[Catalog-sig] Package comments

James Bennett ubernostrum at gmail.com
Wed Nov 4 07:56:13 CET 2009

I think there are issues with both ratings and comments, and that at
the very least the decision to enable/disable them should be left to
the package's administrator.

First up, ratings and comments in general:

Ratings face the well-documented issue of clustering -- the YouTube
data is one useful point, and there are plenty of others which
indicate that, on anything more complex than an up/down rating, the
observed ratings will cluster on one or both extremes of the rating

Comments face a related issue which exposes the psychology a bit more
clearly: there's a barrier to commenting (you have to register), and
so only people who feel strongly that their comment should be seen
will put in the effort to get it posted. In my experience, this
results in the opposite of the YouTube phenomenon: comments will tend
to cluster strongly around the negative extreme of the spectrum
(people who are very upset about something are generally willing to go
to more effort to express their feeling than people who are very happy
about it).

Next, the problems with PyPI's implementation in particular:

Ratings, while less useful than they could otherwise be, don't really
seem to be the issue. Rather, comments are. Specifically...

* Since package maintainers are typically already pressed for time,
  it's unlikely they'll participate much even if granted the ability
  to do so, preferring instead the discussion and support channels
  they've already set up.

* But since package maintainers cannot currently respond to comments,
  they're useless as a means of communicating with package authors or
  meaningfully discussing packages.

* Since package maintainers also cannot remove abusive comments, PyPI
  presents an "attractive nuisance" of sorts; people who wish to troll
  or bash on a package/author will be able to do so with no particular

* Since package maintainers have no way -- short of ad-hoc attempts to
  abuse package descriptions -- to point users toward more useful
  discussion forums, it's likely that at least some users will never
  discover such forums.

* Corollary: since PyPI has pretty decent Google juice, it's likely
  that at least some users will confuse it with an official support
  channel (see, for example, the infamous Maury Povich
  incident[1]). The fact that PyPI displays official Python branding
  exacerbates this problem (see also: the controversy over
  GetSatisfaction using company logos[1]).

Where I stand, personally:

I'd like very much for both ratings and comments to just go away. If
someone wants to provide a third-party service which *does not* have
official Python branding, that'd be fine, because it's unlikely anyone
would confuse such a service for an official support channel.

At the very least, the ability to disable comments should be in the
hands of the package maintainer(s), and PyPI should offer a mechanism
for connecting users to official support channels for packages.

If the implementation stays as-is, well, looks like the only option
I'll have left is to pull my packages off the index. Fortunately, the
standard tools all seem to work well with package URLs instead of PyPI
package names...

[1] http://www.metafilter.com/33213/Tuesdays-with-Maury

[2] http://37signals.com/svn/posts/1650-get-satisfaction-or-else

"Bureaucrat Conrad, you are technically correct -- the best kind of correct."

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