The Hard Parts of Open Source

As more people enter /r/elm and the Elm discourse, I have thought a lot about how "online communities" work. Patterns of conflict. Why those patterns exist. Structures that would diffuse that conflict in healthy ways. Initially I just wanted to get yelled at less, but I instead stumbled upon "a cultural history of open source" that may reveal a path to more civil and productive online communication in general.

Attendees will leave with (1) an inside perspective on open source projects, (2) a historical and cultural framework that I think can improve online communities right now, and (3) some interesting references and ideas to explore further in their own projects and interactions.


That definitely is something to chew on. A lot to digest. I found the “Directed Discussions” idea pretty compelling. I’m going to need to watch this a few more times and ponder on everything he had to say. It’s quite an interesting presentation with a lot of nuance. Thank you for posting this @withoutboats.

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We had a conversation about this on the Discourse forum as well, pondering whether any of Evan’s suggestions could be implemented to further optimize for civilized discussion.

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This was indeed a very interesting talk to watch. I was especially intrigued by the idea that the guidance towards purpose of a community (and its places of discussion and interaction) provide a more streamlined place of interaction that can become more friendly and more focused on resolution and understanding, instead of discussion and convincing others.

I also liked some of the more “realistic” solutions presented in communication tools that can help with this. During the talk I had to think about Rust’s focus on tooling surrounding the language and surrounding the processes created to advance the language (bors, high-five, crater, clippy, etc), these tools were specifically created to solve a problem. But then you look at the community, and the tooling surrounging it (or, us), and we fall back to “off the shelf” solutions such as Discourse, Discord, IRC, GitHub Issues, etc. It makes me wonder if missed some opportunities there, or – looking forward instead of backward– I wonder if there are many benefits to be gained by spending a large amount of community effort towards building more tooling and processes to help the community become better at communicating by giving more (automated) guidance, creating/forcing more nuance in our discussion tools, and creating “anti-nudging” help specifically to fight against the issues discussed in this video.

Anyway, sorry for the long “rant”, but this really struck a chord with me, and as much as I really like the Rust community and the explicit effort of the Rust team to make this an open and welcoming community, I also realize maintaining such a community is hard work, so if there is anything we can do to make that work even a little bit easier, I think that is work well spent.

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I wrote about my feelings about this talk in a blog post:


The learning flow, where messages are structured around "ask for clarification" and "propose solution" reminded me of Stack Overflow. And Stack is kind of infamous.

4. Sadness after being told to act more like a robot

As another sign of its inhumanity, Stack Overflow discourages greetings and thanks.

  • "just tried to write an answer on stack overflow, it's a horrible experience, but what really surprised me is that they edited my answer and removed the "compassionate parts".. don'e read this thread if you want to stay positive today"
  • “A user with a mere 4,000 reputation edited the tags on my first question and took the opportunity to remove me saying ‘thanks’…That may seem like a tiny thing to some people, but I found it immensely offputting that a stranger was bothered enough by two words of common politeness to silently remove them from my post.”

Robots may not have use for these words, but humans use them to make others feel welcome and appreciated.

Uhm, yeah, the Stack Overflow approach of crushing discussion is not a very good idea. Structure that's built around limiting the kinds of interaction that people are capable of having is probably not a good way to increase the compassion and humanity of a web community.

Edit: posted where Evan can see it

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