Dave Winer vs. Tim O'Reilly

Mr. Winer, I respect your right to speak your mind, and choose your own path in your public and private dealings with Tim O'Reilly. With that said, as one of your readers, I have my own opinion that I would like to contribute. I think you are making yourself look foolish.

I can't claim to know either you or Mr. O'Reilly well, although in his case I have met him in person, and observed him at close range at intervals over a period of several years. You I only know through your online writings. Based on that (admittedly limited) perspective, I believe believe both of you to be essentially honest, ethical individuals.

The main difference I see between you is one of maturity. Mr. O'Reilly has a well-deserved reputation for being fair and even-handed in his public dealings with the sometimes fractious members of the Internet community. He has demonstrated many times that when a dispute arises between people holding strong and conflicting opinions, he can successfully play the role of mediator, helping to craft a dialog that, while it may not bring the warring parties to agreement, at least can help move the process in a positive direction.

You, on the other hand, have crafted a reputation for being thin-skinned. You consistently employ a double standard of fairness, one that skews in favor of your own position. When others are critical of you, even when they do so in a fairly respectful manner, they are "trashing" you, "flaming" you, "ripping you a new asshole," and so on. Meanwhile, you use heavily loaded language in publicly criticizing people you disagree with, sometimes going well beyond the boundaries of what their actions appear to deserve, while defending your actions as "speaking your mind." "I'm human," you say. "It's normal for me to lash out when I feel hurt."

Lashing out can take place in both appropriate and inappropriate ways, however, and learning the difference between the two is an essential part of growing up. To me, your actions demonstrate an emotional immaturity that is very familiar. I have been an avid participant in online communities for more than 15 years, and in that time I've come to appreciate some of the interesting dynamics of the medium. Anyone who wishes to participate productively in online discussions, but especially anyone who wants to play a leadership role in them, must work hard to overcome the too-human influences of ego.

I can't claim any superiority in this area; my own history of online interactions clearly places me closer to your level than Mr. O'Reilly's. One way that manifests itself is the guilty pleasure I get from seeing you betray your less-mature side in the DG and on ScriptingNews. Like soap operas and reality TV, it's entertaining to watch people at their worst. But over the long haul, I'd like to overcome the side of my personality that takes pleasure in that, just as I'd like to see two good people like you and Tim O'Reilly working together, rather than fighting.

One of my favorite quotations in this area is from Larry Wall. At the 1998 Perl Conference (which was organized by Mr. O'Reilly, that being one of many reasons I feel grateful to him), I was privileged to sit just a few feet away while Mr. Wall delivered the following lines, echoing the wisdom of another great leader of the online community, Jon Postel:

People understand instinctively that the best way for computer programs to communicate with each other is for each of them to be strict in what they emit, and liberal in what they accept. The odd thing is that people themselves are not willing to be strict in how they speak and liberal in how they listen. You'd think that would also be obvious.

Tim O'Reilly has demonstrated many times that he understands that lesson. With your current campaign against him, you, Mr. Winer, are demonstrating that you have yet to learn it.