Thoughts about the earlier proposal to use Discourse for change discussions

:bluethumb:

I agree. It’s an improvement. I just wanted to add that threading is preserved in the e-mail notifications, i.e. it will thread according to which post you replied to. Nice to have that more visible in the web UI now as well.

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I have feedback!

Looking at the original telemetry proposal post, I don’t see a link to the wiki page. This is Bad Actually™ because

  1. We lose the admonition formatting
  2. It requires changes to be made in two places

I can already hear Matthew say “let’s just submit the proposals in Discussion directly” and I am here to say “no, that is not a helpful answer because of all the tooling changes it would require and there’s no one in a position to own that.” Instead, I suggest that the body of the proposal no longer be included in the announcement. Instead, it should be a summary with a link to the page.

So for the telemetry proposal it would be

Subject: F40 Change Request: Privacy-preserving Telemetry for Fedora Workstation (System-Wide)
Body:

The Red Hat Display Systems Team (which develops the desktop) proposes to enable limited data collection of anonymous Fedora Workstation usage metrics.

Fedora is an open source community project, and nobody is interested in violating user privacy. We do not want to collect data about individual users. We want to collect only aggregate usage metrics that are actually needed to achieve specific Fedora improvement objectives, and no more. We understand that if we violate our users’ trust, then we won’t have many users left, so if metrics collection is approved, we will need to be very careful to roll this out in a way that respects our users at all times. (For example, we should not collect users’ search queries, because that would be creepy.)

We believe an open source community can ethically collect limited aggregate data on how its software is used without involving big data companies or building creepy tracking profiles that are not in the best interests of users. Users will have the option to disable data upload before any data is sent for the first time. Our service will be operated by Fedora on Fedora infrastructure, and will not depend on Google Analytics or any other controversial third-party services. And in contrast to proprietary software operating systems, you can redirect the data collection to your own private metrics server instead of Fedora’s to see precisely what data is being collected from you, because the server components are open source too.
Keep in mind this Fedora change proposal is just that: a proposal. It must undergo community review and must be approved by the community-elected Fedora Engineering Steering Committee (FESCo) before it can be implemented, just like any other Fedora change proposal. We welcome community participation and fully expect this proposal may need to be modified significantly depending on Fedora community feedback.

Full proposal at: Changes/Telemetry - Fedora Project Wiki

(Note that most wouldn’t be this wordy because the summary is supposed to be a lot shorter)

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Yes, I was saying that in my head. :classic_smiley:

The page actually does have links to the wiki, in the :link: icons before each title item. I agree that until we do the thing I won’t say out loud, we probably should have made a prominent link at the beginning.

I am currently lacking a solid opinion on full post or summary.

But noted on shorter summary, for sure.

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With the understanding that the proposal we’ve used as a trial case is a worse-case scenario, I think we have an important lesson to take away: tight moderation is essential.

We’ve had many more posts on the various telemetry threads than I can recall for any contentious devel list post. In my opinion, that’s bad. Many of them are people repeating themselves back and forth except now instead of doing it in one thread, they’re doing it in several. Stricter moderation to keep the individual threads on-topic and non-repetitive is necessary to keep the conversation productive. The moderation team (which includes me, to be clear) has either been unable or unwilling (because our moderation rules are vague and implicit) to provide the firm intervention required.

As a result, I find the discussion harder to keep up with, when theory suggests it should be easier. (This may also be because it’s no longer my job to keep up with the discussion and so I have less time to do it).

On a personal level, I’ve found myself wanting to check the site less because all I can see when I log in are threads about the telemetry proposal and I am just Done With It (in combination with being done with the RHEL-related conversations happening all around me). I understand that my emotional relationship to the project right now is somewhat unique, as one of the few active Fedorans who got put on the curb by Red Hat earlier this year, so maybe my feelings aren’t generalizable. But I worry that if we have more proposals like this, it will end up putting people off of participating in the community.

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I will be frank. This was a great test case, and an excellent use of the discussion board. Yes it was chaotic, yes some people were overly passionate, yes it may have been repetitive, however I have never seen this many people engaged on this site. On other more active communities I have, but not Fedora.

The level of moderation in general was really good outside of one instance where a
moderator essentially got into it with several posters and then threatened to start using their powers by pointing at the code of conduct while engaging in the same behavior. Barring that, it did not need a heavy hand or as you put it “tight” moderation.

Does it require more effort to keep up with it, sure. It was also the right way to do this instead of in a backroom mailing list that most members have no interest being on. It does mean that moving forward proposals probably need a real once over, before publically opening the discussion. I mean this reaction to the proposal was entirely preventable/foreseeable by anyone not plugged into the development chain, or being too close to the project in question. So a quick internal round robin for any obvious concerns might have at least helped edit the tone and content of the initial proposal before opening it to public discussion. You know the usual “mind taking a look at this for any glaring issues or potential pitfalls”.

Regardless I look forward to engaging in more such discussions. Also good luck in your future endeavors.

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My biases up front: I’m just an end-user of these systems, who has a bias for mailing lists and against individual forums, and I was basically resigned to the shift to discourse (and not terribly broken up about it, march of progress, etc). I’m a very infrequent contributor to discussions like this in Fedora, and my participation in this thread has been two posts, and a lot of reading.

Following this discussion has been stressful. I’ve followed centithreads via email many times in the past, and have tons of tools at my local disposal to deal with the volume, help me reference prior discussion points, etc. Here, it felt like what I was looking at was constantly shifting out from under me: threads getting forcibly rearranged and separated, only discovering that it had happened by seeing a notification in the corner that told me about a new thread I was suddenly subscribed to.

I get that this sort of management may have been exactly what the moderation team were looking for, perhaps biasing for “those who come later” to look through the archives to see the discussion broken up by topic and organized well, but for “those who are here now”, it’s felt like I had no handle at all on the conversation, even just as a reader, because the topic keeps getting fragmented; as a user, I have no control over any of it, it’s just happening.

Trying to follow this via the email notifications ended up being a fool’s errand, at least for me. Delivery delays, out-of-order delivery, shifting topics and subject lines, and a general gut feeling that if you aren’t following the topic on the website, you’re probably missing something meant that there was a strong reluctance for me to try and follow along that way.

I think it boils down to a matter of control. Via email, I’m on my own to handle volume control and thread management, and I’ve got decades of experience doing that. On most forums that I’ve used (including ones much higher volume than this thread), moderation isn’t used nearly so heavily to “rewrite history” by moving posts around and break out topics, and so again as a user you feel more in control of your own experience in the conversation. This experience just felt chaotic, almost for the sake of being chaotic.

Anyway, that’s my take on it. I might have contributed more to this discussion, but this felt like a pretty awful experience from my end, and I’m not terribly interested in contributing more noise. Maybe that’s a positive outcome. :wink:

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Speaking as the admin and one of the mods on another Discourse instance, I tend to agree that some topics need to be moderated far more, especially when it comes to contentious topics like proposals. Aside from multiple people constantly reiterating the same things over and over, there was a general lack of respect for people, projects, and processes that made me very uncomfortable. In these cases, only the noisiest and most uncompromising voices rise to the top, and this does not allow for a conversation: it’s not a robust discussion, it’s just people screaming past each other.

I do suspect that not many people understand the role of community flagging—it’s not something that exists in the context of mailing lists, after all—so once people get more comfortable with Discourse we might get a better feedback loop in policing from the community; you don’t get good feedback if only some voices get to be heard.

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The intent definitely wasn’t for the future at the expense of the now. Part of the reason that we’ve moved a fair amount of the community discussion from mailing lists to Discussion is because, when done well, the ability to “garden” topics makes it easier to follow the discussion in the moment. But this particular topic outscaled our moderation capabilities. I think putting more topics on “slow mode” might have helped here, although that presents its own problems for posting.

Like I said in my previous post, this topic was basically a worst-case scenario, and it showed areas where we’re not ready to handle that kind of contentious discussion. I’m not arguing for a return to mailing lists (at least not long term), but highlighting areas where I think we need improvement.

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I feel like I should also state something clearly, because there’s been some pretty unkind words written so far: I think the moderation team has been doing their best here, and with the best of intentions. I think you’re right about this being a worst-case scenario, in a lot of ways.

I’m amazed the discussion has remained as civil as it has, given the topic; in a lot of other venues, this would have just been a shouting match that would have eventually been closed as unproductive.

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Speaking as the admin and one of the mods on another Discourse
instance, I tend to agree that some topics need to be moderated far
more, especially when it comes to contentious topics like proposals.
Aside from multiple people constantly reiterating the same things over
and over, there was a general lack of respect for people, projects,
and processes that made me very uncomfortable. In these cases, only
the noisiest and most uncompromising voices rise to the top, and this
does not allow for a conversation: it’s not a robust discussion, it’s
just people screaming past each other.

In other words, the culture typically associated with mailing lists and
the culture typically associated with forums is not the same. In one
sense, that’s kinda the point; after all the culture is an emergent
property of the tools and the sorts of users they target.

But on the other hand, the expectation seems to have been that the
culture on d.f.o would be more or less the same. It clearly isn’t.

I echo the sentiment that it took a lot more work to try and keep up
with d.f.o vs a high-volume mailing list. There was a lot more of what
you charitably called “noise”, and if d.f.o needs to be actively/highly
moderated for it to be useful/manageable, have we actually gained
anything over the “work” of being subscribed to a mailing list?

I do suspect that not many people understand the role of community
flagging—it’s not something that exists in the context of mailing
lists, after all—so once people get more comfortable with Discourse we
might get a better feedback loop in policing from the community; you
don’t get good feedback if only some voices get to be heard.

This isn’t a matter of better education/feedback; it’s a fundamental
cultural difference in the expectation of users of forums vs mailing
lists, which has major implications of the sorts of discussions that are
even possible.

Honestly, this whole thing came off as a sort of “let the kids squabble
amongst themselves on d.f.o, while the grownups continue to get the real
work done on the mailing lists”

  • Solomon

We clearly have been reading very different topics, if this is what you consider “civil” and not “a shouting match”. We literally had people holding their contributions and participation in the Fedora project as emotional ransom.

The mailing lists have a very high barrier to entry for people who aren’t familiar with them and many people didn’t even know they existed.

When you drop that barrier you are going to get much more participation. Throw in a highly contentious topic receiving lots of Linux media attention and this is what the result is. :sweat_smile:

That being said, moderating a discussion like this is very difficult. If you take a hard line and shut people down, it will backfire. Some of the moderation attempts have escalated the situation and made it a lot worse.

People are emotional and angry. Trying to steer it back is about the best you can do in this situation unless someone goes completely over the line.

Another challenge is the people trying to moderate were often involved in the discussion. You can’t be in the middle of a fiery debate with someone and then drop the moderation hammer on them. That just looks like you are using your moderator status to bully your way through the discussion.

Welcome to the internet. :wink:

I moderate on multiple Linux forums and I have people do the same because they didn’t like what someone said to them or they encountered a bug.

If you want to see even worse behavior, there is always reddit and social media.

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I was on Usenet in the last century, I know how “the Internet” is…

… But I—somewhat foolishly, I’ll admit—expect that the Fedora forums are held to a higher standard of discussion and civility than reddit, or Slashdot, or Twitter, just to name a few places.

My point was…it is much better and is held to a higher standard than those places. They are even worse.

This just happens to be a time where a topic with lots of external attention is an emotional firestorm for many people. There is a limit to how much you control it.

That being said, I kind of feel like now that the author has stated he is working on a revised proposal, we should close all the topics. Including the information that as soon as there is a new proposal we will open new topics for discussion.

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This was a point I was trying to make earlier. I agree 100% attempts to moderate appeared to be heavy handed, and had the opposite effect in many instances.

This was why I was calling out a very specific moderator, who essentially threw gas on the fire, and then tried to pull out the banhammer because members were not having it.

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Do you know that the topic of telemetry in specific is very, very controversial? This has been the place of a very tense discussion in which both the parties were sometimes not willing to compromise. I wouldn’t consider this as the generic discussion that will take place here, but more like an exceptional event that even more exceptionally has been the first proposal topic to be discussed here

(Or are you devs going to keep introducing very controversial topics very often? This is sarcasm of course =)

Since we are still in the learning phase with respect to moving the
change proposal discussion to Discourse, I would like to provide my
feedback from the fringes.

First of all, I haven’t followed the entire discussion[1]. I read most
of it on the mailing list. I eventually enabled e-mail notification for
the change-proposals topic and saw the levees break. First one stream
than several as a result of the discussion being split.

When the discussion was split, I found it hard to determine exactly what
happened from within my mail client. I hopped over to d.fp.o and read
the summary[2] of the main thread (the change request) to get an idea
of what happened.

I eventually turned of notifications for the site, since they were
coming in at a rate that it was distracting, borderline disturbing.
Besides I also got all of the responses in the mail.

I did notice from what little I read on the forum itself, that there
were far more first time posters and posters “not seen in a long time”.
Of course, that meta information is not available on the mailing list,
but it seems to me that this is indicating a lower barrier to join in on
Discourse.

Of course, quantity alone is not what we are after in these heated
discussions. It’s more about quality and diversity. Contributions that
raise valid points from all possible angles of the community. On the
other hand, if the subject is felt so strong about by all kinds of
people, they want to make themselves heard even if that is at the
expense of reiterating and repeating earlier statements. I think that’s
where there’s something to be gained. I’m not sure how to achieve that,
but here’s an idea:

Summarize points brought up for and against and let users express their
agreement (:+1:), disagreement (:-1:) or neutrality (:0: ← doesn’t
exist) below these summaries. Maybe this could be done in a break out
topic:
“Take Aways”, possibly in the form of a poll.
I quickly glanced at the straw poll topic. That’s more focused on
possible outcomes of the discussion. My idea is more for expressing
(dis)agreement with points brought forward without having to reiterate
them and still have insights in how the community feels about the proposal.
That would leverage some of the advantages a forum has over a mailing list.

While I haven’t contributed to the discussion at all, I’ve seen many
reactions voicing concerns I share and raising the important questions.
So, I refrained from chiming in.


  1. Current tally: 27 unread messages on mailing list, 800+ unread
    Discourse messages. I did read some of the messages on Discourse using
    the web interface. But I’ve kinda given up following along in the mail
    client. ↩︎

  2. Which, by the way, I find a valuable feature of the forum.
    Although I have yet to evaluate what I missed by not reading everything. ↩︎

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See Proposed guidelines for discussion of proposed Changes

I think this was more a byproduct of the increased visibility from being in Discourse AND the fact that it’s a controversial topic. If it wasn’t for telemetry, which is considered a cardinal sin by many in the Linux community, I don’t think the thread would have been anything special. Because mailing lists are harder to get into (in my opinion) it makes sense that there would be less people there and therefore have less noise.

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