Standing in the street trying to hear yourself think
andrew-ubuntu-devel at pileofstuff.org
Fri Jul 3 03:44:34 UTC 2009
The Ubuntu community is growing, and as Evan mentioned, our current
channels of communication can only support a finite rate of messages.
So there are only two possible solutions: increase the supply of
meat-bandwidth, or decrease the demand. Other posts have interesting
ideas about increasing supply, so I'd like to suggest a way of
decreasing the demand. This would involve trying to find "higher-order
issues" when someone asks a question - the trail of logic that lead them
(and therefore others) to demand bandwidth in the first place.
As some people might remember, I wrote a survey about noise on the list
a few months ago. The response was fairly clear, but didn't demonstrate
any overwhelming pressure, and my impression was that the list
coincidentally became less noisy at about the same time. So I did
something I rarely do - wrote up my conclusions and shelved them for
later reference. Those conclusions might be interesting in this
debate, although they're fairly specific to this list.
Thinking back on the survey, one of the "meta" learning points is that
most Ubuntu people get far more exercised by specific cases than by
statistics. Another example is the way there's always a clamour to
improve apport, but popcon's significant opportunities seem to be
provoke a more relaxed attitude amongst would-be beneficiaries. Though
we few evidence-zealots keep chipping away, the fact is that getting the
majority of Ubuntu folk interested in a problem means presenting them
with an individual they can help.
This suggests a solution I've pulled together from a couple of Joel on
Software articles: when someone comes to you with a problem, first
fix the presenting problem, then fix the second-order problem that
caused it, then the third-order problem, and so on back to the original
source. Although this significantly increases the amount of work per
issue, it's more than offset by the reduction in the number of issues.
Here's an example:
An e-mail recently came to the list asking about adding a feature to
the panel. This seems to me like an upstream issue, not something for
I e-mailed the author suggesting he take the issue up upstream (fixing
the first-order bug), and politely inquired what lead him here. He said
that he'd read the text at , which suggested feature requests go to
ubuntu-devel. Realising that a non-developer probably shouldn't be
posting to -devel, he decided to post here. This suggests two
second-order bug fixes to me:
* The page at  should suggest -devel-discuss rather than -devel
* The page at  should talk about filing feature requests upstream
Fixing these second-order issues would shut down a whole category of
misdirected posts, but we can still look at a third-order bug: people
don't know where to post messages. A possible fix would be:
* Create #ubuntu-signpost, a place for people to be pointed in the right
That would be a fairly easy channel to support, and would reduce the
amount of noise created by a much wider category of issues.
Fixing the first-, second- and third-order bugs would probably reduce
traffic to the list by about one post every few months, so I would
expect it to "pay for itself" in time spent within a year or so. That's
not much on its own, but a community-wide effort would soon add up.
So to conclude, my suggestion is that we politely ask people about the
higher-order issues that lead them to send messages. These might be bad
documentation, not enough search, actual program bugs, or any number of
other things. Taking extra time to address higher-order issues will
stop similar issues from occurring again in future, significantly
reducing demand for bandwidth in the long-run.
Also, I'll be on #ubuntu-signpost later if anyone wants to join me, but
right now it's way past my bedtime :)
(section 1, "fix everything two ways")
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