On community interaction. Lessons learned and plans to move forward

2008-04-01 / jpoesen

The past couple of days have been a real eye opener in regards to the rules of social interaction on drupal.org. Let me recap the comments and mails I’ve received the past 48 hours and draw some conclusions:

Issue subscriptions
Do not ‘subscribe’ to an issue you find interesting, even though at present there seems to be no other way to track one, not even an RSS feed. It ticks off module maintainers because they get mail notifications for each ‘subscription’.

Unsolicited help
Do not try to help unless you’re absolutely certain of what you’re saying. Either give the correct answer or be quiet. Guessing or tossing up ideas, as a relative or absolute newcomer, to collaboratively work towards a solution is considered bad form.

Cross-posting
Do not refer to other issues when commenting on an issue, except to point out a duplicate. It adds noise to the queue and really, really annoys module maintainers.

Expectations
Expecting politeness or courtesy from anyone in the community is a bad idea. This does not mean there is no politeness or courtesy to be found in the community, far from. I have found the Drupal community to be overwhelmingly welcome, friendly and patient.

However, generalizing those sentiments and expecting that every community member treat you with the same respect you treat them will sooner or later lead to disappointment. Don’t do it.

Planet Drupal
While drupal.org states that “Planet Drupal aggregates the Drupal-related blog posts of [list of urls]”, it is not intended as a general aggregator of all things Drupal.

Apparently it is meant to be a river of news composed by very specific posts that are explicitly intended to be “published to the planet”. This means having your feed of all posts tagged with ‘drupal’ added to the Planet, is a recipe for disaster. Rather, you should have a specific “drupalplanet” tag or something along those lines.

From this unwritten rule follows that rants you post on your blog and get fed into Planet Drupal are considered “a personal gripe you decided to air to tens of thousands of people”. If you follow this line of thought then, yes, I understand that it “pisses off a good number of people in the community”.

As a side note, it is generally unclear where the Planet is headed. Some feel it’s ok as it is, some feel it’s too crowded. Some think breaking it up in topics is a good idea, some just want to limit the participating blogs based on merit.

How to move forward from this?
People who are not deeply immersed in the Drupal community and have not been immersed in other communities like it, need to discover the above mentioned facts on their own, over and over again. This leads to much wasted time, repeated flaming, frustration on both ends and people leaving the community with hostile feelings .

The key, in my humble opinion, is better documentation (no surprise there), in the form of “behavioral guidelines”, for lack of a better description right now. Not strict rules to be enforced by drupal.org staff, but rather a guide on various aspects of social interaction within the Drupal community. I could have used one and I’m pretty sure others could have too.

Not only should this guide be written soon and published as a Drupal Handbook, it should be immediately and readily available all over drupal.org, either as a link, as a short paragraph or as a full document, depending on the situation. Moreover, this should be part of the site now as well as in the upcoming redesign:

  • on drupal.org/planet
  • on drupal.org/talk
  • on drupal.org/forum
  • on every issue page and near every issue/comment form
  • in the channel topic on #drupal and #drupal-support

Add flexible notifications to the issue tracker
If there would be a way to subscribe to issues (RSS, mail) without actually commenting in an issue queue, the world would be a better place.

Next steps
I see a tremendous amount of importance in creating these guidelines. They can greatly reduce maintainer stress and frustration and get new members up to speed faster and with less effort.

I’m starting with this documentation right away.

As evidenced by the last 48 hours, it would be presumptuous of me to think I understand the Drupal community well enough to write this on my own. Therefore I greatly welcome participation of new and established community members alike and hope we can create something of value together.