I was researching a question on the internet, and I find it very
strange that what one expert recommends another advises against. I
refer to various posts on discussion forums and advice sites such as
yours, all of which are most helpful not often contradictory. One finds
those who swear by a product and others who don’t reckon much to it.
That leaves novices like me rather bewildered to who to heed and who
Who do I believe?
I understand the frustration. When all you’re looking for is an
answer, it’s puzzling to come up with various differing opinions.
I’ll try to explain why I think that is, and what I do when faced
with it myself.
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It almost goes without saying that computers and politics are very
similar. People have strong opinions on what is, and is not, the right
way to approach the problems we face. Start with the Mac/Linux versus
PC debate and work your way down, and almost every aspect of computing
from hardware to software to networking and everything in between is
open for debate.
And that’s frustrating if you’re not the least bit interested in the
debate, you just want to get your work done.
I think one of the biggest reasons that you see different opinions
is based on people’s different experiences. Specifically:
experiences, priorities and values.”
Direct Personal Experience – Their opinion is based
on their direct experience with something. This is sometimes the best
source of accurate information if viewed in the correct
Over Generalization – The person who has a bad
experience with something, and then based solely on that bad experience
proclaims “this product is crap” is taking their single experience and
assuming that it is generally true. It might or might not be – it’s
absolutely human nature to do that, but it’s also statistically
inaccurate. It’s a data point of one. If a million other
people have had wonderful experiences with a product, it might not
actually be as bad as that single experience would indicate. But that
person is, rightfully, going to hold and express a negative
Hearsay – Recounting the experiences of others can
be good or bad, depending on how objectively those experiences are
taken. If I tell you that product X should be avoided because my buddy
had a problem with it, that’s not nearly as valuable a statement as
saying that the product should be avoided because I regularly hear of
problems from many different people.
Another major reason for differences of opinions are differences in
I might pick product A over product B because it’s easier to use,
and as I evaluate products for use by my readership I believe that ease
of use is very important. Someone else might pick product B over
product A because it does a slightly better job at whatever it does.
That person values the incremental improvement over the ease of use
As a gross, yet often common example, you’ll often hear people
disrecommend software from Microsoft simply because it’s from
Microsoft. The software might, in fact, be the most appropriate
solution for many people, but you’ll find people recommending other
solutions, often very strongly, simply to avoid using Microsoft
And to be honest, I can’t really argue with ’em. Not on Microsoft
specifically, but there are indeed companies who’s products I now avoid
simply because the products come from those companies. For assorted
reasons that I personally feel are valid those companies have somehow
placed themselves on my personal blacklist.
And again, I think everything I’ve just described is human nature.
We may want to be objective, but we all see the world through our own
experiences, priorities and values. The result is that we may come to
So, none of that helps answer your question:
Who do you believe?
The short answer: the person, persons or group that most closely
matches your own needs or values.
Which, of course, is easier said that done.
And that’s where some work comes in.
When looking for an answer, don’t just stop when you think you’ve
found the answer. Take a few minutes to get a sense for the person or
community providing that answer. Does what they say make sense to you?
Do they appear to have an understanding of the issues you’re facing? If
you’re inexperienced, do they regularly pose solutions in ways that you
can understand? If you’re experienced and looking for more technical
solutions, does what they provide match your own experience and do they
have a clear sense of what they’re talking about in general?
When relating experiences, are you finding more “this didn’t work
for me, so the product is crap”, or “this didn’t work for me, so be
careful”? Are the reports of hearsay based on reasonable data, or
almost urban-legend-like friend-of-a-friend conversations? Naturally
the more reasoned and objective the opinions, the more trustworthy they
I know that, personally, I value my own experience with products
highly, but I do try to do so with an open mind. I rarely say something
should be avoided because of my own single experience, or because of
one or two reports. However, because I do have a steady stream of
reports of issues coming in, then that’s absolutely going to color both
my opinion, and my recommendations.
The most glaring example I can provide is the my position on the use
of free email services. It wasn’t until I’d received repeated and
consistent reports of people losing everything as accounts were hacked
or otherwise lost that I formulated my own strong opinion on
the subject. My personal experience has been nearly perfect with every
free email service I’ve used, but it became clear that there’s a much
larger and more common issue that warranted action.
Ultimately, the answer is to spend a little time and find a few
resources that you feel comfortable with. Or, as you search for a
specific solution, take the time to evaluate where you end up and make
sure that the resource matches your own needs and values.
And, hey, if I’m one of them, that’s great. But if not, I know that
there are many, many alternatives out there that might also be
appropriate for you.
And keep your eyes open for new resources. This is the internet, and
there are new sources of information almost every day.