Furious minorities (Message from the CTO, newsletter 51)

28 July 2011

It’s again a text-only message this issue, but I’m hopeful that the following will include a video as well.

Furious minorities

There was a recent article published by the BBC on their news site ("Why do some Americanisms irritate people?") that provoked one of the most beautiful fact-based putdowns I've seen in a while, where it was revealed that 4 out of 5 words complained about in the original article as being Americanisms were in fact solidly of British origin.

The wider take-away is not that some words are "impure" and some are "pure" and we should stick to the latter – good luck with that – but that the Internet is like an amplifier permanently stuck on 11.

There is a furious minority on almost every topic, where the few who are really upset about the status quo or about progress in that field organize and trumpet their peeves to the world. My particular hobby is reading about Grammar N‌a‌zis (or, in this case, Pure Word N‌a‌zis) – mostly in complete bewilderment that anyone could get so worked up about split infinitives or prepositions at the ends of sentences – but there are other continual battles to be enjoyed too.

The problem is that, with the Internet amp stuck on 11, the furious minorities have a visibility beyond their importance. Those who are less passionate about a topic (the majority, in other words) tend not to post, thereby increasing the perceived influence of the furious minority. All we hear is the screeching of the amp on 11, missing the single person behind the curtain.

So, all I ask is, before you launch into an albeit therapeutic rant online about some topic, are you that person behind the curtain ready to bellow into a microphone? Are you in a furious minority?

Notice something though: I’m not saying furious minorities are automatically wrong on every count, all I’m saying is that they should be aware that they might, just might, be in the minority.

Simple example from my own recent experience: I’ve just purchased a Dell XPS 15z and someone pointed me to a long thread on the Dell forums about how the trackpad was irretrievably broken. I read it, including the final post that finished: “I told [the tech support person] that I'd bet my money that every single XPS 15z actually has this issue”. Now, admittedly, this was on page 3 of the thread, all negative, so the hyperbole was I suppose justified, but it was a classic furious minority: Dell has sold thousands of these machines, the thread had some dozen people, and, guess what, mine didn’t suffer from the reported problem. I was able to help resolve it for some.

7 comment(s)
Boris Bosnjak

"visibility beyond their importance"

Wow - how profound!  I've noticed in recent years that news outlets, at least here in Canada, increasingly mount huge expeditions to chase after the proverbial wild goose, not at all reflecting how the greater public actually view a given issue.

28 July, 2011
Brien King

While there is a lot of truth to what you said, there are many unsatisfied people who say nothing.  Those people usually don't say anything, thus providing you less feedback then those who are vocal.

It's the old adage:  Make me happy and I'll tell a friend.  Piss me off and I'll tell 10 of my friends.

While those who are vocal can have a tendency to go to extremes at times, at least you might be able to get some information from them that would help improve the product/services.

No one like complaints, but silence is worse because you don't know if you're providing the proper product and services.

28 July, 2011
James Zhong

I agree with Brien King.

28 July, 2011
David Shannon

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

                     William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming

29 July, 2011

Your newsletter really resonated with me.  I've read so many ridiculous online tantrums I could puke.

All media, not just the Internet, seem to have this amplification effect.  Sadly these "shouts" of rage, hatred or craziness often skew our perceptions as effectively as slick marketing campaigns.

Yes, speaking up about a _significant_ problem is usually better than stewing in silence.  Still, genuine complaints are easier to resolve via polite, reasoned discussion than  hateful, anonymous rants.

I apologize in advance for any infinitives I may have split in these comments.

29 July, 2011
Michael Thuma

The furious minorities rip off the cover friendly speach puts on top of active vulcaons. This is why they are vital. Opinions are created by minorities.

I will not comment on Dell. Don't sell a promise you cannot keep and you will not have problems in this world.

The problem are overcredulous readers.

If you tallk about forums, there is another problem. If you have to many people in a forum that can be called experts, those who hold the knowledge and very likely brokers, the ones who connect people - you get nothing but appraisal. The outcome of a discussion in an unbalanced network leads to strange results but never to knowlege worth to be retrieved. The reader should be aware of the fact that opinions on the internet are very likely a very special view from a very special position. In order to retrieve knowledge from a network you need a solid mix of interested newcomers, people that hold the expertise and brokers that connect the right people.

Simple example: You have a Team and want to retrieve knowledge. Take a curious young + experienced older and ask the young afterwards. You will get a better answer to your questions. (Young and old - stand for experience level)

29 July, 2011
Felipe R Machado

When you find yourself agreeing with the majority, something is probably deeply wrong... :-)

"All unanimity is stupid" - Nelson Rodrigues

Best wishes,


31 July, 2011

Please login or register to post comments.