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OSS community interaction (was: Re: *** bluber *** Re: Male xxxxxx enhancement formula^)

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on 5/25/05 2:38 AM, Michael Marsh wrote:
|>On Tue, 2005-05-24 at 23:15 +0200, Michelle Konzack wrote:
|>The question here is what's less acceptable? A bunch-o-spam or not
|>having non-list subscribers be able to ask questions. I think that
|>the level of spam is annoying, but less annoying than having to have
|>people subscribe to the list. So, I agree with you, but I do not
|>feel as vehemently as you apparently do.
| Requiring people to subscribe in order to post is worse than
| annoying. If a mailing list requires subscription to post, and I'm
| not generally interested in the list traffic, I won't post, because
| the list traffic is unacceptable. In the case of one software
| package I (...)
| Your main avenue for communication with your user base *must* be
| open, or there's little point in making your software open. It can
| be a mailing list, a newsgroup, a comment address, or a web form,
| but if users have to join a "club" to contact you, you've done
| something wrong.

[sorry for replying a little bit late. i can't read this list every
day but think that something of more general interest has started to
surface in this thread.]

i perfectly agree on the notion, that open/free software should be as
open and welcoming to newbies as possible (community-wise that is).
this requires some way of interacting with the supporters which is as
simple and barrier-free as possible.

but i strongly disagree on the idea, that said simple and barrier-free
way necessarily consists of mailing lists like this one. quite in

let me explain:

1) spam on a mailing list according to my experience strongly harms
~   its perceived quality (with trolls and noise being the other main
~   menaces). especially newbies might be more affected by this: if
~   they are really as uninformed as michelle thinks they are, they
~   don't know anything about spam, virii and how to deal with those.
~   which in the end could prove to be vastly counter-productive:
~   keeping the list as open as possible to not scare away newbies
~   might drive them away more profundly one step later because of the
~   spam on that list spilling into their mailboxes. further, the
~   latter might also lead said people to draw conclusions like
~   "freedom/openness (= gnu/linux) <=> spam/insecurity". not quite
~   what i and most propably you want. mind you that this is
~   speculation, but speculation drawn from some experience (like >15
~   yrs. internet use and having been formally trained as a
~   communications & interaction designer with a focus on sociable
~   media - i'm currently preparing my MA in that field)

2) the newbie argument is IMHO far overrated: this problem has been
~   vastly discussed in the literature for interface & interaction
~   design (see e. g. cooper/reiman, about face 2.0 - the essentials of
~   interaction design, indanapolis: wiley, 2003 - very recommendable!)
~   the bottom line goes like: think of your main and most important
~   users as intermediate (neither rookies nor wizards) and
~   intelligent, but with limited time. this can be applied to nearly
~   every context.
~   => e.g. a decent and beginner-friendly _how-to-subscribe_ is more
~   helpful in the long run as the main users won't be impacted by
~   negative side-effects.

3) especially beginners normally don't get on mailing lists by chance
~   but through some web site. => if they have questions which can be
~   answered directly on this web site there is no need to post them to
~   a list (which in turn requires also more of their time and
~   attention to get the answers). => the better help there is at first
~   hand, the better their needs are taken care of. [this especially
~   applies to the type of questions that can be easily solved by
~   search/rtfm]

4) mailing list participants tend to be annoyed by spam and rtfm-type
~   noise which decreases their ability and motivation to read and
~   answer questions: more noise => less [cognitive] attention => less
~   answers => lower net value of the mailing list to all its users <=>
~   mailing lists should be as noise and spam free as possible.

i hope it becomes evident, that there are several *stages of
interaction* (with increasing user participation) involved and a
mailing list is normally not the first of them.

this means that posing a question like "should this mailing list be
completely open or subscriber-only?" (see michelle's citation above)
does not at all tackle the problem and furthermore blocks alternative
(and better) solutions.

therefore i think it is necessary to *reframe the whole discussion*.
let me sum up the problem as i understand it:

- - how to effectively answer beginner questions? (effectively in
~  _their_ eyes, mind you)

- - how to generate useful feedback for authors and maintainers?

- - how to get new and existing users to participate further?

- - how to increase the value of community interaction means as a whole?
~  (i.e. mailing lists like debian-*. what else?)

to draft my position on this, i favor:

- - vastly improving the help resources on the web at debian.org (1st
~  stage) [maybe a simple expert system in addition to plain search,
~  definitely better navigation, ... ]

- - adding a realtime intermediate communication & participation stage
~  there. think (maybe moderated) irc here w/out irc client software.
~  plainly adding a java-based irc client for dedicated help channnels
~  to the site might be problematic as working java browser plugins are
~  not available on every platform. but cgi-scripting or php combined
~  with auto-reload might just be sufficient. it is important to *not*
~  use normal forums for this purpose, as all forums i know tend to
~  attract too much with noise (and trolls) which vastly limits their
~  usefulness. dedicated chat is better there. (2nd stage) interesting
~  threads arising in a discussion could be directed to a wiki (e.g. by
~  moderators) to capture the information & there might be also a kind
~  of hint bots on each channel which could lead people to resources of
~  interest.

- - mailing lists (3rd stage) should then primarily host in-depth
~  discussion of ideas and issues which cannot be dealt with on the
~  first two stages. which means: less but more substantial traffic.
~  and *no* spam at all. and, yes, subscriber-only, as well.



p.s.: i won't be able to elaborate on all of this further during the
next 8-10 days, but will happily contribute more later on.
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