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the problems with extreme openness


The last couple of days I've been slightly frustrated with the NotEcho process, and I've identified two problems that exist in my opinion, and I'm proposing my solutions.

Problem One, the discussion has no direction. There are multiple elements discussed by multiple groups simultaneously, and key decisions are being made by people who have never written a tool, or have their own agenda for echo, precluding input from more relevant people, such as those from Blogger or MT. Take for example the decision on how to treat comments (as entities of their own, or another type of entry). This discussion was dead for a while until I added pointers to it into a couple of more "travelled" pages. Then a few people (about 12 through the whole process) started talking about it. Then a conclusion was reached. I tried to bring out more discussion, but kept getting the same replies (things like "I don't understand why you oppose this") when I was making clear that while I understood the theoretical reason, I couldn't easily see the practical application for weblog tools today. Somehow the idea of "supporting social software" got in the way (since everything is possible for software that doesn't exist), and from there productive discussion was more difficult, although in the end I did agree that it was an acceptable solution. But even if I accepted the solution chosen, it still bothers me. Why?

A "consensus" has been announced, with a grand total of eight (yes, that's 1000 in binary) votes cast. None of the votes has been from a major weblog tool maker. (And, as far as I could see, I was the only one who had implemented an aggregator in that discussion. Not that this makes me special or something, but I do think that it changes my perspective since I have a bigger stake on a useful solution that might sacrifice generality but be easier to implement and maintain, and that will actually be used by weblog tool makers).

Am I the only one that thinks that this is a bad way of making decisions?

Proposed solution for problem one. Discussion will take place in a single place each day, or for a period of time (clearly announced in the frontpage); other parts of the wiki remain open and people can comment on them, but no conclusions can be reached on their topics until they are "lit up". Preferably, someone (I propose Sam Ruby) should be voted as "Benevolent Dictator for Life" for the project (Life here meaning v1.0) and the BDFL will be the one who calls when a consensus is reached in something. Also, the BDFL can declare an issue over if it seems that no consensus can be reached (see Problem Two), and restart the discussion at a later date.

Problem Two, many votes, in many situations, are coming from people who, while smart and well informed, have no "investment" in how practical using Notecho becomes, or whether something makes sense from a practical, rather than a theoretical, point of view. Some vote, but give no identity, which makes voting ridiculous (After all, with hundreds of updates a day, who can keep count of what's real and what's not in the Wiki?). In at least one case that I identified, a person making "serious" arguments and voting, and arguing forcefully about direction had actually started a weblog only a few days ago. Consider the current discussion (if it can be considered a discussion and not a fistfight) over XML-RPC. It quickly became "an issue" on which people who had never participated before in nEcho suddenly turned up to vote, which is ridiculous. Many of those people have not contributed anywhere else.

Proposed solution for problem twoWe need a mechanism similar what open-source groups do for allowing checkin privileges. Is this unfair? I don't think so. Apache seems to work remarkably well, doesn't it? And besides, everyone is not "equal". Can we seriously think that the votes of, say, Tim Bray, Sam Ruby, Dave Winer, or Mark Pilgrim count exactly as much as a bozo who doesn't even want to identify him/herself? I don't think so.

The NotEcho process is open, probably a bit too open. A bit less speed on decisions, fewer simultaneous discussions and better control of how "consensus" is defined, and making sure that those that vote have earned it, will be a plus for everyone, and will improve the final result.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 3 2003 at 9:34 PM

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