Saturday, June 28, 2008

Users vs. Developers Ad Nauseum

I read this comment on the Dot earlier this week. It stuck in my mind, and I wanted to share it: (link) It was written by someone called outolumo.

"Couple years back I moved to France for 11 months, didn't know the language, anyone in there, and for the first two months my only access to Internet - to keep me at least somewhat sane - was in an Internet café, where I visited about once a week or so. And besides reading my mail (which there never was too much), how did I use that time? By reading carefully about the developments of KDE4 (and 3) from the KDE Commit-Digest..."

I don't know if he was reading what I did, or what Danny does. Doesn't matter. I know that comments like this give a burst of energy.

All this discussion about users vs. developers obscures what really matters. What would move someone to write, debug, translate, draw artwork, study usability, test, file bugs, document something like KDE? LWN interviewed a kernel hacker named Peter Zijlstra and we learn what motivates him. Here is the link. I understand what he says, and feel the same excitement and pleasure in solving difficult problems.

As a simple user, I just hope that every KDE contributors feels that behind each "angry user", there is thousands of happy users.

Thanks to all :)
@danakil: the problem is that those happy users are "behind" the "angry" ones.

(and let's face it, it's not really people who are angry: it's the rude, disrespectful and harassing people; one can be angry and not hurtful)

by allowing the hurtful people to take the front seat at pretty much every single discussion i've had (often ones that started with truly nice people, and then hijacked by such hurtful sorts), the nice people have unwittingly allowed their community to be systematically degraded.

whether or not the happy/nice people wish to do anything at all about it is completely up to them. whatever the choices made end up being, however, they have consequences for good, bad or some mix in between.

passivity is not enough when your community is being eroded.

sometimes you need to stand up, walk to the waters edge and gather salt.

(a gandhi reference and a really inspiring story if you haven't read about it)
Aaron: Great to hear from you!

danakil: I know. I've heard from many personally.

@aaron (and the rest of the devs)

As somebody embroiled in one of the more harsh bug reports, I'm quick to volunteer that things got out of hand there. I'm sorry for the part I played on that. I'm also quick to volunteer that people shouldn't be stalking you to harass you. That's just unacceptable. I'll also state that you're a hell of a developer, have done much good 'PR' and 'education', and that Plasma is really beginning to 'kick butt' as of 4.1 Beta 2 at least.

But (and you knew that was coming ;p ), might I submit that 'good users' don't always 'go bad' for really bad reasons? Some of the people most closely attached the core of the KDE desktop experience have done a sub optimal job of helping themselves.

The role for 'education' stops pretty much at the point of irreconcilable disagreement. Especially if there's nothing new to say, and you only have time to be vague. Given the power disparity (users and developers) do not have a peer relationship. The simple, crass, and unfortunate mechanics of it, make it seem like a person is being 'talked at'.

This tends to get compounded by overly alarmist / dramatic headlines (Like 'No Desktop Icons') that get followed days later by the sensible alternative (Like the 'Folderview' Plasmoid.)

Just as the aggregation of grief you put up with can contaminate other areas of your KDE involvement, causing a horrible spiral, a similar but different thing can happen on the user side. Which is to say, that most users are silent most of the time, but many users with a 'discrete issue' have a small laundry list of 'issues', and many folks quietly follow may share them. So users begin to get dragged down a similar spiral... Even though most people are quiet most of the time, users aren't strong, they're many. This can create negative feedback loop of epic proportions.

This only gets further cemented by 'negative epiphany' moments. Like the "User Driven Development" post with Homer's car (Which, much to the author's credit was clarified rapidly, but might have been ill conceived in the first place.) Or things like the 'Do we really need (certain) users?' posts. When you're spraying from the top of a pyramid, even if you aim carefully, you can't always control where it goes.

The same largely goes for the notion of 'user entitlement'. A user can retort, 'lack of developer perspective'. Developers can't control a a user's sense of entitlement. I'm glad that developers care deeply about what they do, but maybe some developers could stand to work on their perspective. Which is to say do a better job of taking a step back, getting away from developer's that uniformly agree with you, and quietly solicit more feedback from developers that are somewhat critical (but who are in otherwise good standing with each other.) You can't 'fix users', but I have a sense that a more active solicitation of developers peers would mitigate some of the worst of this. (And since nobody like confrontation, it really has to be up to a developer to step back, and not their peers to intervene.)

I hop anybody reading this takes it as honest feedback, with no malice intended.
James: a suggestion. Say your piece, then leave it there. It's amazing how powerful a well though out comment made once can be.

I know. I've been a happy KDEer since 1.0, and it's served well over the years. Sometimes you walk yourself into the muck despite you best intentions...
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