Writing opinion pieces about a field that one is, for all intents and purposes, a "lay person" in is a pretty gutsy thing to do and fraught with the danger of, well .. getting it really wrong. This is why those who are recognized critics of food, wine, theater, movies, architecture, etc. tend to have expert-level knowledge of their respective field. They usually know many of the people in the industry very well and can recite arcane facts about their topic with command, ease and accuracy. This is not to say that all professional critics are competent, but professional critics do tend to have a certain standard of competency applied to them that lay people offering their personal opinions, valid as they may be, just don't have. The resulting difference in quality of analysis offered tends to speak for itself.
Everyone certainly has an opinion and an experience to relate. This, however, is different from an analysis or a critique. By way of example: when eating a meal at a restaurant cooked by a professional chef (and their staff), most people can identify whether the food tastes "good" or not to them. Different people will say the same dish is better or worse depending on their personal taste, of course. However, relatively few people would be able to identify all the ingredients used or preparation methods employed in the making of that dish. Even fewer would be able to accurately identify things that would improve the dish, such as which spices/herbs/flavours may have been a better compliment to the meal, what cooking method would have produced better results or what variations in ingredients would improve the result. Any food critic who can't do that, however, has no business being a food critic and will likely never make it to the "big leagues" of food criticism.
The difference between having a personal experience or opinion and offering an analysis or critique is therefore significant. I believe that sharing one's personal experience is great. Creating an analysis that one is not equipped to do is the opposite of great. While I may like or dislike the way a certain software product does something, and I may share that opinion with others, I am hesitant to proclaim why the flaws exist or how the flaws ought to be addressed unless I have made an effort to understand the fundamentals at work beyond just my own experience with that software. It's not unlike being a food critic in that way.
Unfortunately, many people who write about technology rarely could pass muster as a critic if we used the kinds of standards employed in most other fields. There are bright lights in the darkness, including people who are quite critical of the results of F/OSS projects. Those people tend to know of what they write and I really enjoy (even when I disagree) with what they write. They tend to either be people with deep first-hand personal experience in the act of creation of what they are writing about or they are people who have done a lot of homework and research into the matter to ensure they have a deep understanding of the field. They do not simply shoot from the hip and hope it sticks.
When people in our community write with a nonchalant attitude and offer analysis without the basis to do so, they do us a significant disservice. After all, we don't need competition creating FUD when we are doing it ourselves by generating gross misinformation that undermines our own activities. The amount of inaccurate information in circulation in our community can quite often, in my experience, be traced back to such unfortunate "analysis" pieces.
To quote Radiohead: "You do it to yourself, you do, and that's why it really hurts."
What really sucks is that these same people really do mean well and are, with all honesty in their souls, trying to participate in a positive manner in our communities. As such, I can't bring myself to get upset with them as individuals, but I do wish we could improve the situation and avoid a lot of needless energy wasting. Perhaps having a minimum set of standards we hold each other to when publishing what amounts to technical critique and analysis, just like other fields with critics try to, would be useful.
What do you think? How can we improve this situation?