Criticism: You’re doing it wrong

There have been some recent accusation that the Ubuntu community isn’t taking criticism well.  However, those making the accusations seem to have a misunderstanding about what exactly criticism is.  In an effort to improve the quality of that feedback, I’ve put together a short, simple list of things you can check to make sure your criticism is in fact criticism.

1) “It sucks” is not criticism

It’s an insult.  It means “I have no respect for you, your time, or your talents”.  Don’t be surprised when the recipient of this message is not inclined to help you, or even listen to you, afterwards.

2) “I don’t like it” is not criticism

It’s complaining.  In order to elevate complaining to criticism, you need to explain why it is bad in a way that gives enough information for it to be improved.  If you are not capable of explaining why it is bad, then you don’t fully understand why you don’t like it.  And if you don’t understand why you don’t like it, what hope do we have of knowing how to fix it?

3) “It’s not perfect” is not criticism

We know it’s not perfect.  It’s not perfect because we are not perfect.  Another consequence of our being mortal is the fact that we don’t necessarily know where it’s not perfect, so please go back and read #2 again.

4) “Make it more like X” is not criticism

If what you  really want is X, then use X.  If you  think X is doing something better, then explain what it is and why it is better in a way that is more than just “It is better because X has it, and X is better”.  Again go back and re-read #2.

5) “Turn it into something different” is not criticism

Just because something isn’t what you want, doesn’t mean it’s not what it is supposed to be.  Don’t ask for changes to the fundamental nature of something. If something is fundamentally different from what you want, look for something else.

If your feedback doesn’t fall into one of these five areas, then there’s a very good chance that it will be welcomed and worked on by the Ubuntu community.  If it does, then I would seriously recommend going back and re-thinking your position.

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42 Responses to Criticism: You’re doing it wrong

  1. It is criticism, just of the unproductive kind.

    It’s still valid criticism, though.

    Learning from this raw reaction is key, it means people disagree with what you’re doing.

  2. Miguel Angel Da Vila says:

    However, these expressions indicate that something is wrong with your work, and any developer or creator should hear such expressions as abundant as in the case of Unity, as a sign that something is wrong. Even more so in the public projects that supposedly are not intended for the exclusive enjoyment of an elite or the creators or their aunts.

    Can not ask for detailed analysis to the general public and require them to comply with the requirements of a style guide for the critics, the public tends to use natural expressions as a result of his experience or bad experiences such as Unity and other projects Canonical have driven attention to Mint, as reultado the anger of the user that you refuse to listen.

    Do not fall into magnificent attitudes, humility is the best tool for success. As you wrote: “I would seriously recommend going back and re-thinking your position.”

    • Manish Sinha says:

      Every projects has complaints. I do not like the plasticity shiny theme of KDE. There are many more people who have different reasons to dislike KDE. Same goes with GNOME3. Just because someone expresses it like that does not mean that something is wrong with the work – it actually means that those complaining do not like the work as their taste do not match.

      Users don’t like change. Unity was a change. The complaints was bound to follow. You are mistaking that the criticisms or complaints from the users are all valid criticisms. Just because the number is high does not mean that all are valid. Some people do not like how the things were shaping up as it did not fit with their workflow. You on the other hand are not listening to people who actually like it. Why? They are happy lot who are enjoying their usage of the new shell.

      Just because lots of pet peeves of people are not satisfied does not mean that designers or developers don’t listen. If 100 people ask a thing to be implemented in 100 ways, there will always be 99 irriated users that the designers didn’t listen to them.
      Henry Ford: If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have said “a faster horse”

      This isn’t attitude. This is a humble request to get off the high horse of self-entitlement.

      • George says:

        ” … Users don’t like change. Unity was a change. … ”

        That is pure and simple bullshit. It is usually used by the supporters of the “change”. And is usually used when the said supporter, really doesn’t have anything to back up their claim in the same way as the detractor that uses the “it sucks” reason doesn’t. Or when the supporter just has no clue as to what “is sucks” means.

        I am in the “It sucks!” camp. And just so you understand what that means, I will expound on it. I found it unusable. I found it unusable on so many levels, and in so many ways. None of which anyone important was willing to listen to. So instead of wasting their, and my time, which it was, I went with something short and sweet. IT SUCKS!

        So I found something else to use. Listen to your users. Listen to you community. And listen to the people that use it and have for many years. Or loose those people. And it doesn’t hurt the people you loose. It hurts you.

        It sucks. And so does the “Users don’t like change.” bullshit response.

        • Michael Hall says:

          I will expound on it. I found it unusable.

          Please see item #2. If you don’t tell us what makes it unusable to you, and why it makes it unusable to you, we have no idea what we need to fix in order to make it usable to you.

          • Ian says:

            Unity is neat at first glimpse but it seems to be lacking many of the bells and whistles that gnome had including a changeable amount of virtual desktops or a menu that is easily traversible. It does have a menu but unlike its gnome 3.x counterpart, it is not easily and definably easy to go between media, video, internet, developer, etc. I don’t think it is as your advertising states as INTUITIVE. I do think that it has the folder view right though. I am not saying that gnome three is much better but I do think that it is more intuitive in opening applications.

            The new idea of using the ctrl+f2 button is commendable for ubuntu but I don’t believe it will have much use to the normal user as it turns it into a simplified terminal which everyday users don’t care for. Look at Mac, they have a simple and INTUITIVE interface.

            The way I would define intuitive is if an average third grader could use it without being told.

            Now onto other issues, Ubuntu had been releasing glitchy operating systems lately.

            Issue, I do believe, three, grub installation. I must admit that since 10.10 I haven’t risked installing your grub for the fact that it failed. Not the out of the box experience that I had expected when a key element to an operating system has a glitch. I have trust issues even though it was in the release notes.

            Issue four, the involvement of a company actively deciding what is best for the community. Hello, kubuntu had a user base. If it isn’t broke, don’t mess with it. I think there should be two different bank accounts. One for mark/ canonical and one for the community. Does that mean that mark shouldn’t try and profit, no. I think canonical should perhaps be actively securing the system like red hat and give updates asap. After a said amount of time, release the patch. If the community find a patch, let them have it. Community is key.

            Think of it this way, how many other people in the Linux community expect something back from donating other then to support their operating system. Now, yes… he is pouring in millions of dollars but if you count that then I guess Microsoft owns the linux kernel as they have given the most amount of money towards it.

  3. Michael Hall says:

    Complaints of the kind listed don’t necessarily mean there is something wrong with what you are doing. Sometimes people don’t like the creator, so they will complain about anything the creator produces. Sometimes people don’t want what the creator produces, so they claim there must be something wrong with it. Neither of these mean that there is something wrong with what is being made.

    The key to good criticism is that it gives you a means of resolving the criticism. There’s nothing difficult about that, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask of the general public.

  4. Fab says:

    I believe I specifically didn’t say “it sucks” or even implied it. I also didn’t say Ubuntu should be like any other Linux distribution. On the contrary, I believe I enumerated exactly what I think Ubuntu’s problems are. Now, I personally believe Canonical isn’t interested in fixing what I personally see as problems but I would be happy to be proven wrong. I have made many suggestions how to fix the problems I have stated before and so far nobody from Canonical has ever been interested but if you want me to spell it out again, I believe the simplest guideline would be: If you are doing a new project (like, say, Unity), publicly announce it before you start and tell the community exactly what you are planning to do, then enlist their help in doing it. Of course, that would mean no big project announcements, Stevenotes and hyped releases. Which is why I think nobody from Canonical is interested.

    BTW, as somebody both interested in history and politics, I completely disagree with your claim of “don’t ask for changes to the fundamental nature of something.” If we never did that, nothing big and amazing in human history would ever have happened. Why should free software be any different?

    • Michael Hall says:

      Fabian,

      This post has been brewing for a while. Yours was what finally convinced me to write it, but it’s not solely targeting you.

      At any given time there are a large number of project idea being thought about and prototypes being tested, both inside Canonical and within the Ubuntu Community. Most of them will never go anywhere beyond that. I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask that every one of them be preceded by an announcement like you propose.

      I stand by my recommendation against requesting fundamental changes. If you want something so very different, it should be a new, independent project. I think history supports me on this.

      • Fab says:

        Ah, OK. The title seemed very clearly aimed at me. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. :)

      • Fab says:

        _At any given time there are a large number of project idea being thought about and prototypes being tested, both inside Canonical and within the Ubuntu Community. Most of them will never go anywhere beyond that. I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask that every one of them be preceded by an announcement like you propose._

        Just for what it’s worth, that’s exactly what Red Hat does with Fedora (and by extension RHEL). Not to speak of Debian or Arch.

  5. I had very specific objections when Unity came out.

    1. It broke my duel monitor set-up. Not, oh, it’s not the way it used to be. No, broke it to the point where I could no longer use my external monitor. If I did plug it in, I lost the task bar at the top of the screen. I asked a Unity person about it.

    “We tested for duel monitors. It works fine.”

    2. I objected to the size of the launcher and it’s behaviors, which were unintuitive to change. I would be working, happily, but if my cursor when too close to the side, the bar would intrude. I really just wanted it gone, but there didn’t seem to be an option for that. I brought that up.

    I apparently didn’t appreciate it’s inherit beauty, and I needed to give it time. I would get used to it.

    That is not a good recommendation, ever. Yes, people can get used to bad design. That’s called Stockholm Syndrome, not good design.

    3. My setup broke. Under 10.04, Android setup was a breeze. This time, following the same instructions, nothing worked. I wasn’t the only one, either. Angst rippled through many of the Android dev forums, with hacks suggested, workarounds that kind of worked, and finally, many people suggesting a different OS.

    On that, I got silence from the Ubuntu community.

    I will never return to Ubuntu, no matter how pretty they make it. Their response to my objections were slaps in the face. I feel used, after advocating for Ubuntu to so many new users.

    • Michael Hall says:

      Katie,

      I hope you didn’t get that response verbatim, as we’ve know that dual monitors don’t “work fine” in past releases. That said, there has been a lot of work being done on Unity for 12.04 to improve our dual monitor support, with early prototyping tools being made available to the community to try and give feedback on.

      The size of the launcher has been customize-able, and as a result of the prototyping tool mentioned above, you can not adjust when the launcher will be revealed to prevent it from happening accidentally. I’ve been testing it for a while now, and it is a big improvement on that area. Again, we got useful feedback from the community and are making improvements accordingly.

      I’m not familiar with the state of the Android SDK on Ubuntu, but if you can give me references to the bugs you encountered, I’ll happily follow up on them.

      • There weren’t any bugs directly related to Android, but to Eclipse and getting it to run properly. Permissions were such that, if you followed the directions given by Google for setting up your dev environment, Eclipse would not be able to use the Android SDK.

        As for the monitor, that was the response, verbatim.

        • Brendan says:

          I spend a lot of time testing systems for compatibility with Ubuntu. I’d be interested to know in which forum you were told this. Dual-monitors can work fine with some graphics cards, but were horribly broken on others so it’s likely the person you were talking to was ignorant of the compatibility issues. If they were someone who should have known better then I would be very concerned.

  6. William Roe says:

    Good points, well made.

    The existence of a difference of opinion is not evidence of a flaw necessarily in your product. Let’s say that we’re talking about an argument here – because people probably aren’t seeing the wood for the trees when discussing specifics – then anyone can say they disagree with you, but until they provide reasons for that, then it’s basically noise. I could buy an espresso and complain that there isn’t enough milk in it. Did I a) buy the wrong beverage or b) the entire coffee industry is doing everything wrong?

    There are essentially two mechanisms for change in the open source world – direct contribution (demonstration) and constructive criticism (which would lead to somebody else either aiding the contribution or implementing it). Direct contribution is what open source flourishes on, what makes things like git so successful – I just create a fork of an espresso, add a load of milk and if the original creator of the espresso likes my changes, they get merged in. If not then people who agree with me that, for some reason, espressos should be drowned in milk can use my fork.

    I think the reason people are so quick to pour scorn and unhelpful complaints onto free software (or indeed anything) is because that’s how people tend to react as consumers. When the train is late or somebody hands you your espresso with a tonne of milk in it – you find somebody to complain to. It’s often even the right thing to do – point out problems so that other people don’t suffer the same problems. But in each of those situations the problem is made clear. If the train is late and you are seriously inconvenienced, when you complain you don’t write on the form “trains suck”. Well I really hope people don’t do that. You write “train was an hour late” etc. Perhaps it’s not so easy with software. With software its just not very helpful to file a bug report with “it crashed”, even though that might seem like the analog of “the train was an hour late”.

    I think I’ve mixed enough metaphors for one day. Time for that espresso.

  7. Matthew Platte says:

    Who is this “Ubuntu community” that you are defending? You might want to take a look around; many of the critiques that you denigrate are not represented in your bulleted strawman list. Many of the most pointed critiques are specifically directed to Mark Shuttleworth and the inner circle of designers and developers who are increasingly ignoring the Ubuntu community.

    I’d say you have completely missed the point.

    • Michael Hall says:

      Matthew,

      Where are you seeing community involvement being ignored? We must be watching different spaces, and I would very much like to be where you are so that I can improve things. Also, please join #ubuntu-unity on freenode and the unity-design mailing list on Launchpad, as there is a good deal of community involvement in those spaces that you are not seeing.

      • So we’re not allowed to say we don’t like it, we’re not allowed to point out any flaws at all, and we’re not allowed to suggest ways to improve it or mention anything that we think is better. Right. Okay. Got it.

      • ScottK says:

        It seems pretty clear to people outside Canonical that there is a Canonical vision for Ubuntu that is increasingly narrowly focused and has less room for outside influence or contribution.

        If you look back several years I think you’ll find that the number of non-Canonical developers actively engaged in uploading packages to Ubuntu used to be much higher than it is now.

        I didn’t completely give up on things yet, but once Wheezy is out, I don’t think there’ll be much reason for me to stick around.

  8. Daniele says:

    I’m sorry Michael but i really don’t agree with you, and i think Miguel get the point.
    You can’t blaim common users to complain about something that affects their, in many cases i guess, day-by-day works. Especially because Canonical and Ubuntu team in the past year made a hard campaining on that. I mean, you want Ubuntu to become the first and widespread linux distribution that is today, right? Ok, so in the past year, common users were the target…and it was great! I really mean that. But common users CAN’T arguments as you asked above, cause they have not the skills to do that.
    I’m not talking about rudeness, that’s another story and you are absolutly right.
    But you can’t say that people have to tell you : why it is bad in a way that gives enough information for it to be improved, because they just see that the netire system is different! And they don’t know anything about windows decorator, manager,ecc….they just know that they can’t use it anymore because is unstable, it crashes all the time,configurations are too much tricky but above all…..it’s not the way they used to work! From a day to another everything is changed…why?! Who decided that?! That’s is what many common user think. And posting again and again , complaining on users’ complain ( :) ) it’s not a solution.
    Just that.
    And by the way, Unity sucks! ;) ( no, really i’m kidding… :) )

    • Michael Hall says:

      Daniele

      I disagree with your disagreement, common users are more than capable to understanding what they don’t like and articulating it. There are no special skills required for that.

      I’m also not saying that people can’t complain, I just want them to be aware that they are complaining, not criticizing.

      • As someone who has a background in interface design, I find myself bristling at that. Gut reactions are hard to quantify. People go to school for four to eight years to be able to give those gut reactions a voice.

  9. Jef Spaleta says:

    A suggestion,

    I think everyone would benefit from being pointed to an example of an archived discussion inside the scope of the last year of ubuntu development of contructive criticism which was well-argued and just as importantly well-received by decision makers. A discussion where all participants felt everyone was acting in good faith and noone walked away with hard feelings nor felt the were disrespected. A discussion between non-paid volunteers and paid-staffers.

    It’s really easy to point out how people are doing it wrong (on all sides), when communications have broken down significantly (its actually worse when trust was actively asked for and then squandered versus an overt adversarial relationship).

    It can be a lot harder to lift up examples when discussions have gone well. But it can be very worthwhile. Michael, can you find that atypical discussion somewhere in the last year of archived ubuntu development correspondance and make it a roadmap for future critical discussion?

    -jef

    • Michael Hall says:

      Jef,

      An excellent idea. I only had to go back 2 days to find a lengthy discussion thread on the unity-design mailing list showing a criticism (creating launchers is too difficult) being presented in a useful way, followed by support and constructive conversation by members of the community and employees of Canonical.

      https://lists.launchpad.net/unity-design/msg07920.html

      • Jef Spaleta says:

        great!

        Can you use that cited discussion as the genesis for an inverse blog post that focuses on the Do’s of critical discussion instead of the Don’ts? And liberally sprinkle citations to several discussions to point out when the Do’s are used effectively? No one feels comfortable citing failure publicly, and I’m glad you didn’t do that in the above Don’ts oriented blog post. But if you do write the followup Do’s post, citations to point to well-argued, critical discussion would be good practical reinforcement for people to learn good habits from.

        -jef

  10. Ron says:

    When I started computing in 1978 at age 12:
    – Linux didn’t exist until 13 years later (1991)
    – The World Wide Web didn’t exist until 1990 12 years after I started using the net
    – Microsoft Windows didn’t exist for 7 more years (1985)
    – The Macintosh computer didn’t exist for 6 more years (1984)
    – Microsoft was a 3 year old company (1975)
    – Apple was a 2 year old company (1976)

    I turn 45 next month and have been using computers for the past 34 years and counting, so my point is that I’m quite adept at adapting and thus developing my workflow. Some changes I’ve made willingly, others I’ve avoided, and so too I avoid Unity, Gnome 3, and Metro. I’m quite fine in the command line only world. although I like a good UI such as I found in the Gnome 2 DE, which is the one I prefer to use.

    Gnome 3, Unity and metro all have their place in the mobile / tablet marketplace since application-centric is the way to go in that world; however I prefer the task-centric methodologies used in most modern UIs/DEs/OSes today.

    There’s been countless posts all over mailing lists, websites message boards, etc regarding Gnome 3, Unity and Metro, and while many points are valid, many are not. Overall, the underlying issue is that the end-user isn’t being listened to by the developers on many (but not all) projects. Some projects, such as Linux Mint, have forked Gnome 3 and are attempting to make a usable DE / UI experience for the end-user. Since the F/LOSS world now has many end-users who are not developers, the old school attitude of “If you don’t like it, code it yourself” simply doesn’t apply.

    To each their own, and I’m not here to debate, only to say that many will just leave (KDE, Gnome, Ubuntu, Whatever-it-is) without complaint. If someone is complaining, they’re still vested and care; and those who who are not vested, don’t care, seek solutions elsewhere. Sadly, I think that the lessened complaints will be seen as acceptance of the new methods/technologies by the developers of the affected projects. As we all know, there’s no good way to track the usage of any given F/LOSS project, and to attempt to do is a futile effort.

    Speaking for myself, I’m sticking with Lucid Lynx until EOL on my current systems, thus giving Linux Mint 12/13 and even more-so, the Gnome 2-fork Cinnamon DE, time to mature. I’ll also be watching what transpires with Debian and CentOS since I use them as well.

    and then I’ll move over to Linux Mint

    • revdjenk says:

      I am a little older, but recognize the path.

      Welcome to Mint!
      (Mint user since version 4)

      • Ron says:

        Thank you :)

        I was just speaking to clem today actually in #linuxmin-dev on freenode. That was the first time I spoke with a major distro founder. Unlike many other distros staff, Mint’s seem very approachable AND responsive – a double rarity in the FOSS world these days.

  11. I just can’t understand why so many people bash Ubuntu and Canonical so much because they don’t agree with Canonical choices. Most of the things worry about are just settings that can be easily changed. Bugs that people record are right there on Launchpad to track progress or help yourself and there are many other options around if you’re still not satisfied, nobody is pushing this down your throat.

    I don’t like some specific aspects of the system. But I agree that most of the time it’s subject to personal opinion and if it is the way it is someone thought it was better. Just saying that it is shit won’t make it change and won’t make developers happy.

    I’m glad Canonical put up such a terrific product. And I’m happy to tailor it to my needs and personal taste. Just like I do with every other OS I use.

    Now grow up, either help to get things fixed or shut up, and respect other people opinions and taste

    • Ron says:

      “I just can’t understand why so many people bash Ubuntu and Canonical so much because they don’t agree with Canonical choices.”

      Same reason they bash Apple and Microsoft – they feel like they lack choice and control, which they do in the Microsoft and Apple worlds, but not so in the Linux world. This attitude primarily comes from non-developer end-users, a fairly new phenomenon in the FOSS world. Usually in the past those who were end-users of FOSS were also developers, but now that is changing to where you have people who are ONLY end-users.

      “Most of the things worry about are just settings that can be easily changed.”

      1) IF they are developers, yes… but if they submit a change, it may or may not become a commit, this the only way to guarantee that is to fork it and then do it yourself where you have total control. The problem is, no one person can manage a project as big as forking Gnome and doing what they want with it. MATE is attempting to do that and development has slowed because it’s a very small team which initially started with 1 person.

      “Bugs that people record are right there on Launchpad to track progress or help yourself and there are many other options around if you’re still not satisfied, nobody is pushing this down your throat.”

      Most end-users use the default settings whether they use Windows or Mac OS X. Now true most Linux users don’t use default settings, but there’s also there’s a difference between an Ubuntu user and a Gentoo user.

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  13. Kevin Chapman says:

    Well put. This should be required reading for everyone who posts on the web.

  14. Jørn Eriksen says:

    Hey Michael,

    The “don’t like it” is more important that we like think – look to Apple – it’s all about “i like it”….

    Other than that I must agree with you that in order to get thing better, or improve it, one have to give some sort of description of the problem/issue…

    Best regards
    Jørn

  15. bornagainpenguin says:

    Hmmm… I don’t see “It works, stop trying to fix it!” or “Keep it the way it is or allow me to configure it to keep working the way it has been.” anywhere on that list. Funny that….

    Instead I see lots of out with the old and in with the new. I see people accusing others of being heretics or dinosaurs for wanting to continue working the way that works best for them. I had see all sorts of excuses to ignore the people who’ve been with you for the last seven years in search of some other audience that may never come.

    I see a focus shift to make the developers of BeOS jealous at how destructive it is to their base.

  16. Avetik Topchyan says:

    Michael,

    I would agree with your point if you are talking about your colleague’s remarks.
    However, if it is your customer (i.e. the ultimate end user, the consumer of your product) you better make it perfect.

    I believe your customer has a right to say “it sucks” if your product sucks, same way you do. When you go to the store to buy a grocery product that sucks, and go home and cook it on a less than perfect appliance, serve it on table, dish and silverware of questionable properties and quality you end up with remarks like that. This is just a feedback. Not your fault (entirely) but you can’t expect any “Bravo” from your guests so to speak :)

    • Michael Hall says:

      I agree that the customer has a right to complain. I’m just making clear that complaining isn’t criticizing.

  17. Richard T says:

    Why has Canonical/Ubuntu community all this problem with criticism? Now developers, known for their lack of communication skills, will tell journos how to criticize? Why does Canonical/Ubuntu community attacks everyone who criticizes them. Unity is an inconsistent UI. Everyone was hoping that Canonical will fix that mess by 12.04 and focus on the real issues plaguing Linux – availability of software and service. But, then you came with another mess called HUD, now for the next 2-3 releases entire focus will be on HUD. What you are not realizing Michale is that while your are getting new kiddos who started using Ubuntu 2 months ago you are losing those who started using it since 2004. These are the people who build Ubuntu what it is today. They spent time and resources on installing Ubuntu on user’s PCs. Now they are being kicked out for being ant-Unity. Please don’t tell how to criticize. You are not helping improve the image of community.

    “How good is a phone call when you can’t speak” is what Ubuntu is today — all shiny but useless OS.

    • Michael Hall says:

      You’ve evidently missed the purpose of this post, as you still haven’t given enough specific information for Ubuntu’s developers to act upon to make things better.

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