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). 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.
 http://elgg.org/ -