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What's a "Troll"?

Excuse my ignorance, but what actually qualifies someone as a "Troll"?  It seems that term get's thrown around alot whenever someone seeks to question the technology status quo.  If you question microsoft, then you're a troll.  If you question java, then your're a troll.  If you question anyone's technology choice, then you're a troll. 

It seems like when someone can't defend there position for a technology then they call the other person a troll (argumentum ad hominem). 

In addtion to calling someone a troll, people label others "religous fanatics".  Even Joel Spoloksy uses this term whenever someone asks questions about his technology choices:
"Why did you use VC++/MFC? Surely an advanced intelligence such as yourself has admitted by now that Delphi is more productive." First of all, leave your language religious fanaticism at the Usenet door. Somehow I managed to figure out in high school that language advocacy and religious arguments are unbelievably boring. "

Granted he has the freedom to use whatever technology he wants, but why label someone as a "religous fanatic" for challenging your technology choice?  If you can't defend your position, then be honest.  Why get all threatened?

In the final analysis, what ever happened to good old healthy debate?  Are we that insecure about our technology decisions that we can't stand the smallest question? Or are we that biased towards our technology choices that we can't stand to admit that we may be wrong?

Friday, July 18, 2003,,sid9_gci213222,00.html

19th floor
Friday, July 18, 2003

A troll is post with the sole purpose of illiciting a shrill response. The poster is basically trying to push people's buttons to get them riled up.  Kind of like sticking an ant hill to try and get the ants to scurry around in panic.  Most people eventually outgrow it.

As far as language choice, most folks have spent more than enough time arguing language choice.  It's pointless, people like what they like and use what they will and there's nobody changing their minds.

Joel uses the language/libraries that uses because he felt that was the best choice at the time.  It's a done deal, the code is written, there's no point in arguing about it.

And frankly most people's discussion of a language turns into a "holy war" with everyone insisting that their language is the "one true language".  It's boring, it doesn't help anyone, and there are plenty of other places on the internet where you can argue the points until you're blue in the face.

Steve Barbour
Friday, July 18, 2003

"If you can't defend your position, then be honest.  Why get all threatened?"

Most technologists who know what they are doing know that it will cost them precious time and money to explain in detail why their technology choice is justified. Rebuttals are just as costly. The more experience you have with your technology choice (and the more you have done work with your choice) the more you'll realize how complex the problem if comparing products really are. It makes trolling or answering trolls pretty pointless. Because you can't make your point, there's no incentive to do so and it's impractical. Most people hate trolls because of this. You can try to answer in a useful way, but it's really just a waste of people because what you say just bounces off like water on duck. Might as well come up with a report and sell it for $50,000. The people who pay you will actually pay attention to what you say.

Li-fan Chen
Friday, July 18, 2003

Especially in this day and age, where when you say you use one technology. You really are talking about a wrapper or a freaking industry that involves tons of separate technology. All these choices make your implementation very unique compare to the next bloke, even within very similar problem spaces. If someone says they are using VB, are they saying they don't use C++? Are they saying they don't write a few elegant Java components that the VB plug into? Are they saying they don't know Java and C++? Not really. Same deal vise versa. There are tiny POSIX/Win32 functions that you can find gigabytes upon gigabytes of discussions about because no one is happy with just the official way to use it or the official explanation of how it behaves.

Li-fan Chen
Friday, July 18, 2003

The question "What's a "Troll"? " is a troll.

Tom Vu 
Friday, July 18, 2003

Asking what is a troll can be a valid question.  Asking "Why am I a troll" is generally a troll, however. ;)

Flamebait Sr.
Friday, July 18, 2003


Are you sayng Cletus is an emacs-using Nazi?

The Voice of VI
Friday, July 18, 2003

> In the final analysis, what ever happened to good old healthy debate?  Are we that insecure about our technology decisions that we can't stand the smallest question? Or are we that biased towards our technology choices that we can't stand to admit that we may be wrong? <

You mean the debate was in-style at some point in time? You must be confusing actual history from the stuff that makes it into the textbooks... Sure the Greeks loved to debate, but they spent a heck of a lot more time beating people over the head with various weapons of their own devising.

Surely you've seen 2001 A Space Odyssey. Thousands of years ago, a black monolith appeared on Earth and taught us to beat each other with sticks and old bones. Little has changed since.
Friday, July 18, 2003

*running away from monoliths*

Li-fan Chen
Friday, July 18, 2003

I hate to post what should be obvious, but since nobody ever says this, I thought I'd make sure the "public consciousness" is properly maintained.

The definition of "troll" means to fish by dragging your lure or bait through the water at a low speed to attract fish. The thought is that steady, slow movement will entice the fish more than just waiting and jiggling. Thus, when people started to post messages (like bait) on Usenet that were itching for a response, they called it "trolling". However, since a "troll" is also a hideous Scandinavian monster, it also made sense to call someone a "troll" as well.

Don't let them bother you. Computer geeks are notable for two things: they are typically non- or anti-social and they love to think that they have an exclusive lock on the "truth". This allows them to easily post argumentative and myopic messages that most of us would think twice about (and then not post).

Unfortunately, this social problem tends to bleed over into computer science and software engineering. Programmers are so in love with what they create that they overlook 25+ years of prior work. This constant reinventing of the wheel is what allows us to have problems like we have right now--insufficient and unspectacular tools for easy web collaboration. Ugh!

Friday, July 18, 2003

And Leonardo shouldn't have bothered with the Mona Lisa, since painters had already been doing portraits for decades...

(How's that for a troll?)

Phillip J. Eby
Friday, July 18, 2003

I'm wondering whether some of these questions are trolls? A troll implies deliberate annoyance, whereas I think a lot of relatively young developers recently discovered 'language A' which solves all their problems (all the ones they have at that time) and wonder why everybody doesn't use it.

David Clayworth
Friday, July 18, 2003

For all the time I have read the forum I have seen quite a bit of inflammatory questions that basically ought to be nuked on the spot. But then if you work at Joel's Code Factory you are probably smart enough to know you don't have time to moderate these threads all day long. And being liberal is usually the right thing to do when moderating a site visited by people with such diverse points of view. I think everyone has their favorite infractions.

Li-fan Chen
Friday, July 18, 2003

Also note that the definition of "trolling" behavior varies depending on where the trolling is being done.

For example, let's say someone writes a frustrated rant about his bad experiences with a technical recruiter that denounces all recruiters as evil.  If he posted that rant on a board for technical recruiters, it'd be a troll.  If he posted it *here*, it wouldn't be a troll.

So, appropriateness is a big factor.  It's not that nobody can ever discuss which programming language is better for certain problems.  It's just that that discussion is going to be clearly off-topic in some places.

Brent P. Newhall
Friday, July 18, 2003

According to this Slate article , troll = scroll.  ;-)

"Googlehole No. 2: Skewed Synonyms. Search for "apple" on Google, and you have to troll through a couple pages of results..."

Friday, July 18, 2003

In response to Eby, Leanardo was using a new technology called "oil paint". He wasn't reinventing the wheel. Michealangelo, on the otherhad was using old tech such as charcoal on paper.

(pardon the spelling errors)

Friday, July 18, 2003


for my actual point.  :)

Phillip J. Eby
Friday, July 18, 2003

I think the proper description of the posts in question is 'flamebait' and not a troll. Flame bait is just trying to reignite a religious war or such, and as Joel says, is boring since it's not constructive or interesting and we've all seen it before. Flamebaiting is basically childish.

A proper troll is more artistic. People watching a clueless newbie bite at a troll laugh because they are in on the joke. Real trolling is done in fun as form of hazing - the clueless newbie gets a clue, laughs at himself, and takes one step towards being a wizened old-timer. Trollers can raise the stakes by using special keywords in their silly post that are generally accepted to indicate a troll to anyone but those most freshly off the boat. Trolling is a genre of standup (live) comedy. Only a very few are capable of pulling off a good troll. I've only seen it done a few times.

X. J. Scott
Friday, July 18, 2003

Ok I think I get this "Troll" thing.  If your express purpose is to piss people off, then you're "trolling" i.e. going to a vb board and saying "vb sucks" or going to a java board and saying "java sucks".     

What I didn't get was if someone was if someone is trying to advocate a certain language/technology then the person is labled as some kind of "religious fanatic".  I don't see anything wrong with advocacy, just as long as you do it in the bounds of decency and respect for other people's opinions.  I guess there is a fine line between "respectful advocacy" and "religious fanatisicm". 

I seemed to have confused "troll" and "religious fanatic".  My Bad.  Sorry about the mix up.

Thanks for clearing this up for me.

Friday, July 18, 2003

"Are you sayng Cletus is an emacs-using Nazi?"

Tom & Voice of VI,
Naw, I prefer pico, but not enough to advocate it. :)

Friday, July 18, 2003

A Troll is an opinionated mythological creature that gives an *uninformed* opinion about a topic. They are easy to spot… in Spanish a “chamullento”. They remind me those guys in University that spoke a lot and seem very clever but they did awfully academically. Also when you answer a test from a humanities-like course, you normally can get away with a Troll-like response :)

Saturday, July 19, 2003
Saturday, July 19, 2003

Thanks marktaw, at least they have the one "The practice of trying to lure other Internet users into sending responses to carefully designed incorrect statements or similar bait." there which is the old fashioned meaning.

When I think troll I think of stuff like the band that made a webpage about how Metallica was suing them for trademark violation because Metallica had trademarked the chord progression E-F. Tens of thousands of people were duped, it was discussed endlessly in newsgroups, and it even was reported on ABC. Now THAT's a troll. Funny and intricately designed to 'hook' people - everyone knows you can't copyright a chord progression, but only a few know that you can trademark a specific embodiment of a melody or chord progression. Also, Metallica is big on suing people over dumb things. And most people hate Metallica and would love to have something to complain about regarding them, so this troll really caught a lot of fish.

Old Skool Troll
Saturday, July 19, 2003

Yeah that Metallica thing caught me too the first time I read it. It was rediculous, but so is Metallica sometimes. Then I realized... it was poorly written, and entirely in the first person. Also, if it were real it would be a link to Metallica's site, and not a mock-up n someone else's site.

I thought it was funny. Everyone I know thought it was real the first time they read it, and then realized it was a joke.

Though, I've only heard of Troll in terms of posts to some sort of forum, never in terms of a joke site... Something about having to go to the lake to troll for fish rather than having the fish come to you at your home (i.e. webpage).

I agree with the poster who said that a Troll is different depending on what forum you go to, but the common definition is posting something that isn't an explanation, or is a question, but one whose answer you either know, or don't care about, with the sole purpose of illiciting a certain response fromt he other members of the forum.

Now that I think about it... nearly every article posted to slashdot fits that definition. *

- Mozilla Gets (Beta) Native SVG support
- Australian Gov't Moves To Block E-commerce Patent
- Cheap PPC Linux Machines From IBM
- How To Make Dual Booting A (Bigger) Pain
- A Detailed Review Of A 3G Phone And Network
- Overture To A Patent War?
- California Microsoft Settlement
- Sony Switches To Its Own Processor For Handhelds
- Prior Art to Pinpoint vs. Amazon, from 1980's?
- RMS Calls On Linux Developers To Replace BitKeeper

heh heh.

* articles as listed on
Sunday, July 20, 2003

[Only a very few are capable of pulling off a good troll. I've only seen it done a few times. ]

I myself have spent years perfecting my craft and only go into true trollbooth mode under my real name. It is fun sometimes to make people get red in the face or threaten to kill you because you insulted their pet language or platform.

My favorite tactic is to dupe the poster into believing that I am the average joe spouting off about my favorite topic. This never fails to illicit a response from a self appointed genius about Kant's life and his categorical imperative as it relates to morality in today's society and why this means I am a stupid lemming. By the time they realize that they don't have exclusive access to the genius club (albeit my genius lies in trolling) it's too late. I have toasted their argument with either academic knowledge (read: bullshit) or with cave man logic (read: blunt stick bullshit).

Why do I do this you ask? Someone has to carry the torch.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

I don't know about anyone else, but I applaud Trollbooth for his efforts.
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Thank you good sir. I simply try and maintain the balance of the Internet. One one side is truth and on the other side.. me ;-)

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

truth? who said there was any truth on the internet? I thought the internet was 80% porn, 10% opinion, 5% propoganda, and 5% worthwhile information.
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

See? Our troll efforts are not for nothing.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

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