Apple vs Android: How tech tribalism is ruining the web

The never-ending stream of "mine's better than yours" between fans of rival smartphones, tablets and computers is destroying healthy debate about IT. It's time for the warring factions to put away their cliched arguments and engage in grown-up discussion.

A recent article I wrote on the Apple iPhone 5 got over 200 reader comments. I have no idea what they say, I haven't read them. I never read comment threads on articles about Apple or Android. What's the point?

This isn't a slight against the good readers of TechRepublic. This is a web-wide policy I've adopted as the enmity between Apple and Android has raged and raged and raged. There have always been hostility between supporters of opposing technologies but it seems like the schism between iOS and Android fans is far more fierce than the one between Apple and Microsoft ever was. More fierce and certainly more tedious and abusive.

I love being called an idiot or a 'fanbois' by people who assume I know nothing about technology because they know how to program or can solder a motherboard and I buy Apple products. It is life affirming in the same way that constantly having to gently tell my mum that she can't delete the internet from her iPad is life affirming.

That's not to say we haven't all got something useful to say, just that chances are you haven't said it on an online comment thread on an article involving Apple or Android. It's got to the point where the abuse is omnipresent. It seems to me it's just wilful ignorance driven by tech tribalism.

Perhaps it's the same mentality that drives otherwise decent, educated people to hurl terrible abuse at each other in football stadia. So too the tech tribalism that spills over into invective and cliché has ruined the comment threads beneath articles about Apple, Android and other smartphones, tablets and computers. At least for me.

Apple readers are, or at least, were, just as bad as any Android, Windows or BlackBerry advocate.

Ultimately this is partly Apple's doing. The company's first product evangelist Guy Kawasaki reportedly ran a mailing list that highlighted critical reports about Apple. The result was wave after wave of abusive attacks on journalists and analysts. Kawasaki reportedly closed the list when it became obvious that it would ultimately harm the Apple brand but the genie was already out of the bottle.

Back in 2005 I wrote an article for that criticised the online manner of Mac users who hurled abuse at journalists and anyone who found fault with Apple (still available from ZDNet).

Back then I was embarrassed by the vitriol that fellow Mac users were pouring out in online fora frequented by IT decision makers in business - the very people they were trying to influence to resolve their insecurity and resentment about Apple's minority market position.

The rise of open source in the late nineties led to another wave of 'enthusiasts' who bombarded with abusive comments if a journalist dared question any aspect of Linux. Some of the abuse we got at bordered on threatening.

Fast forward 10 years and now we have a band of Android supporters who deride Apple and its 'ignorant', herd-following customers. So how have we got to this current firestorm between Android and Apple fans?

On the one hand it stems from the traditional practice of pitting of one tech company against another.

I also have a different theory. Apple is all about the democratisation of technology. First with the Mac, and later with the iPod and iOS devices. It has made information technology and all the useful things it can offer available to a vast new audience of people who previously had no truck with it. As Apple products began to become dominant, the traditional tech market consumer was increasingly marginalised by both products and marketing. People resented this.

The iPod started it and people who fitted into the 'rest of us' category got hooked on a technology brand without really realising it. The so-called Halo Effect's impact was wide and enduring.

So these days, Apple doesn't really design products for techies - the 'real' old school techies. The only one you could make a case for is the Mac Pro and that's remained untouched for many years. The powerful computer in its massive, upgradeable aluminium case is the complete opposite of the sealed, safe iPad.

'Opposite' is the key word. What makes tech folk think in such polar extremes? Maybe it's a hangover from having to think in binary for so long.

So it comes to this: do we yearn for a more civilised web or are we content to peddle the same invective and cliché ad Infinitum - or rather - ad nauseam?

What do we need? A new charter for the web? We've lost YouTube to the trolls. Let's not lose the middle ground of tech news sites, blogs and fora to the same tsunami of wilful ignorance.

Here's a start:

• Don't be an idiot

• Ask yourself: will this comment add to the argument or are you secretly embarrassed to be posting it?

• Does it contain any of the following words and phrases: 'sheeple', 'windoze', 'it just works'. 'boring beige box', 'fanbois'. If so you may have taken a shortcut to thinking. Try again.

I'm know I don't have a clear answer so maybe I should rely, ironically, on the wisdom of crowds.

If you spend time on chat forums and reader boards have a think about how things have changed over the years. If you're tired of the downward spiral then add a comment below suggesting your own idea for a charter for a more civilised web conversation.

Knock yourself out and keep it polite. Or don't. As I said before, it makes no difference to me either way.

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