[Python-Dev] Discussion overload

Guido van Rossum guido at python.org
Sat Jun 18 21:57:49 EDT 2016

On Sat, Jun 18, 2016 at 6:17 PM, Brett Cannon <brett at python.org> wrote:

> Over on the "security SIG" thread, the point has been made that we seem to
> be hitting some limits in communication (Steve Dower said written
> communication, Guido said mailing lists/newsgroups). Based on the burnout
> we are seeing from these centi-threads we need to try and come up with some
> solution to this problem, else we are heading towards a bad place [d]ue to
> communication burn-out.
> For me, I don't think we can give up written communication thanks to how
> worldwide we all are and thus make scheduling some monthly video chat very
> difficult. What I would like to consider, though, is something like
> Discourse where we at least have a chance to have tools available to us to
> manage discussions better than through federated email where everyone has
> different experiences in terms of delivery rate, ability to filter,
> splitting discussions, locking down out-of-control discussions, etc. I
> think harmonizing the experience along with better controls could help make
> all of this more manageable.
Agreed that any form of real-time communication is out.

First, I want to apologize to Kevin -- I only skimmed his message. I only
saw that he had carefully qualified himself as a long-time open source
contributor and list participant when I re-read his message.

I also want to keep this short, so I'm proof-reading this before posting.

Many projects on which I am currently working use one or more GitHub issue
trackers as their main communication mechanism (mypy et al. don't even have
a mailing list). I find that this works quite well to stay focused. We have
quite a few issues that track important discussions over many days, weeks
or months, and there is very little noise or cross-talk. It's easy to stay
on topic, it's much easier to refer to other topics, it's easy to mute
individual topics, and it's much less likely that a topic degenerates into
a different discussion altogether (because it's easy to create a new issue
for it). It's also easier to moderate, and you can even edit conversations
(with restraint). I also like that it's possible to to do
sentence-by-sentence quotation, but the extra effort required (copy/paste)
encourages a linear thread of conversation within one issue.

I did a quick check of my inbox and I think over the past week I had about
as much mypy-related messages generated by GitHub as there were python-dev
messages. And I felt much less bad for ignoring much of the mypy traffic
while I was on vacation than I felt for ignoring python-dev, because it's
easy to catch up using GitHub's web UI. (And no, I don't want to use gmane.
I think it doesn't solve any of the other problems.)

I don't know Discourse, but if it has a similar (or even better) feature
set maybe we should give it a try. Or, now that we're going to migrate the
CPython repo to GitHub, maybe we could just give GitHub's issue tracker a
try? We could create a repo that has just a tracker (or a tracker plus a
README.md explaining its purpose -- eventually we could add more resources
and even a wiki).

I'm sure that in the venerable python-dev tradition everyone is now jumping
to give their opinion about Discourse, the GitHub tracker, their favorite
alternative, the needs for free-form discussion, the need to have a GitHub
account to participate, Slack, and the upcoming Mailman 3.0. But let's not
do that, because it would be too self-referential (and defeat the purpose).
I think we seriously need to rethink the way we have conversations here,
and that includes the conversation about conversations.

Here's my proposal: let's decide what to do about this roughly the same way
we decided what to do with Mercurial. We don't have to take as long, but
we'll use a similar process: a small committee run by a dedicated volunteer
will compare alternatives and pick a strategy. If you're interested in
serving on this committee, send me email off-list. If you want to head the
committee, ditto. If you reply-all, you're automatically disqualified. :-)

--Guido van Rossum (python.org/~guido)
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