage in the computer trade press, because tech news is gradually becoming interesting enough to the world at large that it is starting to get the level of journalistic attention that, in the past, was reserved strictly for "important" subjects like politics, business, sports, and movie star love scandals.

Robin Miller (aka 'Roblimo') has been a professional writer and editor since 1985. His work has appeared in hundreds of print publications and on dozens of high-profile Web sites. He is currently editor-in-chief of the Open Source Development Network (OSDN), owner of freshmeat, Linux.com, NewsForge, SourceForge, and a number of other tech-oriented Web sites.


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It's Time for Quality Tech Reporting | 94 comments (83 topical, 11 editorial, 2 hidden)
reporting in general sucks (3.58 / 17) (#1)
by tacitus on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 12:39:42 PM EST

I would say that newspapers and tv broadcasts are poorly written and poorly reported. They oose with sensationalism and never report the whole story. Some magazines do a good job, Harpers, Atlantic Monthly, Scientific American. I would say a lot of tech reporting is even more sensationalist since half the time the people reporting on tech issues do not fully understand the issues or products themselves. A perfect example is the Napster fiasco.

But you do hit it bang on... this 'golly gee, everything linux/open source is wonderful - Microsoft bad' reporting seriously takes the cake.

The ILLenium

Solution to a non-problem (3.72 / 22) (#2)
by streetlawyer on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 12:39:46 PM EST

The Register (link not included for reasons of laziness) has been carrying out exactly the sort of coverage you talk about for as long as ages. The idea that one gains some sort of respect by mindlessly boosterising, or by serving the loudmouthed flame artists rather than the news itself, just isn't true.

And if you want to be able to get across a clear well-written, balanced picture of the facts without being beset by ill-informed flames, then the solution is clear; don't put a public bulletin board immediately below your stories. And take on the chin the decline in hits you get.

Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever

The Vulture (3.87 / 8) (#30)
by rusty on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 04:30:48 PM EST

I agree with you about The Reg being one of the very very few sites doing "real" tech reporting. Everyone else, IMO, should read them religiously and take notes.


And if you want to be able to get across a clear well-written, balanced picture of the facts without being beset by ill-informed flames, then the solution is clear; don't put a public bulletin board immediately below your stories. And take on the chin the decline in hits you get.

Do you (streetlawyer or roblimo, or anyone) think that having public reaction is worth the flames? Or do you think that people would be better served by having good reporting and moving the response elsewhere?

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

corrected url (4.50 / 4) (#33)
by mattc on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 04:40:22 PM EST

the correct URL for the register

[ Parent ]
D'oh! I suck. (NT) (3.00 / 1) (#35)
by rusty on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 04:42:47 PM EST

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
message boards are good (3.57 / 7) (#47)
by Delirium on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 05:19:17 PM EST

FWIW I think the public message boards are worth it. In fact I often mind myself not checking the Register that often (despite the high-quality stories) simply because of that fact. Being able to participate in discussion of stories after reading them is strangely compelling...

[ Parent ]
Email them! (3.28 / 7) (#51)
by rusty on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 05:59:14 PM EST

Email the Reg and tell them that you'd read more if there was /., K5 style feedback attached to stories! :-)

Yes, I do have greedy self-serving reasons for this request. ;-)

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Woahh there tiger (5.00 / 1) (#89)
by titus-g on Fri Jan 12, 2001 at 09:51:01 AM EST

As one of the more prolific posters to the Reg's free for all forum, I'm not keen on the sound of that at all at all at all. There _is_ an El Reg Forum Cabal, it is a matter of honour among us that no thread should stay on topic longer than 3 posts, and none should go longer than 12 posts before at least some discussion of motor vehicles or bitching about delphi.

It is a happy place, having people coming round trying to enforce 'Proper' discussion, replete with the punctuation/spelling correctors and people who believe that they can prove anything with facts would be a tragedy on par with ruining communities to build dams.

Also the influx of people that there would be if it was more accesible would probably end up turning any discussion into little more than can be found at the foot of any zdnet news article.

Then again apparently Drew's (Cullen) is coding something up to take over from the forums on Delphi, which may be a foot of article thing...

--"Essentially madness is like charity, it begins at home" --
[ Parent ]

Register Forums (3.66 / 3) (#82)
by dave.oflynn on Thu Jan 11, 2001 at 06:46:05 AM EST

El Reg's forums are on delphi here . And yes, there's usually one or two of the journos hanging around. And no, the discussions don't stay on topic. Ever. It's kind of a point of pride...

[ Parent ]
feedback, comments, whatever (3.50 / 8) (#50)
by yankeehack on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 05:47:37 PM EST

So are you trying to imply Rusty that the only readers who comment are those with a negative message or an axe to grind?

I understand that the signal to noise ratio can be quite high on public sites, but since when does news (of any sort) happen in a vacuum? With the added scrutiny of the audience, I would tend to think that reporting would be held to a higher standard. (*cough* *cough* some guy named Katz comes to mind here *cough* *cough*) Witness the popularity of some political/culture tv shows like CNN's Talk Back Live and C-Span's Washington Journal. Isn't it more valuable to know what your audience thinks of you?

Let's admit it, Slashdot and other weblogs would not be so popular without the value added feature of posting.

No one who was bad in bed has ever been good in life (i.e. liberals, I've never had sex with a liberal woman who knew how to use her body.) Keeteel :-P I'm *right*!
[ Parent ]

just a question (4.00 / 6) (#52)
by rusty on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 06:03:15 PM EST

So are you trying to imply Rusty that the only readers who comment are those with a negative message or an axe to grind?

Not at all! It was sincerely just a question. I think it's clear where I come down on the issue, but I would like to hear from anyone who can make a good case that hiding or filtering responses could lead to better journalism.

I mean, journalism isn't really what we do here anyway, so the question isn't about K5. I'm more just wondering if the knowlege of immediate public response leads reporters to be more fair, or just more timid in their reporting. Roblimo seems to imply, at one point, that maybe the cheering crowds in the response threads lead reporters to pander to a site's bias, instead of asking the tough questions. I might just be putting words in his buffer, though.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Bill O'Reilly is an idiot (2.40 / 5) (#55)
by Wah on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 06:48:51 PM EST

and a loudmouthed one at that. Does he have a message board I can troll on? I can't think of a bunch of easier pickings than a group who agrees with him. (no offense intended...well, minor offense intended)
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]
ignore the flames (3.60 / 5) (#70)
by streetlawyer on Wed Jan 10, 2001 at 09:29:01 AM EST

The real problem of web journalism is that inexperienced journalists make the huge mistake of reading their mailbags. That, more than anything else, is the enemy of good journalism. Ideal journalists are self-confident and tell the audience what they want to say. But it's powerfully easy to be tempted or scared into saying what you think the audience want to hear.

Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]
Lack of references is a problem (3.58 / 12) (#3)
by SIGFPE on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 12:42:00 PM EST

Stories on the New York Times Web site, for example, tend to be almost or entirely link-free, which has always bothered me
Quite right. But it doesn't just apply to hyperlinking. For example I have read magazines like New Scientist for years but it consistently fails to give journal references for the articles it has. I believe it's because it's not in the interest of magazines and newspapers to reveal their sources so that they can keep a monopoly over them. Of course that strategy fails in the Internet age as I can now regaurly scan, online, many of the sources that New Scientist use. The same goes for the other popular science magazines (except for Scientific American which is slightly closer to being a 'journal' than a magazine).
Another good magazine... (3.25 / 8) (#7)
by 11223 on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 01:06:06 PM EST

While ocasionally they've been accused of only giving one side of the story, (and to their credit they always print the letters accusing them about that), I find Discover magazine a good source of information because they do have a references section at the end of each magazine. I don't have a lot of time; basically, I'm looking for an overview of what's hot/what's new in the world of Science. They do a good job of presenting articles about serious topics with good references.

The dead hand of Asimov's mass psychology wins every time.
[ Parent ]

Crap (3.83 / 6) (#56)
by dangerousdan on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 06:51:00 PM EST

Looking at the closest New Scientist I have to hand (16 Dec 00) it seems to be good in giving both source and reference material. All articles have a "for more information see" and point ot either a web site or book. The "This week" column has references ("Ecology Letters Vol 3 p 465" as one example) for all stories. I do not know if these are linked on its web site (the hard copy is enough for me) but they are there in the print version and I think should be there on the web site.

Give a man a match and he is warm for a day. Set him alight and he is warm for the rest of his life.
[ Parent ]

Cool (3.00 / 3) (#61)
by SIGFPE on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 10:35:38 PM EST

It may have improved. I gave up reading it on paper a while back. Last time I read it it was bad enough that I almost wrote a letter to the editor...but then I figured it would get ignored.
[ Parent ]
OK (2.00 / 2) (#88)
by dangerousdan on Fri Jan 12, 2001 at 09:25:55 AM EST

Why did you give up reading it?
I know that it has changed a bit in the last 5 years with sourcing and a horrible new design/layout, but I think that it is still the broadest science mag available (in Aus anyway). Maybe OT for tech writing as it is more general science writing.

Give a man a match and he is warm for a day. Set him alight and he is warm for the rest of his life.
[ Parent ]

Why did you give up reading it? (3.00 / 1) (#90)
by SIGFPE on Fri Jan 12, 2001 at 11:32:10 AM EST

Moving to the US from the UK 3.5 years ago! It now seems to be a 5-10 mile drive to find decent a decent magazine selection and though I used to love New Scientist I was finding it wasn't worth the effort to obtain it.
[ Parent ]
Regarding bias (3.25 / 12) (#4)
by puzzlingevidence on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 12:44:33 PM EST

I'm always kind of stunned when I hear people complain about bias in the media. Of *course* there's bias. There's *supposed* to be bias. We *want* bias.

Feature reporting, by its very nature, is slanted towards a particular POV. News reporting, by its very nature, should try to be neutral. However, feature reporting vastly outweighs news reporting. Hence, media display bias.

I really wish that every high school kid in the world needed to take a media studies course to graduate; I didn't even learn the above until I started studying journalism at the university level, but this concept is so simple I can't understand why it was never taught sooner.

A man may build a throne of bayonets, but he can not sit on it. --Inge

Media bias (3.75 / 4) (#34)
by rusty on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 04:40:28 PM EST

This reminds me of a note Doc Searls pointed at in his weblog. It seems a PR agency scheduled a preview screening of "Dude, Where's my car?" but requested that critics not attend. One critic did attend, and was actually escorted out by the police, at the request of the PR agency (bad sign for the movie, but that's not the point). The critic who got the boot then reported on the event, in straight, third-person-objective style. That right there is an example of "objectivity" run amok. See the story, and Tom's follow-up to the PR group.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
your definition of bias is too broad (4.85 / 7) (#42)
by G Neric on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 05:05:39 PM EST

Feature reporting, by its very nature, is slanted towards a particular POV. News reporting, by its very nature, should try to be neutral.

That's not what critics mean by media bias, though journalists seem to think it is. "Media bias" refers to the integral of bias across all of some meaningful cross section of the media, and how the POV thus measured differs from that of the collective readership or the truth. You could talk about the bias of a newspaper, or of a particular reporter, or of the media in general. In terms of what you said, news reporting should try to be neutral, but does news from a particular source consistent try but fail, and in a predictable way?

There are some well-known generic sources of bias toward gore ("if it bleeds, it leads"), scandal, or even the new over the true (you hear a lot about cold fusion, but little about the 2nd law of thermodynamics) but these are also not what is meant by "media bias". Media bias refers to political (including cultural, e.g. "anti-gay" or "pro-gay") bias. Of course, the media needs to selectively filter the raw data down to what a viewer can fit into some time window, but does a majority of viewers walk away with a different opinion than they would if they were to have witnessed the events themselves?

Of *course* there's bias. There's *supposed* to be bias. We *want* bias.

No, we don't always. I'll give you an example. I watched an administrative branch bureaucrat grilled by a Senate commitee on CSPAN. It was clearly a partisan committee. One side kept hounding him, "will the deadline slip?" "no" "C'mon, not even in an crisis?" "no, we plan to meet the deadline" "Really? you can't think of a single scenario where you might not meet the deadline?" "Well, I can imagine a scenario, but the President has told me it is my top priority to meet this deadline and I plan to do it any way I can." Then I saw a 30 second story about it on ABCNews that night: "Administration official admits schedule might slip." While that is literally true, it is not at all what an eyewitness would have remembered.

Now, I'm just giving a single point example (it's hard in this context to give a statistically significant sample :) but I think it was so egregious as to be telling. The only way that news story was unbiased was if every testifier receives the same grilling and if it is well-known that any admission will be taken as a sign of weakness. Otherwise, what I saw was a reasonable, rational guy being harangued and the news story should have been "committee harangues administration official". That story would be just as "sensational", so this was not an example of stressing the lurid or something. I think the average viewer would have learned something quite different if they had witnessed this committee meeting. It is a real issue if it happens consistently and broadly in a partisan way.

[ Parent ]

Objectivity as a gimmick (3.66 / 3) (#66)
by Potsy on Wed Jan 10, 2001 at 07:47:55 AM EST

Taking that a little further, isn't it true that newspapers used to flaunt their bias, up until about the 1900s? Then someone came up with the bright idea of trying to sell an "objective" newspaper, which actually turned out to be a pretty good gimmick for increasing sales. Despite the fact that true objectivity, and even semi-objectivity are pretty much impossible in the real world, the public bought the idea, and has been stuck on it ever since.

[ Parent ]
Hear, hear. (4.08 / 25) (#5)
by 11223 on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 12:47:55 PM EST

At first I doubted if this was the real Roblimo, but your article soon convinced me that if it wasn't, it certainly was a very convincing imitation.

Part of the problem with democracy is that it seems to be easier to manipulate into bias and discrimination than most; and when it comes down to it, every online news source is a democracy. If the Slashdot editors started to post every other story about, say, BeOS, I doubt they would escape the massive flame-fest that would follow. (Besides, there's already a site of the same character for BeOS.) What this means is that the biases of the audience are reflected in the online news source.

Only when the community conciously decides that it does not wish to hear biased reporting will the situation ever improve. However, even on a place like K5, which is supposedly dedicated to overcoming these issues, I hear comments like "I'm glad to see Be get equal time on kuro5hin." (comment here). You see, there's still always some amout of subtle bias, and here it shows up in the form of nobody submitting articles about some topics.

Well, can all of this bias and discrimination be overcome? Not likely. You see, this is the fundamental realization of (warning - one of my favorite examples is going to show up here) Huxely's Brave New World in a very profound and sickening way, and I've been complaining about it for a while. When I do, I've been pointed to places like Amazon.com and told that never before in history have so many disparate ideas gained such distribution.

This is true. Never before have so many ideas gained such distribution - but only to the people whom the ideas naturally appeal to anyway. Conversely, never before have so many people been unexposed to ideas that do not appeal to them. When Neil Postman talks about the TV mind, this is what he means. If you don't like what you see, you can always change the channel. The Internet mind is simply an extension of that.

When news was scarse, and widely distributed ideas even scarcer, people read the newest ideas not because the ideas appealed to them anyway, but because it was one of very few things to read. Being well-read was a virtue, and you didn't have the option of reading the review first to decide whether or not you liked the ideas before being exposed to them.

So, how is this the fundamental realization of Huxely's Brave New World? Do you remember how those who wished to think independently got banished to a smaller island (Iceland and the Canary Islands were two mentioned, IIRC)? Today, we perform the same banishment. In effect, I am "banished" from Slashdot for technical reporting because I am interested in a different topic (or a wide variety of topics). Never before has such segregation been possible.

So, how do you form an independent and thinking mind these days anyway? Is it possible to do so by listening to the ideas that you already agree with? Are you afraid of the ideas of different "sects", simply from the way they were portrayed by a reviewer? You can't. It's inbreeding, literally. WIthout that fresh flow of ideas, how can you hope to survive? Basic principles of biology can (and should) be applied here; no population can hope to survive on a very limited genetic range.

I don't think that any coverage will become more mature and even-handed in any way shape or form. What you deem were the past "important" subjects like "movie star love scandals" were in fact part of the decline. I don't know how old you are, Robin, but I'm guessing you weren't collecting data when Huxely wrote his Brave New World. This were going downhill then; what you observe is part of the fall, not a temporary rut in reporting.

I'd love to end this essay on a positive note, but I don't think that I can do that. Frankly, I'm a bit confused as to where to go from here. I don't know how we can establish that free flow of ideas. I'll leave this one up to people who may have other ideas; after all, I am interested in hearing ideas that do not appeal to me.

The dead hand of Asimov's mass psychology wins every time.

Paths (4.20 / 5) (#60)
by aphrael on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 10:28:33 PM EST

Frankly, I'm a bit confused as to where to go from here. I don't know how we can establish that free flow of ideas. I'll leave this one up to people who may have other ideas; after all, I am interested in hearing ideas that do not appeal to me

We can establish places where people who are interested in hearing new ideas, even unappealing ones, congregate and talk; and we can go out and sort through mountains of stuff looking for new things, irrespective of origin, and remembering to use a giant salt lick for much of it.

I'm young enough that I don't really believe there's ever been any other way --- and that's one of the beauties of the way society evolves: new people come along who take what seems unnatural to older people for granted, and build from those assumptions, and see things that were invisible from the original assumption.

[ Parent ]

Wandering... (3.25 / 4) (#64)
by Cyberrunner on Wed Jan 10, 2001 at 02:22:06 AM EST

People seem to find paths to whatever they are interested in, irrespective of any sigle group and inversely blind to ideas that they are uninterested in. The type that search through everything are on the path to a revolution, seeking direction (if they're open minded).

In my case, what is found may or may not change anything but it'll never stop me from searching for what will start the cascade.

[ Parent ]

good post (2.66 / 15) (#8)
by rebelcool on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 01:11:01 PM EST

an amazingly centrist post. Though I must disagree with the "open source has already won". Perhaps it could seem that way, if your daily interaction is with almost nothing but open source software. But the reality is, programmers must make a living to LIVE, and the way to do that is through commercial software. Of course, Open Source does not necessarily mean GPL (no matter what some nut like ESR seems to think), and GPL is that which is the real problem of commercial open source.

Commercial software is still the most common kind of software. People making it must have a way of putting food on the table and paying rent. I also must ask, who is better at creating a GUI for the masses? A loose congregation of random programmers who code in their spare time, or a corporation with millions of dollars to spend to bring the Real Public into their offices to test things out?

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site

What I think... (3.12 / 8) (#12)
by 11223 on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 01:36:12 PM EST

I don't presume to speak for Robin, but what I think he meant was that within its own community, Open Source has won - e.g. that there's now enough community there that it may have to stand up to attack. I could say that Apple has won in the same way, despite their low market share.

The dead hand of Asimov's mass psychology wins every time.
[ Parent ]

Open Source = The Long-Run Winnah! (4.75 / 8) (#20)
by roblimo on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 03:10:58 PM EST

No, I meant that Open Source has won, period. Apache is far and away the world's most popular server software, Linux is the world's fastest-growing operating system, and more and more big companies (IBM, Hewlett Packard, Compaq, Dell, Oracle) are starting to embrace Open Source, Free Software, Linux or all three in one way or another.

Get out your favorite spreadsheet software and use it to graph the spread of Linux and Open Source, and you will see why I say Open Source has won. Linux is *not* an "upstart operating system" any longer. It is an accepted part of the software universe, and even non-computer companies are starting to see that the Open Source development model cuts costs and produces more reliable software than trying to keep things proprietary.

Remember, a majority of software is used in one-off or behind-the-scenes commercial applications and is never sold on store shelves as a boxed product. If Open Source allows the owner of an auto parts warehouse to benefit from an inventory management system originally developed for a building products vendor, and the building product vendor's programmers come up with patches and modules that make the auto parts wholesaler's operation run more efficiently, both parties win - and the programmers still get paid, and probably paid rather well.

Take Slash code as an example - it has been embraced and extended by many. Sure, OSDN pays the core group of Slash developers, but a *lot* of the features you'll see in (soon to be released) Slash II were either suggested by or actually written by people who work elsewhere, which helps OSDN make better Web sites, which helps other Slash code users make better Web sites, which makes...

You get the idea. :)

Plus there are many Slash variants and workalikes out there... like Scoop. And lessons learned from developing and using Slash can be applied to Scoop, and vice versa. Everybody wins - except the people who want to stick to proprietary software.

Once a software product or operating system becomes common, it is no longer revolutionary. It is simply commonplace. And that is where Open Source is today; not all-embracing yet, but well-accepted and growing.

- Robin

[ Parent ]

Rob, you need to pull your head out of that mass.. (1.62 / 8) (#25)
by darthaya on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 04:15:47 PM EST

Next time, please, give a different example of a great OSS software other than Apache. I am going to jump off the office window if I hear the word apache and "most popular web server" again in one sentence.

[ Parent ]
Why? (4.00 / 6) (#36)
by Narcischizm on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 04:47:37 PM EST

According to this Netcraft Web Server Survey, Apache is running on 15,414,726 servers, while IIS is running a not so close second at 5,025,017 servers. I really don't mean to make you leap from a window, but are there other stats we should know about? In keeping with the tone of Robin's article, I'm certainly interested in the truth. The Netcraft findings seem (to me) to be the most objective and accurate we have seen.

[ Parent ]
That is not what I meant (3.33 / 6) (#58)
by darthaya on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 07:50:49 PM EST

I know and understand fully that apache is the best web server. The thing I want is something more than just apache. If as rob has said, oss is indeed superior, we should see a lot of merging great products soon.

[ Parent ]
Not to even mention... (4.12 / 8) (#38)
by rusty on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 04:58:37 PM EST

The embedded market, where Linux actually started out as the 800-lb gorilla. It doesn't get as much attention, but if you wait a couple years, and then count the number of units (of any kind) that use an operating system, Linux will likely massively exceed all the others combined, solely because of it's prevalence in embedded devices, where the user never knows or cares what the OS is.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Possibly irrelevant statistical nit. (4.22 / 9) (#43)
by elenchos on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 05:08:22 PM EST

The smaller you are, the more likely you can claim the title of "Fastest Growing X." If I make up a new religion today, and convert 3 people to it this afternoon, I can claim to have an astronomical growth rate. If I plug that into my spreadsheet, I can extrapolate it out to anything I think I can get away with. Usually this game is played when someone wants to say something like "Heroin is the fastest growing drug among 14-year-olds, so fund my new program, or pass my reactionary law."

While boosting Linux may be a benign goal, abusing statistics amongst a readership who knows better only harms your credibility.

[ Parent ]

open source is more than a GUI (3.75 / 8) (#14)
by simmons75 on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 01:49:09 PM EST

Robin was fairly vague on this, but it's important to keep in mind that software such as Apache is an example of open source software. So are the GNU command-line utilities (well, I must point out, to put out the potential flames, that GNU software is Free Software, not Open Source.) So is the base BSD source code (and BSD code is used all over the place, from FreeBSD to MacOS X to Windows, of all things.)

Certainly what has been gettting a lot of attention lately is the collections of software known as KDE and GNOME, but it's important to keep in mind that the Linux kernel is open, as is a number of apps that you may never see unless you look for them.
So there.

[ Parent ]
indeed (3.25 / 4) (#41)
by rebelcool on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 05:04:27 PM EST

apache is an example of good OSS. Theres a few others. In my experience, these are the exception rather than the rule. So far the main hindrance to OSS is support, which generally is lacking unless you have a company behind it, and the GPL is not very company-friendly. Draw your own conclusions.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

Not competely so (3.75 / 8) (#15)
by ksandstr on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 01:51:45 PM EST

There are exceptions to the "open source at night, suit by day" rule - I'm making a living with my programming skills without having to write closed-source software (i.e. all the patches I write for an open source project that we're using are available under the BSD license [since the project is under BSDL] except for the trivial "20 minute special" ones).

Btw, do you mean RMS, not ESR, in the "nut" bit above, right? Of course you could say that ESR is a (gun) nut but from what I've read, RMS is definitely the GPL nut of the two.

[ Parent ]
ESR (2.00 / 6) (#40)
by rebelcool on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 05:01:41 PM EST

ever since reading that incredibly silly and misguided cathedral and bazaar bit, which is shows why you shouldnt practice sociology without a license.. plus his latest comments on how microsoft would be a non-issue in *6 months* I now completely disregard everything bit of drivel as zealotty crap.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

Wow... (4.00 / 7) (#21)
by trhurler on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 03:14:48 PM EST

I'm in awe. You managed to get things precisely backwards.

esr is the guy who popularized the term open source as an all-inclusive term that could easily embrace non-GPL licenses. rms is the one who is a GPL fanatic, but even his definition of "free software" includes non-GPLed code such as X11 and BSD. In addition, the GPL is what most for-profit free software vendors want to use, because it prohibits their competition from improving and then selling a nonfree version of the software(See IBM, HP, etc) whereas a BSDish license does not.

The people who work on the guts of the free GUIs do not "code in their spare time." They're paid to work on those projects.

Oh, and by the way, bringing the "Real Public" into your office to test things out, which is known as usability testing, is a stupid idea. It is much better to design a target user on paper and then make your program for him. The "Real Public" will cause you no end of troubles, not the least of which is that too many of them are NOT the average user, and too many of them bring personal preferences to the table that have nothing to do with the usability of your program. Given the finished product, they'd be happy, but given a chance to gripe, no matter how good your program is, they'll all gripe - and they'll contradict one another while doing it. Of course, you have to know how to design a target user. That's a skill that is well worth paying for, and yes, there ARE people who can do it.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
heh.. (3.00 / 5) (#44)
by rebelcool on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 05:12:47 PM EST

not to sound like an m-soft booster, but this is the way they do it. They bring Real People in. The target GUI for a programmer is vastly differently than the target for the average person. And most GUI's are "borrowing" their interface from windows, mac and already other people who spent tons of money on figuring out What Works.

I have yet to see something really all that innovative in the GUI of KDE or Gnome. Alot of programs use totally different shortcuts, interfaces and alike.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

Microsoft GUI testing (4.20 / 5) (#48)
by trhurler on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 05:34:04 PM EST

Citing Microsoft as an example of how to do UI correctly is like citing the US government as an example of how to cut cost from a budget. Get real. Microsoft does some things very well. UI is not one of them - the UI has always been "just good enough" to sell, and no better. Unfortunately, if they split Microsoft, this will only get worse.

By the way, it is obvious that the best environment for real people, as you call them, is not necessarily the same as that for a programmer, but this does not mean that properly trained programmers cannot produce programs for "real people." The reason you haven't seen anything all that innovative in KDE or Gnome is that they've got their hands full catching up to what has come before - but they're catching up to the best of the best, hopefully. I'm not convinced, but we'll see. In any case, they're no worse than Windows, which is mostly a very bad merge of old Windows, OS/2, and Mac design concepts. OO UI from OS/2, half ass, better "slickness" ala Mac, sloppy nasty crap, ala old Windows. Whee...

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
To follow up on a thought..... (3.28 / 7) (#16)
by yankeehack on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 01:55:06 PM EST

....people who follow tech news closely and have something to say (usually rather loudly) about the way it is written, coverage of Linux and Open Source will gradually mature and become more even-handed, as will all coverage in the computer trade press, because tech news is gradually becoming interesting enough to the world at large that it is starting to get the level of journalistic attention that, in the past, was reserved strictly for "important" subjects like politics, business, sports, and movie star love scandals.

From my observation, tech news should be improving because the general audience is in the nascent stages of understanding the subject at hand. Subjects like politics, business, sports, and love scandals are universally understood by most, the thought of downloading a virus scan update file from a ftp site is not.

Because the large majority of today's adults have not been exposed to technology on a wide basis, the general public often times doesn't know enough to question wether or not the source is correct or is just spouting FUD, like in those ever present oh-my-god-there's-another-virus-out-there! articles. On the other hand, if you wrote an article about, the Russell Crowe/Meg Ryan romance (damn her! damn her! damn her!) of course you'd see opinions spouting from all sides of the spectrum.

No one who was bad in bed has ever been good in life (i.e. liberals, I've never had sex with a liberal woman who knew how to use her body.) Keeteel :-P I'm *right*!

lay readers and articles (4.66 / 3) (#81)
by phantomlord on Thu Jan 11, 2001 at 03:20:56 AM EST

I've been writing tech articles( ranging from UCITA to broadband options to spam prevention ) for a fairly small business magazine( less than 10k circulation ) for the past half year.

I find myself faced with two challenges in nearly every article.
1) explaining terminology to the lay in a way they can understand the basics and then building that into an article and
2) doing it in under 600 words.
It's quite difficult to really get in depth on articles where you have to describe what a router does or how to create/edit filters for spam. Perhaps my case is a bit different since I have to assume my audience has no real knowledge about the topics I write about. Part of the problem with a lot of major tech mags is they're targetting too broad of an audience( or a lay audience which has some passing interest like in my case ) so they have to waste space constantly explaining jargon when they could use that valuable space for depth for the experts. I'm sure most of the people here would be confused if they were to pick up a cooking magazine that assumed everyone knows how to saute, simmer, etc and never explained how to do them. While it might provide more coverage for the experts, everyone else would drop it since they couldn't understand.

Now... that in no way defends how some magazines carry biases in favor of their advertisers. While the magazine I write for does tend to cater to them, I'm free to write whatever I like about whomever I want in my articles... I couldn't sacrifice my integrity to misinform people for an advertiser but there's too many reporters and editors out there who will.

[ Parent ]

It sorely needs done (4.18 / 16) (#17)
by onyxruby on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 01:56:42 PM EST

Open source needs to have the critical reviews if it is to gain the credibility it deserves. I find it somewhat ironic that an entire philosophy based on peer review is so sensitive to media review. If someone comes out with a reasonable, researched test that says Windows 2000 beat the schnookers out of Linux on something, than people need to avoid taking it personally. Once they can get past the "GNU\Linux is holier than thou" attitude, work can get done. Why did a test go badly? What can be learned about this? How do you make it better? You've mentioned doing something like this yourself, and the flames that followed.

The only way to get past this kind of thing is to do it again. If a media outlet/reporter/site/etc consistently does fair reporting, people will notice, and credibility will be earned. Like another poster already pointed out, the Register has done an excellent job of earning credibility by being "equal opportunity bashers" (quote about the Register, from the Register), and quickly owning up to it when they bone up. As for dealing with the trolls, whoever figures that one out is going to be famous indeed.

The moon is covered with the results of astronomical odds.

Biased journalism & tech journalism (4.40 / 15) (#22)
by TigerBaer on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 03:46:43 PM EST

I agree that most tech news sites are very biased towards the Open Source movement. The Open Source movement has some serious flaws (as does every movement), and they are rarely addressed.

But on the side of "tech" journalism, more specifically, computer news, look towards review sites like toms hardware or sharky extreme for true unbiased information surrounding hardware.

I would actually love to see a similar batch of sites regarding operating systems which take such an objective view, like toms and sharkys do. They are models for specific subject oriented news. They conduct their own investigations (tests). If only some people would evaluate all the operating systems available when investigating new features available.

Heres a news header i would like to see:

How does Win2k's new service pack compare to the rest?
Test Cases: BeOS, Linux, Solaris, MacOS X, Win2k old

That would provide real information!

I agree (4.20 / 5) (#23)
by Anonymous 7324 on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 04:01:17 PM EST

When it comes to the flaws, it is important to bring them out, so that they can be fixed. That's what I picked out from Roblimo's article as the main point. We have enough yes-men, now we need the honest criticism that will allow various open-source products to continue to improve.

As for various hardware sites -- yes, some are really good enough to be generally unbiased. I distinctly remember reading Tom's like about two years ago, (or whenever the TNT1 had first come out), and reading his article about how *gasp* the TNT might actually be faster (than Voodoo2's, I think), and that 24-bit color was necessary. At the time, I took a few minutes out of my day to flame the guy to a crisp for daring to insult the hallowed source of all that is good, 3dfx, and daring to suggest that they weren't perfect.

Looking back, it's obvious that his lack of bias allowed him to see the situation far more clearly than someone who was a 3dfx fanatic such as myself.

[ Parent ]
bias is a subtle thing (4.00 / 3) (#62)
by G Neric on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 11:42:05 PM EST

bias is a subtle thing...

When it comes to the flaws, it is important to bring them out, so that they can be fixed.

Do you see it? You are in partisan mode. It is important to bring out the flaws because they are the truth. If they cannot be fixed, perhaps open-source will go the way of the dinosaurs. Perhaps the flaws can be fixed, but revealing them scares enough customers away that open source fails. Doesn't matter, the truth is the truth. And, as you point out, maybe getting the truth out will lead directly to fixing. That only matters because on balance with the other possible outcomes, everyone has an equally right/need/desire to hear the truth because it does affect people's decisions.

The tricky part for a journalist is determining what the truth is before getting it out, especially in a technical field they may not be expert in, and especially how much attention to pay to minority opinions. Are they kooks? disgruntled? or visionary?

[ Parent ]

Ok, I'm a "journalist" (3.90 / 11) (#24)
by perdida on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 04:05:08 PM EST

And all my writing is in print, not on the web. In fact, my sister just got kicked off of 2 of her far more lucrative Web regular-freelance gigs, because the companies tanked. It was one national content company and one local content company. So I will stick with the print for now. This is not to say that I do not use web content. But I agree with Roblimo that it is far harder to find "accurate" content on the web than it is to find it in a newspaper. On second thought, let me rephrase that. If you think something is in-accurate, it is usually a lot easier to hold a print newspaper accountable than, say, SoYouWanna.com, for instance. This is for two reasons. One, because the method of suing a newspaper is far more established than that of suing an ephemeral content site. Two, and the cause of number one, is that the Web content was never seen at a level of objectivity/authenticity/truth/etc compared to a newspaper. Of course, as many institutions of government lag behind the development of the Web, few people are prepared for the saliency, broadness of audience, and influence of many Web "journalism" sites. I work, when I write journalism, with excellently paranoid editors who make me fact check everything I write, with the promise that they will toss me to the lawyerly wolves should I make a mistake. Of course, to get this quality content on the Net, one has to pay for it. This eventually means paid content (at least under this current economic system). I hope that web sources are able to pay for the kind of quality reporting that will give them a "reputation"- but a different one than exists in the mainstream media monopoly- one that is based on the vetting and support of particular communities. In a sense, accuracy must be vetted by those who use the information.

The most adequate archive on the Internet.
I can't shit a hydrogen fuel cell car. -eeee
Everyone's a journalist! (4.16 / 6) (#54)
by Wah on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 06:40:42 PM EST

Hmm, where to start...oh yeah < paragraph breaks >. This is one of those small credibility cues, I use when evaluating web content. And newspapers, for that matter.

News papers (and often their online counterparts) have missed out on what is really cool about online content. roblimo mentions it..

I believe links are underutilized in online reporting, especially by the so-called "straight" press. Stories on the New York Times Web site, for example, tend to be almost or entirely link-free, which has always bothered me.

..but I think Suck perfected it. The Dallas Morning News has thrown in with the CueCat::!? people to try and remedy this shortfall, but ever their online content ignores it. This is just a general knock on the "mainstream" press. Something they could remedy but it takes a general change of style, which they seem against.

But I agree with Roblimo that it is far harder to find "accurate" content on the web than it is to find it in a newspaper.

I'll disagree with this. You have access with much more depth of information, often going much deeper than the average reader wishes to go. Although I would say, on average, most web content is nothing but a person with a compter. But then you clarify this statement with..

If you think something is in-accurate, it is usually a lot easier to hold a print newspaper accountable than, say, SoYouWanna.com, for instance.

As a counterpoint, I offer two examples. this and this (yea, sorry). One advantage of online content is that it can change dynamically. This could be seen as a weakness, but if you couple it with some sort of journalistic integrity, it can lead to much more accurate information. I know my examples could be seen as exceptions, especially since they occur on very familiar sites, but I don't have the time to look for other examples. After all I'm not getting paid for this.

Your accountability criteria is interesting, but are you talking more about libel cases or simple misreporting? Or are they legally the same thing? The chances of receiving inumeration for libelous online content is much smaller than traditional sources, but I don't see a direct correlation with that and accuracy.

I work, when I write journalism, with excellently paranoid editors who make me fact check everything I write, with the promise that they will toss me to the lawyerly wolves should I make a mistake. Of course, to get this quality content on the Net, one has to pay for it.

For good quality content from one person, one needs to pay for it. The power of distributed media generation, however, has shown signs that the goal may be attainable in other ways. Some of the content generated by /. (and here) has been excellent. However, I will agree that it would take a concerted (i.e. paid) effort to transform the majority of this into a more widely accessible format. Especially if it needed to be done on a timely basis.

I can agree with you totally on this. In a sense, accuracy must be vetted by those who use the information. The degree to which they'll care, especially on a nation (world) wide basis, remains to be seen.
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]

My apologies (4.40 / 5) (#57)
by perdida on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 06:54:12 PM EST

regarding the paragraph breaks. No matter whether I do my k5 entry in plaintext or html formatted, it seems to do the opposite for my preview and my post. The post you read came out cleanly in the preview but not in the post. We shall see how this one does.

I agree re. the links, to a certain extent. The depth of information available with linking is a benefit, especially when an individual has the time to explore the links. But for many customers of journalistic content, the whole pt. of the piece is to do this work for the reader, thus saving the reader time. Furthermore, an abundance of links may not prove accuracy, unless the links are themselves deemed accurate in some way. It is like some infomercial selling some pill, bringing in lots of people with M.D.'s and statistics. How good are these degrees, these statistics?

I think the idea of dynamicism and feedback as a form of verification that you bring up is also a good point. On slashdot, we all heed a little bit when someone "respected" like a slashdot editor (heh) makes a comment in a story. Hopefully, a community of widely respected experts will consider it useful to give their stamps of approval, privately and without payment, to certain sources of information. I hope that our best experts don't become simple endorsers.

The fact checking at a newspaper increases utility for the reader because of the risk of lawsuit, imho.. the editor, motivated by fear of losing money, indirectly creates a service that is more accurate. In most cases, that is.. if one has enough law-muscle, one can actually quash the truth through threat of persecution. That's one reason why independent media, with no significant assets to go after, is a useful rival to the mainstream media.
The most adequate archive on the Internet.
I can't shit a hydrogen fuel cell car. -eeee
[ Parent ]
something is missing (3.20 / 5) (#26)
by yavor on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 04:16:43 PM EST

I liked the story but I think you miss something.

I like objective articles that show us our faults and show us the way we should approve.

I think that the reason a lot of people(including myself) don't like some articles when they criticize Open Source software is the fact that they don't consider being Open Source program is an advantage.
Consider this there is a comparison of two products. Lets call them X and Y. And lets assume that X is OSS and Y is proprietary closed software. Often the author will list the features of the products, their good sides and drawbacks. But he doesn't list being OSS as advantage! I can't agree with him!

For me the license is very important. When I have to choose between several options I choose the OSS one even if it doesn't have all the features of the closed variant.

The first thing I consider before getting and installing some application is the license. I install closed software only if there is no open source alternatives, or it is practically unusable. And article writers often doesn't understand this.

I understand that a lot of people(maybe still the majority) doesn't share my opinion, but the above argument is very important t

Target audience (3.42 / 7) (#27)
by enterfornone on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 04:18:03 PM EST

I think at least part of the reason why IT journalism sucks is because the majority of it is targetted at newbies or IT managers rather than the folk who really know stuff about the technology involved.

There is good IT journalism out there, but it's aimed at a niche of highly skilled people. Mainstream IT journalism will always be about re-written press releases and other marketing BS because that is what the mainstream wants.

efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
not much mainstream IT (4.00 / 5) (#59)
by Delirium on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 08:14:28 PM EST

I don't think it's only mainstream IT journalism that's the problem. "Niche" IT journalism - sites like slashdot.org and even k5, is not very high-quality either. It's generally of the "preaching to the choir" variety, and only once in a while do you find truly well-written and well-researched stories. The Register writes some, Ars Technica writes some, and some of the k5 users write some, but there are far more crappy "I LOVE OPEN SOURCE AND LINUX YAY!!" stories than the good type.

[ Parent ]
not again... (2.00 / 7) (#29)
by jeanlucpikachu on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 04:24:17 PM EST

Wait a sec, if you're the real roblimo, why didn't you just post to slashdot? I assume that's where all the accusations of bias are coming from... Now if I may quote a rapper whose name I forgot: "Don't worry 'bout who's looking, you just go on keep doing what you doing." You said it yourself, people will always see reporters as biased... So don't worry about the bias, just keep reporting the news! My own council I will keep on what is biased and what is not. And stuff.

Capt. Jean-Luc Pikachu AIM: jeanlucpikachu
I think I'll field this one (4.15 / 13) (#32)
by DebtAngel on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 04:40:14 PM EST

Slashdot and Kuro5hin are two sites with different goals, which I find complements each other nicely.

SlashDot is for shortly pointing out neat stuff, and bitching about losing control to Big Evil Corporations. It also seems to breed a lot of trolls and flames. "News for Nerds", and all that.

Kuro5hin is for posting long editorial pieces. People who post articles here are allowed to have opinions. Yes, people on the Other Site have opinions as well, but a lot of the f1rst p0sts are people complaining about said opinion.

If you consider the two sites as complementing each other instead of competing against each other, then roblimo probably picked the right forum for his rant.

Is this post not nifty? Sluggy Freelance. Worship the comic.
[ Parent ]
Why not on Slashdot? (4.81 / 16) (#45)
by roblimo on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 05:17:11 PM EST

Heh. Okay, you found me out. I'm not the real Roblimo. I'm another Roblimo who sleeps with the real one's wife, Debbie, drives his limo whenever I want, and uses his out-of-date home page as if it was my own.

But even if I was the real Roblimo, I might not want to post everything I write on Slashdot; some stories belong there and some don't. Some stories belong on NewsForge, some belong on Linux.com, some belong in print newspapers, and some belong on Kuro5hin.

Now, you don't think the real Roblimo would go around making fun of himself like this, do you? And you surely don't think he's a middle-aged, bifocal-wearing old fart like me, who has trouble seeing his own typos on his laptop screen!

So obviously I must be an imposter. Or maybe I'm not. One clue might be bourbon preference. I hear the "real" Roblimo prefers a cheap Jack Daniels knockoff called "Evan Williams," while I, the possible imposter, tend to drink... ah, hell... this isn't working out... exactly the same brand.

This is getting out of hand. I am no longer sure quite who I am, and Debbie has gone to the store so she can't tell me if I'm really me or if I'm really someone else pretending to be me. I never had this kind of trouble back when I only wrote for print media. This online stuff is bewildering.

I think I'd better have another drink. That might clear things up....

(maybe) Robin

[ Parent ]

slashdot? (2.66 / 9) (#46)
by Delirium on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 05:17:15 PM EST

Just wondering why you didn't list "Slashdot" amongst the OSDN sites your editor-in-chiefdom covers, since it's probably the one most of us here are familiar with, while you listed a bunch of lesser-known sites. Is everyone that works at slashdot ashamed to be working there? =P

Btw, I liked the article, still trying to decipher it all (it's long!) but I will get to it eventually.

We all (heart) Sashdot, yes indeedy! (3.87 / 8) (#49)
by roblimo on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 05:36:38 PM EST

Listing Slashdot was, like, too obvious. I enjoy writing multi-layered articles that can be read differently by people who have different levels of knowledge in the field the article covers.

This is a silly art form, but it keeps me amused. After you write the first few thousand stories, you need to turn to silly little games to keep from getting bored, the same way a lot of programmers put funny comments in their code and chip designers sometimes add bits of art to the masks.

- (possibly the real) Robin

PS - I once wrote an op-ed piece for the Baltimore Sun called "Rat Fishing in Baltimore" that ended with the word "mayonnaise" for reasons only Richard Brautigan fans could possibly appreciate.

[ Parent ]

Many Communities (3.75 / 8) (#63)
by kbob on Wed Jan 10, 2001 at 01:42:33 AM EST

I think you touched on the answer you're looking for.

the "Open Source Commumnity" (which is really a whole bunch of different so-called communities, not a single monolithic group)

Your site will attract the audience that you build it for. If you want Slashdot's readership, build Slashdot. If you want a group who's more thoughtful and mature, build K5. If you want a group who demands high journalistic integrity, then build a site and fill it with high quality journalism.

The question you have to answer, as a for-profit venture, is, "Will it pay?" Most mass media moguls say it doesn't -- they always target the lowest common denominator. But that's the definition of mass media. If you're happy to occupy a niche, then you have more flexibility as to how you position yourself.


What's the difference... (3.25 / 4) (#73)
by B'Trey on Wed Jan 10, 2001 at 10:30:26 AM EST

... in the way Kuro5hin and Slashdot are built? Obviously, there are cosmetic differences, etc. but what are the differences which lead to /. being a troll's playground and K5 being a serious discussion site? /. hasn't always been the way it is now. It is, in essence, a victim of its own success. It got too popular, too big and too unwieldy. I'm not sure that K5 won't eventually suffer the same fate if it continues to grow.

[ Parent ]
Anonymous posting, plain and simple (3.66 / 3) (#75)
by Wah on Wed Jan 10, 2001 at 02:29:11 PM EST

And /.'s broken moderation system. Combined these give trolls a wonderful playground to get their "point" across.

A good example of this has been Meept's postings here, which even he thinks have been deleted. They haven't, but have been put in a place where their effect is minimal as only "quality" posters can see them. As someone else put it, eventually they will get tired of shouting at the dark.
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]

Broken moderation (3.00 / 3) (#83)
by B'Trey on Thu Jan 11, 2001 at 07:38:56 AM EST

I'm not certain that /.'s moderation system is really broken. If it is, I think it likely that it isn't /.'s implementation but that the very idea of using moderation as a tool to control trolls that is broken. (Please note that I'm not discrediting moderation as a concept, only questioning its effectiveness as a tool to control trolls.) If the hordes from /. were to descend on K5 today, would this moderation system fare any better? Granted, trolls would be quickly moderated down but they are, for the most part, moderated down on /. too. Browsing /. at +2 is reasonably rewarding. Rusty would have to spend his whole day sitting in front of his system deleting posts, and I rather suspect he has at least the pretense of a life that this might interfere with. /. used to be a quality site, much as K5 is now. That changed over time, as more and more people arrived. I'm not willing to categorically deny that it's possible to have a large site without experiencing similar problems but I have my doubts. It seems to me the only solution is to have a dedicated staff of editors, which, even if you ignore the cost factor, changes the very nature of the site.

[ Parent ]
Moderation backgrounder (5.00 / 2) (#84)
by kmself on Thu Jan 11, 2001 at 06:41:25 PM EST

You may be interested in reading this.

Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.
[ Parent ]

The people who run the site set its tone. (4.50 / 2) (#92)
by kbob on Fri Jan 12, 2001 at 12:17:12 PM EST

The people who run the site do a lot to establish the site's tone. Consider some examples.
  • Slashdot has a "never delete a comment" policy. K5's maintainers delete comments and stories regularly.
  • Slashdot never (intentionally) shuts down. Rusty shut K5 down for six months to stop a 'bot attack.
  • Rob & co. post all kinds of junk. Rusty makes us fit a story to a category, and it's a process to add another category.

Those are just a few of the little ways that the guys who run the sites affect the stories. There's no algorithm; you won't find a place in the scoop sources that says

$Discussion_Quality = 7.3; # range is 0..10


[ Parent ]
Opinions in tech reporting (4.20 / 5) (#65)
by Beorn on Wed Jan 10, 2001 at 06:03:12 AM EST

One thing I felt came out the recent media bias discussion was that true objectivity in journalism is impossible, and shouldn't be a goal. Personal opinions and prejudices will always affect the way an issue is represented, and the only way out is to be completely honest about this. All journalists should have a full disclosure policy regarding any (possibly irrelevant) personal opinions on the subjects they are covering.

The underuse of links is another part of this problem. Traditional journalism gives too little information to deserve my trust. News articles are at best decent summaries, and should not be treated as the leaf nodes of the web. I want full access to sources and relevant offsite resources. When I don't get that, and I usually don't, I only have my personal opinion of the journalist and editors to go by, and very few writers and publications have earned that trust.

Others have mentioned The Register, and one reason I like them is that they combine relevant (but not excessive) linking with a clear editorial profile. They leave little doubt about where the writers stand on the subjects they cover, and at the same time allows readers to research it on their own. They could go even further, but they've got something right that others should learn from.

I agree with your criticism of open source cheerleaders, but the problem is not that they have opinions, but that these opinions are wrong. The solution to poor tech reporting is not objectivity, but better opinions.

- Beorn

[ Threepwood '01 ]

No victory yet (3.60 / 5) (#67)
by slaytanic killer on Wed Jan 10, 2001 at 08:16:06 AM EST

Amazing article, not much to add on the journalistic side (K5 unfortunately doesn't have that many journalists...)

But as for "Open Source winning," I think it is not there yet. Apple has changed the world immensely, and so has Microsoft. When I think of free/open software changing the world, I think of people synthesizing very interesting art forms from pieces people make (like a music box that is so eloquent, that people can't help but to include it in their works, and becomes part of our subconscious archetypes). Shakespeare's plays built on similar ones made decades before; that is something of what I imagine a "revolution" to be, when interesting things are created because of a social atmosphere of openness and reworking old ideas. Programming and machine-making is only the infrastructure. Simply beating the closed-source world in market share is no real triumph; it is inevitable. There will be no victory until important things and social changes are built on that.

coding (2.50 / 4) (#68)
by phuqwit on Wed Jan 10, 2001 at 08:49:30 AM EST

I think the one thing that should also be done, purely from a writer's point of view, is to include target="blank" into the link, thus making sure that readers still have your site up. Why? Well, they probably aren't going to want to whack the back button a few times to get to whatever they were reading before. I know that's how we do it on the page I write for, in order to keep the readers around. Shameless plug: <a href="http://www.iamhappyblue.com" target="blank">www.iamhappypblue.com
=== You may or may not need to reboot in order to use this feature of Windows.
I think... (4.75 / 4) (#72)
by slaytanic killer on Wed Jan 10, 2001 at 10:13:53 AM EST

People are surprised when new windows open up, and this sort of surprise is not a good thing. Especially considering that people can just do right-clicks to open new windows, which is what I do. Granted, it is not a great ergonomic solution (I usually have more than 10 browser windows open at any time, and it is a little pain to right-click and select), but since there are disadvantages and advantages, the default is to go with the less-surprising/disturbing soluation.

[ Parent ]
while I agree with this morally and ethically (4.00 / 2) (#80)
by Wah on Wed Jan 10, 2001 at 10:46:44 PM EST

It does make more sense to make opening new windows the default if you want to trap users. AOL traps users. AOL bought Time. And then there's the other major industry making money online...

It took me nearly four years online before I started right clickin' to open windows. I dunno, I use it mostly for discussion sites like this, especially when checking out a link or doing some quick research. Perhaps it could be a preference setting? I'm seriously thinking about using it as the default on my slash site.
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]
I agree! (2.66 / 3) (#76)
by ChannelX on Wed Jan 10, 2001 at 04:08:32 PM EST

Good point and one thing that really bothers me about lots of sites. I was recently on a tech review site where they had comparison screen shots of different video cards in action. The thing was you could never see a side-by-side view. Yes, I know I can select 'open in new window' but in a scenario such as this, where seeing something side-by-side is crucial, why don't they have the pics opening in new windows?

I find that I just prefer the auto-opening of stuff in a new window vs. having to do it myself. Of course other people will feel differently.

[ Parent ]

Freedom to choose (4.33 / 3) (#78)
by panner on Wed Jan 10, 2001 at 07:11:31 PM EST

While it make sense to do something like this, I actually find myself hating sites that do that. Frankly, if I want to open a link in a new window, then I'll middle-click it, or right click the link and select "Open Link in New Window." When I'm browsing around, I don't want the extra window added, and if I close the original window, then I can no longer click back if I decide I don't want to browse the link any longer. If there was some type of "Open Link in Current Window" on the list, that would override target="_blank" (I think it has an underscore on it). On several occasions I've clicked a link, got interested in it, and backed out so that I could open it in a new window. I know other people feel differently about this, but I'd rather be free to choose where a link opens at.

Keith Smiley
Get it right, for God's sake. Pigs can work out how to use a joystick, and people still can't do this!
[ Parent ]
The OSS debate: personal and public takes (4.62 / 8) (#74)
by seb on Wed Jan 10, 2001 at 10:53:45 AM EST

This article is great - it's had me thinking for ages. I've ended up thinking a lot about the relationship between the momentum of the OSS movement, the media, and the needs of its audiences. My first reaction to roblimo's declaration that the OSS debate is dead and we need to move on to more centrist reporting was "indeedy". But I think it's important to make clear the distinct needs of the various audiences of technical reporting. My reaction was rooted in a very personal experience of OSS that I suspect is widely shared in communities such as this one.

The debate is far from concluded in the commercial forum. It is my contraversial and very possibly wrong opinion that that the Big Applications have yet to gain serious OSS contenders (with the obvious exception of Apache). Distributed, transactional, componentised software has reached an acceptable stage in the MS framework (COM, MTS, etc), but I'd contend that J2EE has yet to reach a requisite maturity / useability. Oracle and SQL Server are way ahead of OSS alternatives in the DB stakes (contraversial, I know, but I've not seen enough evidence to be convinced). The hidden costs of running a Linux-only shop are far from clear (e.g. the lack of a really good OSS Exchange killer). I'm aware of many bones people might pick with my analysis, but I believe the evidence far from conclusive.

This is precisely why I'd like to see more tech reporting critical of Linux et al. My personal trajectory through OSS has followed what I suspect to be a typical path. The first broad phase is ignorance of it. Second is the honeymoon period, which lasted a very long time. I was excited to find a whole world of software and politics that seemed genuinely revolutionary. I threw myself into it with the enthusiasm of a new convert. The stage I've reached now is a kind of maturity, I think. I've realised just how long it takes me to develop something using emacs as opposed to Visual Studio (learning each element of emacs, like oo-browser or ediff takes a *long* time). I've got repeatedly frustrated with the lack of a really productive groupware solution (or even email client). I want a browser which doesn't eat up all my memory every few hours.

Whenever I use any MS development stuff I am reluctantly impressed. Yes, there's a lot of bugs, and there's a lot of stupid design decisions, but the design of some of the enterprise software really impressed (e.g. COM, the Office suite, etc).

I've reached a kind of crossroads, where my heart is in OSS but my mind suspects it's not the optimal commercial solution for my work. I want critical articles that are really concerned with costs and benefits of each solution, so I can evaluate my decisions correctly. I think OSS is still a leap of faith as a long-term business solution. I will stick with it because I believe the shortcomings I've listed above in OSS will be addressed, *as long as people like me continue to use it*. However, it's a game-theoretical gamble and I'm slightly nervous.

I wonder how many others have followed the same path through OSS advocacy as me? I think people like us are in the majority of the OSS movement, a mass in the middle who are behind the vanguard but avidly practising. It may be to people like us to whom roblimo's plea speaks most plainly.

However, our combined private experiences do not make the public experience. I believe that in the realm of public discourse, there is still a very strong requirement for linux advocacy. Out there, the more linux-biased articles, the better. If we can counter the propaganda of traditional businesses models with an equal and opposite force, the resulting synthesis can only feed into the more private debate in forums such as this.

open source, non-free (2.66 / 3) (#86)
by G Neric on Thu Jan 11, 2001 at 10:21:31 PM EST

I've reached a kind of crossroads, where my heart is in OSS but my mind suspects it's not the optimal commercial solution for my work. I want critical articles that are really concerned with costs and benefits of each solution, so I can evaluate my decisions correctly.

A model I'd like to see some folks try in the modern era is one that I like to call "open source, non-free"

By "open source, non-free", I mean software you buy but which comes with source. You don't have any rights to sell or copy it, but you can modify it to fix or extend it, and share your mods.

[ Parent ]

Anybody who would rate that comment low ... (none / 0) (#95)
by G Neric on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 03:38:40 PM EST

...is a nitwit and/or an asshole.

The reason to give something a low rating is pretty much on the basis of whether you think a comment should appear on kur5hin at all. So, you think that that comment should not appear?

What, are you a proprietary software lover? Much better to have Microsoft selling software with no source code than my idea which seems to be a much better alternative, offering the user more choices. I don't get it. Why is the suggestion of more choice bad? Why do you all love the comment I war replying to so much more?

Kuro5hin has a lot less noise than /., but not much more nuanced thinking.

[ Parent ]

Ethics is what's missing... (3.85 / 7) (#77)
by Cheerio Boy on Wed Jan 10, 2001 at 05:04:49 PM EST

IANAJ = I Am Not A Journalist
IAAM = I Am An American

AFAIC what is missing in "real" reporting is ethics. Journalists tend to report what gets them paid rather than what the correct facts are.

Here's how I think it should go:

Journalists should get involved in topics that they support personally. The information always has a slightly more positive trend because the journalist supports it and at least the person being informed knows that the information he's receiving is biased AND what direction the bias is in. If the person being informed wants an opposing view all he has to do is look at the competition's journalists. They'll be happy to provide negative news about their competitor. As a bonus people would actually have to try and think about the information to understand the situation. This may sound unworkable because of the large diversity of news but I'm sure there's a break-point somewhere where it evens out.

Journalists should be blatently penalized for knowingly reporting false information. We're not talking jail time here but there should be a hefty fine for people who "create" news. The problem here is how to handle situations where you know the news is false but the journalist repeatedly denies knowing it was false at the time he reported it. I'm not sure I have a solution for that one but I'm sure we can find one - we're a bright race. ;-)

Journalists should not be allowed to directly invade the privacy of another human being. Air shots from helicopters, a person being thronged to death by a group of photographers on the street, long-range telephoto lenses/microphones, tapped phones/e-mail as "unofficial" sources, all - and probably more - should be illegal and carry a stiff fine or minor jail time. Personal privacy should be the "norm", if there is such a thing, not the exception. I don't care if the person is making cocain in his backyard - he's still a person and his privacy should only be broken by law enforcement officials. If the reports suspects something he should report it. (For the sake of brevity we're not going to go into what to do if the police make a bad judgement call on what the person actually IS doing - a whole other arguement.)

There is far too much corporate influence in the media and 90% of it could go away. Without question. Period. If the journalist made an error or knowingly mis-reported the data then a High-Profile retraction should be issued and the journalist handled appropriately.

There's probably more I can't think of at the moment - I'm at work and rushing my thoughts - so I'll stop before I cause any more flaming gunk to be hurled my way. ;-)

Fanatics everywhere, here as well .-) (4.09 / 11) (#79)
by mpawlo on Wed Jan 10, 2001 at 07:42:58 PM EST

I published an article on Richard M Stallman in the leading Swedish daily newspaper, Dagens Nyheter. The article discussed the genius of Stallman, however in one paragraph mentioned that Hurd was more or less a failure.

My point was (and in fact - it still is) that the true genius of Richard M Stallman was his work with GNU GPL and his advocacy of free software. Hurd was in my opinion good in the start, but has over time got to be an affair for the inner circle and not - as opposed to Apache and Linux - an everyday application for the average Joe.

This provocation did of course wake up all the critics from the different communities in Sweden and Scandinavia. Over a period of two weeks I recieved about 500 emails (which as a reaction to an article in the culture section in a Swedish daily is more than a lot - it's considered extreme) all ranting. I will be fair and admit that I did put my criticism of Stallman in harsch way, not doing a good distinction between Hurd and other software development by Stallman, but still the reaction was very strong.

I gather this is an effect of the different communities beeing very much like religous and fanatical sects. This is no different from a lot of other communities. Communities with strong bounds seldom accepts any external criticism.

However, I decided to answer a lot of the emails I received. It soon turned out that open source and free software developers are less fanatic than people found in religous groups. When I put it more clearly that I meant the work with Hurd, people started to praise my initiative and the publishing of an article on Richard M Stallman in a major Swedish publication (also written in a fairly eay to grasp manner, if I may put it that way myself).

I guess my point is that we are all fanatics. The role of the journalist - a profession I don't subscribe to by the way - must be to educate us fanatics through good, thoroughly reporting and investigating journalism.

Please don't belive the hype.
Readers don't.

Mikael Pawlo

Editor of Gnuheter.com

Subjectivity (3.50 / 2) (#85)
by DominusQ on Thu Jan 11, 2001 at 08:12:19 PM EST

Everything somebody writes is subjective. If you are writing an article for beginners the more experiencend will call you dumb, and if you write an article for the more experiencend they will call you non-intelligible. If you are heavily flamed by some fanatics, you know that you have hit an important spot. Every believer in open source should be thankfull for funded critic, because it helps to improve things, and this is the real benefit of open source. Unfortunatly news are nowadays not based on research, but on what is the hype today.There is a BIG difference about a 'reporter', who makes an article because the subject is hype, and is talking bolloks and buzzwords or someone who tries to think about the subject and tries to submit a funded article for a specific audience. State your bias and do a good job on research, and you will be held in regard, and flamed. But then the flames are just a way to say you did a good job *g*


"We're all born naked, screaming and covered in blood. And if you know how to live right, it does'nt have to stop there."

[ Parent ]

Try the less obvious....go back in history. (4.25 / 4) (#91)
by mr on Fri Jan 12, 2001 at 11:54:44 AM EST

<I>Linux and Open Source is that most coverage of this area has been closer to fanzine-style hagiography than journalism until now,</I>

Anytime you report 'bad news', you are going to get responses telling you how you are wrong. Be it tech or non-tech.

Reporting on the 'non-dominate' platform, and mention of reality *WILL* get negative comments. Want to minimize the complaints?
1) Stick to facts
2) Interview BOTH sides.
3) Employ people who, in public, work to be as unbiased as possible.
4) Go talk with people involved with Apple ][, Mac, Commodore c64/128 and Amagia, Atari magazines. Find out what worked/did not work for them. The 'advocacy' of platforms hasn't changed.....just the platform. Parallels to political-based publications may also provide insight.

Facts are hard...and requires research. Research takes time, yet this is the 'instant information age'. (and if I had a good answer for this one, I'd charge ya for it!)

Newsforge raised the hackles of the BSD proponents when the 'jouralist' interviewed only GPL advocates. Well DUH. That is like going to Microsoft's PR and asking for an assessment of Open Source, THEN taking that information and calling it information about Open Source.

Joe Barr is an example of the 'jouranlist' who seeks to discredit others with his pen. The 'hey whores' letter to mindcraft, the review of a speech of Linus where Barr presented Linus as calling BSD 'just a small group of programmers.'. When you have hacks like Barr fronting for your publication, you should not be suprised if you are considered to be a provider of color commentaty rather than journalists.

Look at the history of Mac 'boosterism'. The hyping of Linux has many parallels, and applying what has worked for the Mac publications would work well. And notice how the dead-tree versions can't support the publications as they used to be.

kuro5hin is starting to suck (1.02 / 41) (#93)
by krushr on Fri Jan 12, 2001 at 11:21:57 PM EST

Wake up everybody, OSDN ownz this site. One of the reasons I left Slashdot because of Roblimo's drunken, ill-researched, and stupid anecdotal ramblings, and I find him posting on here instead of that site he promptly ruined after becoming editor-in-cheif! What's next? Jon Katz???? At least he'd be better than old geezer over here. Rusty is posting ass kissing shit over the guy? puke. Good bye Kuro5hin, I'll see you playing the organ grinder's(Roblamo) monkey at LWE in your booth pimped by VA. When are we going to see Think Geek troll ads? I HAD WARM BAWLS? Leaving in a disgusted huff, kru5hr

I agree (1.88 / 9) (#94)
by Sheepdot on Sun Jan 14, 2001 at 11:26:22 AM EST

Something about it is starting to suck, but it isn't anything you mentioned above, nor can I pinpoint it. If I figure it out I'll let you know.

I actually have a feeling that it is the ease with which one can take over this site using only three accounts. And oddly, multiple account holding is not frowned upon on here.

[ Parent ]
K5 only has one serious problem (2.75 / 4) (#96)
by Nyarlathotep on Mon Jan 22, 2001 at 03:38:03 AM EST

People who think K5 is slashdot where they can get their ego stroked by getting their stupid ass repeditive slasdot reheat stories posted. Notice the weakly "How can I get a Linux job" stories.

We need to *try* a system where a few hand picked slashdot haters (who still read slashdot dispite themselves) have the ability to give stories -10's. These people would not get the ability to vote for stories, but they would get the ability to help keep K5 diffrent from slashdot contentwize. Clearly, these -10 votes would need to be closely monitored to prevent the few people with this power from abusing it to hurt non-slashdotesque stories.

Anyway, slashdot editors posting stories here is not really a significant problem since a few personalities do not really mean too much when none have real "athority", but the mass of slashdot users who have their ideas about online communities "fixed" by slashdot really need to broaden their horizions.

Campus Crusade for Cthulhu -- it found me!
[ Parent ]
It's Time for Quality Tech Reporting | 94 comments (83 topical, 11 editorial, 2 hidden)
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