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Joe Mayo

It’s always fun to receive positive feedback on your work. If you receive a sufficient amount of positive feedback, you know you’re doing something right. Sometimes, people provide negative feedback too. There are a couple ways to handle it: come back fighting or engage for clarification. The way you handle the negative feedback depends on what your goals are.

Feedback Approaches

If you know the feedback is incorrect and you need to promote your idea or product, you might want to come back fighting. The feedback might just be comments by a troll or competitor wanting to spread FUD. However, this could be the totally wrong approach if you misjudge the source and intentions of the feedback.

In a lot of cases, feedback is a golden opportunity. Sometimes, a problem exists that you either don’t know about or don’t realize the true impact of the problem. If you decide to come back fighting, you might loose the opportunity to learn something new. However, if you engage the person providing the feedback, looking for clarification, you might learn something very important. Negative feedback and it’s clarification can lead to the collection of useful and actionable data.

In my case, something that prompted this blog post, I noticed someone who tweeted a negative comment about LINQ to Twitter. Normally, any less than stellar comments are usually from folks that need help – so I help if I can. This was different. I was like “Don’t use LINQ to Twitter”. This is an open source project, the comment didn’t come from a competing project, and  sounded more like an expression of frustration. So I engaged. Not only did the person respond, but I got some decent quality feedback. What’s also interesting is a couple other side conversations sprouted on the subject, which gave me more useful data.

LINQ to Twitter Thread

Actions

Essentially, this particular issue centered around maintenance. There are actually several sub-issues at play here: dependencies, error handling, debugging, and visibility. I’ll describe each one and my interpretation.

Dependencies

Dependencies are where a library has references to other libraries. This means that when you build your application, you need DLLs for the entire dependency graph for your application. There are several potential problems with this that include more libraries for configuration management, potential versioning mismatches, and lack of cross-platform support.

In the early days of LINQ to Twitter, I allowed developers to contribute and add dependencies, but it became very problematic (for reasons stated). It was like a ball and chain that kept me from moving forward. So, I refactored and pulled other open-source into my project to eliminate external dependencies. This lets me fix the code in my project without relying on someone else to upgrade or fix their DLL. The motivation for this was from early negative feedback that translated as important data and acted on it. Today, LINQ to Twitter has zero dependencies.

Note: Rejecting good code from community members who worked hard to make your project better is a painful experience in itself. I have to point out that any contribution was not in vain because they had a positive influence on my subsequent refactoring that resulted in a better developer experience.

Error Handling

Error handling has been a problem in the past. I have this combination of supporting both synchronous and asynchronous (APM) processing that can be complex at times. Within the last 6 months, I did a fair amount of refactoring to detect errors and process them properly. I also refactored TwitterQueryException so it includes important data from Twitter. During this refactoring, I’ve made breaking changes that I felt would improve the development experience (small things like renaming a callback property to Exception, rather than Error). I think the async error handling is much better than it was a year ago.

For all the work I’ve done, there is more to do. I think that a combination of more error handling support, e.g. improving semantics, and education through documentation and samples will improve the error handling story. Because of what I’ve done so far, it isn’t bad, but I see opportunities for improvement.

Debugging

Debugging can be painful. Here’s why: you have multiple layers of technology to navigate and figure out where the real problem is – Twitter API, Security, HTTP, LINQ to Twitter, and application. You can probably add your own nuances to that list, but the point is that debugging in this environment can be complex.

I think that my plans for error handling will contribute to making the debugging process easier. However, there’s more I can do in the way of documentation and guidance. Some of the questions to be answered revolve around when something goes wrong, how does the developer figure out that there is a problem, what the problem is, and what to do about it.

One example that has gone a long way to helping LINQ to Twitter developers is the 401 FAQ. A 401 Unauthorized is the error that the Twitter API returns when a use isn’t able to authenticate and is one of the most difficult problems faced by LINQ to Twitter developers. What I did was read guidance from Twitter and collect techniques from my own development and actions helping other developers to compile an extensive list of reasons for the 401 and ways to fix the problem. At one time, over half of the questions I answered in the forums were to help solve 401 issues. After publishing the 401 FAQ, I rarely get a 401 question and it’s because the person didn’t know about the FAQ. If the person is too lazy to read the FAQ, that’s not my issue, but the results in support issues have been dramatic.

I think debugging can benefit from the education and documentation approach, but I’m always open to suggestions on whatever else I can do.

Visibility

Visibility is a nuance of the error handling/debugging discussion but is deeply rooted in comfort and control. The questions to ask in this area are what is happening as my code runs and how testable is the code.

In support of these areas, LINQ to Twitter does have logging and TwitterContext properties that help see what’s happening on requests. The logging functionality allows any developer to connect a TextWriter to the Log property of TwitterContext to see what’s happening. Further, TwitterContext has a Headers property to see the headers Twitter returns and a RawResults property to show the Json string Twitter returns. From a testing perspective, I’ve been able to write hundreds of unit tests, over 600 when this post is published, and growing.

If you write your own library, you have full control over all of these aspects. The tradeoff here is that while you have access to the LINQ to Twitter source code and modify it for all the visibility, LINQ to Twitter *will* change (which is good) and you will have to figure out how to merge that with your changes (which is hard). The fact is that this is a limitation of any 3rd party library, not just LINQ to Twitter. So, it’s a design decision where the tradeoff is between control and productivity.

That said, there are things I can do with LINQ to Twitter to make the visibility story more compelling. I think there are opportunities to improve diagnostics. This would be a ton of work because it would need to provide multi-level logging that can be tuned for production and support any logging provider you want to attach. I’ve considered approaches such as how the new Semantic Logging application block connects to Windows Error Reporting as a potential target. Whatever I do would need to be extensible without creating native external dependencies. e.g. how many 3rd party libraries force a dependency on a logging framework that you don’t use. So, this won’t be an easy feat, but I believe it can be part of the roadmap.

I think that a lot of developers are unaware of existing visibility features, so the first step would be to provide more documentation and guidance. My thought are that this would lead to more feedback that will help improve this area.

Summary

Recent feedback highlights some of items that are important to LINQ to Twitter developers, such as dependencies, error handling, debugging, and visibility. I know that there are maintenance issues that have been problems for LINQ to Twitter developers in the past. I’ve done a lot of work in this area, such as improving error handling, adding visibility features, and providing extensive API documentation. That said, there is more to be done to make LINQ to Twitter the best Twitter API experience available for .NET developers and I welcome anyone’s thoughts on what I’ve written here or new improvements.

@JoeMayo

Posted on Sunday, June 16, 2013 2:43 PM | Back to top

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