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Matz: We are mere mortals (twitter.com)
302 points by tosh 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 95 comments

Seems worth reminding ourselves of the old Ruby community motto: "Matz is nice, so we are nice."

It always seemed so incongruous to me that the Ruby language community could be so nice, while the Rails community (following the self-aggrandizing example of DHH) would be so aggressive to anyone with unorthodox thoughts.

I mean, it's Ruby on "Rails". The name kinda implies some stricter structure, which is exactly what you're complaining about I believe.

> aggressive to anyone with unorthodox thoughts

do you have some specific examples? (not a rails user, so if there are obvious things, i'm unware)

a bit ot, but i've noticed an uptick in what seems like a reductive/straw-man characterization of disagreeing with particular ideas as summarily dismissing "different ideas" in general.

I don't have any examples, having not touched Rails in an extremely long time, but as I recall the core philosophy of Rails was "we're opinionated about things so you don't have to make decisions", and it's no surprise at all to me that a framework that prides itself on being opinionated would be hostile to differing ideas.

I think this might be a mischaracterisation. Rails merged with Merb because they were accepting of new ideas, and didn't see the point of 2 groups wasting their time implementing the same kinds of stuff.

Rails is an opinionated framework in that it has strong opinions for what the default configuration should be. They realise it can't be general purpose and stay as effective. But if you're doing CRUD apps, on the web, those defaults save you a bunch of time.

That's not hostile to differing ideas, it's just saying that some ideas don't belong in rails or rails itself becomes less good.

I'm one of the weirdos who actually appreciated Zed Shaw's outrageousness back in the heyday of Rails, until everyone decided he was toxic and he jumped ship for... whatever the hell he is doing these days, Python maybe? He wrote the Mongrel webserver using the Ragel parser-generator which succeeded by sticking strictly to the HTTP spec unlike apparently everything else at the time.

I also thought he was funny:

> He sarcastically stated in November 2016 that "Python 3 is not Turing complete" due to claims from Python project developers that Python 2 code cannot be made to run in the Python 3 VM.

Oh come on, that is hilarious.

DHH is full of himself, but who wouldn't be, if they singlehandedly developed a world-changing webserver API?

It's a sad state of affairs when a high profile open source maintainer like Matz has to literally say "don't ruin our lives."

Maybe it just means that a lot of this isn't perfect. The medium is the message and our medium has evolved rapidly recently, the message has gotten overly prone to bickering and meanness.

It's not a trivial thing, for 8bn people to learn to speak to each other directly. If Matz is having trouble... it's a sign this isn't about bad people. We've got a system that's prone to it.

I don't think it's anything new. Usenet had plenty of terrible. So did the early web. At best, it's a problem with computer-mediated communication in general, which has a broken feedback loop between saying something and seeing its impact. And, frequently, it allows for anonymity, which removes the social consequences of malicious actions.

But that's not really new either. Consider the historic concept of the poison pen letter: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poison_pen_letter

I'd certainly be interested in your proposed systemic fixes. But I don't think the problem is our communications system. I think it's much broader.

Fully agreed that the problem of internet abuse originates with human nature but is amplified by the medium.

And yes, this problem was actually much worse a decade or two ago. You should see archives some of the old private open source forums! Holy moley were people horrible to each other.

At least now we have some awareness of the problem and better understanding of its mechanisms.

> And, frequently, it allows for anonymity, which removes the social consequences of malicious actions.

I don't think anonymity is a problem per se. Real people engage in all kinds of shitty trolling using their real names. And their real friends egg them on.

The difference is perhaps that their local real life community don't know about it, outside of their friends.

If you have any evidence that suggest that anonymity doesn't amplify harmful behaviors in people predisposed to them, I'd love to see it. But my long anecdotal experience says otherwise. As does internet lore [1] and a number of studies. [2]

[1] http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/19

[2] https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/who-is-that-th...

Remember when Google (via G+) required YouTube comments to use their real name? It did not improve the tone of the comments. Or how Facebook comments on articles are rarely free from trolling.

Real names may stop some people from trolling but there seem to be an abundance of people willing to put their name to it.

You seem to be attacking a straw man. Nobody said that anonymity was the sole driver of bad comments. Certainly I didn't.

I'm arguing that the difference is negligible.

If you have any evidence that suggest that anonymity doesn't amplify harmful behaviors in people predisposed to them, I'd love to see it.

I assume the same dynamic produces road rage too.

This seems common with a lot of open source. I wonder if some of this could be solved with a fee to communicate. You want to send a message or question or PR? It costs $5 but the maintainer has the option to refund it. It also puts some skin in the game from the community people who want it for free but changed to match their exact use case.

A lot of people just need to vent to someone in that moment and any obstacle would make them give up. Or maybe this is a horrible idea...

I thought of something similar, the problem is when lots of these communications, Email, Twitter, Medium, SMS, Phone Calls etc are Free we get a lots more low quality / noise coming into it.

It seems the only way is to put a price onto it.

Is he referring to something specific?

As a moderator of that sub-Reddit, I wish to note that while I disagree with this post, I think the poster is both free to express this opinion as they have done and Matz to reply as he has done. I think it shows that the Ruby community is open for debate and discussion, as it always has been, and is no sign, as some have suggested, of any sort of toxicity.

I don't see any toxicity in that post either. Frustration, sure.

The OP or one of the replies? Seems pretty civil what am I missing?

> I believe it was this post

Incredibly entitled AND toxic? Yeesh. What a combination.

I think that would miss the point; the toxicity of Internet corrodes the sanity of people like Matz or Guide slowly over time. Not all at once

How does this tie in with Linus Torvalds, who himself is accused of being toxic and rude?

Personally, while on the one side it's toxic, rude, not very welcoming etc etc etc, I do believe it's an effective form of leadership - a dictatorship where he can keep the kernel from becoming everyone's party, and where he can avoid years of discussion with a curt "You are wrong, I am right, shut the fuck up" - and from what I've read, often with a list of arguments, so he's not just yelling at people to shut up but yelling at people to be better.

Mind you that's all my superficial interpretation, I don't know the guy, am not involved at all, etc.

I think it's strongly related, although I would take a different interpretation (also purely speculative of course).

The fundamental issue here is the asymmetrical one-to-many connection, where "many" is basically "gigantic anonymous blob". This creates an enormous power imbalance - not to mention makes it almost impossible for the lone individual on one side to manage the blob on the other, since it only takes a few rotten apples to completely ruin your day.

Becoming more blunt, rude or even toxic in response is basically a form of self-defense. It is a way of setting boundaries, of pushing back. In some sense it might work because it can even out the power imbalance in that one-to-many connection, at a cost of course (and it probably doesn't matter much whether or not the person already had that attitude to begin with - the result is the same).

> How does this tie in with Linus Torvalds, who himself is accused of being toxic and rude?

My kitchen sink psychology take on this would be that sometimes doing something unnice can emotionally compensate for being on the receiving end of un-niceness. You see this a lot in online games where nice players will grief from time to time after they have been griefed. Linus gets a lot of public and presumably also private criticism for basically everything he does, and writing a rude mail every couple weeks may compensate.

That being said I personally have written some (in my perception) rude mails and almost always regretted it, apologizing in some cases even.

With that in mind I don't envy anyone whose name is prominently associated with a popular open source project. I wouldn't want to be in their skin.

It's a fact that he chose the style on purpose because the diplomatic/nice approach failed horribly at least once.

Huh, could you please point to the specific instance of horrible failure? Or at least explain what happened, when, etc?


Very interesting to see that in the light of recent CoC adoption and Linus hiatus and so on.

Being firm, stating the goals, requirements, laying out a roadmap and so are very important and can be done without being abusive/abrasive. And similarly, asking for a plan and other project/engineering management basics should be the method of steering developers instead of shouting at them when they don't go on the correct way.

It's a strange thing about humans - paid users tend to be way more positive than free users. Even if you would expect it to be the other way around.

And the more they pay, the more respect they show. Payment is the reflection of how much value they think they get.

Is it the People's fault, or is it Twitter's?

People. You don't get a free pass on being an arsehole just because the platform makes it easy to do.

Ok, people are terrible. Now what? The platform that brings out the worst in us is something that can be changed.

I get frustrated at times, but still never go on any twitter/social rants. I hate to break it to you, but the platform is merely allowing every individual to behave as they please. There are plenty of folks who never have their worst brought out.

Its the classic freedom / responsibility tradeoff.

Does it bring out the worst in us, or just make it a bit more public facing?

With random anonymous users, it's obviously hard to tell. And somebody using a dozen different accounts to evade blocks is at minimum using Twitter as a force multiplier for their terribleness. But as far as actually bringing out the worst in us? The people I've known in person who say awful stuff on Twitter are awful in meatspace too. The minor celebrities who spew hate and harass strangers on Twitter are generally also known for mistreated employees, failed partnerships, and speedy breakups.

This is something that's on my mind a lot as we talk about tech ethics. Whether it's Twitter driving harassment or Facebook driving depression, or even Cambridge Analytica manipulating specific voter segments, I think we underestimate the likelihood of "this always happened, but now it's online". Before Twitter, people were harassed in person or by phone. Before Facebook, depressed people still picked low-intensity pasttimes and felt bad about comparisons to their friends. And before Cambridge Analytica, Viguerie was using near-identical tactics by mail.

Some changes simply have to be accepted by the participants en masse and implemented by them manually, and any engineering to try to force such a change generally will fail catastrophically. It's not by accident or mistake that there are no happy, prosperous oppressive police states. Society must determine its own culture, and if that's 'too messy' for those building technology, the consequences will be dire and perhaps they should have not chosen humans as their target audience.


While we can suppose and discuss personal ethics, and while we can agree that certain behaviors are hurtful or abusive, we cannot expect that a single policy of that style will actually defend against abuse. At least not at scale.

This is the difference between public health and medical practice. They make different decisions because while a good doctor can behave with great skill and ethical power they cannot stop you from getting sneezed on.

Twitter (just as an example) as a platform is clearly a failure in some use cases. This shouldn’t be surprising—it’d be straight unsettling for one tool to be right for everyone in all situations and at all scales. As it is, people are today choosing to deal with the stress because it’s “where the people are”, but the economics of that won’t always play in Twitter’s favor.

I think there is legitimate opportunity here, but the answer won’t look much like a Twitter (e.g., or, more generally, the platforms of today) at all.

I think we agree more than disagree -- I believe the blame for abuse should go on the abuser. I think (you can correct me if I'm wrong) that you want to have the discussion "given there are abusers, what should a platform do about it?"

Would an optimally designed platform handle abuse better than Twitter (or Reddit, or the like)? Absolutely. I also don't think that that absolves anyone of the responsibility to engage in civil discourse rather than uncivil.

> You don't get a free pass

You do when you can remain anonymous while doing so, but fortunately or unfortunately, I wouldn't have it any other way.

I see what you're getting at. I took the question as being "on whom does the responsibility lie," which I would place with the individual. Anonymity does certainly contribute, but I'd still say that an individual can choose to contribute positively or negatively regardless of the medium.

People. Twitter doesn't read your mind and post without permission. Its on the person who wrote it. Now, of course, language can be a barrier and regional conventions, but I doubt those are the issue.

This reminds me a bit on the discussion of https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3633985 where some folks were trying to justify that it was ok to throw their used paper towel on the floor instead of the trash. A person is responsible for the pain they intentionally bring others.

Both? People learn from experience and feedback and adapt to their environment. But on digital platforms like twitter the feedback is reduced and you are constanly confrontated with people from very different groups, cultures, environments; which are also constanly change.. It's a permanent grinder for everyone.

I've never been the maintainer of a widely successful project, and I have troubles imagining how this can "ruin your life".

And I'm not naive or anything, I know people can be real POS on Twitter, GitHub issues, etc. But is it really difficult to just say (or at least, think) "fuck off" and ignore them? I'm not trying to troll or anything, I'm genuinely curious and would love for somebody who's experienced this to share a little bit how you can get so dragged into it that you literally lose sleep over something like that.

What's the thought process that makes you eventually believe that you owe these people anything?

Edit: Damn, wasn't expecting such a harsh downvote for trying to understand what goes through a high profile maintainer's head. I guess everybody is expected to just naturally know and understand what it feels like :) Next time, I'll keep my curiosity to myself.

People come and tell you that you are doing things wrong. You think about what they said, start to doubt yourself, wonder if you are indeed wrong, decide that you are not wrong, tell the person your decision, and feel exhausted. Then the next person shows up to tell you that you are doing something wrong.

It's not an issue when it just happens occasionally. But it is an issue when it keeps happening again and again.

The worst people are the really argumentative people, those who don't stop trying to convince you. You tell them no, and they come up with yet another argument. And they try to make you feel bad for ignoring your audience or something.

Most decisions are somewhat subjective, so no matter what you decide someone is going to complain.

And you don't want to ignore those people, since they use your product after all. But it's just so tiring...

> But is it really difficult to just say (or at least, think) "fuck off" and ignore them?

At scale, yes.

OK, I can believe it since clearly that's what's happening for a lot of open source maintainers, but can you elaborate and explain why?

Imagine if everywhere you went in life there was a handful of people talking shit about you and calling you names.


All the time.

Anytime you're around other people, at least two of them will be loudmouth assholes to you. Relentlessly so.

You really can't see how that would get to you eventually?

Nothing in our evolutionary history as social apes prepared us for that.

I appreciate the response, but isn't it overly dramatic? Like, really, everywhere you go? To the movies, to the barber, to get your groceries?

Yes, that would be the real life equivalent of what people like Matz experience on the Internet.

If you're deeply involved in open source, then odds are it's in part because you find the process enjoyable. It can take a lot of time to have built up a project. It takes a large amount of dedication to encourage community members and try to help others have an organized effort. In the end it's easy to put a lot of value in having everything working well.

If you get a crowd that over the years is harshly negative towards you as an individual, situations where there are many forks which attacks your ability to help the community by fracturing it, or other toxic behavior, then it saps the fun out of things. If there are enough people that drain the fun from your profession or hobby then that can indeed "ruin your life" if it's core enough to you as a person.

As a maintainer of a moderately successful project, I will say that a small number of toxic community members can have a noteworthy negative impact on your general happyness when heavily involved in a project.

Humans are social animals. We are wired to care about the good opinions of the people around us. Being constantly berated is psychologically damaging; it wears on you. And "growing a thicker skin," as people commonly advise, involves forcefully suppressing the part of you that cares about others' opinions, which can make you more callous and less empathetic in everyday life. It's a bad situation.

"Growing a thicker skin" is well-intentioned but harmful advice, especially when told to victims of online harassment. Not only because of what you said -- becoming callous and less empathetic isn't a good outcome -- but also because for a lot of people it's not even possible to begin with. Often you cannot decide to "not care".

And it puts the onus on the recipient of the abuse for change rather than the source of the abuse.

I feel for him. When my old machine learning email filter, POPFile(1), was popular there was a great community around it. But sometimes I would get hate mail. I still recall one person who accused me of having destroyed his computer (I guess something bad happened to his disk) in an email filled with swear words, threats and more.

(1) http://getpopfile.org/

I quote from myself: Among those haters, idiots hurts the most.

Been an idiot myself, I know how many damage I can cause & caused. Lucky, through out many years, I've learnt to investigate the problem first, before deciding whether or not to send hate mail/comments.

Sometime, during the investigation, I'll found out the fact that I was the one who actually caused the problem, because I'm such an idiot. When that happens, I will just sit on my chair for few seconds to appreciate the time that I've saved for not to write the hate message with my broken English.

Sadly, investigating is a skill not everybody have.

Congratulations on the success of your investigation and reflection! Undertaking that effort makes you an exceptional individual IMO.

The medium of the internet brings out the worst in all of us -- even the most empathetic among us are worse people on the net than IRL, because we are all missing that feedback.

> When that happens, I will just sit on my chair for few seconds to appreciate the time that I've saved for not to write the hate message with my broken English

Don't appreciate the time saved; appreciate having avoided the embarrassment of falsely accusing someone for your own actions. I mean, it's interesting that you don't think of the other party that avoided receiving a misdirected hateful message, and just think of your own time saved.

Also, what good do hate messages do for anybody? Why even consider writing one? If you need to vent, can't you do so privately, or share constructive, open-minded criticism free of hate?

For a mostly silly, but probably stress causing account of this: Attack of the Repo Men http://acme.com/software/thttpd/repo.html

Friends of mine swore by your software, never at it.


It seems that https is not supported

That's odd. I'll get that fixed!

You made POPfile? I remember using it in the nineties, good job! Small world, huh.

I did. But you weren't using it in the 1990s. I started in early 2001.

Anything before 2015 is the nineties to me! But you're right, I only got an internet connection around 2000, so it must have been then.

Hopefully you could enjoy the irony of the situation.

I had a similar thing happen. The CTO of a company was using a library I wrote, and he ran into things he wanted to change. When I disagreed, I was accused of sabotaging my own library, by refusing to fix it's obviously broken aspects. Guy went on a smear campaign on hn, Reddit, Twitter, Wikipedia. Literally made me miserable for weeks.

I wrote about it, more here if you're curious:


Here is the list of closed issues/PRs said CTO made in case anyone was curious: https://github.com/coleifer/peewee/issues?q=author%3Akeredso...

If you don't mind the feedback, I get the point of your post but you came out pretty aggressive very often. "This is horrible", "wtf is this", "this is awful" are not useful.

I met Matz briefly once. The most striking thing about him to me was his calmness, and desire to listen. I never felt like he was just humoring me, and he had some good pointers for me too.

This thread resonates with that to me. He's just a guy, like any of us, trying to make something beautiful and good for the world. There may be issues, bugs, or even serious design issues, but we're all in this together.

I believe he Tweeted that after he read the Reddit thread [1].

While we may criticise and want Ruby Improve, ( Guild, GC, JIT, etc ). Lets not forget to show him some love, after Guido quit Python Core, I believe the worst for Ruby would be Matz also quit being Core Dev.

And a Reminder the Unofficial Slogan of Ruby, "Matz is nice, so we are nice."


It's incredibly important to a lot of toxic people -- in open source, on HN, really everywhere on the internet -- that this thoughtful piece from Matz be questioned and then forgotten.

Because toxic people enjoy a disproportionate advantage on the internet.

It's rather toxic "us vs them" opinion. You shouldn't hate on other people. Most hate on the internet is actually manufactured and people are just hostages to their emotions.

I disagree with that both-sider-ist perspective. The abuser and the abused are not equally at fault.

I’m grateful for Ruby and the Rails community. Ten years ago those tools allowed me to support myself as a freelance web developer, and provided a springboard for my transition into iOS development.

Then I got a taste of the hate mail :)

It’s incredible how people will spend $5 every day on a coffee, but spend that same amount once on an app, and (some) people feel entitled to say the darndest things over email. Doubly impressive when they receive years of free updates. Add to it the real financial pain an angry one star review...

I can’t imagine the scale of emotion Matz has had to wade through, all for providing an awesome, amazing, free tool to anyone who wants it.

He’s probably not reading this, but just in case: Thank you, Matz.

The problem is that public figures are exposed on social media to everyone. And even though 95% of the population might be reasonable and decent, you have those 5% who are simply not. Then you catch them on their worst day and so I am sure Matz gets bombarded by all kinds of garbage.

I have noticed this problem in other places where people have to deal with the public at large without a filter. For instance, a retail or waiter might encounter all kinds of rude people on a regular basis.

I wish there was an AI quality filter on social media. Sort of like what @dang does here.

> I wish there was an AI quality filter on social media. Sort of like what @dang does here.

It's probably somewhat possible to implement, at least to filter most of the trolls, since they follow predictable patterns similar to spammers. On top of that, you could plug some sentiment analysis on comments to detect the most negative/rude ones and either block them or make them appear with a lower priority vs other comments.

Why would you need an AI when you can just block angry people? Whenever someone gets irrationally angry at you on social media, just block them. No second chances. 6 months of that and you'll eliminate almost all the negativity directed at you in your feed, with little to no quality loss.

Wait, @dang is an AI?

No, it's a real person. As far as we know.

Maybe we can start rumors and this will end up second only to emacs vs vim as the primary debate in tech circles. (Or third if you count rails vs django)

Doubtless he would like to be

I can only imagine what would happen to the Bitcoin creator's life if he decided to be a public person.

Most of the Bitcoin core developers were gerting lots of death threats during the blocksize ,,debate''.

They blamed the devs for the price of Bitcoin not going up.

Often I just wished that core devs stop reading all this and share more videos that I can learn from, but I understand that they couldn't.

There's a book called positive négociation, while I don't like the title much, the core idea is to share and try to find better for all. I think it's a good Idea to follow.

Thanks to matz for his kindness, and to other of the same kind.

Sounds similar to habit 4 of the 7 habits of highly effective people: Think Win-Win.

What triggered this is a post on the /r/ruby subreddit getting 100+ upvotes complaining that ruby development is too slow.

Can you provide the link to the one in particular?

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