There has been much discussion of the “low signal-to-noise ratio” on the wp-hackers list of late. Not that we need to move that discussion off wp-hackers, but I wanted to compose some thoughts in my own forum where I can moderate the comments to my heart’s content. This turns up an unfortunate reversal: you don’t have to read any of the comments I didn’t like, but I have to read them all. I wish moderation worked in reverse.

The wp-hackers list now serves something near 1,000 email addresses. I don’t know how big it was when I joined two years ago. I do know that the list traffic has grown to become nearly unbearable. I know that there are busier lists. I am speaking not just about the amount of traffic, but the productivity of the list as a whole.

If productivity is the wrong measure of value for wp-hackers then my nephew is a monkey and I’ll unsubscribe forthwith. By productivity I mean the production of worthwhile code, whether it be core or themes or plugins, and the dissemination of information leading to same.

I would be overjoyed to wake up tomorrow and find wp-hackers messages flooding my inbox if they were mostly productive. The banter, the academic opinions, the griping and nagging and off-topic fussing, these are the things that turned me from a hopeful reader and a contributor into a pessimistic lurker.

It has been said that wp-hackers has followed the typical evolutionary pattern of an open-source software mailing list community. This is probably true—I can’t speak from experience because I have participated little in other OSS projects—but I’m not willing to let it go at that.

Today it was proposed during the IRC meetup that we monthly post a set of rules or guidelines and be more strict about curtailing off-topic and counterproductive list activity. Assuming the manifestation of rules can proceed trouble-free, I’m happy with that.

There is just one thing I want to make clear about wp-hackers: a hacker is not someone who discusses or pays lip service or dissents or casts a vote or says what can or should be done. Hackers aren’t committee members. Hackers are more interested in proving what can be done than arguing about it.

Many important contributions have been made by people who had no interest in hacking or coding or tweaking. I do not mean to exclude them and I do not mean to glorify the archetypal geek who knows no social graces. All productive contributions are welcomed.

Case in point: this post is far too long-winded and unproductive for wp-hackers. It would be a blatant waste of time to send it to the list. To compound the sin, that waste would be multiplied by each and every response. As if it weren’t bad enough, I am afraid to think of how much time some people spend composing rubbish like this.

Let the rules say things like “think before you send” and “consider the size of the audience.” What I want to get across is that sometimes it’s better to self-publish than to use the list. If anybody has trouble setting up a blog, I’ll tell you where you can get one… real cheap.

11 thoughts on “wp-hackers”

  1. Amen. I have been on that list ever since its inception and changed my subscription to digest about two years ago. I read the digests every day for about six months before I completely lost interest in the bickering and useless elitist pandering. I started reading them again with the impending release of 2.3 but I went back to deleting them without even opening them about a week ago. To me wp-hackers is almost completely useless to the point that I am about to pay someone to grab the important bits for me for weblogtoolscollection.com (along with important commits to trac).

  2. I think posting the rules regularly is a good idea. I’ve been on several lists over the years that did this and it always seemed to help. Currently, I’m on a cartography list, of all things, and they post the guidelines once every month or two, depending on how closely the moderator is paying attention to the date. Oh, having moderators helps, too, if you don’t already.

    But, yeah, I have to admit, I only half read wp-hackers anymore. Just enough to keep in the loop about things I’m interested in/worried about.

  3. Yea verily! I’ve been following this myself and I heartily agree. I’m not a current contributer to the wp-hackers list (yet) but I do follow it closely and agree that some “curtailing” type guidelines need to be applied. The ones who use the list to sound off rather than constructively contribute will most likely complain but that’s bound to happen anyway.

    Good luck.

  4. i think open enrollment and non-moderation has been the downfall of the list, to an extent. I unsubscribed myself a long while back, because i couldn’t “cut my teeth” on even the simple bugs posted there.

    however. I think that the devs have only themselves to blame for the quality of discussion on the list. every theme designer or plugin author whose work breaks with an upgrade is told that they should have been reading the hackers list to “keep track of development”. This is a bad attempt at making up for a lack of documentation, and only leads to people who are already bitter joining the list. Add to that the issue of the list not actually tracking or affecting development, and the “bikeshed syndrome” just escalates.

  5. Whenever I see discussion like this, I have an automatic tendency to think, “they’re talking about me.” Opinionated? You bet yer ass. I chime in because I’m interested in the future of WordPress and want to be a part of that.

    Having been on some _very_ loud mailing lists in the past, I think the discussion on #wp-hackers was fruitful — or will be. The regular posting of guidelines will cause a lot of people to check themselves before spouting off. In the face of the current discussion (and my first sentence, above…) I have found myself several times lately starting to compose an email, and then stopping and asking myself if it was actually going to be _constructive_ or mere opinion.

    (Humorously enough, this has affected my commenting on just about all forums or blogs I frequent….)

    have I contributed constructively? I think so. I’m no master programmer, but I’m learning — working with WordPress has been the best classroom I’ve ever had for learning PHP. I’ve produced a semi-popular plugin, an increasingly popular multi-blog methodology, and submitted _one whole patch_ to core related to the handling of plugins.

    It’s a difficult issue to deal with, but as I said, I think the solutions discussed on IRC yesterday were good — moderators, plus actual, y’know, _rules_, plus a certain amount of self- and peer-policing that will come from the existence of a clear statement of those rules, will go a long way.

    I hope the list remains healthy. It was my primary entry into the inner workings of WordPress, and even if i never become any kind of major force in WP’s development, surely the list will spawn others who will.

  6. The productive goal needs to be highlighted. Too many times I read mails from random guys (no offense to them) talking about nearly philosophic stuff (php4/5, GPL vs other license, should we add a PHP close tag at the end of files…) that I, the random coder, mostly don’t give a sh*t about.

  7. I think a list of the topics would be helpful to know which topics should be avoided. If those topics could be added to said rules list as well, then it would be even more helpful. It would be even more helpful if a link was provided.

    I haven’t seen too many threads that I would be upset about. I think that because there still isn’t any clear printed objective of the list and the post that details what wp-hackers is about will be lost to time by the time anyone goes to read it again.

  8. With weblogs and RSS, one can put together a “Planet WordPress” that only has posts from top WordPress coders. And in Netvibes, or any RSS reader, I can basically build a WordPress magazine made up of the RSS feeds of those WordPress coders whom I respect. It is sort of sad that their is no way to do that with a mailist.

  9. I’m not on the WP-Hackers list. I’ve been on dev-mailing-lists before, and seen this “natural evolution” first hand. I’ve also written posts like this, as well as sent them out to lists which have gone astray. I say to you and this post: here, here!!! Things like what you describe here are EXACTLY why I don’t contribute to much of anything any longer, and just do my own dev. I find by listening and lurking, I can gather more than getting into a flaming match with a bunch of hot-heads that aren’t doing much work at all.

  10. As right as you are, you’re fighting a losing battle. Any group of people sufficiently large is doomed to devolve into a pseudo-intellectual pissing contest.

    Why? because any group sufficiently large has people who just can’t stop themselves from responding to things that may poke them in the eye a little.

    “omg, why did you do THAT?” turns into 26 people for and against.

    Either you rope someone into being a (harsh) list moderator, and pray they don’t suicide… or you make it abundantly clear that opinions are outlawed.

    Good luck with the latter.

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