Last week, on the heels of the BlackBerry 10 launch event in Toronto, I crafted a pair of quick-and-dirty comparison videos showcasing the differences between the BB10 OS and the Windows Phone 8 and Android platforms. I admit that the set had its problems, filmed as it was under severe time constraints in a hotel room with horrible audio. Several factual errors needed to be corrected in editing, and we subsequently filmed some follow-up videos to offer a more thorough presentation. Still, neither Android nor Windows Phone came away from the analysis unscathed: in the categories we selected for comparison, BlackBerry 10 outshone the incumbents in a few areas.
The difference: by the end of last week, the Android comparison video had garnered 330 comments on YouTube and 17 comments at Pocketnow. With a similar number of views, the Windows Phone comparison had a hundred more comments on YouTube, with four times the comments here on the site. Most of them contained some variation of the sentiment “you suck because Windows Phone.” Even other readers noticed the disparity and commented.
Something similar happened last spring, when I had the temerity to suggest that maybe the Nokia Lumia 900 wasn’t the incarnation of perfection everyone was hoping for. I proposed it as a hypothetical thought exercise, a cautionary tale that the excitement leading up to a new phone release “can very easily become an echo chamber of unwarranted positivity, so it’s important sometimes to take a step back and see what’s not perfect about the new kid on the block.” Although I made it clear that I liked the phone and was tempted to order one for myself (and I eventually ended up picking up the Lumia 920, which I currently use as a daily driver), I was eviscerated in the comments, pummeled by over a hundred readers for even suggesting that a WP device might fall short of expectations.
This doesn’t just happen at Pocketnow. Last year, The Verge dared to hold the Nokia Lumia 900 to the same standards as any other modern smartphone, and it was rewarded with a 2,400-comment thread angrily denouncing its review. Steve Kovach at Business Insider received similar treatment, going so far as to write a post addressing the situation. When the follow-on Lumia 920 was released and weighed in at 60-70% heavier than its iPhone and Galaxy S III competition, a Forbes reviewer who dared to mention this significant fact was called a liar, a shill, and an iTroll. We won’t even get into what people have said about those who dare to review the Surface.
I don’t mean to suggest this problem is unique to Windows Phone. Fanatical, aggressive fanboys are everywhere; they’re a fixture of internet culture and if you can’t deal with it, you don’t belong online. Every platform -from Android to iOS to BlackBerry and beyond- has its radical fringe element, the die-hard revolutionaries who’ll fight to defend the honor of their OS at every opportunity.
But Windows Phone seems to have more. They travel in tighter, angrier packs. They’re louder. Meaner. And incredibly, though their platform is getting more traction and more respect in the marketplace, these people are getting less reasonable.
It was the Windows Phone fan community more than any other that drove me to write a piece last spring lambasting the fanboy mentality. I was mainly addressing that group when I wrote that I was saddened by its “destructive power: the black-or-white, us-vs-them mindset. The insistent belief that life should be looked at in the same way as a football game, with teams competing to ‘win.’ The rejection of any sense of subtlety or gray area. The refusal to admit that, while your preferred mobile OS or ecosystem or carrier is great, it has some areas that could use improvement.”
Part of the problem is that these people behave as though they’re part of a noble quest to fight for the underdog. They seem to feel that they have carte blanche to dominate, bully, and harass anyone they like, because they’re the only ones fighting for the poor beleaguered platform that no one loves. That’s well and good: I was a vocal webOS advocate back when it was (trying to become) relevant. I know what it’s like to fight for a nascent OS.
But here’s the great tragedy: the Microsoft zealots I’m referring to are actually damaging the very brand they’re fighting for. They’ve created an atmosphere that guarantees that any review, editorial, article, or video that deigns to point out a flaw in Windows or Windows Phone will be besieged with a flood of vitriolic anger.
That doesn’t mean we writers stop writing, and it doesn’t mean we let angry comments dictate the thrust of our arguments. But it does prompt a kind of involuntary flinch when pressing the Publish button on an article calling out a shortcoming in a Microsoft product, because we know we’re signing up for two hours of comment moderation when everything inevitably explodes down below. Unless you’re a real masochist, you don’t look forward to that. And frankly, I’m tired of associating a platform I enjoy with people I do not.
As I said on last week’s episode of the Pocketnow Weekly podcast, I love using Windows Phone. The Lumia 920 is one of my favorite smartphone purchases of the last two years. I continue to root for Microsoft in its quest for success in the mobile space. But every time I have to deal the most vicious and vocal one percent of its fanbase, I want to tear my face off.
I know that I’m generalizing. You might say it’s irresponsible to call out an entire fanbase based on the badgering of a vocal minority. You could make the point that I’m throwing the baby out with the bathwater. You’re probably down in the comments saying that right now. And you’re 100% right.
But that’s the effect that vocal fanaticism can have: if it’s loud enough, it can drown out the cries for reason and balance, smothering civility and common sense. There are a lot of well-balanced and well-informed Windows Phone fans out there, but their voices are lost in the din raised by the less-reasonable. The trolls -and I don’t use the term lightly- have won. And though Windows Phone’s market share is doing better, the dialog surrounding it isn’t. Unless something drastic changes, it will remain the OS that incites the most vicious flame wars, the platform it’s dangerous to write about. For an operating system so in need of positive reinforcement, that’s not even sad; it’s infuriating.
If Microsoft were listening, I’d ask it to speak to its fans. Combat this wave of nonsense. Fight the irrationality, the fanboyism, the childish and defensive tone of the self-proclaimed Windows-defenders. Set an example of mature behavior by pulling the stupid “scroogled” campaign. In fact, pull all of your attack ads. Try to sell your products based on their merits -which are considerable- instead of the weaknesses of your competitors.
Microsoft’s not going to take that advice, though, so maybe the answer lies elsewhere. Maybe it’s as simple as a reminder that constructive criticism is essential to innovation.
Without criticism, there can be no creativity, no forward motion. Windows Phone is a great product, but like all products, it has its weaknesses. It won’t move forward as a platform unless the community -including the press- can freely discuss its flaws without being pulled into a flame war. It’s okay to have disagreements about what’s flawed and what isn’t, but we absolutely must rise above the distractions of name-calling and side-taking so those flaws get fixed.
While this might not usher in a blissful new era of measured and reasoned debate, it will go a long way toward pulling us out of today’s morass of negativity. It will once again make it a pleasure, instead of a chore, to click the “Publish” button at the end of a Windows Phone article. And that will mean a healthier atmosphere for Microsoft, for Windows Phone, and for writers and readers alike.