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Re: Debating difficult development issues in essay form


On 09-05-13 21:45, Lars Wirzenius wrote:
> We think discussions on Debian development mailing lists sometimes
> suffer from repetition of facts, opinions, and arguments. During a
> long discussion of a controversial topic, it is hard for anyone to
> keep track of what has been said, and so everything tends to get
> repeated.
> Such discussions also often become heated, and fast: those who
> participate most intensely tend to answer within minutes of each
> other. Even without repetition, following the discussion becomes
> a lot of work.

This is probably true. However, I'm not convinced your proposal solves
more problems than it introduces:
- First, I find it extremely difficult to follow a discussion on a wiki
  page. Yes, there is a diff feature in most wikis (including ours), but
  that requires you to remember when you last read the position on the
  wiki page in question; this makes it prone to losing out. In contrast,
  when I participate in a mailing lists discussion, I simply have new
  information marked as "unread" and old information as "read". That
  makes it much easier to figure out what's new and what isn't.
- In my experience, when discussing controversial subjects, it is a
  mistake to believe that the number of 'sides' in a discussion is
  significantly smaller than the number of participants to that
  discussion -- or indeed that it is even possible to distinguish which
  'side' one is on. I've often experienced during such discussions that
  I may fully agree with someone else on one detail of the matter at
  hand, but vehemently disagree with that same person on another detail.
  With your proposal, this would probably mean we'd either need to write
  smaller "essays", one for each part of the matter at hand, so that
  people can sign off their own combination of details, or we'd need to
  write multiple mostly-but-not-quite similar essays. Both pretty much
  defeat the purpose of your proposal.
- Most importantly, if you write down an opinion that multiple people
  then sign off on, it becomes much harder to change or restructure your
  opinion as a result of the debate. If you're discussing something in a
  mailinglist, it's okay to say "yes, you're right, you've convinced
  me", even if some people may (wrongly) see that as losing face. Once
  you've done that, people will understand that your opinion is no
  longer what it once was. If you've got an essay form of your opinion,
  should you then rewrite that? But what about the people who (used to)
  agree with you? Should they agree with the rewritten opinion, too?
  Probably not. But you can't sign off on it anymore. Should you then
  write a new version of that essay? That brings us back to the 2nd
  problem I pointed out.
- Even if that wasn't true, after having put a lot of effort in an
  essay, I think many people will become entrenched in that opinion. As
  a result, they may be less likely to consider opposing arguments and
  change or restructure their opinion based on these arguments. This
  would result in less discussion, and more flames.

I do agree that sometimes, mailinglists aren't the best possible medium
to hold a discussion. However, I'm not convinced that your proposal is
the best way to fix that. I think that with all its flaws, mailinglists
(and/or usenet) are still the best option we have for discussing
important matters. There will be exceptions, of course, when people are
flaming; but flames are an expression of an inner emotion, one that does
not allow healthy discussion; adding structure to the way one performs a
discussion isn't going to take that away.

Sorry to be so disapproving; I do agree that we can do better, I just
don't agree this is the best way forward.


This end should point toward the ground if you want to go to space.

If it starts pointing toward space you are having a bad problem and you
will not go to space today.

  -- http://xkcd.com/1133/

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