Criticism pushes the web forward

This week, a friend shared a blog post that critiqued a popular framework for CSS. Twitter started to discuss if it’s okay to criticise tools. In this post, I’ll say it is not just okay, it is also important.

I was a little disappointed to see the replies to this tweet. Among the many replies, the person who came up with the framework exclaimed seeing the post shared by her “ruined” his day. Note: the post was not about him, it was about the framework (the one that, on its homepage, criticises other people’s CSS methodologies) . Other commenters said the article was “not worth sharing”, “you’re just starting of fights” and “why would you amplify that?”.

I’m not interested in attacking anyone here, or going into the merits or faults of The Post, but would like to answer that last question. Or, in fact, a more generic one: “is it okay to criticise tools?”

Listening helps

The short answer is: yes. As long as it is aimed at the tool, not the person that created it, it is better to share criticisms than not. I have never been involved in the development of frameworks for the web, but in standards for the web, like HTML, CSS and ARIA, there is lots of criticism. People poke holes in each other’s assumptions, suggest ways to make features better and explain why things don’t work well for them. Good standards require diverse perspectives.

Again, the kind of criticism I’m talking about here is criticism of the content, not a person. Is some proposal vague? Should we really call that property “left justify” or number-form seems counterintuitive as a property name–just two examples of critiques of the first version of CSS, in 1995. They’ve made CSS better, because we’ve ended up with better names. Thanks to the people who took the time to send in comments. This is, for over 25 years, how we’ve evolved the web: by listening to each other and not taking critical comments personal.

Can we “just not use it”?

Maybe web standards like CSS are different. The web is built on it and you cannot not use CSS when you build a website. Browsers have stylesheets. But if we’re honest, the most popular tools and frameworks also impact all of us. Most web developers don’t always get to choose their own tools and frameworks, they join a team with existing code or have team members with other opinions.

I’ve never included Bootstrap in a project myself, but have contributed code to many projects that did. Just like it is helpful to comment on web standards, it is helpful to comment on tools and frameworks, because they too affect us all. This goes both for whether to use the thing at all, and for features the thing has or lacks.

Like critical thinking pushes the world of ideas forward, I mean in philosophy, criticism of ideas for standards, tools and frameworks pushes the web forward. We should give feedback respectfully and constructively, but we should give feedback. And open up to feedback, not demand it to go away. It may not be easy, but it is important to include perspectives outside your own.

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