'Useless' Is A Loaded Word

Here is a tip for all the non-developers out there. When you email your favorite developer with a feature request or bug report never, ever, ever use the word useless to describe their product. Useless is kryptonite to developers and puts us on the defensive instantly.

In most cases useless is used as because of a bug impacting a user’s experience or a pet feature is missing from an app that makes it absolutely perfect in this use case. To trump up the importance of the issue, the user tosses a loaded word into the email to improve the chances of getting it resolved.

That’s probably not the case though because we are grumbling under our breath what a jerk you are for insulting our baby. In the case of independent developers like myself, my products are my livelihood and when you describe them with such venomous words you are attacking my way of life. Even most mid-size to large companies have the same sort of pride in their work and don’t want some angry Internet dork to spout off via email about why it is the worst thing to happen to humanity in a decade solely because it doesn’t work how he expected.

The Internet makes it really easy to be a jerk to someone because you don’t have to insult their product to their face and can instead shoot it off to an email address in the sky without any idea or care about who is on the other end.

Let’s imagine typical Internet behavior from a few different scenarios:

You go to a gourmet restaurant in town that opened a few months ago. The chef makes great food and also makes himself available to you during the course of the meal. He comes to see how things are going and you inform him that your potatoes are cold which makes the entire meal pretty much useless.

You order a custom built desk from a local craftsman. This guy is the best. He builds everything with his bare hands in his shop and then sells it to local folks for a fair price. He is the quality alternative to the crummy sawdust and plastic desks that you see sold at the office supplies stores. The craftsman delivers your brand new desk to your home and believes it’s one of his best works yet. You look at the desk and notice it doesn’t have castors on the legs and tell him the desk is all but useless since you can’t easily slide it around the room.

Your sister has a baby. You visit the hospital to see what all the hubbub us about. When you realize that infant doesn’t even know how to flush the DNS cache on a Mac, you say, “That thing is all but useless!” There are some seriously awkward holidays in your future. 1

In almost any life situation where you need to get something out of another person, being a dick is never the right method to go about it. Using loaded words like ‘useless’ or ‘worthless’ is being a dick. We will listen to your feedback and thank you for it, but unless it is some urgent issue that will affect every user, it’s most likely getting shoved to the bottom of the pile in favor of doing things to make the friendly customers happy.

I have developed a mildly thicker skin in the nearly five years I have been in business, but I doubt I will ever develop the tortoise shell I truly need to interact with the angry typing guys of the world. I don’t plan to either. I would rather put that effort towards improving my products for the people who have requests or issue that need a resolution, but are courteous.

Be nice. Don’t use loaded words to try and get what you want. You’ll get a lot farther with me and the other developers out there who think like me.

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  1. Ok. I’m reaching on this one. I just envision this is how a typical Internet commenter interacts in real life. 

By Justin Williams

This is a two sentence bio. There are many like it, but this one is mine.