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Being Constructive in Criticism

Monday 24 November, 2003 (12:24PM GMT)

Peter-Paul Koch, self-styled 'JavaScript guru' has written a piece bashing A List Apart's JavaScript Image Replacement article.

I take issue with his over emotional response. While I agree that the article is not great and is perhaps not up to the standard of many articles on ALA, the aim of the site is to educate and the personal hostility is ridiculously over the top. It does not read as constructive criticism but rather 'this person took my idea and didn't do with it what I want'. Much more would be achieved if the arguments were a little bit more focussed rather than clouded in anger and used to demolish someone else's efforts to educate. The emphasis is on how his method was butchered and childish comments such as "this article sucks" or "I'll tell you to get lost" only add to an air of bitterness.

He has many good points that illuminate how the ALA article is flawed, but they are not well presented and it would have been more appropriate to use the ALA discussion forum to put forward his arguments directly to the relevant audience, rather than to simply post an advertisement for his own site

He goes on to criticize ALA's coverage of JavaScript in general, saying "I feel that since J. David Eisenberg's July 2000 article DOM Design Tricks II ALA has not published any good programming article... The point of the JavaScript articles is vague, the content, mediocre, new viewpoints, absent". I'm not trying to blow my own trumpet and I would never be as audacious as calling myself a 'guru', but the JavaScript technique that is central to 'Suckerfish Dropdowns', the ALA article written by myself and Dan Webb is as sound as you like.
ALA's specialities do tend to be issues of standards, HTML, CSS, accessibility and alike, but that doesn't mean there has never been anything of goodness outside of these areas.

With a wide-ranging, informative site such as Quirks Mode, Koch clearly wants to be helpful, but on this occasion his good points are lost in a rant that is unfortunately ugly and self-gratifying and as a result is not as helpful as it could be.

Criticism is good. It helps us learn. But it needs to be focussed and it needs to be constructive.

A guru is not only a person who knows a topic inside out, a guru is a wise teacher and a teacher that should not be so offended or, in turn, offensive.

UPDATE (7:30 PM): Following some debate in the ALA discussions, PPK has updated his article and it is now much less hostile and as a result much more helpful. He has left the original version on-line, of which this post and it's initial comments are based on.


Comment 1

You say that "..would have been more appropriate to use the ALA discussion forum to put forward his arguments" but you yourself present your arguments here rather than on ALA.

So said Dave on Monday 24 November, 2003 at 12:38PM GMT.

Comment 2

I think the issue is wider than ALA. It's great to discuss and criticise issues because then we all might learn a little bit more. I just think that there is a certain way of handling such issues - to anything, not just ALA articles.

So said Patrick on Monday 24 November, 2003 at 12:41PM GMT.

Comment 3

[q]*** ALA, the aim of the site is to educate and the personal hostility is ridiculously over the top.[/q]

Absolutely agree with all above. I remember poor php script (write php nav-bar or so) which is nearly to be unuseful but article was very educational. Probably the quality of code itself could not be the reason to attack the author... and big mes now there with ppk and Heilmann... ppk does not read his e-mails... c,c,c...

So said Dag on Monday 24 November, 2003 at 1:00PM GMT.

Comment 4

I'm sorry Patrick, but I was specifically thinking of your Suckerfish Dropdown script when I wrote the "new viewpoints, absent" paragraph.

You wanted to write a script that plugs into accessible XHTML structure and CSS presentation. Fine with me; in fact we need such scripts.

However, in my opinion you made two mistakes:

1) The dropdown functionality works with CSS in some browsers, with JavaScript in others. I object to splitting one functionality over two layers. It makes for complicated structures that can easily fail.
Now this is debatable, and I'm sure you or someone else will be able to come with arguments against this viewpoint.
Nonetheless I feel that these considerations should at least be mentioned in your article. They aren't.

2) The second point is not debatable: in IE Windows without JavaScript your idea doesn't work. The user sees no navigation at all.
Since the point of functionality such as Suckerfish Dropdowns is that it should work in any condition, I see this as a serious failure of your script.

So said ppk on Monday 24 November, 2003 at 1:12PM GMT.

Comment 5

PPK, firstly, I would like to say that this is the wrong place to argue about the Suckerfish article - the ALA discussion forums are the place for that, something which you seem not to appreciate.

BUT, secondly, as you do bring it up I shall address some of your points briefly.

'New viewpoints absent' is clearly wrong because it is a new approach.

It is a patch to cover IE's inability to recognise CSS hover behaviour. I see no point in other browsers using JavaScript when they can do it with simple CSS.

Of course the dropdowns don't work when there's no JavaScript - no dropdowns will. Sometimes you just have to use them and when you do, I believe that this method is the best method. The article isn't about whether you should use dropdowns or not it's a technique for using them. There is no failure. In fact the last line of the article, "Pointing those [top level] links to higher-level pages than the links in the dropdowns would be even better." covers the non-JavaScript problem by maintaining functionality through single-level navigation.

It's all in the article and the ALA discussions. I suggest you read them and keep to the topic.

So said Patrick on Monday 24 November, 2003 at 1:27PM GMT.

Comment 6

The point of suckerfish dropdowns article was to demonstrate a very simple and compact method of making a common UI element by using as much of the browsers support for CSS as possible while using a little simple JavaScript to patch over IE's shortcomings in CSS support. I personally viewed it as more of a CSS article than a JavaScript article. The JavaScript part of the article was kept as simple as possible so as not to cloud out the actual approach we were demonstrating. No, it doesn't offer a solution for all eventualities but it's a short article to demonstrate a concept and to provoke discussion.

In the space of a short article (such as on ALA) I think this is all an author can do.

So said Dan Webb on Monday 24 November, 2003 at 1:38PM GMT.

Comment 7

On ppk's first point, in what way is the way suckerfish dropdowns work complex? It does kindof use different methods for different browsers but the behaviour of the JavaScript mimicks the CSS behaviour as closely as possible and is deadly simple. It really isn't in any way complex.

But as PTG said, that's another discussion for a different site.

So said Dan Webb on Monday 24 November, 2003 at 2:09PM GMT.

Comment 8

I agree. There are a lot of places like this that have feedback and discussions and opinions always arise about most things. Luckily, this is usually positive and helpful. PPK's article though is an example of how not to do it.

So said Jane Close on Monday 24 November, 2003 at 3:25PM GMT.

Comment 9

Have to say I agree. Destructive criticism helps nobody, everyone makes mistakes and when you make one it's all the worse to have someone jump on it and cut you down when all you've done is have a go. Let's keep it friendly!

So said RobJ on Monday 24 November, 2003 at 5:55PM GMT.

Comment 10

I was just wondering.....When wil PPK shut the hell up..

So said [Anon] on Monday 24 November, 2003 at 9:50PM GMT.

Comment 11

I think PPK is totally right. If someone did the same thing to me I'd be more than mad. You people owe PPK an apology.

So said Dante on Monday 1 December, 2003 at 1:40AM GMT.

Comment 12

Everyone has a right to get angry, but the way they handle that anger is the issue. I don't feel that anyone owes anyone an apology - even PPK now agrees that he may not have handled it in the best possible way.

I hope that the situation has been discussed objectively, maturely and helpfully.

So said Patrick on Monday 1 December, 2003 at 10:21AM GMT.

Comment 13

Keeping in anger like that will drive you crazy. Someday it will be released (you can learn a lot from the Simpsons). That's why I fully express my anger.

So said Dante on Saturday 6 December, 2003 at 7:45AM GMT.

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