Marcus Zarra has a somewhat depressing post today on the excellent Cocoa is My Girlfriend blog. It's about the release of The Daily. Because of all the secrecy around The Daily prior to its official launch, I think not a lot of people knew Marcus was not just involved with it, but was actually leading much of the development effort.
I wasn't on the main development team for The Daily, but I did most of implementation work on a single component (the 360° panorama). I wasn't in NYC every day the way Marcus was, but I went down there enough to know the conditions under which the application was written. I saw the endless late nights (actually, it was usually early mornings) and the stress and difficulties under which the app was written.
A personal stake always makes it harder to watch negative publicity. The Daily's launch was especially hard because I was in a position where I couldn't really come to Marcus' team's defense, since my involvement with the project wasn't yet public knowledge. If it had been, I would have been written off as biased.
So, I had to just sit back and watch it the way you'd watch a trainwreck. It was painful watching the snark. It was painful watching Loren Brichter, a well-respected member of our community put together a carousel demo in a complete vacuum and post a video of it as if it proved something about performance in an incredibly large and complex application. It was even more painful seeing John Gruber link to that video, spreading a false impression to a far wider audience.
They both enough about software development that they should have known better. There's almost no part of The Daily that can't be re-implemented in a few hours as a standalone application using static data and with great performance.
Doing the same thing as part of a large development application developed by a large team, working with a larger management team and a huge content and production teams under an unreasonable deadline and constant pressure? That takes more than being a competent developer. A lot more. It takes patience and diplomacy and a very high tolerance for frustration. I don't think I would've survived in Marcus' shoes all those months. I would've walked out or been escorted out long before the launch ever happened. It was honestly that tough.
I'm not sure that our community is getting quite as bad as it appears to Marcus at the moment, but there is no doubt that we are capable of producing our share of snark. And let's be honest… I am capable of producing more than my individual share. I don't think we think about being mean when we fire off a smug comment. I think it's usually just a side effect of expressing a myopic, partially informed opinion. I'm sure Loren honestly believes he could have done better with the carousel had he been working on The Daily. But he's wrong. He just doesn't know enough about the situation to realize it.
But it's not my intention to point fingers here. I'm been just as guilty at times. Last year, during the WWDC keynote, I was extraordinarily snarky about the Farmville demo, completely forgetting that I know people who worked on it. I wasn't intending to shit on their work, but I did, and I'm sincerely sorry about it. There have been other examples. I hope there won't be more in the future, but only time will tell.
I think Marcus' post should be read and taken to heart by all of us. I think it should serve as a reminder that real people — very often our friends and colleagues — are behind the software and hardware that we express opinions on. We should keep in mind that a lot of work went into it. We should also keep in mind that in most cases, we have no idea the circumstances under which the application was written.
Being critical is not only fine, but a necessary part of driving each other to be better developers. But we should try and avoid being a dick about it. It can be done respectfully, and should be.
I promise to try if you will.