Google Group on NoEstimates

There is a Google Group on #NoEstimates. I joined it, and have visited it every now and then, but I have not participated.

I do not participate much in this sort of discussion group

Here is a bit of a quote (from a wise and well respected person) that goes a long way towards explaining how I feel about the #NoEstimates (and most) discussion groups. I have paraphrased it almost out of recognition to better clarify my position.

“Replacing a face to face talk with a Google Group is like replacing a hug from your Mom with a face full of pepper spray”.


It is rare that any two people agree completely about anything, let alone something as complex as the endeavor of managing software development. I don’t expect anyone to agree with anything I have to say, and it is a rare yet wonderful experience for me when I find someone who sees things in a way that is more or less in alignment with the way I see things. I don’t expect it.  However, I also enjoy having conversations with people who see things differently.

While I enjoy conversation, there is very little actual conversation going on in the typical discussion forum or Google Group.  Unless a group is actively moderated, it quickly degrades into something that is much more anti-conversational than it is conversational, more harmful than it is useful to gaining a shared understanding.  Perhaps they are not meant for conversations and understanding.

Recent forays into the land of Discussion Boards

I’ve recently read through several topic threads on various discussion boards at LinkedIn or Google Groups and it is typically a painful and disturbing experience for me. Overall, these threads are not productive conversations as far as I can tell, and seem to simply be a jumbled mess that is nearly impossible (for me, anyway) to decipher.  Some people must get value out of this sort of communication forum, but in general I don’t find them conducive to meaningful conversation.

Often these forums seem more like an opportunity for people to say “You don’t understand”, and then provide some rebuttals and clarifications that provide fuel for the next “You don’t understand” response. (I am using “you don’t understand” as a placeholder for all similar [and often less kind] responses).

Even worse, each response contains snippets and quotes (sometimes HUGE snippets or the entire content) of what someone in a previous post stated, and then intersperses the snippets/quotes with rebuttals and clarifications and “You don’t understand”, and “that is not how it is in REAL life” statements.  And even worse than that, sometimes the snippets and quotes accumulate from response to response building into an incomprehensible cacophony of confusion where there is no way to unravel who is trying to say what about which.

All in all, while this has been going on for a very long time (years and years), and while I participate in this sort of forum every now and then, I see little value in it for me.  I have enough to do already.

NOTE: The mini-forum of Twitter, while in my opinion is also not conducive to conversation, at least limits the amount of cacophony. Rather than the “continuous ringing of huge, deafening alarm bells” it’s more like the “continuous jingling of tiny, less deafening alarm bells”, and there just aren’t enough characters to gather garbage snippets.  Anyhow, I’m pretty much on board with the #NoCacophony movement.

I prefer face to face, one-on-one conversations

I prefer to have engaging and meaningful conversations with people who are willing to talk with me.  The most productive, useful, and pleasing of these experiences for me are in one-on-one, face to face sharing where the both of us are sitting at the same place, or taking a walk together.  Sometimes having these conversations in very small groups with everyone in the same place is just as good.  I have found this to be very fruitful to me for my own learning and exploring, and for vetting and critiquing my ideas and thoughts. I can only assume that this works well for at least some folks since I frequently meet with others this way.

While this “in the same place” mode is great, it is not always possible.  So, my favorite alternative (at this time)  is to have a conversation via video Skype or Google Hangout (or whatever technology that works).

Sometimes, the only viable approach is to make a voice only call, but this is in a very distant 3rd place.

Besides those 3 basic approaches (same space, via video chat, and voice only call), there are a few other variations that can make things better (like having a screen share in a remote conversation).  But that is beyond my purpose in this little post.

Why do you suppose face to face, one-on-one conversations work so well?

Why does the one on one, face to face (or small group) style work so well? I’m sure someone probably knows, and I have my ideas, but that is not important to me. What is important to me is that it works well for me, and it is my preferred approach to learning and exploring, vetting and clarifying.

When we make it our goal to find a way to understand each other it often requires that we change the way we are saying something, or the way we think about something.  That is, we might “change our mind” based on the new information and understanding we are gaining.  Our eventual understanding will likely be different from where we started for both of us.

When our words and thoughts are “locked down” in a forum thread, making changes to more clearly communicate our intention is (typically) not possible – we have limited “edit” rights.  Even worse, the path to shared understanding seems to be thwarted, and old misunderstandings just get brought up again and again, sometimes by people who were not part of the original conversation and don’t understand what has been covered, or the path that led to the current understanding.

With spoken communication we tend to just move on.  We say things like “I see what you are saying”, “You are right! How did I miss that?”, “Now I get it”, “Oh… you meant this instead of that”, “Of course!  That makes sense to me now”, “Here is something I think I wasn’t considering…”,  and so on.  I don’t see these phrases often in the discussion boards.  This isn’t always true, but I’ve found that spoken conversations tend to be more conducive to making progress towards a shared understanding.

Regardless… you must find the communication style that works for you.  If forums and groups and discussion boards work for you, then GREAT!  You just won’t see me join in much.

On the other hand, let me know if you want to chat sometime.




  1. Nick:

    Yeah – I agree, but I try and stay in involved because of this from A Hunt & V Subramanian: No such thing as a stupid user, a stupid arrogant developer – Every complaint holds a truth

    Got to admit being involved sometimes has unleashed some emotional turmoil on my side. Not very productive. But hopefully I’m gaining something nonetheless.

    Coincidentally I was looking at the Toastmaster guide for feedback just prior to seeing this. Maybe some standard training for all us to steer us away from constant rebuttal as a means of feedback would be useful and more productive and satisfying for all.

    Further, I always feel a little cautious and anxious in posting views via a blog or comment. I run the gauntlet still and hope maybe someday we get better at delivering feedback.

  2. Woody Z.:

    Hello Nick – I invite everyone to participate in any way they feel is meaningful to them. For me, I’ve found the discussion forums are not typically meaningful to me. I focus my energy on interactions that are meaningful to me.

  3. Nick:

    Fair enough Woody. I felt a similar emotion lately as well.

  4. Nick Zdunic:

    Me again Woody :)

    Saw my comments from a few months ago an I reflected on these.

    I’ve certainly made the effort to talk more. Forums are an easy out. I’ve even had a chat with you. I had chats with others via Skype as well. The bandwidth increases markedly.

    Forums are a nice starting point for achieving scale. When I come across something that i don’t agree with or find confronting I’m looking to get past my initial emotional reaction and seek reasons. This can lead to a conversation like I had with you, however I agree your take on things.

    I getting past the initial reaction which seems to be the downfall of most. Prompting reasoning is best, appealing to the intellectual in everyone via powerful questions.

    So to achieve scale we need to start with the written word. With blog posts I sometimes include a note on my policy on the big posts. This should really be extracted. Here’s an example, It has links to ideas on reasoning in the first paragraph.

    Trying my best to get past the hater style commentary and encourage my thoughtfulness at the same time harness conflict as well for increasing understanding, looking to the root cause.

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