How It Is

On Saying No

Saying no and hearing no is never simple.

We are, for the most part, accustomed to getting our way. We have a problem, we contact support, they fix it.

Once in a while, however, support says ‘No.’

I’m sorry, I can’t do that, Dave. I’m sorry, I can’t do that, Dave.

There are technical limits to all products. Due to our own failures of imagination, we cannot foresee every possible iteration of usage for the things we build. These failures are, of course, not the fault of anything but our own lack of omniciense. We cannot know all things. We cannot predict all things.

In this way, we have learned to expect limitations over time. We know that there is a line drawn in what the computer can do. If we have not programmed the computer to do a thing, it cannot know to do the thing. The reason for the limitation is just that the code’s author didn’t wish to write a thing. Why? Many reasons, none of which matter.

We can, however, accept that systems and software are written by humans. Humans are fettered with limited vision. Computers are shackled by the humans who create them.

When a program says it cannot do a thing, it cannot do the thing.

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I’m sorry, the system’s a bit limited. I’m sorry, the system’s a bit limited.

The problem with our shackles is that the one who has to tell a customer that the computer cannot do a thing is a person, not a computer.

We cannot delete user accounts on for a number of reasons. If the site was just a blog, or a BuddyPress network, it would be a simple matter. Instead we integrated a wiki, multiple bbPress 1.x instances, a BuddyPress network, a multisite, theme SVN, plugin SVN, and core SVN.

So no. We no longer have the technical ability to remove a user ID. Not even in the case where you accidentally used your gmail address as your username and are now ipstenugmailcom … It says username, but people do what they do. And no, we can’t rename users either. Same reason.

We coded ourselves into a situation where we are technically limited. We cannot do the thing because we didn’t develop a way to do the thing.

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I’m sorry, but it’s against policy I’m sorry, but it’s against policy

Then there’s a different kind of reason that someone tells you no. Like when someone asks for an embarrassing post or comment be deleted. Obviously this can be done. Comments and forum replies can always be deleted. That’s how they work. You may have your own site and you’ve deleted spam.

But every site has a comment policy. They have the right to moderate their site however they want. Some delete things right away. Some moderate and manually approve all comments. Others let things run until the shit hits the fan and then spend hours and weeks and months cleaning up. However they choose to moderate and maintain their site is their business and their choice. You don’t have to stick around if you don’t like it.

A large issue occurs when you don’t realize until after the fact that one of the policies is, perhaps, not removing posts. That’s when things get really messy, because now you’re being told no and not only is it by a human, but it’s a human who makes the choice.

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Your rights are subjective Your rights are subjective

The rights you have on someone else’s website are subjective.

The rights you have when you use a product are as well.

If you download Microsoft Office, you agree to a lot of terms and conditions. Whether or not you read them, you agreed to them. Same with Apple’s iCloud terms and conditions.

You give up some of your freedoms in exchange for their convenience. Your rights are subject to the agreements you make when you chose to use software, comment on a site, join a community, sign a contract, etc. etc.

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Be gracious in victory and defeat Be gracious in victory and defeat

Once in a great while, someone will make an exception for you. Most of the time you really don’t want it.

Perhaps you think it proves that all policies are mutable, but the reality is not. You see, that exception means it’s worth more to them to shut you up than it is to abide by policy.

Of course a post can be deleted. Of course someone can lock your account for you. Of course you can be granted an extended warranty. But, for the most part, in order to get that far and get that level of ‘reward,’ you will have had to become the person no one wants to talk with.

An example. A user asked for his account to be deleted and was informed of the technical impossibility of the request. He then asked for his posts to be removed and was informed of the policy prohibiting such a request. He finally asked for his account to be made inactive and to ban him from the site. He was told (after confirming that these requests were all to calm his paranoia and not that he was being harassed or stalked by someone) that the site was not his parents, and if he wanted to leave, the answer was to log off and walk away.

Instead he began to post nothing but vulgarities.

His account was locked and he was banned.

He will likely never be welcome again.

He might think he ‘won’ the argument, but all that happened was he showed his deplorable behavior, in public, in a way that Google captured. He tainted his reputation. He tarred and feathered himself. He burned his bridges. And he bragged about it.

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Support are people too Support are people too

When you are told ‘no,’ try to understand why. Accept the fact that you cannot get what you want all the time. Sometimes it’s just impossible. It’s understandable to be upset and angry. But the people tasks with enforcing policy or educating you to as to limitations, they are people just like you.