Comparisons are Fine
I’ve seen a meme trending hard of late. Not a ‘funny picture’ meme, but an idea: ‘Don’t compare your thing to another, just show us your thing. Don’t say why it’s better than the other thing, just tell us what it does’.
This advice might work in some limited way to stop bad writing, but then we may as well just stop bad writing, not comparisons.
The advice can work to the detriment of an explanation for a few reasons.
We Choose by Comparison
When someone says ‘runnit is great, it’s faster than systemd by miles’, we should absolutely not replace this with ‘runnit may initialize the following services, on the following hardware, within 248 milliseconds’. The reader wants to make decisions between different service managers. The writer then lists out a comparative advantage, which makes sense when comparing these two.
The reader should not have to perform the work of comparing the two projects, based on their individual properties.
Explain Through Differences
Sometimes one feels so annoyed with a tool that they just want to discard it and rebuild from scratch. I loved playing Dungeons & Dragons, but I really hated the rules, so I made my own RPG. Naturally, I want an opening paragraph that reads ‘D&D is pants, this is better, because of these features’. This comparative approach (even one laced with spite) means that you can say ‘picture Dungeons & Dragons, now remove X, and add Y’.
But to list out the properties, from the start, of A,B,C, and so on, ad nauseam, without comparison would only take the longer route to the same destination - the reader would understand that this is like D&D but different.
Consider the this sentence:
In this heroic fantasy RPG, characters gain experience points, which they then spend on their Attributes, Skills, and other traits.
The second sums up pretty much the same thing, with fewer words, by taking an existing idea from D&D (character classes), then negating it.
Imagine someone recreated GURPS, but with a roll-over system, rather than roll-under, so it could scale better. Now imagine them explaining all of that book, and saying ‘read all the things’, instead of just saying ‘GURPS campaigns cannot scale well because it’s a roll-under system, so I made “BURPS”, which fixes that problem’.
Have you ever wondered why web pages take so long to load, even though your computer is 1000 times faster than it was in the 90’s? If so, try Gemini!
We often make new things to get away from aspects we hate in works we love. Putting the initial motivations front-and-centre not only allows like-minded people to instantly see what they might like here, but also lets people know when some work won’t interest them.
If someone likes the modern web, they probably won’t feel much enthusiasm for Gemini. And if someone’s always been happy with systemd, they have very little reason to keep reading about runnit. And you can’t sell someone on STV voting until you make sure they’re angry about FPTP.