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

On Sat, 2005-05-28 at 19:36 +0200, sascha brossmann wrote:
> Hash: SHA1
> 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.

Um...  sorry, but Michelle didn't say that.  I did.


> [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
> contrary.
> 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)

This is a very good point.  No-one wants spam, and I strongly suspect
that the reason that we see almost as many unsubscribes sent directly to
the list that we do is because we have as much spam as we do.

We already have a web form for requesting subscription; perhaps we
should also have a web form for requesting removal.

> 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.

I agree with your point.  Also worth noting is that a subscription isn't
necessary in this case.  A one-time challenge and response (initiated by
an attempt to send something to the list) would be just as effective,
without constraining people to join.  The challenge could provide
instructions to join as well as allowing the user to just post the
message.  Thus, the simple instructions are provided in the most direct
and natural way possible.

> 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]

The problem here I think is that there is almost too much information
available to the new user.  Once you've gotten your feet under you, then
you have a much better idea of where to go and what to do, but until
then there is almost too much info.

> 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.

Also agreed.  Again, the problem is also that there is almost too much
information for the new user.

One of the unfortunate side-effects of making computers "easier to use"
is that people don't know where to go or how to find answers when things
go wrong.  Note that I am a great believer in automation, ease of use, &
etc.  The problem is that they really aren't that easy to use.  Yet.

Perhaps what we need is a FAQ: How to look things up and find things out
(for Linux).

> 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.

Emphatically agreed.

> 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.

(Ahem... *my* citation).  That actually wasn't my point.  My original
point (several messages ago) was to propose some solutions to the direct
problem of spam on this list.  Michelle was emphatically against closing
the list to non-subscriber posts.  My position was about half-way
between you and her, leaning a little more towards Michelle's side of
things.  I was actually trying to bring up some of the points that you
have more eloquently elaborated on.  I was also trying to point out that
the issue wasn't as black and white as Michelle was painting it.

> 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?)

I agree that these really are the main points under discussion.  I would
also add that we need to *discourage attrition*, by making the lists
have less spam and less noise.  I think that you implicitly recognize
this by the tone of your suggested solution.

> 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, ... ]

This is a good first step, but takes a lot of work.  Perhaps an auto-FAQ
system or a Wiki web would be good first approximations.

> - - 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.

I'm not so sure about this.  I think it would be really hard to
eliminate trolls, and I'm not so sure about the duplication of effort in
terms of re-implementing IM.  (Now, I could see someone providing a pay
service along these lines.)  Perhaps a searchable IM would work?

> - - 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.

Hmmm...  maybe.  Yes, I can see doing this, *if* you could get "stage
two" to work.  I think that there are a host of technical and social
hurdles that would be need to be addressed first.

> best,
> sascha
> 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.

Well, then I look forward to continuing this discussion when you return.


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