Content over Form is an imperative often used by technically minded people that believe in stripping away all the fluff so that the basic message can get across as clearly as possible without being diluted, transformed, or mollified. All kinds of fluff is seen as distracting. See MeatBall:ContentOverForm for more discussion.

Presenting things clearly, unmitigated, has its drawbacks, however.

Importance of Fluff for Emotional Attachment

What people usually say is that a certain amount of fluff – distraction and entertainment – is needed to attract more people, to make the message more palatable to more people. This is essentially a disparaging way of noting the importance of the user interface. A good user interface is of course required. The next question is then, whether the fluff improves the user interface.

Google has a very lean user interface to the search engine. And yet, Google also has a logo that changes on some days. Both of these features make Google cool, helps to attract people. In this sense, the Google icon (form) does not improve the clarity of the message (fluff), but it is nevertheless a necessary part of Google's business.

There's nothing inherently wrong with providing more fluff, as long as it does not distract from the main issue.

Fluff to Mitigate Controversy

If issues are clearly stated, writen in an imperative style, depersonalized, color-less, this invites controversy. Some people will overreact to this message, mistaking it as some firm principle of governance that affects many, when in fact it is just a page on a wiki written by one or two contributors, or just a posting on UseNet – a few words, practically nothing.

The dry text seems to exist on its own, detached from a human, and so some people allow themselves diatribes that would be obviously out of place when sitting at a table together. Staring at their own monitors and the text glaring at them, their reaction is different from what it would be when talking to their friends (one hopes).

Now and then, MeatballWiki attracts some people that viciously attack a page or another, and then go on to attack people like SunirShah. Perhaps it is because some of these people are carrying grudges from other systems such as the WikiWikiWeb. But perhaps it is also reinforced by the pure text. On CommunityWiki, we have an outrageous green default style sheet, we have very subjective pages with little pictures and a lot of rambling. It's difficult to lash out at somehing as fuzzy and mushy as that.

While clarity and dryness can be a benefit from an engineering perspective (think of how the RFCs are written), they also invite hyperbolic reactions. Adding fluff may mitigate this, as fluffy, colorful, and subjective text is much harder to take down. There's nothing to rub against.



Funny you should write this; I've recently been thinking about writing more Meatball-ish style articles. We have so much ThreadMode, I thought about putting one or two into article form.

Many pages that I write here, they're just my opinion; I don't think that everyone shares them. I read MeatBall:PhilosophyOfEducation, and it says, very clearly, at the top, "This is Sunir's philosophy of education." At the bottom, is a link to a separate discussion page. I thought it was a good idea, and a way that I could write essays here, without making it seem like the opinion of the whole wiki. A lot of times, I'll just start a long page with a discussion style discoure and my picture, because I don't want it to look like it's the wiki's perspective.

I noticed. Bayle sometimes does the same thing. I think my pages are the most impersonal ones on the wiki at the moment. I guess because deep inside I am a cold-hearted engineer! :) The surprising success of fluffy, personal, subjective, rambling pages for myself delights me, however, I am learning something new. A new way of writing. And realizing that it works in spite of all the fluff.

If you think back, it was MattisManzel who kept pushing for images and dates, an effort that led to our DenotingAuthor convention. And it was MurrayAltheim that offered a colorful green CSS and a funky urban grafitti logo. And it was you who introduced the thoroughly subjective way of writing (including a theoretical foundation on the PlainTalk pages). I had to be dragged here all the way, it seems. :)

I was also slow to pick up on the importance of OffTopic conversation. I basically learnt that on #emacs.

All of this got me thinking. Since it is working out so well, there must be something good in it. What is it?

It reminds me of the firm pro-wiki stance I used to take many years ago. I despised blogs as subjective, centered on the individual, basically one-way, full of distracting eye-candy, etc. And yet, it worked. It worked better than wikis, in fact. And I started asking myself: If empirical evidence shows that blogs are growing MindShare? faster than wikis – why is that?

And when I talked to Sunir on the WikiChannel the other day, I suddenly had the thought that started this page.


Define external redirect: MindShare

EditNearLinks: UseNet MeatballWiki WikiWikiWeb SunirShah


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