Aaaah, the never ending circle of Twitter design world snark and unfriendliness reared its head again this week (as it does in some way most weeks) where some people disagree with others in a less than friendly way.

Be excellent to each other

TL;DR: Hundreds of thousands of people will never all get along, even if they all love the industry and job. It would be lovely if they did but it’s just not realistic unfortunately.

Lets start by me saying I don’t think it’s right that people are horrible to each other. It’s not nice, it’s not helpful and I’ll freely admit from time to time I’ve said things that perhaps aren’t entirely in keeping with my generally optimistic and (I hope, helpful) attempts to be a tiny part of a the massive community that is “web design”.

I’ve also experienced something that’s quite enlightening and that’s what it feels like to have 6000+ people tell me I’m wrong when I wrote a blog post earlier in the year that demonstrated how a small thing, an opinion or slightly misguided technical note blows up out of all proportion.

That was one of the unintentionally highest visited blog posts I’ve ever written and it was something tiny, a matter of how I used and interpreted part of a spec but the strength of feeling against me was pretty eye opening. However, since then, I’ve carried on blogging, I enjoy it more than ever.

Twitter is the biggest small world

Now, for most, I imagine the Twitter design world will probably break into a few categories as it does for me.

It’s a seemingly small world on Twitter because we’re all online a vast amount. We’re connected 24/7 through browsers, gadets etc it seems like the same names crop up all the time. While it’s true in the case of some of the more noted speakers and writers there’s an enormous ecosystem that comprises of tens or hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of designers out there.

It’s odd to think that this represents a “small world” in many ways. To put things into a bit more perspective (So we’re clear, I’m not picking on people here, only showing numbers to demonstrate scale) look at the following comparisons:

Audience at sold out Madonna gig at Earls CourtSazzy’s follower meet up .. or sold out Madonna gig at Earls Court?

Jeremy Keith (@adactio)
c. 150,000 followers. You would fill Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, twice with the people following Jeremy.

Andy Clarke (@malarkey) or Elliot Jay Stocks (@elliotjaystocks)
c. 20-23,000 followers. You would need to shop around for something around the size of the O2 Arena (23,000 capacity) to fit Andy’s followers inside for a chat.

Sarah Parmenter (@sazzy)
c. 17,000 followers. Yep, that’s a lot of folks too. Get all of Sarah’s followers together and it’s roughly the same number of people who watched Madonna playing to a sold out Earls Court on Independence Day.

Even little old me, blogging away in my corner would need to book out New York’s Irving Plaza to fit my modest followers in (I dread to think how many iPad spammers would turn up of course).

See where I’m going with this yet?

Hopefully this quick demonstration of scale is starting to resonate a bit. Would you honestly expect to turn up on any night at the O2 Arena or Earls Court to see a band and have every single passionate fan agree on Madonna’s best song or have a discussion with double the capacity of Old Trafford about whether Michael Carrick is a decent player or waste of space?

No, if you’re in any way normal, you’d expect differences of opinion and you’d expect passion to take over in a small percentage of people even though they’re all there for the same thing.

It only takes a word or tweet from someone that’s taken out of context (or even in context but just taken badly) retweeted and discussed and freaking World War III breaks out.

There’s a belief among many in the design world that we’re in some way different as an industry and should all get on, all the time, no matter what. Me.

A word on the high profile folks

Footage from a recent Twitter fight
Footage from a recent Twitter debate about UX Design

Hopefully above I’ve demonstrated a little bit of context about the potential reach some people in the industry have. I’m keen to keep stressing I’ve nothing against follower counts in the tens and hundreds of thousands but for many in the industry, large follower counts are considered a godly marker of absolute correctness.

Because the examples cited above speak regularly at conferences, they’re retweeted as an unquestioned source of knowledge by many who sometimes don’t even read or form their own opinions and thoughts about the things they’re tweeting. It’s not their fault, far from it. They have no control over followers actions and this often leads to causes of conflict.

The ladies and gents brave enough to put themselves on stages and share their knowledge never paint themselves as infallible and the absolute source of correctness but being up there means in many ways they’re often a target as well as a source of knowledge.

It’s not fair of course but sadly it’s human nature to question. Some question in a less delicate way and it’s I agree not helpful but I honestly believe sycophantic retweeting and picking sides based on who you follow can be a much more dangerous thing sometimes.

If you spent time with any of these popular “web celebs” (FYI – I hate that term) – you’ll be surprised to find little to no ego’s at all, just a bunch of creative people who enjoy what they do and haven’t been afraid to tell people about it, but all of whom sadly have war stories about their negative experiences of the community, or a select group of people, on Twitter. Within a group, we all laugh and joke and brush them off, but behind closed doors, I know deep down, we’re not laughing. Sarah Parmenter

Conference speaker envy

I’ve seen the “jealousy” tag levvied a few times, the whole “fame and celebrity” of being on the “conference circuit”. For those folks, it’s pretty easy. Getting on a stage is something that generally is open to all in the industry, you don’t need contacts or big follower counts here. If you want to talk at a conference, you can get into it. There are small ones all the time crying out for new faces and material. I don’t see the simple fact someone is a speaker means they should be a target.

“Snark” can destroy or it can make you better but it’s here to stay

As I said earlier, I’ve experienced nice tweets about posts and inadvertantly put myself in the firing line. It’s an interesting experience being shouted down but I chose to take it as a kick in the chops to be better at what I do, whether that’s my work or efforts at blogging, I’m going to carry on.

I’m as passionate as everyone else in the industry, I shout and wail from time to time, I kick out if I see something I don’t like but by the same token, 99% of the time, I try to offer help, share links and resources and generally make an effort to contribute. Just like most I guess.

We’re not robots, we’re a massive community of people, hundreds of thousands, if not millions all in a tiny fishbowl that amplifies everything (particularly negative comments) in mere minutes.

If you’re ever in doubt and feeling like the world is against you or criticism is unfair and invalid, you can always take comfort from this. It’s true but it should never stop you.

New to the industry and think this is how it works?

If you’re just starting out in your career in design (or any career where you work with more than a few people) you’ll find office politics, love/hate relationships, people not getting on are present everywhere.

You’re in luck if you’re considering a career in design. Yes, there are sometimes a vocal minority but put that aside and it’s an amazing industry full of people who contribute to the same aim of making the web better. You’ll experience ups and downs of course, you’ll see some naughty behaviour but don’t forget it’s an almost unique situation we’re in with Twitter being like it is.

Don’t let it put you off, I’ve worked in a Corporate environment before moving to the web, even with some of the snide stuff that goes on it’s nothing compared to experiencing exactly the same stuff but in a significantly more boring industry.

* Thanks to Sarah Parmenter who was kind enough to take time and read over this post and give some thoughts prior to publishing.

James Young

Written by James Young

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