Ben wrote a must read post about public discussion that I think any Open Source developer needs to read. If you’re a Mozilla contributor, read it extra close. It really makes only 1 point (make more discussion open). But it doesn’t really address all the problems that prevent that goal from becoming a reality. I mentioned it briefly in a comment, but thought I’d make a post on the topic of channel noise.
Before I start, I should remind my less frequent readers that I’m a student (read: limited time to code) on the East Coast. According to google local, that would be roughly 2,900 miles between me, and the Mozilla Foundation/Corporation, a 3hr time difference. Also not a Corporation Employee (read: I see the same meeting notes everyone else does, when everyone else does). I’ve been managing the Reporter Extension (though not really an extension anymore) and webtool since their interception over a year ago.
Take a look at the various mediums used to discuss Firefox development and marketing:
- Mozilla Planet (blogs all in one place, except for a few oddballs like Asa, and a few who I want to read more than their “mozilla” tagged posts)
- Mozilla Wiki
- Bugzilla (Bug Tracking system)
- Newsgroups (quite a few).
- Mailing Lists (to be honest, don’t closely follow most)
- Mozilla IRC Network (#developers mainly, though #maildev and others on occasion).
- Mozillazine Forums (end users are important!)
- Bonsai (cvs checkins)
- Good old email
- And of course spaghetti thrown against the wall.
By no means do I think these mediums are bad. Each have a unique benefit and purpose. Each facilitate discussion and development in it’s own way. Nothing tracks development, patches, and reviews like bugzilla. Nothing has the reach of a blog (planet seems to have pretty good reach these days if the topic is right) and control of the medium (I can post any length, style, or content) and take feedback. The wiki’s community style editing has it’s obvious perks. Some things need to be done by private email for various reasons (speed, not creating noise in a channel where nobody cares about the topic, and occasionally security). I won’t discuss every medium on it’s own, but there are obvious perks to each of them that none other provide. Each also has their distinct disadvantages.
That said, it’s a gigantic list of stuff to be keeping an eye on. Just look at that list! Especially if you’ve only got a few hours to contribute. Another problem is that they don’t update on a schedule. Each medium can have new content at any given time 24x7x365. I’ve personally tried using RSS, but found it still ridiculous as not everything has feeds, and things are rather jumbled up (things in multiple places). Then there’s the debate of online RSS readers which can be accessed anywhere, and offline, which tend to be a bit easier to manage. Ugh. For the moment, I’m disgusted with RSS for this purpose.
I’m now of the opinion that we need a meta aggregator to sum up all this data into an easy to process site/feed. I thought about this once a few months ago, but never really materialized into a post. Now that Ben got me started, I’ve come to the conclusion that we need either a new tool, or to modify/use something for the purpose. My proposal is something that I think would meet my needs, and the needs of many in a similar situation. I am suggesting we essentially build off the ideas behind Planet Mozilla, which does a good, but limited job at fixing the problem.
Planet is a great system. My only complains as you you will see are:
- It does not include everything on our little Planet. Just a some developers and what they choose to blog about. Seems most don’t blog very often either. Missing is everything on newsgroups, bugzilla, wiki, mailing lists, etc. unless a developer blogs about it. A few make a point of it, like Henrik Germal who make a point of it.
- No way to sort through Planet. Planet is the result of sorting, not the method.
I think the best solution would be aggregator (similar to Planet Planet which powers Mozilla Planet) in which tagging and submission capacity is supported. Submissions allow for other non-rss based systems to feed data into planet, such as Mozilla Wiki, and Bugzilla. By using dozens of tags or categories, as well as some meta tags (of course there would be a general tag as well for timeless who must have more mail than Santa Clause), one could have links to all new info in one place. What I’m thinking of is something that essentially is planet as we know it, and wiki rolled into one. Blog like tagging and posting capacity, but wiki style editing and managing. Submitters could add tags, and so can others.
For example, this post would likely be tagged as:
developer, tool, webtool, suggestion, proposal, community,
Anyone interested in or or more of these topics could subscribe easily. Someone interested in webtools doesn’t need to read all the community related chatter, and vice versa. This allows for it.
The end result would be no longer needing to watch all these mediums like a hawk, and try to figure out what you really need to read. Everything gets consolidated into 1 location, and tagged so you can choose what you want.
This is different than any current solution out there. Reading each feed individually is just awkward and doesn’t work. Some things don’t even have feeds (try finding “important bugs” in bugzilla for example, or “important articles” in the wiki). By allowing submissions easily, and using tags, it would allow most of the “finding” to be a team effort, rather than each man/woman for his/her self. Some systems would obviously be staples and auto-added into the system, such as developer blogs, bugzilla. And some submitted (perhaps news articles of interest and tagged with “media”.
Most of the time, I don’t want to see “Posts by _____”. I want to see “Posts about_______”.
I my mind, everything is gathered by “The Matrix”. And by using the “Minority Report” interface, you can easily sort through the data to get what you want, or need to know. Planet Matrix Report I guess you can call it.
To take it a step further, the system could work online, via rss, or email. Though as long as 1 exists, it would be adequate. It doesn’t even need to show full text (in some cases like bugs, it wouldn’t be practical as the comments can go on forever. A simple title, and link would work.
I’d love to know what others think about the problem. And my proposal for a solution. I’m positive that I’m not the only one in this situation. And yes, there’s an rss feed for the comments ;-).
Because of this problem, only recently (last couple of weeks) have I even started using yet-another-channel by getting some reporter stuff into the wiki. I don’t know if another medium to keep updated, in sync and monitor is such a good idea.
There’s a lot of great stuff written every day… it just gets lost in the torrent of great stuff. Perhaps using existing techniques such as tagging, and aggregation it would be possible to better organize and sift through the data as a community. Doing this on your own is just to time consuming.
The benfits of such a system? Better communication, and more efficient use of time. Time spent sifting could be spent contributing, commenting, reading, and coding.
Mozilla Firefox is a giant project covering many aspects of Internet Technology. There is no “expert” on everything (though a few who scare me at times). Allowing people to break it down into managable chunks they can accept/deny at will is the best way in my opinion.
Oh yea… Sorry if this is a long post, and slightly rough. I wasn’t planning on writing this right now, but felt I should get it out while it was fresh in my mind.