Criticism pushes the web forward

category: thoughts

This week, a friend shared a blog post that critiqued a popular framework for CSS. Twitter started to discuss if it’s okay to criticise tools. In this post, I’ll say it is not just okay, it is also important.

I was a little disappointed to see the replies to this tweet. Among the many replies, the person who came up with the framework exclaimed seeing the post shared by her “ruined” his day. Note: the post was not about him, it was about the framework (the one that, on its homepage, criticises other people’s CSS methodologies) . Other commenters said the article was “not worth sharing”, “you’re just starting of fights” and “why would you amplify that?”.

I’m not interested in attacking anyone here, or going into the merits or faults of The Post, but would like to answer that last question. Or, in fact, a more generic one: “is it okay to criticise tools?”

Listening helps

The short answer is: yes. As long as it is aimed at the tool, not the person that created it, it is better to share criticisms than not. I have never been involved in the development of frameworks for the web, but in standards for the web, like HTML, CSS and ARIA, there is lots of criticism. People poke holes in each other’s assumptions, suggest ways to make features better and explain why things don’t work well for them. Good standards require diverse perspectives.

Again, the kind of criticism I’m talking about here is criticism of the content, not a person. Is some proposal vague? Should we really call that property “left justify” or number-form seems counterintuitive as a property name–just two examples of critiques of the first version of CSS, in 1995. They’ve made CSS better, because we’ve ended up with better names. Thanks to the people who took the time to send in comments. This is, for over 25 years, how we’ve evolved the web: by listening to each other and not taking critical comments personal.

Can we “just not use it”?

Maybe web standards like CSS are different. The web is built on it and you cannot not use CSS when you build a website. Browsers have stylesheets. But if we’re honest, the most popular tools and frameworks also impact all of us. Most web developers don’t always get to choose their own tools and frameworks, they join a team with existing code or have team members with other opinions.

I’ve never included Bootstrap in a project myself, but have contributed code to many projects that did. Just like it is helpful to comment on web standards, it is helpful to comment on tools and frameworks, because they too affect us all. This goes both for whether to use the thing at all, and for features the thing has or lacks.

Like critical thinking pushes the world of ideas forward, I mean in philosophy, criticism of ideas for standards, tools and frameworks pushes the web forward. We should give feedback respectfully and constructively, but we should give feedback. And open up to feedback, not demand it to go away. It may not be easy, but it is important to include perspectives outside your own.

Comments & mentions (278)

Michael Havard 10 May 2021 06:17:57

As developers and content creators we always need to be resilient and take the good with the bad. At the same time we need to be judicious with our words and understand that as much as we want to come across as funny and lighthearted we can also come across as mean-spirited and condescending. We need to elevate critiques. Not to the sometimes objective dryness of a scientific paper per se but at least be aware that the personality we show through in it might not be as well received by everyone who reads it; Tool writers and tool users and aspiring adopters alike.

I don’t think that it’s a good comparison to call ‘“Best practices” don’t work’ AND “it was as welcome and useful as passed gas” as equals or that one is justification for the other. Adam Wathan does some small amount of self-deprecation of Tailwind after that heading on the Tailwind site, but also provides a link to a more technical background behind that statement. He critiques several best practices and mentions several frameworks using those practices all while making sure that readers understand that those frameworks are not “wrong” or bad per se. So in this way the two critiques are not similar.

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Baldur Bjarnason replied: “Criticism pushes the web forward” hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-0…
jalbertbowdenii replied: dissent is healthy
Robert Ⓥ -🤘🏻 replied: 100% agree! 👍🏻
Stephen Hay replied: Leave it to Hidde to eloquently explain the _need_ for critique. We need _more_ critical thinking. Not less. Being able to cut the umbilical cord between your ego and your work is a skill (hard, but doable). A skill that works well with reflection on cult behaviour.
Matt Wilcox replied:
Any group that is incapable of taking criticism is doomed to failure. We know what this is about; and if Tailwind users are so fragile they must attack people FOR criticising it; not the criticisms? Get out of this profession. You are toxic and tech isn’t suited for you. Out.
Alestor Aldous replied: Critics is a part of every system
Ahmad Shadeed replied:
"We should give feedback respectfully and constructively." A great post by @hdv. It's important to criticize tools so we can learn and make better tools.
Accessabilly replied: Nice follow up to the Tailwind thing. Criticise please, but don't spread hate...
Dwayne Holmberg replied: I wish we were collectively better at the "constructive" part. I've found the current debate frustrating because I've found some of the criticism valid, and some very use-case specific. And much of the defense...defensive.
Simon R Jones replied: Agree with this
André Luís replied:
Tribalism is harmful. Even if you think the criticism is wrong or missing something, you can either tell your own version. Or ignore it. But not bully or attack. You should hear me talk about scss/less when they came out. Hell, some of you did and still mention it today. 😂
Blake Campbell replied:
Criticism is healthy. Comparing a tool to a fart isn't good criticism.
Piet 🇳🇱 replied:
These two articles have good insights into the conversations around TailwindCSS right now: dev.to/cher/sexism-ra… hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-0…
Erik Kroes 🏔 replied: We're here to make each other better 👍🏿
Mo replied: I appreciate you linking to the CSS standards issue, but the thing here is that that was an actual constructive conversation, whereas the blog post in question was weirdly aggressive. Comparing a tool to farts is not a way to politely share critisicm and I felt weird reading it.
Eric Fortis, uidrafter.com replied: I disagree that it should be considered a duty. That would make worst because it invites people without good intentions.
Frank ⚫ replied:
That some people apparently need pointing out that criticism of tooling / frameworks is absolutely essential in a) advancing and evolving the tech b) helping me choose the right tooling / framework for given circumstances doesn’t bode well for the health of the tech community.
Bernard Nijenhuis replied: Very nicely said!
Tim Severien replied: Criticism is essential to move forward technically, professionally, and personally. Sometimes it’s upsetting, but there’s always something to learn. You only have to listen to what they are saying.
Már Örlygsson 🔵 replied: Also this: dev.to/cher/sexism-ra…
Bram Smulders replied:
@hdv with a great take on this weekend’s tech Twitter drama: It’s okay to criticise frameworks/tools, it will be for the better.
Hans Gerwitz replied: White men in tech are too goddamn sensitive. hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-0…
Samuel Štancl replied: This is obvious, no one complained about criticism.
Hidde replied: sounds like you've not seen the same responses or interpreted them differently
Samuel Štancl replied:
The issue isn't that there was an article reviewing Tailwind CSS and suggesting improvements, it's that a very negative article with horribly wrong misinformation was broadcasted to thousands of people.
Hidde replied: This is also very negative about CSS and broadcasts horrible misinformation to thousands of people
Hidde replied: We need criticism and we need constructive criticism, neither That Post (on Tailwind) nor the Tailwind homepage (on CSS) are good examples of that
Samuel Štancl replied:
Okay, how is the linked article horrible misinformation? adamwathan.me/css-utility-cl… Happy to hear it.
Manuel Matuzović replied:
“We should give feedback respectfully and constructively, but we should give feedback. And open up to feedback, not demand it to go away. It may not be easy, but it is important to include perspectives outside your own.” hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-0…
Evan You replied: This completely conflates healthy, constructive criticism with rude, disrespectful and misinformed takes that are focused more on tearing something down instead of pointing out where it can improve.
TheDutchCoder replied:
I agree with constructive criticism driving the web (or anything, for that matter) forward. But let's not pretend that the original article was constructive criticism.
Sacha Greif replied:
I agree, but I can also relate to how bad it feels to have someone you admire share criticism of your work that you feel is unfair or misinformed. Although when this happens I try to reach out via DMs precisely to avoid the kind of negativity chain reaction that happened here.
🐤kazupon🐤 replied: Reading... / Criticism pushes the web forward hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-0…
reddit programming replied: Criticism pushes the web forward - commentary on the recent Tailwind CSS discussions hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-0… /post reddit.com/r/programming/…
Alex Layne replied: That guy’s a clown and I’m perfectly comfortable not taking his criticism seriously.
imah@Laravel使い replied: 海外でTailwindCSSを巡って諍いが生まれている。発端はTailwindCSSをインラインスタイルと区別できない技術者が書いたdev.toの記事。そしてなぜか記事をツイートした女性技術者が叩かれ、戦線が拡大した。批判は良いけど雑な分析による批判は制作側の意欲を削ぐのもまた事実。
Lewis Gavin replied: Criticism pushes the web forward - commentary on the recent Tailwind CSS discussions hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-0… #programming #softwareengineering #bigdata #datascience #analytics #ai #python #javascript
corbosman replied: Except it had absolutely nothing to do with healthy criticism, and on top of that completely misunderstands, and misrepresents (on purpose?) how people use tailwind.
Hidde replied:
my post is on the generic question if people should criticise tools for the web and how. People read that Tailwind post differently, that's for sure. I personally think it had constructive and non constructive points.
Linus replied: hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-0…
corbosman replied: What bothers me about his blog post is that he obviously made zero attempts to understand what it is about tailwind that make people like it. It's 100% negativity, no attempts at understanding it.
Yossry replied: Criticism pushes the web forward hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-0…
K. replied: Smh. This, this is why I hate the tech industry sometimes 🤦🏽‍♂️
milben tan replied: Criticism is a strong word. But we as developers should start looking at the intent of the creation and how it solves and usage that matters. Customers/Clients might not care how you do it as long as it satisfies your need. The same thing it applies for every other tools/frmework
Paras Malhotra replied:
Constructive criticism is good. But plain bad mouthing and hate is unwarranted. Comparing something to a fart can by no strength of imagination be compared to constructive criticism. At that point, it's not even a rant. It's plain abuse.
This is why I code replied:
Criticism pushes the web forward - commentary on the recent Tailwind CSS discussions hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-0… #programming
Pinboard Popular replied: Criticism pushes the web forward hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-0…
Ринат Валиуллов (4rontender) replied:
Я бы даже сказал, что нужно! К сожалению, до некоторых это не доходит. "Good standards require diverse perspectives." hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-0…
James Seconde replied: Thanks to @_pads for making me aware of @hdv's post here that, in the midst of the Tailwind storm, backs up one of the most important aspects of my 2019 talk on gatekeeping & elitism in tech:
æ replied: Ugh, miss me with this. The type of tool critiques the author refers to in this are the reason I don't engage with web dev Twitter much any more. It doesn't help the field or the web when a toxic culture pushes away new ideas. hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-0…
Andy Crouch replied:
The keywords here are "Respectfully" and "Constructively". "Criticism pushes the web forward" ... hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-0…
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