[discuss] /1net Steering/Coordination Commitee

Andrew Sullivan ajs at anvilwalrusden.com
Sat Dec 21 04:58:10 UTC 2013

Hi Jeremy,

On Sat, Dec 21, 2013 at 11:17:04AM +0800, Jeremy Malcolm wrote:
> In my opinion this is the source of a lot of the friction between
> the technical community and the other stakeholder groups.

I can't say I disagree, although I will note that I think at least as
great contributing factors are (1) the tendency of certain, often loud
contributors to mail lists to have poor interpersonal skills (I am
doubtless guilty of this); (2) the tendency of many good-willed but
technically-unskilled people to think that, because code is fungible,
any desired change is automatically possible (this is a fallacy I
sometimes call "the Internet is like my laptop"); and (3) a
misunderstanding of what geeks mean when we say "consensus" (Suzanne
admirably characterised this, I think). 

> Few governments work on mailing lists.

Indeed, because they claim sovereignty and therefore cannot possibly
negotiate with any other non-sovereigns. This is a serious and tricky
problem of (diplomatic) protocol, and I don't dismiss it. If we are to
be successful, we need to face it. I'd be extremely enthusiastic to
learn of a group (I'm tempted to say "working group") organising to
confront that problem, and I would contribute to it. But it would need
diplomats and people who have worked as civil servants to be part of
the group.  Do you think we can attract such people?

> People whose culture places a high priority on the avoidance of
> interpersonal conflict don't work on mailing lists.

Surely this depends on the tone of the messages on the list? I agree
that many lists are sort of nasty, but I've certainly been on lists
that were entirely collegial in their interactions, even in heated
debate.  This requires a skilled and diplomatic moderator.


> People without a technical background, but who have important
> insights from other disciplines to contribute to technical
> discussions, do not work on technical mailing lists.

I have some experience to suggest this is false, actually. I spent
several years working on open source software lists, and requirements
gathering was one of the things I tried hard to do. That involved
soliciting input from people who otherwise would _not_ be
contributors. For instance, sometimes I would carry a feature request
of some sort or another from the "general" list to the "hackers" list.
I was not a hacker, but because I was in a position to influence
hackers (I employed some), my view of the importance of some things
made a difference.  And I could talk to the hackers.

Is this "depend on a guy" strategy a scalable one?  No.  But it
doesn't need to be if it's not the only one.  For instance, one of
those projects also had a company whose money all came from support of
the software.  You can bet they had people working on problem
statements, too.

> People who don't know that a mailing list exists or that
> participation on it is important to their interests don't work on
> mailing lists.

Surely this is true of _every_thing?  For instance, even in my
most-activist periods about local or provincial or federal government,
I was not able to keep track of everything of interest to me.  The
Open Source movement has a slogan: with enough eyes, all bugs are
shallow.  And as Suzanne pointed out upthread, the problem is not
representation of people, but ensuring that the process tends to
maximise participation and privilege active participants over
everybody else.  This won't yield all we want.  But it's a start.

> So, having a mailing list that is open is not adequate to ensure the
> inclusiveness of a process, or that any concern that hasn't been
> voiced on that list are "not an important concern". To do that, much
> more proactive outreach and capacity building is needed. 

Of course. Despite SM's slightly flip formulation, I don't think he
meant to suggest that every concern not already expressed is thereby
not important. I would say, however, that the whole _point_ of doing
this sort of thing in public is to try to ensure that alternative
views come up somehow.  And there's no way to promise, after all that,
that the group won't have missed something.  But I'm not sure that
well-funded groups with claims to legitimacy (governments, anyone?) do
much better in ensuring that all views are taken seriously.

Best regards,


Andrew Sullivan
ajs at anvilwalrusden.com

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