Fans, Trolls, Users, and the World Wide Web

Many of the members of this wonderful website came from other, larger, more established sites, having “migrated” here to escape some pretty unpleasant circumstances and enjoy what they think a BlackBerry “fan” site should provide. The founders at UTB are no different, and many of them had previously invested significant time and energy into a site or sites that they eventually determined were more detrimental to BB’s success than supportive, and that had become stricken with a culture of cancerous negativity that included mass “trolling” and copious amounts of brain damage. The UTB founders have determined that this site is for BlackBerry “fans” only and that “trolling” will not be permitted, but they will of course allow, “constructive criticism.”

pooh

Being a man “of very little brain,” I often ask questions about obvious things, out of curiosity, and a desire to define and understand whatever I’m involved with. So this post will be an attempt to elucidate a few terms in the hope of arriving at a generally accepted definition so the UTB management might use this as a way of moderating the forums and blogs objectively and consistently over time, and so the members know what to expect. This post will attempt to define, compare, and contrast the terms: “Fan,” “Troll,” “User,” “Derision,” and “Constructive Criticism.”

In a previous post, how-many-clicks-should-a-fan-site-have, we explored the financial aspects of technology websites and human evolution and behavior, and in another, so-you-think-you-have-a-technology-blog, we discussed how a technology blog site is substantively a social network. This post is an attempt to build on those other two posts.

sailing

It seems a pursuit of short-term profit has caused the sites the UTB founders and many members have left, to lose “site” (Ha ha, “site” not “sight.” I am so funny!) of their original purpose. Thus, many loyal BlackBerry fans who want the company/brand to succeed have been forced out or volunteered out and migrated to this site much like in the 1700’s the people of England risked the trip across the ocean to start fresh in the “new world” of America. Those people were searching for a variety of freedoms, but freedom of religion was a big one. This is analogous to the UTB founders and members wanting to create a new home where they could all enjoy the freedom to express their fondness for a brand/platform they have come to enjoy and rely on. Most poignantly, they wanted to be able to do this free from dealing with the negativity that has come to characterize the forums of the sites they left behind.

Many of us have used the words “troll,” “fan,” and “user” before, but do we all really agree on exactly what they mean? And what standard should be applied by the UTB moderators? Is it possible that like the expression “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,” a “troll” to one person is a “user” or “fan” to another? I will attempt to provide an objective definition of these terms so there is much less room for ambiguity, allowing for a more consistently applied standard that all the members will be able to understand. Of course all of this is subject to acceptance by the UTB higher ups and could be further refined by the comments by UTB members, which are typically excellent!

BTW, thank you sincerely for your comments on the previous two posts, they were insightful and supportive, and greatly appreciated. One last comment before we dig in: my sincere apologies in advance for how long this post is; it got way out of hand. In my defense, it’s a lot of ground to cover and is a fairly important topic as we must remember, UTB’s strategic advantage is in how the forums and blogs are moderated and in the content of the articles; this is what we have that they don’t have. This could all be summed up by the word “tone.” UTB’s differentiating factor is the “tone” of the website. It offers a tone that is far more pleasant to actual BB fans.

warm

Ok, let’s dig in! Before we begin defining the terms, let’s take a peek around at some contextual information we all probably realize, but that helps provide an appropriate frame of reference.

#1- BlackBerry has been digging itself out of a hole in an environment that is very hostile. It seems based on what we’re getting out of the Z3 launch in Indonesia, and based on previous sales numbers of legacy devices, that BlackBerry is still “relevant” in the developing world. And while I cannot comment on Europe or other developed nations in Asia, I can say that in the U.S., there is a distinct hostility directed towards BlackBerry, in fact, it seems to be “en vogue” to speak derisively about them. I see this in my own experiences in business whenever I pull my BlackBerry out in a meeting or whenever I encounter someone who uses Android or IOS in my personal life. I see it on various technology web portals that purport to be “platform agnostic” and I even see it on websites that claim to exist for BlackBerry users and fans. I don’t know that I’ve ever encountered a situation where a benign brand like BB had to suffer such negativity and hostility.

office fight

While an IBM employee in the mid 90’s, I concluded that the epic battle between IBM and Microsoft was actually a “cultural war” where the established institution was being vilified and the underdog was celebrated. It clearly had to do with users wanting more control over their experience and technology making this possible through the proliferation of the personal computer, but it became obvious to me it was more than this when IBM had available a technologically superior OS but users nor developers would consider it. There was almost a deliberate disfavor for IBM, albeit not as strong as what seems to exist today for BlackBerry. There are probably many books written on this time period in the information technology industry, but one good one is “The Power PC Revolution,” by Duntemann and Pronk; the point is that IBM had become “out of favor.” You may recall that by 1991(ish), IBM’s stock price dropped so far that it would have been possible to buy up all the shares and sell the assets and make a profit, but no one had enough cash to do this as IBM’s market cap was so huge. I see similarities between what BB is going through today and what IBM was going through in the mid 90’s. The good news is IBM dug itself out and so will BlackBerry!

#2- BlackBerry provides a legitimate option for consumers, which benefits all consumers of mobile technology regardless of whether they use BB products or not. BB has specific strengths that benefit enterprises and individuals: security/privacy, efficiency/productivity, multi-tasking, robust instant messaging with BBM, and secure and robust mobile solutions for the enterprise beginning with BES among others. Any consumer of mobile technology benefits from a healthy/thriving BlackBerry even if they are not a BB user because in markets, competition makes for stronger products and services for the end consumer. Competition keeps all the industry players on their toes, so a healthy BlackBerry keeps Android, Apple, and Windows working harder to be the best at providing solutions to the mobile consumer.

underdog

I see BB struggling with the leftovers of a cultural war (similar to what IBM fought in the late 80’s through the mid 90’s), where BB was the large, established institution and Apple and Android were the little guys. Obviously that has changed, which is why I say “leftovers” of a cultural war. There are so many voices speaking derisively about BB today, it seems any outlet or portal that claims to exist for BlackBerry users and fans would realize it’s in their best interest to make a distinct effort to support the brand/company. But this brings us to the meat and potatoes of this post: What does it mean to be a “fan” site? What’s the difference between a “fan” and a “user?” What is a “troll” and what is “trolling?” What is “constructive criticism” and how does this differ from “derisive” comments? This post will explore these issues considering the context above, which is that BB is digging out of a hole in a hostile environment and that all mobile technology consumers benefit from BB’s success.

Sports-Fan

Ok, now to our definitions!
What is a “user” and how does that differ from a “fan?” It seems the obvious answer is that a user is one who uses the technology in question. However, it’s significant to add that there are those that are users of multiple platforms and may use different types of mobile technology. Someone may have an Android phone and an Apple tablet, someone else may have a BlackBerry phone connected to a carrier and an Android phone they use only for Wi-Fi connected functionality. For purposes of this discussion, let’s say a user is anyone who uses a specific mobile phone brand as their ‘primary’ device connected to a carrier network. So in the case of the person above with a BB and an Android, they would only be a user of BlackBerry. Part of the reason for this is that a user as I have defined it has more “skin in the pot” than others and therefore, their opinions and questions carry more weight. This is like a ham and eggs breakfast; the chicken is “involved,” but the pig is committed. My user definition includes only the committed, and not the involved.

How should we define a “fan?” This also is pretty straightforwardly defined as anyone with an emotional investment in a brand. This is because whatever you may call a fan, it is ultimately someone who ‘likes’ the brand in question and ‘wants them to succeed.’ Having an emotional connection, or attachment or investment in a brand is at the core of what a “fan” is. Another significant factor is that a fan doesn’t have to be a user and a user doesn’t have to be a fan. Being a fan is not determined by how much money you spend on a platform. It also has nothing to do with what you think of a brand’s strengths and weaknesses or advantages and disadvantages. Being a fan means you like the brand and want it to succeed. Clearly, fans tend to demonstrate their fandom with their purchase and use of a brand, but they also tend to do so with their voice. Fans don’t tend to speak derisively about a brand, in fact, they usually only speak negatively in the spirit of constructive criticism.

criticism

This brings us to our next term; what is “constructive criticism” relative to this discussion? This would have to be defined as providing feedback with the intention of helping a brand do something better. Speaking derisively about a brand is speaking negatively about them; ridiculing them; putting them down. Constructive criticism may have some negative content, but the intent is different and the spirit of the comment is thus different. It’s fairly obvious when someone is offering constructive criticism vs. when they are speaking derisively. It’s a nuanced difference, but probably akin to the analogy of jazz music; it’s not easy to define what it is, but you know it when you hear it. Generally, “fans” are not bothered by “constructive criticism,” and generally they are bothered by derisive commentary. Why would this be true? Because, when you are a fan of a brand, whether it’s a sports team brand or a mobile technology company brand, and you thus have some emotional investment in that brand, you also identify somewhat with that brand. The wins and losses, and successes and failures affect you. When someone puts down your brand, you get hurt unless you react aggressively and “fight back.”

Internet-Troll

This brings us to the definition of a “troll.” This definition is a little nuanced because some may think a troll to one group of people may be a hero to another, but this is untrue; I believe we can arrive at an objective definition. A “troll” is ultimately defined by the intent or spirit of the behavior just as this is what differentiates constructive criticism from derisive comments. So ultimately a “troll” is quite simply someone who intentionally creates conflict on social media. However, being unable to discern a person’s ‘intent,’ particularly when you cannot evaluate non-verbal cues, due to only being able to read text, the following definition will have to suffice. A troll for the purposes of this discussion is someone who creates conflict on a social media platform through the use of derisive or inflammatory comments, OR, someone who creates conflict through consistently advocating a position contrary to the one that has been established in the thread.

Recently, I’ve been using Igrann and Instagram as a social outlet. I find it enjoyable to surf around Instagram and comment and ‘like’ pictures, etc. If I see a picture that bothers me, I will sometimes have the impulse to comment negatively (argue) about it, but will first attempt to ask a question to make sure I don’t come off as a “troll.” Notice by the definition of “troll” above, that in this case since I was not ‘looking’ to engage in conflict, and provided I did not consistently advocate for my contrary position, I would not be trolling. In a recent Instagram instance, there was a guy commenting about the Sea World controversy surrounding the captivity of whales at their facility. This thread was clearly started by someone who was opposed to whales in captivity in man-made tanks. The guy who commented in favor of whales in captivity could only be considered a “troll” if a few conditions were met: A) he created conflict by either B) making derogatory or inflammatory comments, OR, C) by consistently advocating a contrary position. When I say, “consistently advocating a contrary position,” I mean, commenting on several instances, and not letting the subject go.

Internet-Troll2

As you can probably see, this is quite nuanced and possibly also falls into the ‘jazz music analogy’ where it’s tricky to define a troll, but you know it when you see one. In the attempt to stay objective though, so UTB mods can be consistent and so UTB members can know what to expect, the above definition seems appropriate. Here’s yet another consideration: what if the guy was a Sea World employee and really believed whales are fairly dumb, unconscious animals that don’t suffer in the tanks or don’t have any value relative to human beings? In other words, what if he believed he was doing the right thing by locating these anti-Sea World marine mammal program threads and trying to convince others they are wrong? This is where the ‘intent’ of the activity in question comes into play. I think in this case, he could still appropriately be called a “troll” IF he created conflict through the use of inflammatory and derogatory language, OR created conflict through repeatedly advocating for his position.

Part of the reason for this definition is due to an underlying social phenomenon that is difficult to define. Many of us encounter opposing views in social media and manage to avoid conflict. We may disagree, but manage to do it without things getting “heated.” We also instinctively sense that if someone starts a thread, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, or a technology blog, it’s “theirs,” which is to say, we are the “guest” on their “home turf,” and the normal, reasonable of us, typically respect that. I have seen this in Facebook many times; people may say “I don’t mean to hijack your thread,” or whatever, but I believe it’s a basic, social phenomenon that most of us recognize. Why does this matter? Because someone who deliberately looks for threads that were started by others and creates conflict, OR encounters one and creates conflict by consistently advocating a contrary position, is not respecting this social phenomenon and can objectively be called a TROLL! I always think of a troll as someone who acts like the guy attending a high school football game, who is a fan of the visiting team, and who walks over to the home team side of the field and sits in the home team stands, and argues with the fans of the home team.

fan argue

Last point! Conflict should also be defined since it’s been used so often in this post. Conflict is very simply, anytime when people are hurt, either emotionally or physically, and when it is not an accident, OR, anytime people are incensed, that is, angry/upset. Most of us know intuitively when we’ve started conflict, but as with the other terms, it helps to have some sort of working definition. This and the other definitions do not likely pass the rigors of the scientific method, but are adequate IMHO, to allow for a common understanding amongst the UTB management and membership, notwithstanding member inputs in the comments section.

I apologize for the “longwinded” post, hope this post helps UTB in some way, and really look forward to everyone’s comments!!!

james pisano

RIM/BB fan since 2009. Wouldn't consider entrusting my career, life or privacy to another platform. Foremost, I am a student of life. Some likes: longboarding, nature, Baltimore Orioles, technology, driving, music, reading and Taoism. Politically independent.

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