Friday, July 18, 2008

Anonymous

I've been watching the continuing comments related to Tom Kyte's recent post which referenced Cary's recent post on Christian Antognini's new book. There are a couple of things that fascinate me about the whole exchange: 1) all the comments about Cary are happening over at Tom's blog and 2) the person who is firing at Cary is "Anonymous".

To the first point, it really just cracks me up that Tom's very short and simple post about liking something Cary wrote for his foreward to Chris's book has received all the comments. Why, I wonder, didn't "Anonymous" make comments on Cary's blog since it was Cary's words that he took exception to? Odd...

To the second point, I have to rant a bit on the whole idea of anonymity. First let me say that I don't like it. In the context of posting to public forums or blogs or where ever a person chooses to share their opinions and comments, it seems unnecessarily covert to not identify who you are. I'm interested to know what the fear is that makes someone not want to identify themselves. Is it fear of reprisal? Is it fear of looking "dumb"? What?

It reminds me of a couple of quotes:
"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
S. G. Tallentyre


"If you aren't going to say something directly to someone's face, then don't use online as an opportunity to say it. It is this sense of bravery that people get when they are anonymous that gives the blogosphere a bad reputation."
Mena Trott

I think there is a place for anonymous commentary. Many times people won't tell you the full truth because they actually like you and think it may hurt your feelings or something like that. But they feel OK to share when they know they won't be identified.

One of the best personal review techniques I've ever heard of is the 360 degree feedback process. It is an review process that involves having co-workers, managers, and as many people as possible involved in providing feedback to a single individual. All their feedback is done anonymously. Each person that participates fills out detailed questionnaires about the person and the results are compiled to provide a very specific report back to the employee about their performance as other people see it. Think about it. If you were asked to talk about your manager (remember, this is the person who does your review and grants you raises and approves your time off requests) many people are less than totally forthcoming when answering questions if they think their feedback will be known to the boss. But, when they are assured their anonymity, they feel free to truly speak their minds.

OK. I get that. And, I'm sure I could find other instances when anonymity can serve a very good purpose. But, I don't see how remaining anonymous when you make a blog post or comment is valid. There's another quote that I heard recently but don't remember it exactly that goes something like, if you wouldn't sign your name to something you say, then don't say it. I think that is right on.

We live in a country where we are free to express our opinions. Only truly inflammatory speech is prohibited. But, even then, you've got to really be over the top for anything you say to be legally actionable.

So, why not own what you have to say? If you're not willing to own it, then just plain don't say it. Lurk on the blogs and keep your opinions to yourself. I may not like what you say. If I don't like it, I can add my voice to the conversation in opposition. But in order to engage in true, meaningful, open debate and discussion, I truly don't see how remaining anonymous serves that purpose.

From the start, an anonymous poster is (at least by me) viewed with suspicion. For the most part, I either ignore or gloss over their comments. But, as I believe so often happens, many people who post anonymously tend to have a recognizable pattern in how they write. So, after a while, the anonymous person is actually recognized...even if it's only a recognition that it's the same person's "voice". Sometimes the anonymous voice can be cross-matched to an actual person from places where they have chosen to identify themselves. Writing style is similar to a fingerprint and can often be used to identify the writer even when they post without identifying themselves.

But it is hard to completely ignore the anonymous commenter. When they have things to say that you don't understand or that you disagree with, you want to respond. But, it just feels "off" to respond to a "nobody".

I do support anyone's right to say things they think/believe even if it is in opposition to my own thoughts/beliefs. I just wish people would own their comments with their real identities. I think it speaks to strong character and intent when you are willing to identify yourself.

I recently read something about how your name is your brand. If you hide your real name behind an anonymous label or even some made up screen name (for example, JoeCoolDBA or SmartGuy), you are not presenting your brand and that creates confusion and waters down your name.

So don’t be tempted to bury your own beautiful name. Love it. Own it. Flaunt it.

With that said, this is Karen Morton, signing off for today.

5 comments:

Oyvind Isene said...

I went to the Hotsos Symposium for the first time this year and had a short talk with Cary. Obviously the anonymous individual posting at Tom's blog has never met Cary or has a serious problem with the hippocampus. Method R is an important framework in any DBA's mind. It helps you to battle (un)educated guesses, it gives you confidence in your analysis so you can show your work without hand waving. By the way, I like your blog.

Brian Tkatch said...

Karen, well said. I was thinking a few comments, and then you spoke them out. The desire to respond, the feeling while, what anonymous speech is for. Keep it up.

Noons said...

I've simply taken the approach that anonymous posters don't want their character shown. As such I promptly remove their replies.
Period.
Problem solved: no more coward attacks by morons.

robert said...

Noons, this might be too harsh. I can think of circumstances where someone actually needs to remain anonymous to protect himself, e.g. when saying "product X of company Y is crap" while working for company Y. Sure, he then should probably move to another company anyway but that's not always feasible and by deleting anon postings you would loose these honest assessments from people with intimate knowledge.

But generally I agree, that the full name is preferred.

fuaw said...

I believe there is a large portion of the internet that falls into two categories:

1) mass stupidity
2) anarchy

Technical forums, without severe moderation or effective rating systems, are not scientific because there is constant exposure to opinion after opinion by the masses. One giant circular reference of opinions.

I like to contrast this with a Wiki, where the intent may be to edit and improve a single statement or definition.

Anarchy happens when someone has enough stupidity, usually as a result of damaged ego. Frequently, anarchy happens in forums, and sometimes in blogs.

Many open blogs are visited by the same attendees as forums - with the same circular opinions.

I believe the simplest blog solution is to delete or block the trolls before (1) listening to repeated circular opinions, (2) anarchy is necessary. This saves other readers the time of day.