Arduino: The community that lost it's way

When it comes to open source hardware, Arduino is a huge success story: a project that sparked an ecosystem, and one that has broad appeal amongst beginners and advanced users alike. I purchased my first Arduino board - a Duemilanove - in 2009, and have since been building up a sizable treasure trove of various components and controllers.

As a project Arduino is awesome, and as an ecosystem it’s as impressive as it is vast… and that means it’s pretty damn impressive.

So how comes the Arduino forums are so toxic?

Where enthusiasm goes to die.#

Before we go any further, it’s worth re-iterating the context around Arduino: a relatively inexpensive open-source hardware platform that lowers the bar for hobbyists that want to explore electronics. For many it’s an introduction to electronics, for others an introduction to programming, and for some brave souls it’s even an introduction to both.

Through the availability of ready-made circuit modules, as well as a thriving ecosystem of associated software libraries, projects can be as simple or as complex as the user wants them to be.

A cursory glance at the official Arduino forums could allow you to forget much of this context though, and it’s difficult to Google an Arduino related topic without finding yourself in a forum thread that’s devolved in to snark, or - perhaps more frustratingly - one littered with authors who feel the need to profess their intellect via tetchy signatures. For many these forums are more an outlet for ego than education, and snark as opposed to support.

Now before I continue I ought to make something clear: these aren’t the bitter ramblings of someone who made a questionable post and was rebuked. I’ve never posted on the forums, nor have I even registered: I just don’t think it’s worth it.

I’m far from a font of electrical knowledge: but I can understand schematics, design fairly useful circuits, implement different communications protocols, and troubleshoot/diagnose fairly simple faults. I’m a hobbyist: proficient but not necessarily efficient! 1

Although I now use tools like KiCad for producing schematics, and tend to write the software with the same attitude/toolchain I use during my day job (that’s to say I no longer use the Arduino IDE and will write unit tests), I still began using simpler/friendlier tools - tools such as Fritzing.

A cursory glance at a thread I have currently open in another tab contains a modern-Einstein who feels the need to proudly proclaim that they “don’t speak Fritzing” in their signature2, whilst an argument develops over a simple question regarding capacitor usage. Meanwhile, the original poster has abandoned the thread.

The issue of abrasive and hostile attitudes isn’t even a recent issue: and it’s been happening for years , with complaints on other forums ; in fact it’s fair to say that it’s so entrenched in the forum that it’s become part of it’s very culture.

And it’s sad: I wonder how many Arduino starter kits are eagerly opened up, only for any enthusiasm to fade after the owner ventures online with a simple question or query.

Ultimately it leads to a very simple question: would it be best for the Arduino project to distance itself from its official forums?

Whilst mother’s all over the world have likely uttered the words “if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all"; I personally prefer “if you’re using a forum that’s often frequented by beginners as nothing more than a masturbatory aid for your ego, perhaps you’re a bit of a tool”.

  1. OK.. I’ve been contracted on hardware related projects in the past as a software guy, and that’s meant reading through datasheets, specs and schematics. But that’s a luxury that I doubt I would’ve had were it not for the Arduino ecosystem as an educational tool. ↩︎

  2. One can’t help but ponder whether that particular poster see’s any irony in being unable to comprehend a graphical tool designed to be friendly enough for beginners…? ↩︎