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BHS: Bug help system

  I've been spending a while thinking about the occasional requests to
have all maintainers equally responsible for all packages. At one point,
I even considered writing a lengthly proposal to this effect. I decided
this was probably not a good idea for two main reasons: 1) a lack of
motivation for people to work on packages which they don't "own" 2) Some
people really don't want others messing with their packages - these
people usually have well maintained packages.

However, there were some important points, which it would be useful to

- Maintainers have different skills and resources. For example, it may
take one developer a few seconds to fix a bug in an XSLT stylesheet,
whereas it may take the packages maintainer much longer. At present,
maintainers look after all the bugs in their own packages themselves -
things like sending a note to a mailing list or tagging a bug Help are
rarely used. In terms of resources, some lesser-skilled developers may
have plenty of time to search in upstream bts, or fix typos, but they
don't do this mostly because it is not advertised that these things need

- Maintainers have real lives. At certain times, they can devote lots of
time to maintaing their packages; at other times they can't. At present
it seems like most maintainers either take on many packages which get
plenty of attention when the maintainer has time but are abused (long
bug lists, long delay between releases) when the maintainer doesn't have
time; or, they orphan packages when they're too busy and when they get
time spend it on other (non-Debian) things.  Neither of these are
optimal solutions for the project.

- New Maintainers want to be part of the Debian community, yet they
usually start by searching the Internet for yet more trivial packages to
include in Debian. These are packaged well and kept bug free, but this
is a relatively simple task. Debian is full of buggy packages - New
maintainers should prove that they are good enough by helping fix these.
They don't as many maintainers hate people messing with their bugs. 
Also, they do not know whether anybody else is actively working on that
bug report.

I think we can help the situation by writing a system for tracking
requests for help. This is kind of like an advanced version of the help
tag in the bts.

The system would work in a similar way to the bts:
When maintainers find a bug report which they don't know how to deal
with / don't have time to deal with / think somebody else could do much
better *and* they think somebody else might (such as bug #182330 -
creating a pts icon for galeon bookmark), they would write a control
email telling the bug help system which bug they want somebody else to
look at, possibly with their own short description of the problem. This
request would be sent to one of a number of groups, e.g. graphics, man
pages, gconf, powerpc, bugzilla_search_masters, c++, make, gtk,

The bug help system would have a web interface through which all reports
for each group can be seen. Hopefully each group would also have many
developers subscribed to it - this is what would make the system
successful. Subscription options should be more flexible than for the
bts - for example, it should be possible to ask the bhs to send summary
reports (package & title) for all new entries on Wednesday afternoon and
Friday afternoon. In this way, the traffic from the bhs is low, so
hopefully many people will be inclined to subscribe. Ideally,
subscribing to groups should be made a duty of developers in the same
way that maintaining a package is.

When a developer sees a bug report they are interested in, they will
send a command to remove it from the bhs listings and start work on the
If the report is more of a request for advice, then bhs subscribers may
choose to just add comments to the report - this is still helpful for
the maintainer.

Unlike the bts, the bhs is not a place for old bug reports. If a call
for help goes unanswered after X days, it will be removed from the list
so that bhs subscribers don't have lots of uninteresting bug reports to
look through. The package maintainer will get an email notification of
this removal and should look into other ways of solving the bug report
(e.g. asking on a mailing list).

As a second feature, it would be useful if developers could also
occasionally add packages to the bhs. This would be used, for example,
when the maintainer is doing exams so has little time for Debian.

Basic tag support would be useful, particularly ones for "please NMU"
and "please modify files in cvs"

Does anybody else think this would be useful?
Is anyone interested in helping create it?

  .''`. Mark Howard
 : :' :
 `. `'  http://www.tildemh.com 
   `-   mh@debian.org | mh@tildemh.com | mh344@cam.ac.uk 

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