Michael Dexter on software project communication


Michael Dexter of Call for Testing, BSDFund, bhyvecon, OpenZFS, and FreeBSD mailing list fame posted these remedies on Twitter for toxic and counterproductive open source software project communities. I’m shamelessly quoting them here so I can add extra comments.

Conducting all project communication in the open, with the exception of highly-sensitive topics.

The truth hides in darkness. I realise I facilitated this in the past by keeping corrosive things said to me about other people and projects in confidence, because it was said to me privately. They know they can’t exploit that going forward because I don’t tolerate that behavior, they know I’ll report it.

Accepting that virtually all developers begin as users and ending any fetishes related to developer privileges.

I aspire to have a FreeBSD commit bit one day, just as I’ve been granted admin access to other projects, and extra user rights on Wikimedia Foundation projects. I see these as a privilege and an honour that comes with responsibilities. The idea of using trust and confidence as a way to make demands seems utterly foreign.

Clarifying relationships to foundations.

My dad used to joke—tongue in cheek—that he was the reason why certain contracts had to have another page of clauses. Somewhat related to above, if people acting in bad faith need to have certain rules codified before they’ll act reasonably, maybe that’s necessary. Or it could act as a filter, given how some bad actors rage quit when Codes of Conduct are raised. @joshgnosis calls this mute baiting… I like it.

It’s almost as if… there is a disconnect between users, developers, and committers.

This is the open question I, as a relatively recent contributor in this space, find the most difficult to address. There are some in the community who go out of their way to help and bridge that gap, and I’ve even had people email me saying my silly little blog here has helped them make connections and learn things. But there’s a long way to go, at least if we want a healthy and productive community at the other side.

I do relate with the fatigue of dealing with these issues, especially when your routine attempts to empathise and see other people’s perspectives are met with steadfast refusal to reciprocate. I think Merlin Mann put it best:

I don’t think they deserve my struggling this much to understand their motivation.

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