Standing in the street trying to hear yourself think

Onno Benschop onno at
Thu Jul 2 23:45:59 UTC 2009

As Ubuntu becomes more and more popular, the resources we use to
communicate within our community become saturated with the sounds made
by new and learning users. This is not a new thing, nor is it
undesirable, but unless we find ways to deal with the increasing
background noise, we have a real chance of drowning.

To be clear, I'm not saying that we need to hide from users, nor that we
should build islands that isolate us from their efforts, but that the
systems we use today do not appear to scale well. Spend a few moments in
#ubuntu and you'll be surrounded by many users with questions and few
with answers. The same is true in the Ubuntu forums, the mailing lists,
launchpad, etc. Searching for issues that need resolution will often
result in many hits that are people adding "me too" messages, or adding
incorrect advice, which then in turn results in more posts. This is
getting worse. That is, the noise is increasing.

The power of our community is that we provide access to all comers, but
that's also our weakness. Not everyone is an expert and not everyone
will ever be an expert. Some who think they're experts are not, despite
their well meaning attempts at providing pages that show users how to
"fix" something by doing something in a "non-Ubuntu way" causing bug
reports that don't exist from users who followed the advice.

Should we find ways of distinguishing expert advice? Who decides what
constitutes an expert?

What I've written thus far scratches the surface of what I'm attempting
to convey. I've been trying to write this email for six months, and I
can only provide two anecdotes to attempt to describe in another way
what I'm getting at.

    * In 1990 I was a participant and contributor to the usenet group
      Alt.Best.Of.Internet, or ABOI. When AOL joined us online, ABOI was
      swamped with users posting anything and everything to the group.
      Despite our best and sustained efforts, the group died in the
      onslaught of excited new Internet users who overwhelmed us.
    * Today it was suggested that what I'm getting at is the phenomenon
      that standing in the middle of a noisy street is a very hard place
      to concentrate on anything. You really need to find a place where
      you can close the door and think. While closing the door is simple
      enough, it defeats the purpose of sharing our efforts in a
      combined effort with the user community.

I'm not attempting to proscribe how to resolve this, what I'm attempting
to do with this email is start the discussion about how we might go
about planning for success.

What are we going to do about the exponential growth in Ubuntu success
and exposure?

How are we going to continue to flourish and grow while "the masses"
arrive with their questions and bug-reports?

Perhaps I'm seeing something that isn't there. Perhaps others are
already thinking about this and I've just come along to add more noise
to that discussion - if so, I'm sorry.

Onno Benschop

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