Archive for June 1st, 2006

Thoughts on written communication

Thursday, June 1st, 2006

The three comments on my previous post, along with some conversations elsewhere, have led me to think a bit on the nature of written communication in the information age.

Consider this comment: “You clearly don’t have any idea of what you are talking about. Unsubscription from the VB5 guy’s blog is in order” and the one that follows: “Surely you can have an opinion without resorting to personal comments.”

Now the interesting thing about the first comment isn’t that the reader disagrees with me – even most Microsoft folks will admit that google is still better on search (Gates implied as much at the D4 – All Things Digital Conference this week). It isn’t even that the reader made personal comments.

It’s that the personal comments were so mild.

It wasn’t too many years ago that virtually every forum or discussion board on the web was not only illiterate, but would frequently degenerate into massive “flame wars” where insults and personal attacks became the order of the day. Frankly, I haven’t noticed too many of those recently. In fact, take a random sampling of any discussion board from slashdot to most blogs and I think you’ll find them remarkably civil – at least compared to earlier days.

Some felt that the reason flame wars took place was the lack of immediate feedback that comes from posting on a discussion board. It’s easier to disregard someone’s feelings if you can’t see their expression while disagreeing with them. This still applies, but now it seems more common for people to respond critically to personal attacks. Perhaps as a result there is a sense that personal attacks reduce your own credibility? (If only that worked with political campaigns).

Another interesting phenomena I’ve seen is especially among younger people – the quality of their writing has improved dramatically. Fifteen years ago when teens showed up on our local BBS discussion boards, most of them could barely string a coherent sentence together (much less spell the words correctly). Today, thanks to Email and IM, teens write all the time, and the results are noticeable. Most may not be great writers, but the overall quality of writing has improved dramatically.

Between increased civility and better writing, participating in NET discussions has, frankly, become much more pleasant than it used to be – at least from my point of view. I’d be interested in hearing if any of you who have been around for a while have noticed this as well?