Filtering out the Channel Noise

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:

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, 
monkey-love, raccettura

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.

9 thoughts on “Filtering out the Channel Noise

  1. heh, posted on Planet Mozilla just after this is:

    Daniel Glazman: Notes to self
    By Daniel Glazman
    * MDI, tabs, MDI to tabs and vice-versa ; cascade, organize, side-by-side
    * semi-transparent layer in a stack
    * cleanup, cleanup, cleanup

    Notes to self? Talk about channel noise…

  2. RSS is your friend. You gotta watch Planet Mozilla AND the MozillaZine Feedhouse btw. You get plenty of duplicates but any decent feed reader (I use Wizz RSS Reader) will mark items as read after you’ve read them just once. Also, bugzilla is RSS friendly – any Bugzilla search can be queried via RSS. Get the newest bugs filed in one or more components. Get alerted whenever bugs are changed in your favourite component. Whatever you want. Google groups are also compatible with RSS.

    But yeah you raise some interesting points. I’d love to see more things brought to RSS-Readers’ attention. Wiki-able taggable rss-able categorzatioanlised news sounds awesome, but implementation sounds hard.

  3. After reading Ben’s post, I was thinking of something more like digg, if I understand how it works correctly. Automatic feeding of data like on Planet Mozilla is faster and easier to manage, but also not as high quality. Because, no offense to Asa, but his astronomy posts have nothing to do with Mozilla. I do think they’re interesting, but they end up on Planet Mozilla (I think — even if I’m wrong here, there are other examples, like the “Notes to self” above), and they don’t belong there.

    There should be some auto-feeding, like The Burning Edge, which is always on-topic, but it doesn’t really work for most of the blogs. Perhaps the bloggers could include a “meta mozilla” category/tag/whatever on posts they want to appear there, though. That would filter things well, but it would require the bloggers to be taking part.

    And, an auto-feed of Bugzilla is a bad idea. There are a lot of invalid and duplicate bugs, and bugs that just aren’t interesting to the general community. A big new feature or important feature change or a fix for a very annoying bug or a new CSS/SVG/XHTML/whatever thing for web developers may be interesting, but many (dare I say most) bugs aren’t. That’s not to say it’s not important to fix them, but I don’t think most bugs should be mentioned to the community. (With Bugzilla, we’d also have to solve the problem of bugspam from people coming from “Meta Mozilla” somehow.)

    So, yeah, I think something where anyone is allowed to submit items from anywhere on the web is a good idea. It would have to be moderated somehow, I figure something where users could rate an article up or down, and then where there are some official moderators that can completely delete an article. New submissions should not go directly on the main page, they should just be somewhere else that would still get some exposure (I’m not sure how this should be done), There has to be something to prevent Mozilla itself spreading the Firefox 2.0 was released thing even more.

    I hadn’t thought of wiki-like editing, but it may be a good idea. I’m not completely sure though. Corrections have to be possible, but we’d have to avoid people inserting incorrect information, too. Maybe not allow articles to be edited except by the official moderator people once they’ve reached the main page.

    Yeah, whatever. I don’t express thoughts in writing well. I’m not even sure if I’m saying very much interesting or new, compared to Robert’s and Ben’s blog posts and all the comments.

  4. Bleh. That’s a big pile of gibberish from me. Sorry.

    (It doesn’t help that I usually don’t feel like proofreading, and I don’t stop thinking, so I might end up making two or three more comments just fixing and adding things, which makes what I’m saying even more incomprehensible.)

  5. Theoretically, a developer shouldn’t have to watch anything but the Bugzilla, since the Bugzilla is the ultimate end of all project management:
    – no checkin goes in without passing through Bugzilla (yes, it does pass thru Tinderbox too)
    – no feature gets developed without cooking in a Bugzilla discussion (yes, there might be some IRC chat, but a log would eventually be attached to Bugzilla)
    – no change happens, nothing lands all of a sudden without being documented in Bugzilla (and if anyone still files Bugzilla bugs that just “silence the bureaucracy”, he should be smacked; we’re not longer in 1998 when Netscape engineers did whatever they wanted…)

    This is how it ultimately should work, and we’re pretty close to that goal. It’s a matter of education and Mozilla already runs pretty orderly, as far as Bugzilla procedures go. Part of the success must be attributed to Bugzilla, which was “custom-******’-designed fir our needs” (unlike other bug tracking software I’ve used).

    Now you need to pick your hat. If you wear the developer hat, just check Bugzilla and nothing more. Then again, if you wear the marketing hat, you’d want to follow the hype in user forums but don’t necessarily want to get the Bugzilla geeks noise.

  6. funTomas: The problem with that, is it lists every change on every page…. not very good for filtering through the noise. Quite a bit of it, I don’t need to watch.

    I want to filter through the noise.

  7. page2rss can turn any web page into an rss feed, and each update shows you any added text. It’s kludgy and doesn’t always work, but it’s better than nothing.ju

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