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Making -devel discussions more viable (was: switching from exim to postfix)

Stefano Zacchiroli <zack@debian.org> writes:
> On Sun, Apr 29, 2012 at 07:18:54PM +0200, Marco d'Itri wrote:

>> Unrelated: you have just shown what poisons Debian and has been keeping
>> us behind innovation for the last years.  Not the flamewars themselves,
>> most of us are grown ups and can handle them, but the fear that
>> proposing a change will cause endless discussions and no results.

> Still unrelated, but let me AOL the above. Russ was just joking, but I
> completely agree with Marco's point here. We're often scared of
> "starting a thread on -devel" to propose changes that are far reaching
> enough not to be directly implementable. Every now and then I got asked
> advice on whether proposing some change on -devel is a good idea or not.
> I'm always happy to give advice, but the fact we sometime worry to
> propose changes is worrisome in itself. And it can induce project-wide
> inertia as much as worrying too much about performing NMUs to fix bugs.

Yes, I was just joking and I'm inclined to agree.  (Although with respect
to Marco's specific proposal, there *is* a cost to debate and a request
for everyone's attention, and unless the gains are particularly clear, I'm
not sure it's worth incurring that cost.)

> But we also need to convince ourselves that -devel discussions are
> useful and lead to progress. For that to happen, we need more people
> that look back at past discussions, summarize their conclusions (if
> there have been) or relaunch them (if not), and take concrete actions as
> the natural next step of discussing. There are people doing that, but
> not nearly enough.

Given recent experiences, I'm also coming around to Ian's position that
aggressive and confrontational contributions from people who don't
otherwise seem to be contributing to Debian are part of the problem and
are not useful, and possibly should be banned.  I think that's been a
significant factor in the deterioration of the init system threads.

I want our technical discussions to be welcoming to anyone who has
information to share and who can bring additional clarity and insight to
the discussion.  But once things start getting heated or people start
throwing around accusations or verge towards personal attacks, there's a
real psychological difference between people who are contributing to
Debian and people who aren't.

If I'm being attacked by a colleague, it's a lot easier for me to go
"well, that made me mad, but they've done a great job of maintaining this
package I use and I've seen them do lots of other work for Debian, so they
must just be having a bad day" and let it go.  There's some built-up good
will because they're part of the community.

When that sort of attack comes from someone who I've never heard of
before, and when I then go to the PTS and db.debian.org and find no track
record of that person ever contributing to Debian other than via mailing
list discussions, it's a lot harder to give them that benefit of the
doubt.  And it gets really frustrating to have to keep discussing and
defending decisions with people who don't appear to be doing anything for
Debian other than feeding discussions that are a net drain of energy.

I'm leery of this whole line of argument, since it's inherently a double
standard.  That's why I've not raised it before.  But, well, humans are
social animals and social dynamics involve some degree of double standard,
and it would be nice if people who were effectively guests in our
technical discussions would behave like house guests rather than diving in
with the degree of robust engagement that (while never exactly ideal) our
long-time contributors have to some degree made up for in advance.

Russ Allbery (rra@debian.org)               <http://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/>

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