Sarah Parmenter

Do unto others…

It’s that time of year, when employers/clients are squeezing every last ounce of creativity from us, deadlines seem to get shorter and our days get longer. We’re probably not at our best to be conversing with others. Just yesterday, I snapped at my Dad who called and asked a very simple question about eBay just because I was dealing with some work stresses. I then spent the next 3 hours feeling terrible and texting him to apologise. We’re certainly not at our most patient.

Twitter has been rife with snarkiness and generally an underlying tone of unfriendliness recently, uncommon in our industry but sadly becoming more so. This has come at a time when I’m trying to encourage two very bright, young and wonderful individuals into our industry, both of whom follow closely what has been happening on Twitter, and I can’t help but wonder if Rachel Andrew is right in her most recent blog post – Be Kind to one another. Should I warn them that they need thick skins and sometimes need to be a little aggressive in order to succeed and be heard? As Rachel says, I sincerely hope not, however from my personal experiences over the years, I’ve most certainly had to toughen up.

Going backwards slightly, I remember our industry pre-twitter. When your only access to the community was through those who wrote for blogs, books or magazines. I vividly remember flicking through the pages of .net magazine in early 2003, and Googling those who had written tutorials, then bookmarking their sites and visiting regularly. As I got more experienced I didn’t always agree with some of the things I read, and the discussions that took place in the comments were actually helpful, and normally, an alternative method to that which the author originally posted – everyone would learn something. Of course, there have always been haters, people happy to sit behind a keyboard and remain anonymous and faceless, but I strongly believe social media has bought out a dark side of us, as a community, that needs to be buried, and fast.

The influx of the community onto Twitter was a wonderful thing, suddenly being able to converse, in real-time with someone over the other side of the world who wrote one of your favourite books, or who’s work you find inspiring, was a truly magical time. A group of “webbies” (myself included) were very early adopters of Twitter, naturally, and so as others from the community joined these users appeared to already have a large following, and became exponentially, more popular. It was like a catalyst. A lot of the snark on twitter seems to be directed at “popular” webbies who, through no fault of their own, in a way, found themselves at the spearhead of the community on Twitter.

If you spent time with any of these popular “web celebs” (FYI – I hate that term) – you’ll be surprised to find little to no ego’s at all, just a bunch of creative people who enjoy what they do and haven’t been afraid to tell people about it, but all of whom sadly have war stories about their negative experiences of the community, or a select group of people, on Twitter. Within a group, we all laugh and joke and brush them off, but behind closed doors, I know deep down, we’re not laughing. Even worse, the same names of individuals causing problems and bad feeling appear to crop up again and again.

Have we all become so used to sharing that we feel it’s perfectly acceptable to throw etiquette out of the window and direct nasty comments at one another? I’ve never seen this happen at a web conference, so why be a keyboard warrior and let it happen online? Maybe it’s easy to forget these are real people behind the avatars. I don’t know. Perhaps we’ve been spoilt with the speed at which we can now chime in on anything that we read, rather than taking a considered approach to what we say?

It slightly crosses with a theory I’ve had for a while that we’re going to reach an “over-sharing peak” – we’ll start to see value in pulling back the amount of people we share with, and resort to close-knit friendship groups. It’s a theory I’m trialing myself with the new app Path. Instead of sharing with every person that adds me, I’m keeping it exclusively for people I know, trust, and have a real-life friendship with. These people could tell me what I like, dislike, what upsets me, and know all the little nuances of my personality, so I don’t need to watch whether what I say could be misinterpreted. I’m quite enjoying it and have found real value to me, in keeping it that way. I sincerely hope as a community though, that we don’t feel the need to revoke sharing from a wider audience, simply because resistance against what we put out there, is getting less friendly.

I’d love for us as an industry to be more tolerant, to encourage others and get rid of that underlying tone, that has crept in recently, of one-upmanship. I don’t expect everyone to get on, or even share the same opinion, but before making a snarky comment, ask yourself what real value it’s adding to the community? Personally, snarky comments on twitter remind me of one of a saying…

“Rudeness is the weak person’s imitation of strength”.

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  1. Posted December 12, 2011 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    I’m trying that approach for Path too – saving it for life-long friends and people I spend a lot of time with (I think it’s how they originally intended it) but I always feel bad not accepting requests from people I know on twitter…

  2. Posted December 12, 2011 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Its been happening for a long time now; even pre-Twitter, too many thumbs in the pie since its a trade that wasn’t hit too hard by the crunches, its a trade thats easy and cheap to pick up meaning a high ROI, its inevitable really and I have to say I welcome the competition as it will wise-up our clientele and forces a new type of web designer/developer more focused on business transaction than personal interaction and favours.

    As Lord Chesterfield once said:

    “A man’s own good breeding is the best security against other people’s ill manners”

  3. Colin Burn-Murdoch
    Posted December 12, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I appear to have missed the recent snarks, but it’d be a big shame if it made you/others withdraw from current Twitter interaction. Remember Twitter has a Block option – use freely on those who you don’t want to waste time responding to or hearing from.

    @Stewart – Presumably Path has a public profile? (not used it myself) – if you make that clear in there, then nothing to feel guilty about.

  4. Richard
    Posted December 12, 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    “Should I warn them that they need thick skins and sometimes need to be a little aggressive in order to succeed and be heard?”

    Unfortunately this is a must for any industry nowadays if you want to get ahead and succeed. Its not an isolated situation, everyone I know who work in different industries report the same story, either toughen up and stand your ground or get left behind.

    as for snarky comments, its the sign of times i guess – Britain in general are becoming more intolerant to each other. this article on the guardian sums it up pretty well:

  5. Posted December 12, 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    It all boils down to envy, I think.

    If people direct bitterness at you, you’re clearly doing something right. Or, at least, doing something better than they can do it :)

  6. Posted December 12, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    It’s a tricky one to put a finger on. I think a lot of it is envy as Gary above points out. I think at times what isn’t helpful is the silence many get when asking a “big name” a question. Now obviously not every tweet can be answered all of the time but it reminds me of the song Stan by Eminem.

    I think also nowadays, everyone is quite opinionated. Seems everyone is writing a blog trying to get their thoughts down on paper. Everyone wants to be heard.

    As for ‘web celebs’…

    There are those that believe their own hype and those that don’t. I’m sure it’s the same in every industry. Just keep doing the good work and let the haters hate.

    • Matt Cranston
      Posted December 13, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      I agree Dan. Whilst the amount of participation and freedom the web has given us is great on the one hand, it has also seen the rise of ‘the expert’ where everyone under the sun feels qualified to have their say.

      Whilst I was studying for my degree in the late 90s the web was in its relative infancy and so this wasn’t so rife. Experts in their respective fields were more limited. Now, thanks to Twitter et al, we are exposed to so many gurus that it’s difficult to make out one from another. This isn’t just limited to the design field but in everything.

  7. Dan
    Posted December 12, 2011 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    If the web celebs stopped acting like a celeb and were more open and engaging with others, then you wouldn’t have some of the problems you encounter.

    Just a thought.

    • Sarah
      Posted December 12, 2011 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      Would be interested to know what your negative experience is Dan.

      • Dan
        Posted December 12, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        Edward has already highlighted the problem. Further more, if you sit back and watch you’ll notice a pattern that web celebs huddle in a closed group where they respond to each other like they’re best buddies…. and will do anything for each other because it’s good for their public image. Everyone outside of the ‘group’ is treated differently.

        • Sarah
          Posted December 12, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

          I can see it Dan, but it’s no different to any other friendship group, other than, it’s played out on Twitter. We all speak at similar events and spend quite a bit of time together over the year and so develop true friendships, outside of just our web personas.

          It’s natural for you to treat someone you don’t know that well, differently to someone you do.

          It’s not about not being in that circle, or not being well-known, and it’s also not about being ignored. I receive a ton of email every day from people asking questions, the answers to many can be found in the many interviews I’ve done and linked to on my website – sometimes it just boils down to the fact I don’t have time, or that the emails are constructed in quite a rude tone, not even saying please or thank you, almost like it’s a god-given right to demand answers.

          I will always get back to these emails at some point, even the rude ones, but they might not take priority in a day where I’m stacked with client work. I give back to the industry more than most but I’m still guilty of not having enough hours in the day to answer questions sometimes.

          • Dan
            Posted December 12, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

            You seem to be justifying it rather than recognizing the problem exists. I could point to examples i’ve experienced and name some names but really what’s point. It’s high school all over again.

            • Matt Cranston
              Posted December 13, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

              I can see your point Dan, but I think we are all struggling to be seen and heard in life. It’s getting your work seen by the right people that can be immensely difficult.

    • Posted December 12, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      I kind of agree with Dan. I’ve constructively commented on many articles and have tried to engage with certain ‘webcelebs’ on twitter, but because I’m not a well known developer myself, I get ignored. I’ve seen this mirrored by other developers who know what they’re doing but don’t have an established presence in the community. If we were well known I’m certain we’d get more thoughtful responses.

      I guess this might be what Dan’s referring to…

      • Posted December 12, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

        I can see both sides on this point…

        How can high profile webbies be expected to respond to hundreds of comments from fans/admirers/upcoming devs & designers on a daily basis and have a life or keep a career going. It’d take up your whole life.

        Also, if like me, you’re one of the upcoming devs/designers who wants to start some kind of interaction or get some sought after advice from the big guys so you yourself can grow and be one of ‘the big guys’ too, it’s a bit frustrating. I myself would love to be in the upper echelon of the web community, but I guess it takes years to get there. It doesn’t happen by magic just because you’ve commented on somebody’s blog post or mentioned them half a dozen times on Twitter. It take years of hard work and development to get there. Sadly I’m still at the bottom of the heap too :)

        • Posted December 12, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

          I would also say it also depends on your participation within the community and overall effort to research and share with everyone, I agree with Adrian in saying that “web-celebs” don’t just ignore you they just can’t physically answer everybody but I also agree with Sarah in saying its just like real life friendships, you have your circle someone else has theirs its pretty much turf wars but don’t feel blown off if you don’t get an answer, I’ve been trying to Tweet Ricky Gervais for months! No reply every time haha

  8. Posted December 12, 2011 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Well said Sarah, this applies to many industries. In the digital industry too I know a few who feel this way.

    One thing I would add, is that the people who gather a large following and become (somewhat of a mini celebrity all be it on Twitter) should remember who helped them to get there in the first place, and try stay humble.

    There is nothing worse than reaching out to someone well respected in your industry a couple of times, only to receive no reply or acknowledgement that you exist. I think that is one of the rudest things you can do and a sign of people’s egos getting the better of them.

    Lets hope good people like yourself don’t get forced off Twitter by stupid snarky comments.

    I think the best advice is to try not take anything too personal, although I know that is pretty hard at times.

  9. Posted December 12, 2011 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    I think Dave and Colin’s comments above highlight the “issue” here – and that is that there isn’t really one.

    People are snarky, rude, [your-choice-of-word] all the time, everywhere, online or offline. That is just how some people are. Sometimes people are shits online, but lovely offline. Sometimes it’s the other way round. Some people are mature enough to not need a fake persona online (and massive credit to those people).

    But it is happening everywhere, all the time.

    We all follow different groups of people, we all see different conversations and have different interactions. Sometimes we will see the snark. Some times we’ll miss it. Sometimes it will be high profile and be almost impossible to miss, like this weekend, and more people than usual will see it, and more and more opinions will be thrown about and things will be blown amazingly out of proportion.

    As for needing to be be thick skinned – Again, that seems to be highlighting a problem that isn’t really a problem. Some people won’t like the work you do. Some people really REALLY won’t like the work you do, and will have no problems being very outspoken about it. But so what? Why care? Unless you are in (what I hope is) the very very small group of people who are getting death threats just for speaking at conferences, then what does it matter what other people are thinking or saying about what you do?

    Ignore the haters, do what you love. Plenty more people will love what you do and will tell you than those that don’t.

  10. Posted December 12, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    From my personal experience its all to do with patience and maturity, having grown up in the industry over the last 11 plus years from a junior to a senior designer, i know i’ve been guilty of being short and dismissive with those less experienced. but over the last few years i feel i have really matured as a person and a designer and always make time to impart some wisdom to junior members of the team.

    We should all appreciate the learning curve to becoming a good designer and that we all started as juniors.

    Be that someone you wish u had there when you were learning the ropes and appreciate design without getting envious but inspiring you to hone your thinking and skills.

  11. Matt Cranston
    Posted December 12, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Ahoy Sarah

    I think the problem with Social Media is that it is easy for people to sit behind their screens and be downright nasty. I’ve been staggered by the amount of hostility that I see day-to-day on the likes of Facebook and Twitter in particular (cyber-bullying). However since the rise of the text message, email and through the evolution of social media, it has allowed the human race to avoid personal interaction.

    I lament the days when at art college, we critiqued each other’s work and there was a glowing mass of creative energy and discussion amongst peers. This was all constructive and encouraged you to improve and be a better designer/artist.

    What we must all remember though is that we are in a business and, by it’s nature, competition from others forces you to toughen up. I’ve been ripped off and treated disrespectfully by both clients and peers and as such this has led to me to become slightly more cynical of the industry, for better or worse.

    I’m not a big fan of the whole ‘celebrity’ culture in any industry or on TV that has become prevalent in the UK. I now associate it with graduates of the Big Brother school/Heat magazine where talent has been replaced by fake tan, exclusive revelations and deals with Iceland supermarkets.

  12. Posted December 12, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Sarah, thank you. I’m gonna comment on closing paragraphs of this post. Thank God someone mentioned “over- sharing” because this is exactly what I was thinking about recently. Wherever you turn there’s social media, share, connect, invite etc. and I’m personally getting pretty much tired by it all.

    When new Path app came out I didn’t want to use it, I don’t use it now, I just had to see what they did with UI since everyone was talking about it and that was all. I’m not even on Facebook, however weird that may sound. We can’t escape the buzz but we can at least have more time for us. I was thinking lately, that we need something personal, something that is complete opposite of current trends, but what could that be? Anyway, I figured it out and created an app that is nothing like you see or use everyday :) I made it for myself and I’m hoping people will recognize its value and use it as well (when I finish the dev work). I won’t be sharing links here but if you’re interested you can tweet me @markoprljic.

  13. Posted December 12, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    It seems that “social media” has opened up the bottom barrel of the web and has made it too easy for people to be negative over other people’s work (even if it’s just comments on an issue.) and far greater desire to be heard.

    But there’s a reason certain people are well known in any community – they do awesome stuff. Consistently.

    I guess that (certain) people feel like they cannot get into the industry because it is already saturated with the same names. I don’t think that’s actually being realised, but I understand that that’s _possible_.

    Re Path, see: The idea being if you share everything, the value is lost. We all seem to have overdone the sharing aspect – especially not on our own sites.

    Overall, though: It’s sad that this is a problem. The web is a great equaliser of the people. Only for people to go and ruin it.

  14. Posted December 12, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    I think you’re right Sarah, in that this is partially a result of the medium we use. I know I’ve inadvertently seemed overly crass, arrogant and blunt when getting into discussions on Twitter.

    In long-form, our previous discussion over the analogy of different audio mediums and their relation to code would have been much more eloquent and hopefully fruitful. Unfortunately, when trying to wrap this in a game of 140 character ping pong, the messages become overly distilled and all that’s left is an overwhelming tone of criticism. I certainly have a tendency to abstract the meaning from the language necessary to maintain tact, which I think takes away the human element of the communication.

    I think a secondary issue is the potential for “chained” Tweets to lose context, I noticed you sighted a tweet by James Young the other day, which out of context seemed unpleasant, but actually needed to be seen in context to be appreciated.

    In hindsight, I think we could all benefit from taking the time to weigh and measure what we want to communicate, and whether or not the best way to do so is via Twitter. I’m sure many of us would be surprised at how different our tweets sound, in comparison to what was intended, if we read them back a month or so after posting.

    • Sarah
      Posted December 12, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      I appreciate that taking things out of context can make them seem worse than they are, but when you have a locked down Twitter account, there’s no other context it can be taken in, other than what *can* be seen. Appreciate the response.

      • Posted December 12, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the response Sarah. To be honest, having a locked down Twitter account is, in theory, to avoid that sort of scenario. That’s my personal account, I use it to converse with friends only (that I generally grab lunch or a drink with), and as such the conversation is more of that nature than something that’s meant to be read by others.

        • Sarah
          Posted December 12, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

          Completely understand, and that’s why I’m doing the same with “Path” – but doesn’t help when such comments, as the one you were referring to above re: James Young, pop up in a search, as you say, out of context.

      • Posted December 12, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        I should also stress, James’ comments were not related to the quality of the artwork you produced, it was purely in relation to the growing idolatry towards a few members of the community, which I think is probably fuelling the ill sentiment.

        • Sarah
          Posted December 12, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

          I understand. If you take a read of the blog post below this one – you’ll see *that* which you speak of, wasn’t my idea.

          • Posted December 12, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

            Hence I never actually aimed anything at you personally Sarah, I simply linked to the t-shirt…

  15. Posted December 12, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if the snarkiness is a reflection of 2011. The problem certainly seems to have grown this year and it has certainly been a year of foment around the world. Perhaps as a result of all that has been going on, people are more critical and less tolerant. You can see the same thing happening in political debates on Twitter too.

  16. Posted December 12, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Sarah, I really enjoyed this article. This issue with celebrity is beyond just the web. Unfortunately it seems to be an attitude that may steadily invade every corner of society, no matter how noble and just each little community begins.

    It seems there will always be those people who attempt to elevate themselves out of jealousy of the natural elevation of others. These people will see this accidental popularity of the others as an insult and that everything they do or say is somehow tied to an agenda that only serves to solidify their place in the upper echelons of their chosen community. They will accuse them of being part of some sort of elitist group of über-snobs.

    I’m not saying that these natural “celebs” *cause* the rifts in their respective communities. However, I’m sure it’s fair to say that some who have found themselves in this enviable position would rather hold onto that transient status. They let it get to their heads.

    Of course, it really is down to our perception of others in comparison to ourselves. I’ve been guilty of having an overly-inflated view of others and sure some have a correspondingly lower impression of others.

    When I started freelancing, I was in awe of many designers and developers in this web community (and rightly so). Unchecked, this awe can lead to a sort of envy – one that goes way beyond imitating their good example. It gets to the point of resentment where you wish you didn’t know about them or follow them and you secretly wish others won’t like them either. If this gets strong enough, you may even voice your opinion in a barrage of contempt in some vain attempt to gain a bit of personal footing.

    This in turn could lead to a public retort and often a blow-by-blow urinating contest that can be witnessed by all. What happened to settling differences behind closed doors?

    It seems that now we *can* share so much information instantly and relatively inexpensively, some of us have lost a sense of dignity and are failing to engage our propriety – and it seems that some of the “celebs” are the worst at this.

    Maybe it’s because their relatively larger audiences are also more vocal, but they know that and they play on it. Of course, that’s great when it’s for a good cause, but when it’s for some personal vendetta it sucks – and I will think considerably less of them for it no matter how righteous they think they might be.

    Sadly, wannabe-celebs imitate this example as if it’s the right thing to do, as if that’s how these individuals got their “place”. I would say this couldn’t be further from the truth.

    Now, let’s all grow up and get back to work.

  17. Posted December 12, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    I think once you’re responding and expressing that you’re a “web celeb”, you’ve ultimately lost my respect. This industry is not about who is more “popular” than the other and it shouldn’t be. We *all* should help each other to grow not just in the industry but as individuals.

    • Sarah
      Posted December 12, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      I’m not saying I am. I’m saying that with 17,000 odd twitter followers, I have more of a voice than most, unfortunately.

      • Posted December 12, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

        Absolutely and I wasn’t trying to imply that whatsoever. In having that advantage, it is important to also voice it in a positive way (which you have).

        I think this article was much more than what the comments are sticking to. The verbal abuse between some in the industry is unfortunate. That sort of thing should be taken in private and not glamorized. That’s just my opinion of course.

        • Sarah
          Posted December 12, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

          Sorry Chris, hold my hands up – I completely misread your comment.
          You’re right, some things should be saved for a conversation 1 on 1 over a pint or the phone, it doesn’t help when it’s played out publicly for all to see.

  18. Posted December 12, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    I agree with what some peeps have mentioned above – that some people in this industry who regard themselves as ‘Gurus’ are starting to become a bit one sided. I know we are all busy but I have seen many people who I regard highly, being active on twitter and as soon as I ask them something that is on topic – nothing, yet they still carry on talking to their industry buddies!

    If you know them, you get a reply, if you don’t then….don’t!

    Being a tutorial writer myself I do get asked quite regularly for help with my tutorial. I will always reply….something like…..’Get lost!’ lol!

    • Matt Cranston
      Posted December 12, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      Totally agree Neil. I think that there is too much ego and pretentiousness in the art/design industry and it’s nothing new sadly…

      • Posted December 12, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

        There definitely appears so be a (very small) handful of industry peers that can appear a little aloof. I too have Tweeted questions on-topic to some that have never responded – understandable when they have 1000s of followers I suppose but it can be a bit off-putting. Sarah is not one of those, I’d like to make clear by the way.

        On the other hand, I’ve had good feedback and discussions with other respected peers with a huge number of followers – so I just know now who I can converse with and who not to bother contacting.

  19. Graeme
    Posted December 12, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    I think 90% of it is down to jelousy/lack of knowledge. It’s easy for people to critisize, especially when they don’t really have a clue.

    I also think there is a problem with egos. I follow many designers on Twitter where it seems their only aspirations are to become a ‘web celeb’. They spend their whole time bigging up their own designs, crying out for attention, and brown noseing the already established ‘web celebs’. In most cases I personally don’t think their designs are very good at all, which makes me understand a little why people are so snotty.

    I do agree with some of the points other readers have made about circles/cliques. Reminds me of being back at school where the cool kids hung around with their own whilst they had a circle of try-hards desperately trying to be part of their crew.

    I guess at the end of the day design is subjective and is always going to cause debate.

  20. Posted December 12, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Front note: I haven’t read any of the comments yet, so I have no idea what has been said thus far. In fact, I only really skimmed through the article before forming my opinion.

    And there lies the problem, not the problem with the web industry, or twitter, or social networks. But the problem with the internet.

    Content drives the internet, there is so much of it about that we have to neglect the details and only look at the front cover of many of the things we click.

    And that’s where arguments start, where bickering begins. Things are taken out of context, because I guarantee that 100% of all the people who read this blog haven’t read all your articles, or all your tweets, or seen all your presentations. Our appetite for constant content is too strong for us to be able to understand the full story before passing judgement.

    It has nothing what so ever to do with web celebs being targets, or with them having ‘egos’. Its entirely 100% to do with us only ever having a fragmented picture, and never understanding the situation fully enough to pass a judgement that is both fair and non offensive.


  21. Posted December 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Sarah, I’d be intrigued to know how you got to a position where you have so many followers and readers of your blog. There is no doubting that you are a talented designer but equally there are tonnes of other talented designers and front end developers out there who are trying without reward to establish an online presence read by even a few peers.

    I think sharing that kind of knowledge and experience could prove to be an inspiration to people such as myself who would like to make the jump up to being able to write articles on the web that prompt discussion among our peers, but find it difficult due to the perceived closed circle of established bloggers that seems to exist already :)

    • Posted December 12, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      I just noticed that that came across as me thinking you’re undeserving of it; not at all, I’d just like to know if there was anything you did ‘at the beginning’ that you think contributed to your evident success in this industry :)

    • Sarah
      Posted December 12, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      Edward, you’re right, there are a ton of fantastic designers out there. My key, was I started my business at 19, I wasn’t afraid to make mistakes, I wasn’t afraid to engage, and I wasn’t afraid to blog about the mistakes I did make, so that others could learn from it, and not have to go through what I did. I’ve understood the sense of community before Twitter was even invented, I would give back, and thank those who helped me on many messageboards/chatrooms whenever I got stuck with a HTML problem.

      I also like to think I’m quite friendly, open and honest. Just being a great designer, isn’t enough in a world of great designers, you’re also going to need to inject or contribute something else, and all I’ve simply done over the years, is blogged about mistakes and successes, and built up a following of people who appreciate it.

      • Posted December 12, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

        So it really is a case of ‘keep writing and the readers will come’?

        I started web development in a professional capacity at 16, currently 22 and I’ve made a few mistakes along the way, ones that are still coming back to haunt me now!

        Probably enough mistakes to fill up a years worth of blog posts… maybe I should start giving regular writing a go again and see if the readers do come.

        Thanks :)

        • Sarah
          Posted December 12, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

          I had the added bonus of registering a short domain name in 1998 – which probably helps with credibility all those years ago, but in short, yes – write, write lots, write honestly and inject your personality, and start putting it out there. It’s quite therapeutic and I’m sure the community will appreciate it.

          • Posted December 12, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

            You are without doubt one of the better ones in the industry Sarah – ‘not just a pretty face’ ;)

            I am sure most of your success is not only down to being good at what you do but having the balls to stand in front of hundreds of people and tell them!

            You deserve your success!

  22. Jamie Brown
    Posted December 12, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Sarah, really good article.

    I can see that this ‘web celeb’/ jealousy issue seems to be the main cause, but I don’t get why and more importantly how it leads to such hostility.

    I for one am by no way a web celeb I’m not even on the radar, I’ve posted tweets and sent emails to well known designers only to be ignored but it doesn’t bother me. I’m more to blame for it than anything as why would I expect a dialog with a group of well known designers when I only make the effort to respond to the odd tweet here and there and don’t fully engage on a consistent basis.

    I thank ‘web celebs’ for their constant input into the web community with their daily social presence, brilliant speaking events and thought provoking blogs.

    Keep up the great work and apologies for the overuse of the term ‘web celeb’ :)

  23. Steve D
    Posted December 12, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    I have had similar thoughts to Dan above. I came into the web side of design having been a print designer years ago. I found little to no ego with print people in person and I could easily reach people I wanted to talk to in the industry. When I moved over to web, I heard many glowing reports of networking, like mindedness and conversations online that I thought I would really get a lot out of.

    Reading around it seems part of the issue and the level of discontent has come from a perceived lack of communication from those most visible on Twitter and at conferences etc, the “web celebs ” that we all know. I too have noticed and experienced something of a cold shoulder from some in this category. I think this is a small part of the reason others feel the need to voice discontent.

    I have written emails to people on subjects I felt able to help add thoughts to, all going unanswered which could to someone with no experience or education be quite disheartening. I just carried on regardless however. If I delve back into print for example again, I almost always get replies form people I try to contact. Maybe slow replys, but they happen.

    I think if you talk about an open, engaging industry then I think it’s not an unfair comment to say that some folks at the top could possibly do a bit more to encourage this.
    I do understand that there are only so many hours in the day, these folks aren’t spokespeople for the web but if they advocate the openness, they should be participating more from what I have seen.

    The overall issue of flaming, and comments that are taken out of context is all part of the medium. If you put content online in the “everyone’s an expert” world we appear to have created, this is going to happen at some stage. A strong debate is healthy for any industry but I don’t think being nice for the sake of being nice is altogether the right response. New blood need encouragement more than anything else, followed by reasoned and fair critique. I’m not sure they’re best getting that advice from twitter.

    If some of the industry’s leading lights can be there to lend their voice a little more, then I think we’ll see a healthier online discussion.

  24. Posted December 12, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    To be honest some of it is brought on by certain individuals who by their own admission believe themselves to be worthy of an elevated position.

    So I believe it be swings and roundabouts. Sure there is envious bitter people, and there are egotistic people who fan flames.

    Saying that the web has always been a haven for keyboard warriors – it’s not just in the creative industry. You can’t view a YouTube clip without reading comments set out to cause trouble.

    It’s more a human behaviour issue then an issue just in the creative industry.

  25. Posted December 12, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Interesting post, I’ve been a web dev since ’98 but have only recently started getting involved in the more social side of the industry, meaning meetups & conferences. I’ve found everyone to be incredibly welcoming and keen to share their experiences and skills. That said, because I’ve been kicking around in the web world for a long time I have picked up a few friends from various jobs and freelance projects which make the introductions easier. If I were a complete outsider I think I may feel very differently.

    I also think these real life interactions are very different to online communication. As a programmer I felt a massive relief when I moved away from the hostility of the PHP community and started work in the friendly world of Ruby. As programmers we are traditionally renowned for our superior attitude and reluctance to help newbies and that’s very much what I felt PHP had become. The PHP community started off the way RoR is now, supportive and friendly, but a decade on people were jaded and defensive. I hope we don’t see the same thing happen with RoR but I suspect there is a temporal aspect to the situation the newer / fresher faced the community is the more receptive they are to newbies and the more established and comfortable the community becomes the less inclined they are to be receptive to fresh blood.

  26. Posted December 12, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Sarah ;)
    thanks for writing this post.

    I always find it very sad when people I follow end up in a slinging match of insults, there is never any need for this. I love the exchange of opinions, the feedback aspect and the discussion, even it gets a little heated. As long as it’s polite and done with the same good manners you would show a person face to face.

    As for the web celebs (hate that term, too) – from my own experience of meeting various famous web peeps over the years, at conferences, workshops or just via Twitter, I have only ever had great experiences. I don’t understand the jealousy aspect or the envy – I found them all incredibly humble and lovely.
    To give you an example, in my early days of coding as well as teaching, years ago by now – I was quite nervous to meet my gurus/mentors. Having learnt all I knew at the time from Eric Meyer and his site/books – I attended a workshop with him, nervous whether I’d be able to keep up, whether my questions would be appropriate or answered at all. And it turned out to be such a great experience – and Eric was a gem! This was my first workshop, my first meeting with such an expert and I loved every minute of it – and couldn’t quite believe how truly wonderful Eric was during and after the sessions.

    By now I’ve done more workshops, attended conferences and met lots more people I admire – the same is true for all of them, online and offline. So I would still argue we have a lovely open and sharing community, one we need to cherish.

  27. Paul Mist
    Posted December 12, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    I once, somehow, watched an interview with Robbie Williams. He said the most important thing he did in his career is treat people how you would expect to be treated. I’m not a fan of his songs, but I’ve never forgotten that.

    In my relatively short time on Twitter I’ve been fortunate enough to have had conversations, responses and mentions from people like Sarah, Andy Clarke, Jeffery Zeldman, Jeremy Keith, Andy Budd, Eliot Jay Stocks, Denis Jacobs, Molly Holzschlag and probably more. I’ve even met a few and spoken in person. These people were kind enough to give me the time of day not because I could offer them something, but because they could share something with me – hell, most responded even when they couldn’t answer my questions. Did I expect them to respond? Not really, they’re people with lives after all and they don’t know me. But converse they did.

    I’m willing to bet if we asked them if they expected to be zipping around conferences based on their work or some opinions they expressed they’d say ‘no’. But they do, and it’s good for all of us. God forbid they make some friends along the way.

    I love to give back to our industry. It’s like a drug. I lecture, I respond to random people via InboxQ. I comment on stuff I like. I’m even having a crack at writing some magazine articles. If I get the privilege to talk to a big audience one day I’ll be tickled pink. Until then, I’ll carry on as usual with my only expectation being that the people I might help, might help someone else – no matter who they are.

  28. Posted December 12, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    Twitter’s opened up the web-i-verse to people who are comfortable people mostly anonymous and having the feeling of power to be able to say whatever they want without having to face the consequences they’d face if they said the same thing face-to-face with the person they’re talking to.

    Netiquette’s one of the most important things these days, especially with everything being very public.

    Things said on the Internet can always be tracked back to the source. Whatever’s been said will go back to who said it and it will bite them in the backside. Whether it’s fellow people in the industry or clients.

  29. Posted December 12, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    I find the many points made here, both in the article and in the comments thus far, to be valid in their own respect.

    However, to say one is a “web celeb” is very odd to me. There is such a vast array of industries, niches, and realms to be explored on the web. To conclude that one is a celebrity of the web just doesn’t seem fair. To me, Sarah Parmenter is as much a “web celeb” as Ben Croshaw, a satirical video game analyst. I’m guessing many have no clue who Ben Croshaw is, however I abide by the knowledge he provides, just as much as I follow that which is provided by a Zeldman, a Parmenter, or a Sagmeister for that matter. The advice, outlook, and actual work provided on the web by these many names are as important and influential as you make them out to be.

    To those who find more envy than inspiration in these names and others, I only hope you find your own voice. I am unaware of what exactly sparked the recent conversations pertaining to ignorance and hostility in the online creative community, but I strongly feel that if we as creative folk continue to retain self confidence, and the ability to recognize, praise, and critique work and opinion in a responsible way, we will continue to grow. Regardless of these inevitable circumstances.

  30. Posted December 12, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    I specifically love the title that you used, because this whole fiasco is a reminder that we need to focus on treating others as we would want to be treated.

    I think that the lack of physically seing a person tends to let people be more vicious. I couldn’t imagine a scenario where a group of people would be standing in a bar and one person would stand on a chair, point to someone and say “So and So’s article was complete crap”. Even if the article they were referencing was questionable, people would back away from that person. You would be able to see the hurt inflicted on the person who wrote the article and the viciousness in the person standing on the chair. Yet, on a social network it might get re-shared or liked or plussed.

    In an unregulated industry, there is an absolute need for correcting information that could mislead others. There is a need for constructive criticism by the people that also do related work. However, in the human world there is a need for empathy and compassion, even when we’re only looking at a screen.

  31. Posted December 12, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the blog post, Sarah. It kind of touches a few of the questions that have been swirling around my head the past couple months, none of which I’ve answered in any way. I’d be interested in your, and everyone else’s, thoughts.

    First, what’s the role of entitlement? How much of an opinion are we entitled to for things we don’t understand the full context? How much of a strangers’ time are we entitled to, even if they are predominant in the field? And, how much are those who are influential entitled to contribute to discourse and the community? What should be expected of a website you don’t pay for, or a blog that is free?

    There are no absolutes here, but I think a lot of these sorts of issues come from having different ideas of what we’re all entitled to do or get in these social situations, and it’s hard to tell someone they’re actually entitled to less than they believe they are, because it looks like you’re diminishing them as people.

    Regardless, the thing that I can’t stand is knee-jerk complaints on social media. It always stinks of whining out of narcissism, rather than critiquing to improve things. It’s incredibly hard to be nuanced and explain ourselves in 140 characters, so we jump at one another’s throats. It’s shallow conversation surface-tension.

    • Posted December 13, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      The cult of celebrity in the internet age is a disease. The entitlement you mention is a symptom.

      It’s a shame that so many young designers/devs see “success” as having lots of twitter followers/speaking gigs/appearing in .net magazine etc. For some, it must feel as though they’re on the outside, looking through the window into a great party where everybody is super-talented and lauded by their peers.

      Of course, we know there are several thousand happily jobbing web folk with none of these things who do great work for their loyal clients, get bags of job satisfaction and can pay their bills each month.

      Maybe more could be done to stress the fact that our success should be defined by us as individuals, not what we are told it is by the media?

    • Posted December 13, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      Well put, Frank.

    • Posted December 14, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

      Entitlement works both ways.
      There are some big names in the design community who got their exposure and consequent acquaintances and benefits by blogging about design instead of doing design, i.e. they’re not respected and famous because of the quality of their work. Others gained popularity and respect by posting other people’s work and their portfolio is nowhere to be found.
      How much are these people entitled to the success they enjoy?

      Pair that with the (understandable) lack of communication and responsiveness towards unknown designers and you got yourself a bunch of frustrated and possibly angered people venting their rage through the cover of social media.

      Ironically the people who complain are in most cases the same who created the web celeb phenomenon.

      Meanwhile the general quality of design and illustration is plummeting thanks to tutorials, social networks and big community names creating fads and copycats and promoting shortcuts like tracing photographs as legitimate illustration techniques.

      Perhaps less community and more skills is what we need.

  32. Posted December 13, 2011 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Excellent post Sarah, made for great reading and I agree with what you’re saying. It’s a Community, not always a competition.

    While we as creative professionals are collectively within a pool or, demographic for a better word, of what our potential buyers and customers are looking to hire, there seems to be a passing sense of encouragement among neighbours…what are we, within a community, if not neighbours.

    I regularly say, there’s nothing wrong with being the little guy in your industry, as David toppled Goliath. The race for power and to be at the top of your competition isn’t always as productive as people might think.

    Thanks for the great post again, loved reading it :)

  33. Posted December 13, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Now can we all get back to work and start worrying about code and pixels, these apps and sites wont build themselves people…

  34. Posted December 14, 2011 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    Web celebs – sounds wicked, who are they?

    if you want a reply tweet me and I will sort you out @steviemckeown

    Sorted. :)


  35. Russ
    Posted December 14, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Hi, really good article and some brilliant thoughts in the replies so far.

    Also just a thought, but on twitter (as with text messages) limited characters often leads to messages that do not quite come over as they are intended, although that doesn’t sound like the main issue mentioned here, it’s definitely one to note.

    I have been guilty of this on many occasions where I have unintentionally put someones back up by not being as polite as I would if I were on a call or face to face due to lack of characters allowed.

    As I say not the main issue here, but one to bare in mind :)


    • Sarah
      Posted December 14, 2011 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      I completely agree Russ, the 140 character limit certainly doesn’t help matters.

  36. Matt Cranston
    Posted December 14, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    I think the core issue that is becoming overshadowed here is all of us doing our JOB and creating great work for our CLIENTS.

    I’m sitting at my desk today designing some layouts to pay my bills and afford a ‘better life’ and as professionals that’s what we do. When it comes to the industry there will always be work that you love and admire and that which you don’t, in as much as we love/loathe art, film, architecture, food and so on.

    As I have got older and more experienced I’ve seen a fair amount of ego in the art and design industry (hell, I’ve even been guilty of being like this when I was a student), but when all is said and done we all just need to get on with what we do best – creating great design and developers oiling the engines that make the websites thrum that we visit daily.

    Whilst the advent of social media has seen the rise of the critic and the expert (I use this term loosely) it has also seen the rise of hostility amongst many, not just within the design community. The celebrity culture that the Western world has seemingly embraced with open arms is in my opinion a disease. It’s all too easy for Big Brother contestants with no apparent skill or talent to suddenly become wealthy and famous – and the general public see these people as heroes/heroines/role models. Celebrity is a dirty word that fills the pages of Heat, Hello! and OK magazine.

    I have a friend, who despite years of working the best part of a decade as a media lecturer, knows virtually all of the major design and multimedia programs and is also a superb illustrator, cannot get a design job. His frustration is understandable and summed it up by saying that if you get a tan and spend all of your time in the gym, you are more likely to do well in life. I wholly sympathise with his situation as he is a lovely chap and his life IS art and design.

    Before this explosion of the cheap celebrity and fame we just saw people as talented designers/artists/actors and so on. During my degree course, I had the benefit of working with some brilliant minds who just got on with their work, and as a result some of whom have senior positions in global agencies and run their own companies. We didn’t have Twitter or Facebook, we just discussed ideas face-to-face and provided constructive criticism. Creative energy was in abundance as a result. There may have been a few rumblings of discontent behind closed doors, but on the whole the level of conversations rose above the ferocious assaults witnessed on some of our (anti-)social networks with people playing Battleships with their 140 character limit.

    Now whilst I accept that in the big wide world, replicating an art college year group is pretty difficult in person, it should be encouraged. Last night I met with a number of designers and developers from Essex, which was a healthy thing. Instead of sitting behind avatars, blogs and websites, we actually conversed face-to-face. It is my hope that I may get some feedback from my peers on the work that I produce.

    But the most significant thing to remember every time you design is that as a designer/developer, your number one goal is to fulfill the brief that you were provided in the best way that you can and that to a large extent, the most important person to please in all of this is the client. Forget trying to be a ‘celebrity’ or becoming famous as it carries far less gravitas that it used to. Do the jobs you love or are talented at, cut the attitude and drop the ego: it’s the end result that matters.

    After all “You are re only as good as your last project”

  37. Posted December 14, 2011 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    Well put Sarah! I think the negativity that has been proliferating twitter in the web community needed to be addressed and I am glad that it sparked some natural discussion as noted by the replies above.

    As somewhat of a ‘newbie’ in the web dev community I follow a lot of industry people on twitter and I do so to be in touch with industry news and to hopefully be involved in intelligent conversation so it saddens me when I hear snakiness from one corner. While I can believe that some people may have a sense of entitlement or that there are some well known designers/devs who don’t respond to us who look up to them, I can’t forgive those comments when they call out others who are engaged in this community with an attitude of sharing and teaching as you are. I think in those cases it is uncalled for and seems to me a low blow to one person who they may have thought wouldn’t call them out on it. So kudos to you for calling them out on it! It needed to be addressed and brought in the open, in my opinion.

    On another note, I sincerely hope that these experiences doesn’t discourage you from sharing on twitter and in the community because there are followers (myself included) who respect and appreciate what you say and what you contribute. I also appreciate more and more women in the industry as it opens it up for girls who will come after us. That is also why I don’t appreciate when snarky comments are directed to the a female in the crowd!

    I hope that the negativity can be erased by the atmosphere of sharing and learning that started the web community. If we are all jaded by it and leave it to those who disrespect others then it will not get better. But it does take a lot to be heard and I hope there are more and more of us who will stand up to encourage a community of respect, collaboration and constructive criticism.

  38. Tom Howells
    Posted December 14, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    I was in two minds about whether to leave a comment, to add to the noise, but I wanted to say thank you to Sarah and all the other talented people out there who share their knowledge and experience, often asking for nothing in return. It’s really appreciated at a time where we’re all trying to keep up with the world around us and where people have come to expect almost instant responses. I’m still astounded by the amount of useful information this industry churns out on a daily basis!

  39. Posted December 16, 2011 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    I haven’t really noticed the snarkiness in the industry lately but then again I’m not high profile so it’s probably not directed at me.

    I think it’s brilliant that web devs can share their experience with others. I already follow yourself, Molly, Zeldman, Andy Clarke to name but a few as I have found previous shared works/publications highly helpful. It also keeps me up to date with the industry.

    I have often tried tweeting to these people and had no response back. I understand that as the leading experts you have a lot of followers and so the chance you’ll respond is pretty low, and I’m okay with that. However I think a lot of people may expect response and that’s why they become a bit snarky.

    In general though, you and all the other web devs do a great job. Don’t let a few naysayers change the industry. The World Web Web is a medium for sharing that’s how it was always meant to be, and how it needs to stay.

  40. Posted December 17, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    I agree a lot. I haven’t really experienced anything too bad happen to myself, but I guess that would be because I’m not considered anything really special in the industry. I’m new to all of this really, but this post is really sad, and at the same time, true. Instead of writing a giant paragraph and boring you, simply put, I have no respect for people who have the guts (which can’t even be considered guts) to throw out insults at people who are only trying to provide for the industry and keep a more “community” feeling. It’s the people that are this way that are ruining it for everyone else, because I think that there are a lot of people out there who are really kind and such, but, as usual, the negative ones are always ruining all of it. Thanks so much for this post. :)

  41. Posted December 17, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    Also, wanted to mention that I really want to thank everyone in the design community who’s brought out so much knowledge, so many resources to us. You’re all really amazing people, and I really hope to meet at least one of you one day. You’re like the Greek Gods to me.

    … Now I’m done.

  42. Posted December 22, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    I’ve actually been using Facebook for that – I’ve got a public page for my company and a very private profile with only friends, family and a few really close colleagues allowed access. There I can curse and scream and complain without worrying about someone in the industry watching me.

    It’s pretty sad how evil some people are, I know it abounds in every industry, but I’m still surprised when I see it in ours, especially because we’re all so close and friendly. I still get “hate” emails from time to time. What do these people hope to accomplish? Do they just need to get something off their chest? Or are they hoping they’ll hurt me enough so I’ll quit? If so, they’re sadly mistaken.

    It’s even worse though when someone does it publicly. There’s a way to disagree (and I often disagree and even dislike some of the more prominent people in our industry) professionally and without malice. Unfortunately, it must be a skill not everyone has learned.

  43. Posted December 28, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Great article Sarah. I agree with what a number of people are saying, about it being difficult to be acknowledged by the “Web Celebs”, but that isn’t everything. in my opinion I think it would be better worth people’s time to create things that might get you acknowledged through hard work. I think that people who are stirring up the bad feelings within the industry should be ignored, unfollow them, or block them. Whatever it takes to stop the bad feelings!

    I also still bookmark websites, and Google people from .net!

    I have tried Path, but I haven’t really found a use for it just yet, my real life friends haven’t joined yet, so I only have two friends on it!

    Once again, great article. And I really hope the web becomes a friendly place again!

    • Matt Cranston
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      The problem in my opinion is that there is a pecking order in every industry Jordan and a sense of aloof behaviour/rudeness/arrogance.

      However, a respected design peer of mine and company owner gave me some great advice: “Some of the most popular designers are not necessarily the best, they are just good at their own PR”. This follows suit in many industries. Some of the ‘best’ in their fields are, in my opinion, the ones who spend time grafting and not pursuing fame. Plenty of exposure ensures popularity, it does not mean you are the best at what you do.

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