Generally speaking, we are all really good at saying “this sucks”, “that needs work”, “this is old and outdated”, but, collectively speaking, we are not very good at actually providing meaningful criticism.
Everyone that works in software development, design, and implementation has personal opinions about what they love and don’t love about the software they use.
I love that Sublime Text 2 is exceptionally light weight and works really well for me. I hate that Windows servers still causes me more problems than Apache servers. I love that my iPhone is still my favorite piece of tech, even if I’m not absolutely in love with iOS 7.
This morning I read an opinion post on WPMU.org about how the major new improvements planned for WordPress 3.8 are boring and show a lack of innovation from WordPress, especially when put up against Ghost or Medium, both of which are relatively new platforms built around the idea of creating a better online writing experience.
Before going any further, I want it to be clear that I am not arguing for or against Ghost, WordPress, or Medium or any of the improvements (or lack of improvements) being made in any of the platforms.
I want to talk about criticism, that’s it.
When we break it down, there are two main types of criticism (actually many, many more):
To put it simply, constructive criticism is when you make a negative statement about something and then back it up with suggestions for how to improve the negative. And destructive criticism is when you simply state that something is bad.
As a developer of many different products, there is little that irritates me more than to hear someone make a statement like the following:
This plugin sucks, just use X, Y, or Z instead.
Obviously it hurts my ego a bit to hear things like that said of things I’ve built, but it bothers me more because I want to know the why.
Why did the plugin suck? Why should you use X or Y instead? Why did you find it difficult to use? All of these are questions that I, the developer, want to know the answer to when I hear destructive criticism like this.
Telling someone that their system is poor is worthless feedback if you do not also give at least one reason it is poor. Take the following for example:
The UI in X plugin is old and outdated.
What does that tell the developer or designer of the UI? One thing and one thing only: the UI maybe hasn’t been keeping up with trends. That doesn’t even mean that it is bad, just that it’s not trendy.
Is that a bad thing? Maybe. Could it be improved? Probably.
If you have taken the time to acknowledge that something is bad, you have already determined a minimum of one aspect that is poor (or does not fit with your personal taste).
Even though developers do not necessarily enjoy hearing about what is wrong with their product, it can be extremely useful information.
The UI of the edit screen is clunky and a bit difficult to use. Adding just a little space around the element would help a lot.
With this example, the person making the critique has told me what they don’t like and made a suggestion at how to improve it. Whether the suggestion is good or not is completely irrelevant. The point is simply that they have made an effort to provide an idea at how to improve it.
It’s that simple point that bothered me about the opinion piece on WPMU.org this morning: there was no effort put forth at all to suggest how WordPress could be made less boring or how it could better compete with more trendy products, such as Ghost or Medium.
Each person is absolutely entitled, with no exceptions, to their own opinions, but spouting your dislike for a product, or an aspect of the product, without also providing at least minimal suggestions for how to improve it is a pretty poor way to show dislike.
Cory Miller put it well this morning when he replied to my initial tweet:
I tend to think the world would be a better place w/ more constructive feedback, otherwise it’s just bitching, which anyone can do.
Even though it takes an exceptionally small amount of time to realize one reason you don’t like a product, it is monumentally more meaningful to the creators of that product when you include your suggestion in the criticism.