Editorial: The Method Behind the Madness Part I

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News: Editorial: The Method Behind the Madness Part I

  1. This editorial series attempts to shed some light on the workings behind TheServerSide, so that the community can understand and participate. Nobody wins through a lack of transparency. TheServerSide is a community site. As a community site, it's meant to provide information to and gain momentum from you, its readers. It's designed to provide forums, news, reviews, multimedia presentations, articles, and other stuff you can actually benefit from, with an editorial filter to strip out crap. When it's billed as a community site, that's meant to be literally true: users should feel free to participate, by submitting newsposts, by writing comments, by offering suggestions about features, improvements, and happenings, or by interacting with the conferences TheServerSide puts on. Without these things, TheServerSide.com loses much of its value. Please keep it up. There are a lot of challenges associated with TheServerSide.com. In today's industry, there's not only a lot of noise, but a lot of competition for your time; the history of TheServerSide.com and the industry it serves provides a momentum of its own to overcome, and, of course, the use of an editorial filter creates a set of problems all its own. Lots of noise: well, there's this intarweb thing we all hear and read about in books. TheServerSide.com has a "winning model," if there is such a thing, in its core purpose. Floyd Marinescu did a fantastic job starting the site off, and did a good job selecting editors, in my humble opinion – and I'm leaving my legacy at TSS out of the question. I found Dion, et al, interesting to read, and honestly, in a lot of ways I envy their capabilities. (They're more interesting for me to read than I am, honestly: I'm a dry writer, and a cynical one, and you'll see – if you haven't already – that they use at least one thing much better than I do.) That winning model and good application of editorial personality is very effective... and repeatable. As a result, readers have many choices, all claiming to have the same purpose, with largely the same "differentiators." With the advent of RSS and ATOM, too, people don't have to see a site to learn things: they see bits of information in a stream of very similar-looking items. Since news is public, chances are that a given reader will see the same news content from four or five (or more) sites, all in the same RSS aggregation, and RSS summaries are supposed to be short. You get very little text to make a difference – and time wins more than anything else. (BTW, Mr. Winer, saying that summaries should be limited isn't the same as saying they are to be limited.) One other thing about having all of the competition for your eyes: hey, you only have two of them! (Well, under normal circumstances. Those of us with one eye, or three, hopefully aren't offended by now.) There's lots of clamoring for every second of your time, and with more competition, TSS has challenges – just like everyone else – in "winning" your time. TheServerSide.com has a history, which works for it in some contexts and very much against it in others. One of the unfortunate trends in the past was to use TheServerSide.com as a sort of Slashdot-lite, where participants would basically flame the snot out of each other, often for very specific (business-related) reasons, and often with great passion. As a result, TheServerSide.com has a built-in reader bias, where readers expect the roar of flame, whether it's there or not. The result is that they – you, really – tend to participate less because the impression is that flames will occur, even if they don't or won't.
    Aside: Believe it or not, I have a lot of conversations where readers will say "TSS is like such-and-such." I can't and won't argue with an opinion, but when I can I'll follow up with response of "can you provide an example, so I can see what you mean?" In the majority of cases, the "example" is from 2002 or 2004... years back. In a sizable minority, the example is an impression on the part of the reader, and isn't actually true – for example, one claim recently was that "you only published one item a day” for a while, but finding that time period was... rather difficult. Not impossible, but difficult.
    The flamewars benefited some people quite a bit, by directing attention to them, and hurt others. The impression that flames are a dominant feature of TheServerSide.com, though, is really harmful. Why? Because it's only an impression, by and large, and is no longer valid. Flames still occur, but they're rare – honestly – and part of the reason they're rare is because I don't write in such a way that encourages flames. I actively try to defuse flamewars, both in the newsposts that might start them, and in the threads themselves. I'm not always successful, of course – not only am I human, but especially on a site like TheServerSide.com, people look for ways to flame each other, because it's what they expect. My role as editor goes far beyond removing flames, of course. I am supposed to serve as the filter to make sure content is relevant and useful to readers. That means that I do things like strip out marketing crap ("Our industry-leading thingy is the bestest! All the housewives say so!") and irrelevancies. I'm a developer myself; I know what I look for, when it comes to information about products or technologies. It's not "it won an award" or "a partnership was formed" or even "So-and-so who works at the company that produces X said..." When I see those things, I say "So?" to myself and delete it. That said, I try to make sure that there's enough information for newsposts to have a chance to be interesting in and of themselves, which means that I'll add in things that explain what the product does. (You'd be surprised at how many changelogs we get: "Product FooBar 3.2 adds Bletches!" without any mention of what Bletches are, or what FooBar is for, or who would be interested in FooBar.) I'll even add in code if I can find it (or write it) since our audience deserves to see interesting stuff without going through a lot of work to get it. The difficulties here should be obvious: there's a huge amount of stuff out there, and I'm only one person. (There are other editors who can fulfill this role, but in the end, it's my job.) I only have so much time, the breadth of information is incredibly broad, I have bias from my own experiences, and in a lot of cases, newsposts simply don't grab my own interest enough for me to make the readers put up with them, too. Time is obvious: there's this twenty-four hour thing called a "day," and I not only have to do silly things like eat and sleep, but I have a family of my own that I actually try to be part of, not to mention the things outside of programming that I do for fun. The breadth of information is also obvious: there are umpteens (hundreds?) of web frameworks to know about and differentiate, and ... one person just can't. I know a decent number of them and can rattle off generalities about them on demand, but that's still only about 10-15% of the web frameworks. Let's not forget that web isn't everything: there's distributing technologies, there's persistence, there's rules engines, there are caches, transaction managers, APIs, specifications, realtime issues, platforms, testing products, performance products, application servers, application containers, IDEs... and if I spent time thinking about it, this would be a small fraction of the list of things to keep track of. Experience factors in quite heavily, in choosing what to discuss. I'm a developer myself, presently and historically; I've been doing this stuff for twenty-odd years. (Yes, I'm a geezer.) I've done COBOL, enjoyed CODASYL databases, written Clipper and xBase code, watched Paradox live and die, written MS Access applications, distributed C and C++ code, written little languages for production, spent time knee-deep in Perl, and – of course – I've done Java, having been part of OpenSymphony in its inception, having written my own persistence and web frameworks, and more. All of this was in the field, under time schedules, with real people working with me. In a lot of cases, I had to deal with the dissonance between what "people are talking about" and what people are actually doing. For example, it's easy to sneer at Struts 1.x in the drawing room... and yet in nearly every production environment I've seen, Struts 1.x is the starting point. Sure, people migrate away from it – often screaming – but that doesn't mean that the reality is not JSF or Wicket or GWT: it's Struts. People don't like to talk about it much, but it's true. I can't in good conscience forget my real-world experiences. I can't pretend that new frameworks are "all there is," just because it's what people are talking about, for example. As a result, I see newsposts from a standpoint of "what do I find in the real world?" -- and yes, I still consult every now and then just to keep my hands wet, so to speak, quite apart from experimenting with the technology. Interest is tough. The best way I can explain interest and how it affects things to the community is to say that I'm a reader, too. If my first impression of something is that it's dull, dull, dull, then I tend to act on that impression, whether I intend to or not. If the source material is presented in such a way that it's boring, it's hard for me – with time pressures and all – to see how it should shine. With reader participation being such a large factor on TheServerSide.com, this is a killer – and it's also why I try to explain my thinking and approach as much as I can. So, in a very short summary of a lot of text: I try to kill flamewars, but historically they're relevant. Because of that, it's cool to "diss" TheServerSide.com. In Ed Burns' book, "Secrets of the Rock Star Programmers," Rod Johnson and Adrian Colyer both refer to TheServerSide.com somewhat dismissively, and in second standing to InfoQ. (In fact, the book saw TSS as being so relevant that it often got the domain name wrong: "serverside.com" is used almost as often or more as "theserverside.com," even finding its way into the index. Ouch.) It goes beyond that: InfoQ is “cool,” and Floyd is a good friend to lots of people (including me!) and as a result, people do him favors by pointing him out. With the competition for time, that endorsement is huge... and made even worse when people see TSS as ubiquitous, so that it doesn't need links itself. (It does, folks.) This creates a huge stream of momentum to overcome, and I'm trying. Even with that, though, my feeling is that fortune passes everywhere; there's enough room for InfoQ and TSS, as long as TSS isn't killed off by lack of attention. There's more to come with this series; I'd like to explain more about how TheServerSide.com stays alive, our conferences, and what we're trying to see as our future. For now, though, please feel free to comment (or, if you like, email me comments at jottinger at techtarget dot com) and let's interact.
  2. Java J2EE and Application Servers where the runaway success of the late nineties early two thousands. It held out promise and hope to everyone. For companies it meant they had a standards based "Silver Bullet" which they could adopt as a strategic platform without fear of vendor lock-in. For developers it provided a ready list of acronyms that they just had to learn to ensure that they would be guaranteed perpetual work. For many though the J2EE experiment turned sour. People now are looking for new answers. TSS though seems to be stuck in the J2EE Application Server era. The Application Server comparison matrix that still appears on the front page just looks like an anachronism today. People are looking beyond tools now and exploring other aspects of programming. Subjects such as management, methodology, innovation, coaching etc are just as interesting to many, but appear to be under represented on TSS. With the lost in interest in J2EE, TSS has become an advertising hoarding for a bunch of new pretenders who hope to fill the vacuum. In my opinion this has also effected the type of people who now post on TSS. TSS was always a good place to come and find out the new framework/API you needed to get on your resume. So it naturally attracted a bunch of "I'm in it for the money" programmers. But there were also people who where genuinely interested in finding better ways to do software development. With the lost in faith in J2EE this latter group have mostly disappeared, leaving behind the "I want to get paid" types. Either advertising or scouring for information to support their technology bets, be that Spring, Seam, ESB or whatever. This financial imperative has one positive side effect. It leads to the infamous TSS flame wars, which you just don't find anywhere else :^) I think TSS has to broaden its base and attract new people. The split between J2EE and .Net seems artificial to me. Why not merge the two? Limiting yourselves to just Java and C# seems like an artificial barrier too. With the rise of things like Flex, why not include languages like ActionScript? And of course there are the bunch of fashionable dynamic languages to consider. A lot of people have given up on "Silver bullets" and are looking to broaden their skills in ways that go beyond learning new APIs. TSS needs to retain/attract these people. I liked the article by Steve Yegge recently. Hearing some one with years of experience talking about his craft was really refreshing. I would love to see articles and interviews with people who make up the rich history of computer science. For instance "the other site" did an interview with John McCarthy recently. To hear the views and opinions of someone who as been programming for over fifty years and is still excited about it was a real treat. Paul.
  3. Paul, I agree with you in a lot of the essential ways. I'm not convinced application servers are dead by any means, not by a long shot - and in a lot of ways, the newer application servers are awesome applications. TSS is slowly moving away from being solely Java and into Python, Ruby, Groovy.. I'm open to C#, too, honestly, although I think it's limited because I don't have enough C# experience to gauge anything by. I don't think that there's "lost faith" as much as the "industry leaders" are bored - the silent majority is both more silent than we expect, and more of a majority than we expect. The vocal minority has moved on to "cooler things." That's good - we need an edge to follow - and bad, because people think that with the lack of volume comes a lack of interest or vitality.
  4. Paul, I agree with you in a lot of the essential ways. I'm not convinced application servers are dead by any means, not by a long shot - and in a lot of ways, the newer application servers are awesome applications.
    App. Servers are still definitely the incumbent technology in a lot of places I'm sure. I was more talking about popularity amongst programmers. I get the feeling that a lot of J2EE developers now prefer frameworks and a simple servlet container like Tomcat. I haven't used an App Server since 2004, so I'm not well placed to judge, and I'm happy to take your word for it.
    TSS is slowly moving away from being solely Java and into Python, Ruby, Groovy.. I'm open to C#, too, honestly, although I think it's limited because I don't have enough C# experience to gauge anything by.
    I was under the impression that tss.com and tss.net 'belong' to the same people. I was suggesting aggregating the two sites into one.
    I don't think that there's "lost faith" as much as the "industry leaders" are bored - the silent majority is both more silent than we expect, and more of a majority than we expect. The vocal minority has moved on to "cooler things." That's good - we need an edge to follow - and bad, because people think that with the lack of volume comes a lack of interest or vitality.
    I've often wondered whether there is a large silent majority out there. Could you please expand on what you've said here. Who do you think these people are? Why are they reluctant to get involved? and how do you think they could possibly be reached? Thanks, Paul.
  5. TSS is slowly moving away from being solely Java and into Python, Ruby, Groovy.. I'm open to C#, too, honestly, although I think it's limited because I don't have enough C# experience to gauge anything by.

    I was under the impression that tss.com and tss.net 'belong' to the same people. I was suggesting aggregating the two sites into one.
    TSS.net and TSS.com do belong to the same company, TechTarget. That said, they're very different sites, largely because Microsoft encourages a far more submissive userbase than Java possesses. I don't think the TSS.net community - such that it is - fits with the TSS.com modus. The submissiveness lends itself to the community being told what to think, and quite honestly, one thing I've tried very hard not to do is tell the TSS.com readers what to think. Python, Ruby, and Groovy have communities much more in line with not only my experience, but with the mindset that TSS.com has.
    I don't think that there's "lost faith" as much as the "industry leaders" are bored - the silent majority is both more silent than we expect, and more of a majority than we expect. The vocal minority has moved on to "cooler things." That's good - we need an edge to follow - and bad, because people think that with the lack of volume comes a lack of interest or vitality.
    I've often wondered whether there is a large silent majority out there. Could you please expand on what you've said here. Who do you think these people are? Why are they reluctant to get involved? and how do you think they could possibly be reached?

    Thanks,

    Paul.
    Well, I don't think they're not being reached, for the most part. I can't give out our traffic numbers, but don't let the comment counts in the dozens or teens fool you. As far as drawing them out... well, there are a few ways to do it. One is to intrigue them enough to say something, which is quite a challenge. (Here's where you silent ones should chime in.) Another is to say things designed to cause flames, which is something I won't do.
  6. As far as drawing them out... well, there are a few ways to do it. One is to intrigue them enough to say something, which is quite a challenge. (Here's where you silent ones should chime in.) Another is to say things designed to cause flames, which is something I won't do.
    I think you need more practical articles and tutorials. For every one person who might be able to choose to use the latest Java framework, much less RoR, there are probably 100, maybe 1000, that are stuck with Struts 1.x, plain-old JSP/Servlets, and/or EJB2. Of course, those have all been beat to death as topic. Perhaps you could have articles on incorporating stuff from new frameworks into applications based on "legacy" frameworks.
  7. The silent ones are here[ Go to top ]

    Hi, I am the type of silent readers that you guys have been discussing.... I read every new article summary on TSS home page, download most of the white papers and read release reports of new frameworks or new editions/versions of existing ones... There is really little to comment many a times... and sometimes we java developers are too busy in catching up with our schedules that there is no time to comment on issues/news/reports.... lack of good java bean design tool in Eclipse IDE (one similar to JBuilder 2006's Bean Express), lack of truly GUI based spring beans design tool (not an xml editor but a truly GUI tool in which you can drag and drop beans and specify the property name on drop location bean...which could be auto detected on the basis of property return type or suggested from 2-3 properties of same/assignable type)... and lack of tools to do similar day to day tasks of java developers... all this takes so much time of us developers that they have to put extra hours and being a social animal, remaining time goes to the community (Not The Enterprise Java Community)...
  8. For what it's worth, while I definitely like the enterprise Java news and information on TSS, I also like hearing about the business end of things. For example, if Cameron's able and willing, I'd love to hear more about the customers, sales stories, revenue, and expenses that Tangosol incurred over the years before it was sold to Oracle. Same for New Atlanta. Same for other enterprise Java technology providers. I also like hearing the stories from users of enterprise Java technology, such as Wells Fargo Bank. In other words, a kind of Inc Magazine but for enterprise Java companies (both providers and users of enterrpise Java technology) that have revenue. Cheers, David Flux - Java Job Scheduler. File Transfer. Workflow. BPM.
  9. In other words, a kind of Inc Magazine but for enterprise Java companies (both providers and users of enterrpise Java technology) that have revenue.
    +1 I think discussions on TSS (and on tech sites in general) tend to be extremely academic in nature. It would be nice to see more "real world" experiences.
  10. hi My real life is far away from all the new frameworks that appear in TTS. I dont see info about the standard tools that most of the companies use (BEA, Oracle, IBM) but tons and tons of new tools and frameworks that i never will have time and energy to learn or even use. Being Java developer is exhausting...Maybe is one of the reasons why we are losing the main stream...for all these "small toys" like Ruby ... But, in the otherwise... If we are going to change from jsps to Ruby get better we stop using cars and get back to the horses... Maybe TTS could not just show us all this thousands of choices but also ....guide us to 2 or 3 "good ones"... Cos i am losing my mind Bruno
  11. real world[ Go to top ]

    Yes, I would like to see more real world articles highlighting challenges as well as successes.