Communication Part Two

I’d like to start out by apologizing to anyone who felt singled out in my last post. Though I knew that some would be upset, I never intended to single anyone out. The current problems with communication aren’t any one persons’ fault – they involve everyone. As a community we are failing to communicate – both with each other and with the wider FOSS community. Whats more, when we do communicate, we tend to do so poorly (perhaps best illustrated by my last post… again, sorry! Hopefully I’ll do better this time:).

Communication as we all know (though sometimes forget) is a two-way street. In our case, we need to start by communicating well with each other, so that when others come to us they see a respectful exchange of ideas. Beyond that, we need to remember that as we communicate with each other, we are also doing so with a wider audience, and they need the ability to communicate with us in turn. Currently, most of our communication to the wider community is in the form of announcements, with persistently negative feedback of late. The result is a self-perpetuating cycle, and one which is hard to stop. It works something like this: negative feedback from the ‘outside’ makes developers on the ‘inside’ hesitant to share in advance what they are working on, which results in ‘insiders’ only making announcements, without the ‘outsiders’’  input, resulting in more negative feedback and an even greater hesitance to share.

What we really need is a place where users and developers can easily interact and share ideas. Currently most of our communication takes place in a web of mailing lists and IRC channels. Within this web, some groups rely heavily on IRC, others on the mailing list, and yet others on bugzilla. In any case, none of them are particularly accessible to new users, and both can be very intimidating to new contributors. Whats more, they all lack a usable search (and in the case of IRC, an archive), which results in the same questions being asked repeatedly, which is frustrating for everyone.

The simplest solution is one which most other FOSS projects have long taken advantage of – forums. Forums are accessible and user-friendly. They provide built-in archiving and search capabilities and can be read without registering or installing anything. Whats more, when readers want to start posting and sharing their thoughts, registering is a simple, straight forward task, and one that most have done before. Other alternatives could include a dedicated Google+ group or other social media platform (perhaps Elgg[1]). But the idea is to give users and developers outside of our project an outlet. One where they can ask questions and provide feedback on features and changes. Perhaps more importantly it must be adopted and used by ourselves to discuss features and changes so that others can follow our discussions and see the reasoning behind them, both as they occur and later through search. It must become an outlet for the current development community as well as those on the outside who are curious about what is going on. A place where users and new contributors can make their voices heard and be taken seriously.

Working in the open is hard. Communicating well, especially when you feel attacked is harder still. Talking amongst ourselves and doing as we like is much easier. Unfortunately though, it does not endear us to anyone, and especially not to the wider FOSS community. As I’ve always understood free software, a large part of its beauty comes from the openness that drives it. As we shelter ourselves in communication which is effectively private, we hide from the larger community of which we espouse to be a part, and push them away as a result. Becoming better stewards of our own community will help us to grow and endear us to the larger FOSS community as well.


7 Responses to “Communication Part Two”

  1. me Says:

    **Listening** is also an important part of communication.

    I have the impression that a lot of users feel you are *forcing* gnome-shell upon them, but they don’t want to use it. And that you are *forcing* the dark panels on them. And that nobody ever asked whether that is what they need/want.

    Open source users have always been about choice, and when they see someone forcing some decisions upon them, that reminds them of Microsoft et al.

    • Emily Says:

      Exactly. Which is why we need someplace where users can come and post their thoughts, concerns, likes and dislikes and give positive feedback to developers. Our current reliance on mailing lists & IRC clearly isn’t cutting it.

      • me2 Says:

        Hello Emily,
        thanks for your considerations. Are there currently any discussions going on in the community or is it just you who likes to see more transparency and feedback?
        From a users perspective the first post hits the nail on the head, at least for me. I jumped ship because gnome-shell is a no-go in usability and forces me to use proprietary drivers which don’t work reliable all the time.

      • Emily Says:

        I honestly don’t know. There are conversations going on relating to these issues right now, but whether anything will come of them I have no idea.

    • bochecha Says:

      > I have the impression that a lot of users feel you are *forcing* gnome-shell upon them,

      Then those users are wrong. How could the GNOME developers (note: I am a GNOME user only) *force* us to use anything?

      Aren’t you free to install whatever you want on your machine?

      > Open source users have always been about choice

      That’s again a wrong expectation. Open source is not about choice. It has never been.

      Open source is about sharing the code, and the resources to produce better software. That’s it.

      It might happen that open source *creates* choice, but it’s not *about* choice. It’s just like the fact that there are multiple car manufacturers making different cars: it creates choice (you can choose the car you want in their offerings), but cars are not about choice.


      As for the topic of this blog post, I agree that the communication could be made easier. However, it is still possible to communicate with the developers and designers.

      I live in Asia. Timezone-wise, I’m close to being as far as possible from the developers and designers. I’m happy when I get one hour overlap in a day with developers I need to interact with (not just GNOME, all FOSS).

      And yet, I’ve always managed to talk to the GNOME designers on IRC or Bugzilla, to suggest features or bugs or (what I believed were) improvements.

      Every time, I had an answer. Sometimes negative (I was explained why my ideas were not ideal), sometimes positive (my idea was implemented).

      But every time I managed to have a back-and-forth conversation with developers and designers, and sometimes something better came out of it.

      It certainly is hard to communicate with the GNOME developers and designers, but not much more than it is hard to communicate with anybody who isn’t in your timezone.

      But at some point, if **you** are the one who have something to say, suggest or report, I belive that you have to make a certain effort to get your message heard.

      All that being said, I wouldn’t complain if the whole thing could be made easier. 🙂

      • me2 Says:

        Lets have a look into the past. Its all said. Goodbeye Gnome, good luck.

        “> In fact, GNOME is built on top of a basic
        > gnome-session. If it switches completely to mutter/gnome-shell or any
        > other thing which forces the user to use that and nothing else, we end
        > up in a desktop which is as strong bolted as Windows or MacOSX and get a
        > considerable part of the “freedom of choice” lost.
        GNOME is not about “choice”; it is about freedom, but the two are not
        > If this ever really happens, I will turn away from GNOME, I’m sure.
        this is part of the freedoms GNOME allows.” (

        “The game has changed, and switching WM or
        a UI for panel customisation doesn’t fit into that new game.”
        “But times have changed, and
        we want GNOME to be a competitive mass market product.”

  2. souldoc Says:

    I just finally switched my primary OS to Ubunutu with GNOME3. I continue to be impressed by the quality, organization and focus of the Gnome desktop. I believe that Gnome has a great deal to offer. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell what’s coming next and plan for it. It’s also hard to be in on the conversation that leads to better decisions; bug reports really aren’t the right place to have a discussion about features. When an old feature is missing in a new release, everyone hears all about it and it develops negative publicity. When the decisions are explained they often make sense but too many people have already become disenfranchised and angry. Good open communication is the best way to get people involved and help them understand the decisions, agree with them, and get on board. Unfortunatelly, it’s hard to solve a communications problem by talking about it –too many people aren’t in on the conversation! Hopefuly other members of the GNOME community will listen and work harder to bring people on-board and up to speed. Whan all is said and done, much more is said than done. Thanks, Emily, for taking the time to both say and do!

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