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Wed, 04 Aug 2010

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Debian always was known for its communication "style". There were even shirts sold in memory of Espy Klecker with a quote he is known for: Morons. I'm surrounded by morons. Yes, I bought me one of those shirts too in the early days. And there were the talks that promoted Debian as a place to have Good flamewar training. And people considered that to be the fun part.

After some years it got tiring. It got stressful. It got annoying. Bad feelings popped up, stirred you into the next flamewar, and it went down the gutter from there. It was almost becoming impossible to not be the target of a flamewar when one was doing more than just basic maintenance. Snide and extreme terse responses became the standard.

In the end people are starting to give up and leave. The Ugly thing about this is that human resources are crucial. They aren't endless and can't be replaced as easily as broken hardware, especially when capable people or when people leave who invested an enormous amount of their spare time and effort. And given that a fair amount of people do put their heart into Debian, it feels like a small suicide to them and the public thinking about leaving is meant as a call for help which wasn't and isn't given.

The solution to this death swirl? I'm not sure. When one looks over the edge of the plate and ignores for a moment all the bad feelings they one might have built up against Ubuntu because of their success and possibility to find new contributors on a regular basis one is able to find a much friendlier and productive environment there. This might be attributed to the Code of Conduct about which I wrote about last year already and which is an extremely well intended and useful document (the point I raised in there is already solved for a while, so I became a MOTU). And even if it might be hard to follow it at times, Mark Shuttleworth reminds and encourages its contributors to stick to these principles even in tough times.

The result? When following the planets, one finds on Planet Ubuntu a very good rate of blog posts on things that had been done, compared to the good rate of blog posts of rants on Planet Debian. And even though people regularly complain about the communication style within Debian, the answers of this year's DPL candidates to the question about a code of conduct for Debian were rather rather disappointing. So it is just well too understandable that people go the path that hurts themself, take a cut and leave the project behind in its mess.

For myself? I'm not too far from that point on a regular basis, and I can understand those who did the final step only too well. Regular abuse, especially when doing stuff that others neglect on a regular basis but needs to be done anyway, being belittled on that grounds and not being taken serious and getting disrespectful responses isn't improving the situation. It happens to way too many people, and the only thing that still keeps me on tracks is that I do not want to give in yet, that I don't think that it would improve Debian to leave the grounds to various destructive people.

On the other hand, there is only so much abuse one can take...
ObTitle: Ennio Morricone - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

/debian | permanent link | Comments: 8

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Anonymous wrote at 2010-08-04 12:25:

Debian needs a strong alpha male, and still maintain a democratic structure.

Thomas wrote at 2010-08-04 19:36:

Personally, I think that a lot of the frustration comes not from bad communication but rather from bad work on Debian. I'm surprised that it's always an afterthought (e.g. featured in your last paragraph).

Stefano Zacchiroli wrote at 2010-08-05 06:19:

Hi Rhonda, I'm just curious: can you comment on why you found my answer about the code of conduct during DPL campaigning rather disappointing? Thanks!

Gerfried Fuchs wrote at 2010-08-05 06:42:

Thomas, I'm not too sure how to interpret your comment. Can you please clearify what you are aiming at? If you don't want to do that in here feel invited to send me a mail or a message on IRC.

Zack, you did explicitly rule out to have the CoC as a binding thing. Unfortunately we are way past the point where we could give a non-binding CoC a try. Actually that was tried by Enrico already and people are ignoring it on a regular basis. Comparing it to SHOULD requirements in the policy that a a lot of people like to ignore and don't give a clear reason as why so I don't see how something like a CoC that has no consequences for the violators would work at all "in our Debian world". The fun is already out of many involved people - it is time to remove the fun of misbehaving on a regular basis from people, because actually that's just fun for them, not for the rest though.

Thomas wrote at 2010-08-05 20:06:

The communication is what it is, but IME the fun is to collaborate to achieve a common goal and the fun ends when the feeling grows that there are too many people in the nominal peer group who are indifferent to or distract from the common goal.

Of course, mailing list conduct is very visible but then Joel's or Brandon's outbreaks were funny because they combined whatever attitude with a ton of great work. You'll find much less nostalgia for similar behavior of people with a less prominent "doing" track record. At the same time, I do not think a flame war will drag you (as someone who is integrated in Debian) down any more than a polite or politically correct endless discussion with a similar amount of mail. This is, naturally, quite a bit different for newcomers who encounter hostility.

All in all, I wonder whether all the code of conduct is overrated because the core problem lies somewhere else. That aside, my brief experience with taking decisions surrounding mailing list conduct was very, very agonizing.

Shane wrote at 2010-08-09 19:22:

Ha, I enjoyed the link to the theme of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly! One of the best movies of all time!

Good points mentioned as well.

Thomas Koch wrote at 2010-08-10 07:16:

I got involved in Debian about a year ago and became a DM some weeks ago. I had the pleasure to meet some European DDs on different conferences. By now my impression of the Debian community is very positive. I met only kind and helpful people and had great times with them.

Maybe your impression about the Debian community is starting to be from the past and things are changing?

Gerfried Fuchs wrote at 2010-08-10 07:28:

Thomas, actually not, and I thought I had this outlined in the text. I urge you to watch Marga's talk about "Making Debian Rule, again" from last friday. It contained a lot of similar feedback she received through her asking for where people see the issues with Debian. http://penta.debconf.org/dc10_schedule/events/627.en.html

And it is a completely different situation when flaming someone on the lists or on IRC compared to shouting at them in real, it's no wonder that such things can't be observed at conferences. The bad blood is though still there and if one watches closely they will find some people avoid each other at conferences.

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