[ADMIN] Additional moderator(s) sought for ubuntu-users list - clarifications

Alan Pope alan at popey.com
Wed Sep 28 10:28:51 UTC 2011

On 28 September 2011 08:57, Colin Law <clanlaw at googlemail.com> wrote:
> Alan, I think you could throw some light on this thread and possibly
> remove some of the heat, by clarifying the situation.  The subject
> asks for *additional* moderators.  Does this mean additional people to
> spread the load of whatever moderation is currently imposed or is it
> intended that the level of moderation is to be increased?

It is what it says. Additional moderators.

You're right though some clarification wouldn't hurt.

Personally speaking I love mailing lists. I love that the mail comes
in to my mailbox and I can sort/filter it as I wish. I love that the
mail can be read from pretty much anywhere on any device using almost
any speed connection from high speed broadband to the worst GPRS or
9600 baud dial-up.

Mailing lists are efficient when compared to forums for example. They
allow for more verbose questions (and answers) than IRC. Without
mailing lists the Free Software community wouldn't have progressed to
where it has. Mailing lists are great!

I realise many people do not like mailing lists, and as such the
Ubuntu project has numerous ways for people to get support. There's
the aforementioned forums and IRC channels, and more recently we have
sites like AskUbuntu. People will gravitate towards the system which
provides support they want in the way they want it, that's pretty
clear. There's a real set of users who reside "on the forums" and
another set who provide support on IRC. There's of course overlap,
some people reside in all of the communities, but there's a
significant chunk who don't.

In each of the non-mailing list areas we have moderation. This is not
new or revolutionary. Neither is it draconian or authoritarian. It's
pragmatic and designed to ensure that the people who want to get
support can get it, and those that want to give support don't get
burned out or frustrated when doing so.

IRC has operators who will remind new and problematic users of the
'house rules'. They try to keep conversation on topic in #ubuntu (and
other channels) and when things get out of hand they have the tools
necessary to take action. This can be in the form of muting people so
their chatter doesn't appear in the channel, or removing problematic
users from the channel entirely. There is an appeals process so users
who feel they have been incorrectly moderated can have the decision
reversed, or indeed upheld. Users can go to the IRC Council and if
their needs aren't resolved they can take it further to the Community
Council. I've witnessed this first hand over the last few years. It

Ubuntu Forums have a similar process involving the moderators, forums
staff and again a forums council.

Ask Ubuntu is quite new but very quickly built up a system of
moderators and editors who keep things in check.

None of this should be a surprise to anyone who hasn't been living
under a rock for the last 7 years. We moderate support channels in
Ubuntu to make them accurate, efficient and friendly places. If you
don't want accurate, efficient and friendly then there's plenty of
other places to get support. If you want an anarchic playground, set
one up, elsewhere.

Mailman mailing lists are a bit of a different beast. Someone can
subscribe to the list and send mails to all ~5000 subscribers of this
list very easily. The barrier to entry is very low. That's great!
Someone can get their support request out very quickly to a huge
number of people who can potentially help. Those people get the mail
near-instantly and can reply promptly. Those subscribers have actively
opted into the ubuntu-users list to receive support requests and
choose which ones to reply to. When things go wrong it's not as
easy/straightforward as IRC/Forums/AU to get 'fixed'.

The tools available in mailman are pretty brutal. We can switch the
mailing list to become fully moderated. That means every mail has to
be vetted before it goes out. This isn't something I'd advocate. It
would place a massive workload on moderators and slow down the list

Right now we have an open list that anyone can join. If someone is a
persistent problem (offensive, persistently offtopic, rude, unhelpful
and so on) we have very few tools available to moderate them. We can
mute them so they can't post to the list from their address. We can
unsubscribe them and we can block them from subscribing again from
that address. We have used that in the past for a few problematic
users who frankly just don't get the way things work in the Ubuntu

Fact is though that once that offensive mail (or indeed entire thread)
has been sent out, it's already in the inboxes of 5000 people. It's
not like the forums where we can remove a thread easily to prevent
people seeing it or replying to it (continuing the rotten thread).
With mailman one offensive mail can lead to a hundred replies, none of
which are useful.

The problem is that there aren't many active moderators, that is
people who read this list. It's a pretty busy list and sometimes
threads get missed. The goal of having more moderators is simply more
eyeballs to try and catch those instances where one person doesn't
spot it.

Of course the final option is to just leave it as it is, have less
moderators and no moderation. I predict that way the list will just
morph into sounder and go down hill in the same way, rapidly.

As a final note. I realise some have suggested this is a pre-cursor to
shutting down this list. That's not _my_ intention. At the last
Community Council meeting (and on at least two occasions on the past 2
years I've been on the Community Council) it's been suggested that
this list should be shutdown for good. On every occasion I've argued
that the list should be kept open and that it could be turned around
and become a valuable support resource for our users. So at the last
meeting I said I'd put out the call for more moderators to see if we
can keep this a friendly and respectful support channel.

Carry on with the crap, and I assure you the list will be shut down,
and if it makes people feel better inside to blame me for that then go
right ahead.


More information about the ubuntu-users mailing list