Code of Conduct overhaul


Our Code of Conduct is probably over 10 years old and hasn’t had much of a review over time. I’ve heard various complaints about it in the past few months, so I’d like to start a general discussion about it:

  • What do you like about the current version?
  • What do you hate?
  • What is outdated and needs to be removed?
  • What is missing and should be added?
  • Do you even think that it needs an overhaul?

If you have any comments, please post them below. Your comments will determine my next actions on this project.


10 thoughts on “Code of Conduct overhaul

  1. InvisibleMan78

    For me, the actual CoC is OK. AFAIK and as you write “[it] describes how members of the MusicBrainz community SHOULD interact”, a CoC is not mandatory to use…

    Just a little idea for the section [Conflict resolution]:
    Maybe MB should provide a possibility to setup an easy poll to solve a conflict. Such a poll should run for some days. Everyone who is interested to be part of such polls can subscribe it. If a minimum number of votes can not be reached, the BDFL decides.
    Maybe such a poll can indicate what the interested people think about specific cases.

  2. reosarevok

    Well, I’d say it’s more like “These are the rules of how to interact with your fellow human beings, if you can’t follow these basic rules, get the hell out”, and not some suggestions that can be ignored.

  3. InvisibleMan78

    @reosarevok: I have absolutely no problem with your wording. Really.
    The german entry for CoC says: “Im Gegensatz zu einer Regelung ist die Zielgruppe nicht zwingend an die Einhaltung des Verhaltenskodex gebunden – daher auch häufig der Begriff der ‘freiwilligen Selbstkontrolle’. Maybe it should be renamed to ‘Directive’ or ‘Policy’?

  4. callerno6

    I have to say, I’ve always liked those pithy Wikipedia maxims (e.g. ‘Don’t bite the newbies’ and ‘Assume good faith’). Can we have a CoC refactoring party?

  5. ianmcorvidae

    My view is that we (with the usual caveats about figuring out who that means!) should probably rewrite it entirely, with an eye to the goals and uses of a code of conduct. I think by way of being done a long time ago and growing inconsistently to fill its various roles, our CoC has ended up mediocre at most things — it has the right sort of feel of a CoC, but not any of the usefulness. Which I’d say is part of why it’s rarely cited anywhere — it’s a read-once-at-most-then-forget document.

    As I see it a code of conduct has three main roles to fill:

    The first is being a legislative document: what are punishable breaches of conduct, how are they punished, and what processes are followed to get there. As far as this, we have a lot of things that are listed, but essentially nothing as far as processes or actual response. Most of that is in the “Conflict Resolution” section, which tells editors to resolve their own conflicts, and if they can’t go to the BDFL, which seems roughly akin to deregulating weapons, removing the police force, and then bombing neighborhoods that get too out of hand. Like in such a real-world situation, I’d say this tactic is not only ineffective, but actively drives people away — why participate when others can treat you however they want until they’re “caught”, and where there’s nothing between “acceptable” and “get out” if you mess up? A better document would not only outline clearly what the steps are for escalation (a report function would be helpful here, of course, which is planned), the criteria for evaluation of complaints (at present: judgment call of one person and whoever they choose to help advise them; better would at least include others explicitly), and the potential conclusions, but would also allow for intermediate actions and mistakes, and leave fully open the possibility of people improving. Ideally, we would also list things in fairly equivalent forms and severities, or make clear when they aren’t — for example, the current document puts “be polite” (vague, broad) and “don’t nitpick closed edits, but asking for sources is fine” (specific, narrow) right next to each other. The former needs examples and possibly splitting-up, the latter is far too narrow — why just closed edits, for example, isn’t it perfectly reasonable to expect criticism of open edits not to go overboard too? The section for autoeditors is another good example of being too narrow — anything we want autoeditors to do we pretty much want anyone to do, it just may be more problematic for someone who is trusted with extra leeway.

    The second role of a Code of Conduct is as an aspirational document for existing participants: to what standard do we hold ourselves? By what criteria do we evaluate our own citizenship in the MusicBrainz community? How do we build and reinforce others’ citizenship therein? The current document lumps some of this into the “General” sections, but it doesn’t go far enough, I think — we talk about being polite, but not an aspiration to accept others’ faults even as we try to gently correct them; we talk about being kind to newbies (briefly), but don’t go so far as to say we are deliberately a community without prerequisites for entry and that voting is not an exercise in gatekeeping. It’s possible that some of this belongs outside of the CoC, in a separate document, but in any case it doesn’t really exist now.

    The third role is related to the others, but I think in many ways is the most important goal: as advertising and as a message to new contributors about the community’s values. Many people, especially those particularly susceptible to abuse or with past bad experiences, check codes of conduct as a first point of entry into a project. What happens if someone attacks me here? What will happen if I freak out and say something more harsh than I intend, and how should amends be made? Will my contributions and opinions be taken seriously? etc. Both of the other parts contribute to this, of course; it’s not really its own section of the document. It does also underscore the point that a CoC isn’t much of anything if it’s not being paid attention to — after all, if the conflict resolution process doesn’t work, you’re not going to stay no matter how eloquently described and well-thought-out it is.

    Hopefully that opens up some ideas, at least. I don’t suppose that writing a good CoC is an easy task, and some of these goals do pull in opposite directions (legislative documents are more enforceable when specific, but aspirational things are more vague); I think it’s why the current one needs improvement. Rewriting with an eye to these things could hopefully build a CoC that serves properly as the center of our community and its conduct.

  6. ianmcorvidae

    Oh, and concision would probably be best. Which is why without a lot more time to spend editing than I did on that comment, it might not be mine to write 😛

  7. CyberSkull

    We seem to have accumulated a large amount of “unwritten rules”. These need to be debated to see if they should be policy.

  8. stevefoz

    @ianmcorvidae regarding concision of the document it seems to me it is hard, if not impossible, to have a legislative document that is short and easy to read. I also have to admit I am not a lover of a large number of detailed rules, I would rather people knew a few basic principles to guide behavior so for me a good guiding document for MusicBrainz would be something like this:

    “MusicBrainz is a project to build a high quality music metadata database through a collaborative community. Useful and increasing scope is obtained through participation of a wide community that grows through encouragement. Data quality is maintained through individual diligence, such as reading and following the style guides and naming your sources, and by peer review as implemented in the voting system. Whenever you come across other people’s contributions, either when voting or otherwise, never allow the goal of data quality to run roughshod over basic human respect and politeness. Prefer acceptance, guidance and further refinement to rejection and criticism. In the event of a dispute stay professional and on-topic and, if still unresolved, seek opinion from the wider community.”

    Whether you’d call that a code of conduct I am not sure, but to me it serves the purposing of establishing the right frame of mind. You can back this up with more formal rules, if required, in the same way that we tend to have statute legislation to run a country, which most people don’t know in any detail, and yet most manage to avoid arrest because they adhere to good general principles. If we take that approach there is no reason why the formal rules should avoid being lengthy because they would tend to be referred to when someone is behaving badly rather than as initial guidance. My only concern with the detailed rules approach is that it can, in some cases, encourage adherence to the “letter” rather than the “spirit”.

  9. CallerNo6

    Using Ian’s post as a starting point, this is what I come up with:

    MB should answer these questions:

    1. What set of values does the MusicBrainz project aspire to?
    (possible answer: )
    2. What set of values does MusicBrainz expect from community members?
    (possible answer: )
    3. What behaviors are so far out of line with the above principles that they warrant censure?
    (maybe impossible to codify? possible answers might include harrassment, sock-puppeteering, vandalism, spam?)
    4. If a community member is consistently disruptive, to the point where it harms the project, what steps should be taken? And by whom?
    ( preemptive? procedural? appeals process?)
    5. What authority (if any) does the community have? How are decisions made?

    To me, parts of the current CoC seem more on the level of “how to edit”, “how to vote” and so on. All good things, but could maybe benefit from some refactoring. Maybe “Voting Principles” and “Editing Principles”?

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