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Re: Question for A. Towns - NM

Hi David,

I'm going to cheat and treat this as two questions.

David N. Welton wrote:
A. Towns writes, in his platform:
 I think it's important that the project accept contributions from as
 large and diverse a group of technically skilled people as we can
 manage. I think the best way to achieve this is:
   1. To have our lists filled with interesting technical discussions,
   that welcome intelligent contributions from new-comers, and don't
   waste a lot of time going over old ground or off-topic subjects.
   2. [...]
> Can you elaborate?  What does this mean in practical terms?

And I'm going to cheat some more -- because I can't really elaborate on this one literally, I'm going to hope you meant "How might this be achieved, in practical terms?", and answer that instead.

(Hrm, this now has nothing to do with NM in spite of the Subject:, but hey, I was going to write this anyway and you did ask...)

Basically, I think our lists have become fairly seriously unproductive; to the point where people who're interested in the stated topic of the lists are unsubscribing or not subscribing in the first place, and topics and ideas that should be being discussed on the lists aren't being brought up or are being discussed in private instead, and that we also aren't managing to come to coherent conclusions on topics.

I can think of a few ways to try to resolve this. The most important is killing "noise", by which I primarily mean off-topic threads, but also mails generally that don't add anything to the discussion because they're, eg, just rehashing old arguments, or outright spam, or similar. As DPL, I'd be aiming to have a delegate group (perhaps listmaster, or perhaps a moderator group, so listmaster can focus on technical issues) to start enforcing list policy by technical measures, such as bouncing posts on threads that have gone off-topic, or by suspending or banning posters who are frequently off-topic or offensive, to potentially having developers who're are unable to control themselves removed from the project entirely. I tend to think having a simple "post a non-private message to -private, and you'll be suspended from the lists for a week, and followups to the message will be bounced" would be both effective, and require very little enforcement after the first instance.

I think the following messages should have resulted in the posters being sanctioned to some degree, eg:

  - campaigning is limited to a set three week period, campaigning
    for or against potential candidates outside this time is off-topic

  - the personal merits of fellow developers are off-topic

  - death threats are off-topic, whether they're jokes or not, vendettas
    deserved or not are off-topic for announcement lists

  - dropping architectures when buildds aren't working perfectly has
    been done to death; with nothing new to add, it shouldn't be brought
    up again

I hope this doesn't mean we have to be too pedantic, and I think we should allow people to get away with discussing old issues by, eg, appending an "ObBug:" to each message (listing a unique bug they've personally fixed recently) -- it's more important to keep to the idea that Debian's about improving software, not debating the same old ideas over and over again, than it is to be stressed over enforcing rules to the letter.

The main benefit of bans and other fascist things like that isn't so much that obnoxiousness only happens once instead of repeatedly, it's that other people note that there's some point to thinking before they post, and start taking a little more care over what they say. It really isn't difficult to work out most messages posted to -private shouldn't be, yet in the four days of this month, there have already been over 60 messages posted to that list. I think self-policing would work great for cleaning up -private, but it seems to need some incentive before it'll happen, and I think having your account or subscription to -private suspended for a week or two would generally suffice.

It's also important to encourage more signal as well as lower noise -- and given some prospect of pointless debates and flamewars being discouraged by the above, I'm optimistic that we could get more interesting ideas from existing teams discussed on the lists.

I'm not going to go into detail on what sort of ban goes with what sort of post; I think that's for whoever ends up doing the work to decide. I suspect that, especially initially, it will be more important to allow some flexibility in who gets suspended or banned for what, rather than having a set of rules printed up front for people to try to exploit.

I'll try to get onto the other half of your question tomorrow.


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