Category Archives: Community

Creating a paid community manager position

I’m slowly sifting through the community feedback comments and I’m increasingly falling behind in my tasks for managing MusicBrainz and all of the projects of the MetaBrainz Foundation. It has become clear that I need help in managing the community and not just help for software engineering or system administration. Thankfully one person came to mind when I started looking for help! Our own Freso has been active in MusicBrainz for over 9 years, so he knows his way around and is used to my abuse:

BDFL on Freso

More importantly, Freso manages to keep his cool when things get heated. He’s attended and supported our summits and he understands MusicBrainz and communities. I’m working with Freso to define his position and determine the appropriate pay level — we’ve moved past the stage where private issues were settled and are now ready to take this job description public.

So far, we’ve created this document to describe this new position. Please take a look — anyone can comment on the document. We’ll take comments and attempt to answer/integrate/respond to your feedback.

Once this job description is done and we’re happy with it, I will need to get board approval to create this new position. Fortunately for us, the new revenue from our new MetaBrainz site will cover the costs of having Freso as a paid member of our team.

Going forward, I plan to publish a list of people who are paid by the MetaBrainz Foundation, including their job descriptions. The above document will then be moved to the MetaBrainz site.

Happy weekend everyone!

Consolidating communications

There are already two themes emerging from the feedback on the various blog posts (especially yesterdays’s post):

  1. We have too many forms of communication: Blog, forum, mailing lists, Jira, edit notes and IRC. Some of these serve very specific purposes, such as the blog and jira, our ticket system. Others like the forum, mailing lists and IRC overlap quite a bit. In this area it seems that we should be able to consolidate a little, but people seem to be quite invested in their favorite form of communication. Forum users tend to dislike mailing lists and vice versa. People either hate or love IRC, there isn’t much middle ground.
  2. Lack of single sign on: To participate in most of these forms of communication the user needs to create a new, distinct account from their main MusicBrainz account. This hinders users from participating in more communication forms, which fractures our community.

How do we improve this then? I think we should focus our discussion on mailing lists, forums, IRC and in-site communication (MBS-1801, again), since they are more generic and overlap each other somewhat.

I see some possible ways of doing this, so let me think out loud for a minute:

  • Drop mailing lists and forums and use a “cloud hosted” instance of Discourse. Discourse is open source, supports single sign on, and looks like it could easily replace forums and mailing lists. I doubt this would be sufficient to replace IRC, but overall very promising.
  • Drop mailing lists, forums, IRC and implement a really kick ass communication/chat/edit note system in MusicBrainz itself. Layer’s offerings look like they might make this not too hard and are not too expensive. Our own system would allow the greatest level of control and integration and needs no new sign-on. However, it may also be the most amount of work.

(Regardless of what we decided to do, worry not, we would keep historical archives of whatever communications form we decides to drop.)

I’d also briefly considered using Slack, but since it isn’t open source and not geared towards open source, this doesn’t quite feel right. What other interesting tools are out there? What other ways do you see that we can consolidate our forms of communication?

Community problems?

No one has made any suggestions as to what tools we can effectively use to collect feedback about what aspects of the MusicBrainz community people think are broken. I’ve looked at a few tools to try and find something suited, but all I found was a lot of ill-fitting stuff.

So, let’s keep it simple and use this blog entry’s comments to talk about what bits about the community are working less than ideal right now. What bothers you? What feels wrong? What should we focus on right away to improve? What should we improve, but isn’t so important right this second?

Now, please remember to keep it polite, respectful and concise — if you are rude or hit me with a wall-of-text, I’ll ignore your comment. Also, please don’t name any names; don’t point fingers. Remember that everyone got a blank slate and is now innocent. If a particular person’s behaviour bothered you, describe the troublesome behaviour, not the person.

If you know of a ticket in Jira that already describes your issue, please reference the ticket! That will make sifting through the comments much easier. I’ll take your comments and try and weave them in a coherent set of topics and then post them somewhere. Exactly where is still to be determined — that depends on the amount/coherency of the feedback I get.

One issue that I prefer to not hear about is MBS-1801, the issue about people ignoring their emails about edits they have made. I’ve already set the process in motion to look at possible solutions for this issue and I hope to have a separate blog entry about this next week.

Go!

UPDATE: Some people did comment about solutions on. Sorry for skipping that part. (None of those suggestions really resonated with me either, sadly)

Robustness principle applied to communities

The great internet pioneer Jon Postel once wrote the following in an early draft of the TCP specification:

Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others

He wrote this in the context of computer networking and this philosophy arguably helped the Internet become robust to faults. Personally, I think this is great wisdom even in a larger scope — it can be applied to many other contexts in life. Today, I would like to apply this wisdom to our community:

If members of the MusicBrainz community could work hard to craft their edits so that they adhere to the guidelines as much as possible and to add supporting links to their edits, that would fit the bill of “being conservative in what you do”. Then, when you consider other edits, be liberal in accepting other people’s edits. If an edit makes the database better, vote yes, even if you don’t fully agree with it. If you see a small mistake and you’re an auto-editor, accept the edit and fix the small mistake. See if you can find a way to accept the edit, rather than shooting it down.

Our attitudes shouldn’t be “How can I shut this person down?”, but “How can I help this person make better edits?”. If an editor gets shut down for small mistakes, the editor is going to be discouraged from doing more edits. This harms the project overall! But, if an experienced editor politely helps a less experienced editor to improve their edits, the less experienced editor will feel more welcomed and is much more likely to continue learning and to continue making more edits.

After all, happy teams are vastly more productive than unhappy teams.

Happy editing!

Poisonous people

As I work to re-shape our community, I’ve been brushing up on open source philosophy. I’ve already mentioned “Producing Open Source Software” book, which is great, but can be somewhat dry at times. A more recent book that covers more of the team related issues is the excellent “Team Geek“. In particular the chapter on “Poisonous people” is really well worth reading.

One passage summarizes some underlying themes of my current series of blog posts:

“But there’s a danger here. In general, it’s not healthy to spend one’s time stewing in an ocean of negativity—it tends to eat you up and can create more conflicts in the long run. The term poisonous person is a nasty label and automatically creates a dividing line between “us” (the good guys) and “them” (those nasty jerks). There’s a better way to think about the problem. Instead of running your team as an elite fraternity with a mission to repel mean people, it’s healthier to create a culture that simply refuses to tolerate certain negative behaviors.”

Our community currently has a number of disrespectful people who could be classified as “poisonous”. However, I have good news for these people: I’m wiping the slate clean! Everyone gets a fresh start. As of today no one is poisonous! Hooray! \ø/

However, if you decide to go against the updated principles I’m stating in this blog post series, you should expect that people will confront your behaviour. One point of these blog posts is to provide bite-sized chunks of information that can be used to succinctly state updated project policies. If you encounter a person who is communicating aggressively, is being disrespectful or is hindering the community from moving the project forward, please remind them of these blog posts. When you encounter a problematic person, post the link to this blog entry and respectfully remind them to improve their behaviour.

I would also like to propose that we organize a group of volunteers to form what could be called: “Team Respect“. If someone in the community finds a person who is going on a “no-vote spree” or is entering useless and aggression filled tickets into jira, then they can call on Team Respect to jump in. Team Respect should engage this person, link to the relevant blog posts/project policies and remind them to be respectful. The team should also review the actions of the person — if the team feels that the actions by this person were uncalled for, the team should work to counter-act their actions. For instance, if someone goes an on unjustified no-vote spree, the team members should evaluate the edits in question and if they “improve the database” then they should vote yes on the edits, improve the edits to remove the objections or even approve the edits outright if they are auto-editors. Use your best judgement, of course!

The basic idea behind Team Respect is to make being a disrespectful person no fun and frustrating. At the same time Team Respect can raise positive feelings in the community by working together and protecting the work for polite, respectful people. And the polite, respectful people whose work was protected will be more inclined to contribute in the future.

Transparent communications

In the past few months I’ve tried to re-iterate that MusicBrainz is an open source project and that open source projects should carry out their work in public whenever possible. I received quite a bit of push-back every time I suggested this, so I feel it necessary to reinforce this concept.

I’ll reference the “Producing Open Source Software” book and in particular the Chapter 2:

Even after you’ve taken the project public, you and the other founders will often find yourselves wanting to settle difficult questions by private communications among an inner circle. … All the obvious disadvantages of public list discussions will loom palpably in front of you: the delay inherent in email conversations, the need to leave sufficient time for consensus to form… The temptation to make decisions behind closed doors and present them as faits accomplis, or at least as the firm recommendations of a united and influential voting block, will be great indeed.

Don’t do it.

If this sounds familiar to you, it should. Sadly this has been happening inside our community for some time. I am now going to put my foot down and insist that communication about the project happen in public. Since I will be setting the dev tasks and will be working to establish a rough road-map for the project, I’ll know what level of communication is appropriate for the current tasks at hand. And I’ll be watching for signs of this improving!

I am going to set an example and keep my communication visible to the public if at all possible. Some things are private matters (pay, personal issues) that should not be discussed in public and I will not discuss those in public — there is no change for private topics. But for all other topics, I am going to insist that we discuss matters in a public channel where the community can follow along. So, if you send me a private message in IRC or a direct email, expect me to ask you to move the discussion to a public forum if the communication really doesn’t need to be private. As a guideline, I would expect about 98% of the project communication to be public.

In the coming weeks I am going to define the various roles that people hold in MusicBrainz and then document them on the spiffy new MetaBrainz web site. If you plan to take on any role in MusicBrainz (or any of the MetaBrainz Foundation projects) I will require that your communications be transparent. Please keep this in mind as I work to bring some clarity in the project.

I would really recommend to everyone that they read all of Chapter 2 linked above — it makes a lot of solid points that are very important to our project right now.