When there’s a problem with the platform, you blame the platform, whether it’s the platform’s fault or not


I watched with a twinge of sad recognition Scoble’s hissy fit when his blog didn’t show up correctly in Bloglines because it was the classic application compatibility problem, just shifted to the world of Web 2.0. (I don’t know what Web 2.0 means, but since nobody else who uses the term knows what it means either, I’m at least in good company.)

It followed the usual pattern. First, there’s “It works on that other system but not on yours, so it’s obviously your fault,” followed by the invective “You suck.”

Next, the development team scrambles to study the problem and the investigation reveals that the bug was in the app after all. But that doesn’t get the platform off the hook. They had to disabled a feature (temporarily, at least) because one app was breaking the rules and ruining it for everybody.

Even the aftermath follows the classic application compatibility story arc, wherein Scoble admits that Bloglines doesn’t suck but still defends his tantrum because he “needed to force the issue cause no one was taking care of this bug.” (It’s the Politician’s Fallacy: Something must be done. This is something. Therefore, we must do it.) In an addendum to the original rant, he adds, “I needed to force the issue because I was losing readers.” In other words, “I don’t care whose fault it is, but I’ll blame Bloglines so that somebody is on the hook for fixing it, even if they didn’t cause the problem.” In the same way customers which encounter an application compatibility problem will expect Microsoft to fix it regardless of whose fault it actually is, because they’re losing money (readers) every day the problem persists, and complaining loudly is perceived as the best way to get people to help you. (While it’s true that complaining loudly will get people to help you, it is also an effective way to get people to hate you.)

There’s no moral to this story, just a curious connection between recent events and my pet topic of application compatibility.

Comments (25)
  1. fangelico says:

    form now on , you would be known as Sir Burn-a-lot.

    Its true, on this ‘web/digital era’ everybody whines and bitches without thinking.

    Cheers

  2. Nathan_works says:

    does any one listen when it squeaks ? Never heard of said blogger, his "about me" links to a wiki page that looks vanity edited, probably should be wiki-sectioned for deletion.

  3. FusionGuy says:

    I always assumed Web 2.0 meant web-based applications AFTER the initial dot-com bubble burst, maybe with a pinch of AJAX-like behavior thrown in.  Otherwise, it’s a meaningless term that gets passed around like a fruitcake at Christmas, but that doesn’t stop everyone from jumping on the "me too" bandwagon.

  4. Darren Winsper says:

    Scoble overreacting and having an over-developed sense of self-importance?  Never!

  5. Bryan says:

    Is there a specific reason that people read this guy’s stuff?  Looking through, it reminds me of <insert shock jock here>.

  6. lptstr says:

    It goes in both ways. If I encounter an edge-case with the API where something has a quirk and perhaps the quirk only occurs in version X and Y, then I work around it.

    The toughest problems is when the latest current version has a quirk. There’s no way to tell in advance wether the next version will behave exactly the same. In some cases you could "detect" the fault and work around it only when needed. Otherwise I can only recommend trying release candidates and beta versions in your favorite VM. IMHO MSFT did well in this regard with the release of Vista.

    In the "brave GNU world", compatibility problems still exists but rather with new software then with old software. When $Toolkit changes it’s API, all applications that use it still have to be modified. The situation is better, at least on paper, because there’s source code. The transition from GTK1 to GTK2 took years though, and the same thing is happening with Qt4 though I have no idea how many applications use it and how many developers are onto it. The upside is ofcourse that far less software design is set in stone.

    But speaking of "Web 2.0", web applications are IMHO much more "fragile" and prone to compatibility bugs. First there’s HTML and XHTML, not every browser agrees on the mime type for XHTML 1.1, though the usual text/html works for XHTML 1.0. Then there’s the definitions and declerations that start with <? and <! and the xml:lang attribute for starters. Then there’s CSS which takes a /lot/ of trial-and-error to get right in all major browsers, then there’s JS and DOM which can be a bit wonky at times. Lastly ofcourse server side languages, which come with their own configuration settings, optional bindings or plugins and can be slightly or not-so-slightly different between versions.  Having sources helps but if you want your web application to be hosted using different versions of database X or Y and versions/implementations of language/framework Z, you still have to maintain backwards compatibility with old {open,closed} software.

    For those still reading, there’s often a backwards compatibility on automated doors. For instance in hospitals they put a metal plate on, just so it still looks like any ordinary door. It doesn’t serve /any/ purpose, other then to trick people into thinking "ah, that’s a door".

  7. CGomez says:

    I just went to the scobleizer.com weblog.  First of all, there is some kind of banner that isn’t displaying.  Just a red x in the upper left corner and a text alternative "Scobleizer weblog".

    Second, the formatting is really juvenille.  It looks like the default font just used for everything.  It’s really hard to tell this is even a maintained page.  It looks like it’s something that hasn’t been maintained for years and has fallen out of what most modern browsers expect.

    Now, I doubt this has anything to do with the author of the blog, it’s platform, or anything.  More than likely, it’s my employer’s corporate internet proxy stopping a few things from coming through and killing the look of the blog.

    But I’ll just complain about the blog.  It sucks.

  8. peterchen says:

    > Is there a specific reason that people read this guy’s stuff?  Looking through, it reminds me of <insert shock jock here>.

    I don’t but I thought "if people stop reading his stuff because their feed reader doesn’t show it, maybe they don’t actually want to read it."

    > I always assumed Web 2.0 meant web-based applications AFTER the initial dot-com bubble burst, maybe with a pinch of AJAX-like behavior thrown in

    See, I always thought it means "content provided by users".

  9. I expect it will be usable by Web 3.0, but I am particularly looking forward to Web 3.11 for Workgroups.

  10. Jules says:

    As long as I can have Web/386 while we’re waiting, I don’t mind.

  11. If Scoble isn’t throwing a tantrum about something not going his way, he’s trying to convince everyone how necessary he is. I’m still at a loss as to what he actually creates. Seems he just talks about people who DO actually create things.

  12. drdamour says:

    I’ve always thought of web 2.0 like o’reilly.  It’s when a the fact that the application is web based allows users & user content to make the application valuable.  so like the previsous poster, usre generated content. EG: wiki, blog, photoshare, social sites, formus, ebay

  13. Viewer says:

    In other words:

    "It’s not my fault."

    Even when it is.

  14. RichardRudek says:

    Ah Raymond, I wouldn’t have thought you’d be looking to increase your readership by kicking the Hornet’s nest – or maybe I should say disturbing the Firefly…  :)

  15. Dean Harding says:

    Scoble used to work for Microsoft, and he was one of the most influential tech bloggers. Now he works for somebody else, and it’s funny… nobody remembers him anymore.

  16. asdf says:

    Scoble’s blog doesn’t show up on Bloglines? It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

  17. Ulric says:

    Seriously, you guys above don’t know who Scobble is, have never been on this blog, and think he’s gone into obscurity?

    I guess you guy don’t know Twitter either, ValleyWag, TechCrunch or who the top person on Facebook?

    Actually.. it’s probably better this way :)

    It’s the web 2.0 equivalent of celebrity gossip and drama for Web 2.0, but without the celebrity or success.. :)

  18. T Man says:

    This is exactly why I have stopped reading Scoble a long time ago.  Hissyfits like this are common, not to mention him being completely wrong in many cases and never owning up to it.

    For a foil to him, read Scoobietron (although it is no longer updated anymore):

    http://scoobietron.wordpress.com/

  19. Sean Reilly says:

    I don’t think that blog software is Web 2.0 (at least not in this case), and in the context of this problem, that might actually be a good thing.

    Scoble’s blog software is likely installed on a standalone machine that he controls (or has hosted for him, which amounts to the same thing). IMO, that disqualifies it from being Web 2.0. A real example of a Web 2.0 application would be flickr, which is always hosted for you.

    Backwards compatability is still important with a hosted Web 2.0 application, but the key difference is that it’s always clear who to blame. The first line of defence is always the application provider. If your flickr account has a problem, you always call them. If the bug is actually caused by some other software that they integrate with, they’re responsible for figuring that out, raising the issue with the upstream provider, and getting back to you once the issue is fixed.

    This is an attribute of hosted solutions in general, as opposed to the subset that are "Web 2.0". I agree with Raymond that nobody really knows what Web 2.0 really is, but I think that externally provided is a defining attribute that most people can agree on.

  20. CornedBee says:

    The web has a big advantage.

    See, if Scoble was an offline application, there’d be a user base with the current (buggy) version installed, and Bloglines would have had to disable the feature for the next five years, until hopefully only a really insignificant minority still used the old version. Or they would have to introduce some special case handling for Scoble to work around the bug.

    But in the web, Scoble gets updated and everything is fine. No legacy version remains.

  21. Morten says:

    Sure there’s a moral: don’t break compatibility. Ever. Not even if there’s a good reason. A lot of companies, MSFT included, are on the verge of forgetting this. And *that* will hurt if they don’t stop themselves in time. MSFT might be able to do it (but the SP for Office 2003 is not a good sign), other won’t, and then the fun will start. :-)

    http://support.microsoft.com/kb/938810/en-us

  22. David Walker says:

    "Presence infrastructure"?  Twitter?  Who cares?  I can live without them.

  23. Ulric says:

    IMO, that disqualifies it from being Web

    2.0. A real example of a Web 2.0

    application would be flickr, which is

    always hosted for you

    No it’s the community and web services – and the missing vowel – that makes Flickr 2.0.

    It’s my understanding that Scobleizer’s blog is in fact hosted on WordPress.com

    wordpress is considered web 2.0 because it all links the blogs together (i.e. community) and integrates with other web services.

    In any case, "Web 2.0 World" reference here meant the community than contains and stalks Scoble. :)

  24. DarkAvenue says:

    Great post!

    I had this comment on Scobles’ blog, but I’m sure he’ll take it down. just in case:

    Let me join the growing consensus, Scoble:

    Scobleizer sucks

    Hey, Scobleizer, I don’t really care who’s problem it is, but it seems more and more posts sound as if the blogger was an incompetent, over hyped person. It works just fine with smart people, and doesn’t work with you. So, the only conclusion I’m going to come to: Scobleizer sucks. Please fix before everyone switches to reading books.

    UPDATE: Apparently, it was a bug in WordPress, their snarkiness filter was down. They are working on fixing it. Sorry for the stink, but I needed to force the issue because I was losing IQ points over on Scobleizer.

    Almost as unfair as Scobles’ original, isn’t it?

  25. oldnewthing says:

    Last week, Raymond Chen blogged about misplaced blame for software interoperability problems:

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