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Re: How to Increase Contributions from Volunteers

On Wed, Jan 04, 2006 at 12:20:07PM +0100, Thomas Hood wrote:
> You seem to be assuming that Debian should encourage people to contribute,
> whereas the NM process was deliberately set up to discourage applicants.
> You assume that applicants are scarce, but the assumption behind NM is that
> there are more than enough. 

For those playing along at home, Thomas recently withdrew his application
from n-m after some absurdly long delays, and declined to withdraw the
withdrawal when a number of developers, including his application manager,
offered assistance. As an obvious corollory Thomas doesn't have access to
the -private archives where the NM process was developed, so shouldn't
be taken as an authority on the assumptions behind NM, or the reasons
for which the NM process was setup.

Anyway, the real point of replying was for me to have some fun playing
(what I'll hereby dub) the false dichotomy game. That's where you take
a set of contradictory statements, and setup reasonable scenarios where,
in fact, both alternatives are true simultaneously.

> You assume that newcomers can be given the benefit
> of the doubt, whereas the assumption behind NM is that newcomers should not be
> trusted until they have endured trials.  

This one's good because there are a variety of responses. A simple one is
to give people the benefit of the doubt in how they handle their trials.
But it's not really quite on point, since the real question is whether
one should have faith in people's innate goodness, or whether you should
protect yourself against bad apples. Most of what I want to say about that
I've already blogged [0] in response to a post of Joey Hess's [1] though.

An interesting possibility worth mentioning is to make the trial be
seeing what they do when given the benefit of the doubt: that requires
a few things, notably scaled levels of trust, and an ability to recover
from instances where your trust turns out to be unfounded.

> You assume that contributors are
> different, but the assumption behind NM is that developers all need to learn
> the same skills.  

(This is counterfactual, since NM includes at least two classes of
applicants who need to learn different skills, namely packagers and
documenters, and AMs can of course make whatever special cases they
see fit. It's also the opposite of Thomas's experience in withdrawing
his application too, given his response to offers of assistance from
his AM and other developers was to indicate he didn't want the special
treatment that would imply. But we shouldn't let reality spoil our
passing amusements)

This one's a little bit too easy, really: people who are different aren't
necessarily different in every particular aspect. An obvious commonality
between Debian contributors is that the contribute to Debian; and it's
not much of a step from there to assume there's a variety of common
things they need to be familiar with.

> You assume that people can learn as they go, but NM insists
> that applicants learn everything up front.

NM is actually a good example of how both these things can be true at
once; all the things you need to know up front before being a developer,
you can happily learn as you go through the NM process.

Another way of looking at this is that education often has two parts:
learning and testing; that NM focusses on the latter component, doesn't
mean anything for the former -- you can learn however you like, as you
go, cramming, hypnosis, you just need to realise that testing, and NM,
comes after the fact.

> If there are "easy entry points" in Debian which allow non-DDs to do the same
> work as DDs then I can see why a defender of the current NM process would
> regard those points as weaknesses in Debian's defenses, which should be closed
> rather than advertized.

As someone who thinks the current NM process is horribly bureaucratic
and broken (both in being too hard for good people, and probably actively
filtering for people who like bureaucracy), I also regard sponsorship as
a flaw in Debian's process, which should be removed and replaced. I'll
cite bugs 308877 and 306791 as random examples.

Isn't being ornery fun?


[0] http://azure.humbug.org.au/~aj/blog/2005/12/07
[1] http://kitenet.net/~joey/blog/entry/ending_the_tyranny_of_unix_permissions-2005-12-06-19-03.html

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