Is being anonymous bad?
I have two problems with that. First, being anonymous in my opinion is a good thing for many people. Second, they are only deluding themselves if they believe and try to get others to believe that their forum is a safe haven from anonymity.
Let's look at the second item first. You go to a forum. That forum requires you to sign up. In order to sign up you need three things:
- username of your choice (let's pick Gomer_Pyle)
- password of your choice
- valid email address - I'll use GomerPyle_4563@yahoo.com
That is all we need to do. Am I anonymous? Or not? You cannot tell - and don't you dare accuse me of being a faker - I'm sure there is someone out there named Gomer Pyle (there appear to be at least 3 or 4 in the US). So, am I real or not? You cannot tell and anyone that says "come on in, it is safe here" is kidding themselves, and themselves alone. The person who wrote about their safe forum has users with names like oradbus, flashz, chasboy, soap6gal, 13lashes, and weekend79. That is not anonymous?
But what about the first point? Is being anonymous a good thing or bad thing? For me - I go "non-anonymous". I was email@example.com, then firstname.lastname@example.org and most recently Thomas.email@example.com. I do it because I can. Not everyone has that luxury. Going anonymous allows people to interact on the internet in a technical fashion in a way never before possible. To me, it is a great thing.
On asktom, everyone is anonymous. This gives people the freedom to criticize (we get lots of "from a reader", I have no problem with that). If they say something critical without any sort of supporting evidence - we laugh it off. So what? If they say something critical and they provide some compelling evidence - I sit up and take notice. We'll either
- Change our minds (they had a valid point) or soften a stance
- Show that their evidence doesn't apply or is 'incorrect' for some reason
- Agree to disagree
Imagine the world if the musings of a patent office employee were discounted as not credible, solely because they worked in a patent office and not in a research facility.
Just because information came from me, or Jonathan Lewis, or Cary Millsap, or Howard Rogers or (really long list that if I make longer I'm really sure to insult someone for not including them) doesn't mean it is correct. We all pretend we are from Missouri - the "show me state".
But why is being anonymous a good thing?
It allows people to interact in forums they could not otherwise. Some employers frown on their employees using their real names, their work identities. For these people, anonymity is necessary - they would not otherwise be able to participate. I would hate to exclude them.
It allows people to say things they otherwise might not - if someone is not sure that the point they are going to make is valid, they may well bite their tongue and not say it - if everyone knows "who they are". I see this all of the time in audiences - I finish the talk, ask for questions - get a couple, thank everyone and then spend the next hour or two answering questions. Many times excellent, exceedingly relevant follow-ups that I wish I would have gotten in front of the full audience (everyone would have benefited from that).
I guess it all comes down to - can you ignore the noise. If someone comes into a forum and says "you are an idiot" and not much more, can you just ignore (or as I am known to do sometimes, just make fun of - usually with the word "brilliant" involved somehow) that person?
And can you handle the criticism from anyone - are you willing to take the time to evaluate someone else's inputs and balance that against yours? I don't really think it matters if it comes from "big name in field" or "new developer" - actually, many times "new developer" can be very insightful - they have no preconceptions! Many breakthroughs in various fields come from outsiders with no preconceptions. The people in the field can develop myopic views of things over time.
On asktom, I've learned alot from "new people", anonymous or otherwise (let's face it, they are all anonymous initially) -- people with no credibility whatsoever, no past track record, no papers published in their name -- just an incredible amount of energy and drive. Yes, some days they can appear to be "a pain in the backside", but you know what -- they are the technical leads of today now. Only because they had the opportunity to ask "why".
So, I'm into anonymity - for those that choose to use it. I personally use my name but only because I can. I'm not afraid to ask questions (stupid questions even). I'm not afraid of responses - sticks and stones and all. Those who use anonymity to just hurl insults - they are cowards, surely, but ignore them. They go away. Better yet, make fun of them - that really irritates them.
So, to those who say "stay away from such and such a place, they are anonymous, come over here" - well, I don't know who they think they are kidding really.
I have a new polling site I thought I'd give a try - I'm curious. Do you think anonymity is a good or bad thing (this is a new polling site, shouldn't have any pop-ups):
And as always, feedback welcome and accepted, even from "anonymous"...