What’s wrong with the Community?

What’s wrong with the Community?

There is a lot of talk lately on ‘the Twitter’ about how we need to change/fix the community.

How so?  Here are some examples:

Analysis/discussion on gender inclusion in #IronViz spanning several days, twitter rants, blog posts and even went down the path of analyzing the gender split of Twitter follower algorithm…

The gender battle spilled over to the diversity of the community vote for the vizzies…

Questions over quality of blog post content.  When it is ok for someone to post?  Do they only post when they have a massive value added post or is it ok for them to document their own learning and experiences as it happened for them?  This even lead to questioning the speaking language of Tableau bloggers and the diversity of said bloggers…

Race eventually makes it into these long discussions as we attempt to solve the world’s problems.

These are all very valid and important discussions…but, is it really broken?

Sure, any community could benefit from more of something: being more inclusive, more diverse, more accessible, etc. would improve the experience for everyone.  But, is the community really broken?  I would argue it isn’t broken.  The community is what makes this tool so exciting to use because we share, we are accepting, we help others learn, we generally want everyone to have a great experience.

I can’t remember a single example of someone showing an outright bias based on gender, race, ethnicity, etc. within the context of this community.  I would be shocked to find out different to be honest.  I don’t think that would be tolerated by any means.

I question whether these discussions (perhaps at least the medium on Twitter) are helpful though.

Is this helpful or harmful?

I think people should be comfortable making their opinions heard, but don’t assume you speak for the entire community.  I can’t help but wonder if some people just want the community to be more like themselves.

When taking any action, I think about what I expect to change as a result.  Since I am down the rabbit-hole, let’s mention the NFL kneeling protest during the national anthem.  I don’t agree with it as people fought and died to provide freedom for us.  We can do whatever we want with that freedom and if it means kneeling for someone, then OK I will respect that.  But, at what point will it stop?  What quantifiable measure needs to change before those players will stand?  To me it seems like an ideal or feeling vs. this is the outcome I want to change before those players change their behavior.

I see this diversity issue in our community in a very similar light.   What number needs to change?  What is acceptable?  It will never be 50/50 or even so maybe we should embrace what we have as we strive to be better.

We cannot solve the technology industry diversity issue in one fell swoop and certainly not ever on Twitter.  There are so many contributing factors that go back to the education system, parenting, culture, environment, opportunity, and we didn’t even get to high school years yet.  In fact, I think some of these discussions are off-putting and can have the opposite effect on the community by pushing people away and creating biases that didn’t exist before.

How so?  Let me use IronViz as an example.  Yes, I agree there is a disconnect between the community perception and Tableau judging.  Certainly, there could be some changes, but what happens if Tableau selects a woman as a feeder winner next year?  Will you be satisfied that it is based on merit?  Will you assume (even a little bit) the selection was made based on gender?  Tableau is in a really hard place now because of all these discussions.  If they pick a woman, some people will assume the worst.  If they don’t, there will be more visualizations and analysis that they picked wrong.  I don’t know about you, but if I were a woman, I would want my selection to be clear, based on merit, and without question.  I think there are generally 10-12 people that could win any feeder contest.  It would be hard to argue against any one of them.  I can’t help but wonder if we are doing a disservice to these groups by making it such a big deal.  It is a competition after all.

So what should we do?

I actually think Tableau made great strides during Fanalytics at the conference.  The competitive part of me certainly missed the vizzing there, but the discussions were great.  We had an awesome discussion with Jenny Richards about the judging process.  Tableau was certainly available to share their process and listen to our concerns and suggestions for improvement.  There were a lot of good concepts stemming from the talks and I hope they continue offline in a productive format.

I think the problem is so much larger than the diversity of the Tableau community, so let’s stay within our sphere of influence.  We can suggest data-driven criteria for judging contests.  We can suggest processes that allow judging to be done in open-discussion format (instead of a black box) to eliminate perception of bias and to ensure informed judging.  We can be patient and give Tableau more time to review the entries.  There are more entries than ever and they are increasingly of high quality and complexity, that means quality judging deserves more time.  We can all relax a little bit and remember this is supposed to be fun.  The more constraints you put on a process, the larger impact it has on participation.  It should remain accessible and fun, or what’s the point?

Mostly, I think we need to stop being analysts for a few minutes.  We all get an idea, run to get some data, and start telling the world what we need to do.  This community is mostly made up of good people.  Relax a little and think about is it really broken?  There is a lot that this unique community offers.  I would be hard pressed thinking I could get more from another community or find to find one that doesn’t have the exact same diversity issues.  I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today without participating in this community.  It’s not perfect, but I am proud to be part of this community.  It is sad to see it bend every two weeks or so because of social media.

We should all take a step back, think a little about what outcomes we are expecting to change, what a reasonable time-frame is for those changes to occur, how you might be impacting the community, and whether it is worth it.  Maybe even take a break from the Twitters from time to time.  Ok, my rant is over.  How about a GIF?

15 thoughts on “What’s wrong with the Community?

  1. Emily

    Yes!!! This is a great post!

    1. Adam Crahen

      Thanks Emily! Took me awhile to post it (wrote this last week), but glad I did.

  2. I tell everyone I meet that it’s the best tech community in the world. I’ve been in technology-related roles for 20 years and have used lots of software, but have never seen anything that comes close to this.

    1. Adam Crahen

      Totally agree Ken! Great meeting you in Vegas!

  3. Community Member

    Not sure why Colin had to be brought into this. Citizens exercising their right to peacefully protest unjust killings by police offends your “patriotic” sensibilities how???

    1. Adam Crahen

      I didn’t mention him specifically, just the movement in total. That is your opinion of why the players are choosing to kneel. It’s not clear that it’s true for everyone that chooses to do so. There is no clear end in sight. I respect their decision, as I said it is their right. I don’t respect the method as there is no sustainable, reachable, or measurable goal. You missed the point entirely and made it personal. Why not use your real name next time if you feel that strongly? I’m pretty sure I have the same right to say if I disagree. Thanks.

  4. Toby

    Broken? How? Just because “ideally” there should be 50/50? Where did this number come from, why not 60/40? What’s the truth metric to measure against? These are rhetorical questions.

    If one were to look into the classic car and motorcycle forums I’m in with such rose-colored glasses one would be screaming “SEXISM!”, however, the facts remain that these arenas are male-dominated and as much as we would LOVE to have a lot more females involved in the hobby the numbers aren’t there (yet?). The rare female that does show up is welcomed and are actively included in discussions but it’s all relative as the STEM population is a tsunami of females in comparison! Likewise, if the number of females in tech are low then it stands to reason that we’ll see such lopsidedness in the community. What we are seeing is a shadow of the larger issue (less females in STEM), we are not the cause of the shadow! We can’t force-fill the gap just because it’s not ideologically 50/50.

    What is so utterly cool and a growing trend…no, an EDUCATIONAL EFFORT…are the contributions by Brit, Chloé, Fi, Emily, and many other females in our community who are leading the cause and consciously tearing down those barriers. They simply aren’t just talking the talk, they are walking the walk, and they make me feel proud to know them and to be a part of their community. What they are doing I have not seen in any other place that I frequent and what is freakin’ awesome is that Tableau has a public forum dedicated to women & data! That’s bold but it shows they believe in the effort and are willing to be a leader for it.

    As to the voting, why not have two boards that is one of females and the other males? Tally the votes from both to find the winners. What about an equally mixed board? But wait, we don’t want to be skin color biased, or religion/politically biased, so we wouldn’t we need to have additional people to equal out those factors? See where such simple thinking begins to get slippery? How about keeping it simple by not including the author’s name, only using a number, that way gender, race, organizational affiliations, and status (e.g. Zen, Ambassador) bias is removed.

    Granted, I’m not following a bazillion people so I only caught a small blip on the sex-discrepancy radar. Maybe because I’m one of those all-too-common white males that it didn’t alarm me. Yeah, that’s a good fucking excuse I’m sure many would throw at me since noooobody but white males are profilers, right? While I did notice that there were no females on IronViz I also noticed that all contestants were white. So where is the outrage from non-whites? What are the stats for people of color in all of this? Did any of them fulfill the LGBT community numbers for 50/50? Am I just being pedantic? Or am I…?

    While I don’t expect answers here (really, I don’t care) what I am contributing is the discussion of STEM equality between the sexes. Ask questions, especially the uncomfortable ones, and listen to what other’s are saying as that’s how progress is made.

    Now would someone please bring me a step ladder so I can climb off my soapbox?

    1. Adam Crahen

      Hey Toby, thanks for reading and the time you spent with the comment! I think you made a lot of good points. I think you got the intent of this article that the community as a whole needs to calm down a bit and tackle things that we can effect change. There are many factors in the diversity question and many are out of our control. I love that you highlighted Brit, Chloe, Emily and FI! I should have done that. I mostly just wanted people to think about how their protests/comments/analysis are impacting others and how we can actually change things rather than bang on and on with numbers I think most are aware of on Twitter. I thoughtfully listened to about three solid weeks of the commentary. I wrote this post about ten days before I published it. Hopefully, people see the point. Thanks again.

  5. Adam McCann

    Thanks Adam. Interesting post. I respect that you wrote it but I disagree with you on a number of points.

    Specifically, I disagree with you on the NFL and players taking a knee. Their issue is not with veterans. It is with social injustice in the US specially towards African Americans. The media and the president has distorted their protest to distract us from their real issue which is legitimate. I have not heard a single player disparage a veteran though I could be wrong.

    Furthermore, their protest doesn’t need to have a specific measurable end goal. Kap stated the goal was to raise awareness of the inequities in the justice system. You can debate whether he was successful but if he did fail it was because people distorted his message.

    By your logic you should never protest any injustice unless you can measure the success of that protest. Some things are hard, if not impossible to measure. How do you measure the impact of millions of children asking their parents why their heroes are kneeling during the national anthem.

    Muhammad Ali’s objection to Vietnam was not an end to the war but rather to object to systemic racism in our country. He didn’t end racism or the war with his protest but he is viewed by many including myself to be a hero today.

    I would love to discuss some time over beer in person though.

    Regards,

    Adam

    1. Adam Crahen

      Hi Adam-

      Thanks for reading my post and for your comment. You make some excellent points. My main reason for writing this was getting people to think a little bit how they might be impacting others (and hopefully resulting in calming the waters a bit), but you have given me some good points to think about as well.

      I didn’t mean to imply the players have said anything disparaging, but more so why I disagreed with it. At the same time, I totally respect their right to kneel. I agree it is impossible/hard to measure the impact of some things, but would it be fair to say that awareness has been raised if it is a dinner table discussion and the media/President reacting (irrespective if we agree with the president – shocker – I do not)?

      I guess my issue is that both the NFL players and gender/race diversity issues are mammoth issues. They are not going to solve themselves or be solved overnight and certainly not on Twitter. I saw a parallel between the two as I thought about them, but maybe I should have just stuck to one.

      I actually agree with a lot of what has been said in our circle and fully support increasing diversity, and continuing to do my part, but I think it is time to do something about it within our control. Specifically, for people up in arms about a viz competition, let’s reach out to Tableau and open a dialog. We did this at Fanalytics and it was awesome and very enlightening. I spoke with Ben Jones today on the phone rather than engage in a chart battle on Twitter in 140 characters. I think we can reasonable effect change by having these discussions and holding each other accountable. I don’t think it’s possible to fix the STEM field diversity issue on Twitter.

      Again, this really made me think and thank you for writing back. Let’s definitely have that beer, it’s a much better medium than social media. 🙂

      Thanks,
      Adam

  6. Michelle Kosmicki

    Another community I am a part of is having major struggles over these issues. In fact, they are so focused on inclusivity and transparency that the membership asked that the conference venue and hotel be changed less than a month out from the conference. The community has become so mired in equality issues that the purpose of the community is being radically overshadowed.

    I would really hate to see that happen to the Tableau community. We have made progress over time. Sometimes it may not be blindingly apparent, but you can’t deny it.

    As a community we can keep pushing forward, talking about it, being transparent about it, and loving what this community means to all of us. This is where we come to learn, collaborate, and be inspired. We come here to Viz together.

    1. Adam Crahen

      I totally agree with you Michelle. It can always get better, but we have an awesome community and it should be recognized. You’ve summed up what I was trying to say much better than I did. Thanks for the comment.

  7. Vince Baumel

    Thanks for writing this up, Adam. Your willingness to discuss opposing viewpoints in a respectful and mature way speaks well of you, and is an approach we all should take when discussions like this come up. Ours is an industry of highlighting insight and inspiring action; it’s difficult to be successful without imparting bias of some sort. For every data story we tell, there are stories told by the data we chose NOT to use. It’s the unavoidable flip side to the coin. Like you pointed out with the Iron Viz feeder winners – if a female winner is selected, it’s both a win and a loss for both sides of the argument. No one wants to win based on judge bias or an attempt at filling a diversity quota. Now that the topic has been raised, however, it’s a conversation that needs to be had openly and honestly if we are to move forward in a progressive way that embraces all of the things that make this community amazing.

    Your opinion on the kneeling issue is just that; your opinion. It’s neither right or wrong, and until we get the chance to talk to every NFL player about what THEY believe the action represents, I think it’s foolish to assume we can come to a conclusive judgement about whether it is right or wrong. Adam makes a good point in that protests like this don’t need a measurable outcome, but if their intent is to get people talking about it I think they’ve succeeded. Whether for better or worse, people are talking about it. And if that sharing of a beer ever happens, I’d love to join you guys.

    We all have room to develop and grow, and while I love the brevity that Twitter requires I think it’s most effective when used as a conversation starter. 280 characters is usually enough to share an idea or encourage others, but it’s no match for a personal connection or conversation. It’s part of why I love the Tableau Conference so much; an environment where those deeper conversations and connections are encouraged and celebrated is empowering! I love using Twitter as a catalyst for developing those bonds, and will continue to do so in a positive and encouraging way.

    Keep up the good work, man.

    1. Adam Crahen

      Hi Vince. Thanks for reading and the time you spent adding your comment. I appreciate and agree with everything you’ve written here. It’s good to hear everyone’s opinions on all sides. I hope this post succeeded in calming the waters and it’s main goal of just getting people to think. Your response is definitely the type of reaction I hoped most would have. Twitter = conversation starter != rant tracker! +1. Good to meet you in Vegas!

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