Maintaining the community

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Maintaining the community

Donald Bruce Stewart
As we sit here riding the Haskell wave:

    http://www.cse.unsw.edu.au/~dons/tmp/cafe.png

with nearly 2000 (!) people reading haskell-cafe@, perhaps its time to
think some more about how to build and maintain this lovely Haskell
community we have. Just yesterday I received an email:

    "I posted it to Haskell-Cafe and received loads of brilliant
    responses. Wow, those guys are awesome. I'm definitely going to
    learn Haskell now."

Which is *exactly* the kind of (view of the) community we want to build
and encourage, so we can keep the Haskell project growing into the
future.

I think the main thing we need to remember is to help train new experts
in the community, to be fluent in the culture, ensuring that expertise
and a knowledge of the culture diffuses through the new people arriving.

That is, to help people progress from newbie, to intermediate, to
expert, and thus ensure the culture is maintained (avoiding `Eternal
September'). This graphic[1] sums the main issue up nicely, in my view:

    http://headrush.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/buildingausercommunity.jpg

And the steps to follow (people can think about how best they apply to
them) (also from [1]):


* Encourage newer users--especially those who've been active askers--to
  start trying to answer questions

        We're pretty good with this, but we can be *explicit* about it. If
        you're taking a lot from the community, please put a lot back in (in terms
        of writing about it, contributing answers, new libraries, and so on).

        I note this is also exactly what the Summer of Code helps do too --
        we've had several people paid to progress from newbie to expert, thanks
        to the SoC.


* Give tips on how to answer questions

        Answering politely, and in detail, explaining common misunderstandings
        is better than one word replies.


* Adopt a near-zero-tolerance "Be Nice" policy when people answer questions

        We are very good here already, both on email and IRC.


* Teach and encourage the more advanced users (including moderators) how to
  correct a wrong answer while maintaining the original answerer's dignity.

        This is hard, perhaps people can think some more about this.


* Re-examine your reward/levels strategy for your community

        This is also important: on the IRC channel we actually use
        participation data (http://www.cse.unsw.edu.au/~dons/irc/haskell-07.html)
        to determine who gets moderator privledges. For the community in
        general, rewards are along the lines of "going to the hackathon",
        "becoming the domain expert for some library".


Cheers and happy hacking,
    Don

[1]. http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2006/12/how_to_build_a_.html
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Re: Maintaining the community

Malcolm Wallace
[hidden email] (Donald Bruce Stewart) writes:

> As we sit here riding the Haskell wave:
>
>     http://www.cse.unsw.edu.au/~dons/tmp/cafe.png
>
> with nearly 2000 (!) people reading haskell-cafe@, perhaps its time to
> think some more about how to build and maintain this lovely Haskell
> community we have.

Yes, the sheer volume of posts is definitely becoming a problem (for me,
at least).  All your suggestions for keeping the community polite and
helpful are good.  But I wonder if there are also any useful technical
tips for users like myself, who would like to be able to keep up, but
feel they are gradually drowning?

Regards,
    Malcolm
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Re: Maintaining the community

Magnus Therning
On Fri, Jul 13, 2007 at 09:35:09 +0100, Malcolm Wallace wrote:

>[hidden email] (Donald Bruce Stewart) writes:
>
>> As we sit here riding the Haskell wave:
>>
>>     http://www.cse.unsw.edu.au/~dons/tmp/cafe.png
>>
>> with nearly 2000 (!) people reading haskell-cafe@, perhaps its time to
>> think some more about how to build and maintain this lovely Haskell
>> community we have.
>
>Yes, the sheer volume of posts is definitely becoming a problem (for
>me, at least).  All your suggestions for keeping the community polite
>and helpful are good.  But I wonder if there are also any useful
>technical tips for users like myself, who would like to be able to keep
>up, but feel they are gradually drowning?
One obvious solution is to split the list into several, more specialised
lists.  It's far from obvious, at least to me, how to do that with this
list though.

Personally I try to read the first post in every conversation thread.
If it doesn't grab be then I delete the whole thread.  Not an ideal
strategy, but it helps me keeping my day job ;-)

/M

--
Magnus Therning                             (OpenPGP: 0xAB4DFBA4)
[hidden email]             Jabber: [hidden email]
http://therning.org/magnus

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Re: Maintaining the community

Lutz Donnerhacke
* Magnus Therning wrote:
> One obvious solution is to split the list into several, more specialised
> lists.  It's far from obvious, at least to me, how to do that with this
> list though.

Switch to Usenet. The new haskell group will die, if the traffic will not
increase.
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Re: Maintaining the community

Jim Burton
In reply to this post by Donald Bruce Stewart

Donald Bruce Stewart wrote
As we sit here riding the Haskell wave:

    [...]

* Give tips on how to answer questions

        Answering politely, and in detail, explaining common misunderstandings
        is better than one word replies.


* Adopt a near-zero-tolerance "Be Nice" policy when people answer questions

        We are very good here already, both on email and IRC.
Very timely! It's sad that haskell-cafe has so much noise now. I haven't been around very long at all but it has gone downhill dramatically even in the last 6 months (I think I could put a date on it but lets not get into that). As well as being nice, can't you sometimes tell people to RTFM? Or, You've asked that before, or That's an FAQ, search the archive? One way of protecting the community is to protect this list from drowning in noise and being a bit rough with newbies who don't do any research at all before asking is perfectly acceptable in my view. It goes without saying that everything you say about the quality of the help here is true but I don't think you should treat us with kid gloves.
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Re: Maintaining the community

Dougal Stanton
On 13/07/07, Jim Burton <[hidden email]> wrote:

> As well as being nice, can't you sometimes tell people to RTFM? Or,
> You've asked that before, or That's an FAQ, search the archive?

I suppose you could, but speaking as someone who doesn't know much but
tries to answer questions when he does know - I would feel put off
from answering questions in that case. If the "easy questions" become
second-class citizens, I would be less likely to answer them. I don't
want to give the impression that *I* am encouraging the degeneration
of the list.

So I would vote for only saying read the manual/FAQ/etc after the
question has been answered. (That being said, I can never find what
I'm looking for on the Haskell wiki; and as mentioned in other threads
Google doesn't index it. So finding the relevant answers can be
tricky.)

Cheers,

Dougal
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Re: Maintaining the community

Malcolm Wallace
In reply to this post by Lutz Donnerhacke
Lutz Donnerhacke <[hidden email]> wrote:

> Switch to Usenet. The new haskell group will die, if the traffic will
> not increase.

If anything, Usenet is even worse than mailing lists for volume,
especially of spam.  Also, very few sites maintain their nntp servers
adequately these days - e.g.  comp.lang.haskell has never made it to
where I work.

Regards,
    Malcolm
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Re: Maintaining the community

Dave Bayer-2
In reply to this post by Malcolm Wallace
Malcolm Wallace <Malcolm.Wallace <at> cs.york.ac.uk> writes:
> Yes, the sheer volume of posts is definitely becoming a problem (for me,
> at least).

As a newcomer I was stunned that this otherwise very sophisticated community was
using an email list rather than a bulletin board. The shear torrent of email was
impacting my mail program performance.

Then I chased somes repies leading to earlier threads, and found bulletin-board
stye access to our list at

    http://thread.gmane.org/gmane.comp.lang.haskell.cafe/

I much prefer this access, even if I wish the window spit vertically rather than
horizontally.

A bulletin board has the capabibility to evolve, e.g. into multiple entry points.

Are there statistics on who reads which way? Posting stats should be obvious
with a little script, for anyone who still has a hoard of messagess at homne.

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Re: Maintaining the community

Jules Bean
In reply to this post by Malcolm Wallace
Malcolm Wallace wrote:
> Yes, the sheer volume of posts is definitely becoming a problem (for me,
> at least).  All your suggestions for keeping the community polite and
> helpful are good.  But I wonder if there are also any useful technical
> tips for users like myself, who would like to be able to keep up, but
> feel they are gradually drowning?

Non-specific, I'm afraid, but technical advice:

Get a decent mailreader, and learn how to use it well. Spending two
hours or so learning the keybindings/advanced features of your mail
reader will pay itself back 100 times over.

Some people find that news readers are better than mail readers (really
this is a feature of the programs, not the protocols; but they the
programs tend to have different emphases). I believe the folks at gmane
have setup a working two-way mail to news gateways for the haskell lists.

Most people find it good to have a threading feature. (A few people have
broken email clients which break threads when they reply, fortunately
not too many on this list. If you're one of them, please fix it!).
Couple this with the ability to either 'really delete', or just 'hide' a
thread from view if it's not interesting to you and you start to work
through the volume.

It's stupid, but the the single feature that helps mail reading for me
most of all is simply the fact that SPACE doubles up as 'page down in
this email' and 'advance to next email in thread'. You can get through
messages very fast this way.

I use thunderbird, FWIW. And I don't think it's a panacea, but it works
for me. In the past I've used mutt with some success. The emacs-based
mailreaders are very powerful, but you will need to spend some time
learning the keys. There are plenty of other mail readers out there.
(Mind you, some of them are truly dire).

Jules


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Re: Re: Maintaining the community

Jules Bean
In reply to this post by Dave Bayer-2
Dave Bayer wrote:
> Malcolm Wallace <Malcolm.Wallace <at> cs.york.ac.uk> writes:
>> Yes, the sheer volume of posts is definitely becoming a problem (for me,
>> at least).
>
> As a newcomer I was stunned that this otherwise very sophisticated community was
> using an email list rather than a bulletin board. The shear torrent of email was
> impacting my mail program performance.

I find it incredibly surprising whenever I discover than an otherwise
sophisticated community has adopted a bulletin board rather than email ;)


>
> Then I chased somes repies leading to earlier threads, and found bulletin-board
> stye access to our list at
>
>     http://thread.gmane.org/gmane.comp.lang.haskell.cafe/
>
> I much prefer this access, even if I wish the window spit vertically rather than
> horizontally.
>
> A bulletin board has the capabibility to evolve, e.g. into multiple entry points.

Conversely, a bulletin board cannot be read offline, traps users into a
single UI (in every case I've used, slow, ugly, and lacking in
functionality) over which they have no control.

Modern email programs have sophisticated sorting, filtering, scoring,
processes (not just the MUA, but other programs during the delivery
chain of my emails score them and sort them); and they allow me to read
messages while offline, search them locally, etc etc. They have
customisable key bindings, they allow me to read all of my mailing lists
in one place, they are scriptable, may support plugins... all of this
under full user control.

Of course, having a bulletin board interface available for those who
prefer it is a very nice thing.

Jules

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Re: Maintaining the community

Jules Bean
In reply to this post by Jim Burton
Jim Burton wrote:
> Very timely! It's sad that haskell-cafe has so much noise now.

I disagree with that characterisation. I don't mean to be pedantic, but
I don't think haskell-cafe has lots of noise. I think it has lots of
signal! Quite different.

We don't have a problem (in my perception, at least) with the quality of
either posts of responses. Not a general one, anyway. The only problem
is that the volume is increasing; which is a problem if that makes it
hard for valuable contributors to keep contributing.

 > As well as being nice, can't you sometimes tell people to RTFM?

The problems people have with haskell are often conceptual, and the
manual doesn't help them, because they don't (yet) understand the
language well enough to understand the manual.

I very, very rarely see a question here about 'how to use a library
funciton' or similar which could, in fact, be easily looked up in a
manual. People do quite often respond to posts with links to the online
library documentation, which is great.

 > Or, You've asked that before,

That's certainly a fair thing to say, if it's true. I don't see that
happening very often.

 > One way of protecting the community is to protect this list from drowning
 > in noise and being a bit rough with newbies who don't do any research at
 > all before asking is perfectly acceptable in my view.

I disagree with that on two separate levels:

(a) I don't think being rough with newbies is the right response.
(b) I also don't think it would achieve the goal you state. Being rough
with one newbie will not, in my experience, particularly prevent the
next question asked by the next newbie :)

All IMHO, obviously.

Jules


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RE: Maintaining the community

Simon Peyton Jones
In reply to this post by Jim Burton
| > Very timely! It's sad that haskell-cafe has so much noise now.
|
| I disagree with that characterisation. I don't mean to be pedantic, but
| I don't think haskell-cafe has lots of noise. I think it has lots of
| signal! Quite different.
|
| We don't have a problem (in my perception, at least) with the quality of
| either posts of responses. Not a general one, anyway. The only problem
| is that the volume is increasing; which is a problem if that makes it
| hard for valuable contributors to keep contributing

FWIW I agree with Jules's response here.  Yes, the traffic is increasing, but much of it is in long threads with multiple response, and email readers are good at letting you skip that if you don't want to read it.  Furthermore, we have the much-lower-bandwidth '[hidden email]' list, for those who want to see announcements and discussion starters, but don't want the full haskell-cafe experience.

We need at least one forum in which it's acceptable to ask anything, no matter how naive, and get polite replies.  (RTFM isn't polite; but "The answer is supposed to be documented here (\url); let us know if that doesn't answer your qn" is fine.)   I'd be sorry to lose that.

Simon
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Re: Maintaining the community

Lutz Donnerhacke
In reply to this post by Malcolm Wallace
* Malcolm Wallace wrote:
> If anything, Usenet is even worse than mailing lists for volume,
> especially of spam.  Also, very few sites maintain their nntp servers
> adequately these days - e.g.  comp.lang.haskell has never made it to
> where I work.

I beg to differ. Of course, I'm an Usenet admin and involved in Usenet
administration since years.

Saing "no Usenet" is usually a sign of the famous "not invented here"
syndrom. I'd sugest to keep the 30+ years experience with large volume
distributed mass communication, instead of throwing good and infrastructure
and user interfaces away.

Wikis, Webformus and a lot of other Web 2.0 hypes are doomed to redo every
mistake which is solved since 20+ years.

MMDV.
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RE: Maintaining the community

Jim Burton
In reply to this post by Simon Peyton Jones

Simon Peyton-Jones wrote
[...]
We need at least one forum in which it's acceptable to ask anything, no matter how naive, and get polite replies.  (RTFM isn't polite; but "The answer is supposed to be documented here (\url); let us know if that doesn't answer your qn" is fine.)   I'd be sorry to lose that.
I fully agree and I don't mean RTFM literally. "The answer is supposed to be documented here (\url)..." is a very acceptable form of it...one can be brisk without being rude and I'm always grateful when someone points me in the direction of the right "manual" - if it's currently beyond my ken and I need to read something else first then that's my problem. I'm not going to waste your time by expecting you to read it for me and give quick answers to deep questions.
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Re: Maintaining the community

Jim Burton
In reply to this post by Jules Bean

Jules Bean wrote
Jim Burton wrote:
> Very timely! It's sad that haskell-cafe has so much noise now.

I disagree with that characterisation. I don't mean to be pedantic, but
I don't think haskell-cafe has lots of noise. I think it has lots of
signal! Quite different.
I think you're right actually. I was exaggerating the problem due to having woken up as a bad tempered spartan.
[...]

 > One way of protecting the community is to protect this list from drowning
 > in noise and being a bit rough with newbies who don't do any research at
 > all before asking is perfectly acceptable in my view.

I disagree with that on two separate levels:

(a) I don't think being rough with newbies is the right response.
(b) I also don't think it would achieve the goal you state. Being rough
with one newbie will not, in my experience, particularly prevent the
next question asked by the next newbie :)

All IMHO, obviously.

Jules
You notice I said "people who do no research at all"? It might be unfriendly and counter to the way things happen here, but I think the most helpful response is to tell them to do some research.
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RE: Maintaining the community

Philippa Cowderoy
In reply to this post by Simon Peyton Jones
On Fri, 13 Jul 2007, Simon Peyton-Jones wrote:

> We need at least one forum in which it's acceptable to ask anything, no
> matter how naive, and get polite replies.  (RTFM isn't polite; but "The
> answer is supposed to be documented here (\url); let us know if that
> doesn't answer your qn" is fine.)  I'd be sorry to lose that.
>

Agreed. That said, it might be worth developing a "scary maths FAQ" that's
an explanation largely of why all the maths and why it may irritate a lot
of people to get in a flap about it all. It seems to come up increasingly
often, and... well, it's not just the community being elitist or shutting
people out!

--
[hidden email]

The task of the academic is not to scale great
intellectual mountains, but to flatten them.
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Re: Re: Maintaining the community

Philippa Cowderoy
In reply to this post by Dave Bayer-2
On Fri, 13 Jul 2007, Dave Bayer wrote:

> As a newcomer I was stunned that this otherwise very sophisticated
> community was using an email list rather than a bulletin board. The
> shear torrent of email was impacting my mail program performance.
>

This is a cultural thing, and assuming that it's a lack of sophistication
on our part is a bad idea - on the contrary, some of the better reasons to
avoid a web-based board are entirely about enabling sophistication.

Boards need polling. Boards force a single user interface on everyone.
Boards don't enable local archives. Etc etc etc. With mail, you can pick a
client to suit your needs.

> A bulletin board has the capabibility to evolve, e.g. into multiple
> entry points.
>

So does a mailing list when you own the domain it's hosted on.

--
[hidden email]

Sometimes you gotta fight fire with fire. Most
of the time you just get burnt worse though.
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Re: Maintaining the community

Claus Reinke
In reply to this post by Donald Bruce Stewart
> As we sit here riding the Haskell wave:
>
>    http://www.cse.unsw.edu.au/~dons/tmp/cafe.png
>
> with nearly 2000 (!) people reading haskell-cafe@, perhaps its time to
> think some more about how to build and maintain this lovely Haskell
> community we have.

my replies to some of the issues raised in this thread:

- gmane.org is great. i still read my main mailing lists via a mail reader,
    but i read some lists i follow less thoroughly via gmane's news
    interface, and people often refer to gmane's web interface if they
    want to refer to whole threads rather than individual messages.
    no need to change the haskell.org setup - you can already choose!

- haskell-cafe is meant to be the general forum, that shouldn't change.
    but i think there is potential to spin off one or two more specialist
    lists (not too many, or they'll dry out, and not too specific, or they
    won't attract the haskell-cafe style of membership and content; we
    also do not want to start cross-postings to keep the synergies of
    a multitopic forum).

    the most obvious one being 'haskell-performance' for shootout
    entries, 'how do i improve this?', 'what is wrong here?', and 'why
    isn't haskell slow?' style of questions, profiling, space&time leaks,
    compiler benchmarks, optimizations, transformations,
    representations, libs, tools, papers, etc.

    another possible candidate, judging from mails and blog postings,
    might be 'haskell-math', for numeric and algebra libs, apps, tools,
    classes, theory, and math-related algorithms and data structures,
    and general discussions.

- with higher volume, the style of messages sometimes reminds me
    more of newsgroup postings than of a mailinglist. but there are
    several hard-earned lessons from newsgroup experience:

    - don't try to police threads, unless you're willing to go to a
        fully moderated forum (which is exactly what -cafe isn't).
        it tends to be ineffective, and often counterproductive wrt
        to the general feel of the forum and the number of messages

    - you cannot manage volume by adding messages. there are
        only two things you can do with a thread you don't like:
        do not add to it, and ignore it

    - there are lots of faq, and it sometimes feels as if a question
        has just been answered when a newcomer asks it again!-)

        but unless you have a faq you can point to that comes
        very close to providing the answer, there is nothing you
        can do about that. the wiki is evolving, and i hope that
        the search engine fixes that have ben applied to robots.txt
        will ultimately make its contents easier to find. but if you
        want to avoid answering questions again and again on the
        list, you need to improve the cache of answers.

        personally, i tend to be more willing to answer questions
        on the list than to fiddle with wiki markup and conventions,
        but there is no reason why people who are happier with
        wiki editing cannot extract content from list answers to the
        wiki, especially if its a faq answer rather than a research
        result. memoization, organization and generation of answers
        do not all have to be done by the same set of persons.

        once there is a useful collection of faq answers, it should
        be made easier to find: the default signature of -cafe mails
        should be augmented to include pointers to:

        http://www.haskell.org/haskellwiki/Category:FAQ
        http://www.haskell.org/haskellwiki/Category:Glossary

        doing so should soon lead to useful results when googling
        for 'haskell faq', as well. note how one of these is rather
        less exhaustive than one would expect, given the number
        of faqs.. faq should include pointers to the list of mailing
        lists, the lists and repos of libraries, the language spec,
        list of tutorials, papers, tools, and implementations, and
        to the guide about homework questions, among the
        obvious technical answers.
   
        there is also the registration message, which could point
        to a wiki page dedicated to mailinglist newcomers and
        their most likely information needs. which should be
        crosslinked with the faq answers.

well, enough additional traffic for now..:-)

claus

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Re: Maintaining the community

Donald Bruce Stewart
claus.reinke:
>
>        personally, i tend to be more willing to answer questions
>        on the list than to fiddle with wiki markup and conventions,
>        but there is no reason why people who are happier with
>        wiki editing cannot extract content from list answers to the
>        wiki, especially if its a faq answer rather than a research
>        result.

I've got a few tools that make wiki editing easier (shortcuts to open up
a new wiki page for editing in vim, syntax highlighting, console
access). These make wiki editing roughly as cheap as composing an email.

I tried an experiment this week of just taking someone's post (Conor's idiom
brackets), and putting directly on the wiki first, then letting the
author know that's happened.

How do people feel about allowing posts in -cafe to be placed on the
wiki, without extensive prior negotiation? What copyright do -cafe@
posts have?

If there was a rough consensus that this is ok, we could probably get a
lot more material directly on the wiki, since I for one would act first,
putting some interesting Clause Reinke posts there semi-verbatim, rather
than pondering whether to write an email to the author to seek
permission, or cojole them into doing it.

Should we feel free to put mailing list material onto the wiki?

-- Don
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Re: Maintaining the community

Neil Mitchell
Hi

> I tried an experiment this week of just taking someone's post (Conor's idiom
> brackets), and putting directly on the wiki first, then letting the
> author know that's happened.
>
> How do people feel about allowing posts in -cafe to be placed on the
> wiki, without extensive prior negotiation? What copyright do -cafe@
> posts have?

If you email to a public mailing list, you clearly don't have a
problem with verbatim copying, since you already know its going to
appear in loads of different archives. You also don't have a problem
with selected copying, because quoting is how mailing lists work. I'd
just assume that all posts to haskell-cafe are "for the good of
mankind", and then let them be reused at will.

> Should we feel free to put mailing list material onto the wiki?

Yes!

Some people do email this list with disclaimers such as "if this email
was not specifically addressed to you, and you accidentally remember
something from it, we reserve the right to lobotomise you at a future
date" - but I think usually those are company policy rather than
personal choice.

Thanks

Neil
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