A storm in the OPML teacup
When users say they want something the correct answer isn’t to call what they are asking for “crappy” but it is to either say “here’s what you’re asking for” or it’s to say “here’s what you’re asking for and I made it even better.” Or, I guess an OK response would be “I can’t do that, sorry.”Well, I’m gonna call you on that, Robert: since when did reviewers also have to be producers?
But if you say the format is crappy that makes me wonder if you have something better up your sleeve. So, I’m gonna call you on it. Do you?
Ebert & Roeper have the authority to call a movie crappy; is that authority dependent on them having a better movie in production? Are book reviewers required to have sold a novel before they can comment on other novelists’ works? Am I required to get a record contract before I can say that Celine Dion sucks?
Bullshit. Most reviewers form opinions based on their experience as consumers, not producers, of products. I suspect that neither I nor Robert are remotely capable of designing, building, or putting into production a car; but I’ll bet we both have well-formed opinions about our Ford Focuses.
James’s opinion on OPML is clearly formed by his experience as a consumer of the OPML specification. Isn’t that enough? Does he really need to produce a newer and better specification before he’s considered qualified to comment?
There’s a valuable insight in James’s post: it correctly identifies that Robert’s enthusiasm for OPML is an evangelism of a solution, rather than an expression of his requirements. As he puts it:
I have no idea why [Robert] thinks OPML is some magic mojo that lets him escape a browser. It’s a format, and a fairly bad one. It doesn’t enable or disable anything by itself.Bingo. Robert says “I want OPML”, but what he really means is “I want some things that I believe using OPML will get me”: offline browsing and editing outside the confines of a web browser. This is a solution masquerading as a requirement; identifying and challenging these is part of what us software engineers do.
Like James, I’m not convinced that OPML is the magic bullet that Robert wants it to be. But I do firmly believe that shouting down critics with “do better or shut up!” is unhelpful, unproductive, and just plain rude: macho posturing at its worst.
[Updates: more comment from Robert and James. Shelley Powers has a good, and thoughtful, roundup at Burningbird. And Charles Miller, at The Fishbowl, calmly (and without using the word “crappy”) explains What’s Wrong with OPML.]