Clue

January 8, 2013

Note to self: as an OSS project becomes more successful, the level of clue on the mailing lists drops.

Corollary: a successful project will have a mailing list containing several knuckle-bitingly painful posts.

Why is this? I believe that it’s all to do with the motivation of the person emailing the list. To begin with, an OSS project only has people who are very interested in using it posting to the lists. These people tend to be technically savvy and can identify what might be causing problems. The signal to noise ratio is therefore very favourable to a sensible discussion.

As a project gets used more widely used, the people using it move from those who are actively interested to the people who are sitting around them. They may not be quite so engaged, but they’re probably still relatively tech savvy. They have far less incentive or desire to dig into the code and understand why things are failing. The level of clue on the mailing lists appears to drop.

This process continues until the project is so successful that it’s a mandated part of people’s jobs. They have no choice but to use it. At this point, there is absolutely no incentive to understand why¬†things are not working as intended, and every incentive to try and see whether someone else has already solved the problem. The level of clue in the mailing lists appears to drop through the floor.

I remind myself of this on a regular basis, and you know what? I’m okay with it too. In fact, sometimes I even smile when I see my project’s lists filled with poorly researched, ill considered emails. It’s a sign of success.

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