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?

18 thoughts on “Consolidating communications

  1. reosarevok

    I would be very wary of dropping IRC, since it’s a completely different beast than all the other things here (we could substitute it by a synchronous in-site chat but that sounds like a lot of effort to substitute something that mostly works for what it is). I’d be fairly in favour of condensing the forums and mailing list(s) into one thing though, since those two are basically equivalently asynchronous and there’s no real point dividing the community between the two. Even as a person who somewhat prefers mailing lists, I’d suggest moving towards either the forums, or a more forum-like alternative – the lists see much less use than the forums already anyway.

  2. Ben Ockmore

    Don’t drop IRC, but merge #musicbrainz and #musicbrainz-devel so that all project discussion is in one place. http://producingoss.com/en/irc.html I don’t think either channel is at the point where they need to be separate.

    Also, consolidate mailing lists and forums into one place, such as groups.io. The difference between the two formats is minimal, and I don’t think anyone can have any reasonable problems with a shared interface.

  3. Flow

    You literally can’t drop IRC. So let’s not bother with it. But replacing the forums and mailing lists with discourse sounds like a good idea. It’s my experience that discourse can be thought of as “Mailman with Web interface”, so it appears like something worth exploring.

  4. CallerNo6

    DIscourse would, for me, be a fine consolidation of the forums/ML. Would the blog also be rolled into that consolidation?

    Of course, reading meta.discourse, I’m thinking “Yay, look at all the cool plugins!” So you should probably vote me off the island sooner rather than later. I make everything complicated 🙂

  5. CallerNo6

    About IRC, I suspect that if the official channel were shut down, a lot of us would continue to hang out in an unofficial channel.

  6. zexpe

    Could daily IRC logs at least be merged into whatever replaces and combines the forums/ML?

  7. CyberSkull

    I don’t use IRC, but I don’t think dropping it would be a good idea. Real-time communications are always needed on large projects like this. But for what I am thinking, we need communications that are more integrated with MB/BB/CB themselves. I really like the idea of being able to start a discussion thread directly from an artist, release group, event, etc.

  8. cloudkucooland

    I’m anti-IRC (and have been since 1993), but I understand that some people love it. My vote is to leave it alone, but be clear that “decisions” there aren’t official. That is, it can remain as a community communication point and a real-time user-to-user help system, but isn’t a place to settle style questions or discuss edits.

  9. aerozol

    Oh damn, no undo feature on Android, really??? There goes that post… Shorter version:

    Everybody loves their communication habits, sure, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cut it down to one anyway.
    Personally, a forum and a chat room for logged in users on the front page would get the whole job done and dusted, but that’s my opinion.

    Another note though, making people make any kind of new ‘presence’ / ‘avatar’ to communicate with would just be a continuation of the split in communication we currently have. It might be a task to code, but giving someone access to editing features because they want to ask a Picard q in the forums, and vice versa, is a huge opportunity to stop losing editors or contributors.. Making two logins is not something I would have done, if I hadn’t come to the forums second, I would probably be on discogs instead..

  10. mfmeulenbelt

    I don’t think dropping the forum for discussions per artist, release, etc would be a good idea. The advantage of the forum is its centrality. I see posts about things in MusicBrainz I would otherwise never encounter. It wouldn’t help to fracture the community any further. Of course, if every object in MusicBrainz had a button to make a new thread on the forum (or whatever kind of central communication we settle on), and that button would also automatically fill in some information (like the relevant object in MusicBrainz), that would be great. And yes, please have one account for both the main site and the forum (or, again, whatever else we settle on).

    Could someone tell me what Discourse and Layer are? Their flashy websites boast about a number of features, but fail to tell me what they are supposed to do.

  11. jacobbrett

    @CyberSkull For the longest time I’ve found myself wanting a Wiki “Talk”-style pages for entities to leave miscellaneous notes that don’t really belong in the respective annotation section. Things like non-definitive or speculative information, even dumping discography lists to refer back to at a later time when fleshing out an artist or label on MB.

  12. CyberSkull

    Another thought that has come to me is that we are really underutilizing the MB front page. Creating discussions such as this and linking to them on the front page is a good way of getting feedback.

    @CallerNo6: I just tried the demo, it seems to be one of the friendliest forum packages I’ve ever used.

    @jacobbrett: Annotations have always felt underused to me too. I like the idea of a full wiki section on an entity as well as having a talk/notes page as well.

  13. voiceinsideyou

    Totally agree that SSO should be absolutely #1 priority, and whatever you choose, blog, forum and mailing lists should go. Although you can’t kill it, I think “endorsed” non-dev discussion should also leave IRC personally. (Devs however should be able to use the comms most suitable for them- doing distributed global development open source is hard enough and what’s right for the community is not necessarily right for engineers.)

    Whatever you choose to use, please choose a form of communication that has a community-based reward/reputation mechanism for those that contribute thoughtfully; help others and come up with ideas. Something in line with pretty much all modern web communities. Aside from the fragmentation problem, every one of MB’s current mechanisms are a legacy of the web as it was 10+ years ago. (longer for IRC obviously) I think you also want something that promotes good content/discussion above the noise.

    In the anonymity of the Internet, +1s, likes etc go a long way towards providing impetus for contributors to stay around despite the negativity which is usually more obvious and immediately perceived. It might sound silly to cynics, but I do believe reputation-style systems matter. You need something that helps the community reinforce positive interactions easily; without having to create an account and then post “thanks”.

    Those who will know my history with the project know that at one point I was a prolific contributor in almost all areas. When I had joined I had many positive interactions over edit notes/discussions. Over time voting became so marginal that such interaction almost never happened. The edit queue became so large/overwhelming that I focused on trying to fix/tidy harmful edits rather than mentor new editors. The interactions there became largely negative too. I had moved onto forums, mailing lists and even IRC to try and improve interactions, feel closer to the community and help others. Gradually, however, I retreated from every communication mechanism and eventually MB entirely due to either outright hostility (style mailing lists/poisonous people) or it feeling basically thankless (helping newer users on the forums). I began to perceive the community as full of takers with little appreciation for the efforts of others. I know that wasn’t the reality, but that’s what it felt like when the only things I ever seemed to see was arguments/complaints or the same question the hundredth time over. People seemed to give no respect to those who had put a lot of effort into the project and were obviously invested. How could they know, everyone was just a name on a forum; another Internet asshole? Despite the technical situation/capability of MB being much improved since then I have not returned because I don’t see any change in the way the community works that would make it a more positive place.

    When you put things behind walls of different login/account requirements and don’t make it easy for people to interact with others who are trying to help them you almost guarantee this. Thinking about this more over the past couple of years; and comparing it to the feeling I get on, say, StackOverflow when I get a +1 to an answer or question the difference is rather clear. People will put their time where it can be more obviously valued/appreciated.

    Getting back to the options, my concern is that Discourse might be a band-aid. Presumably you’d still have fragmented some level of discussion between edits (internal to MB) and Discourse. So unless there was a smart way to integrate these somehow (e.g. to provide a home for discussions on the style pertaining to an individual artist), they might still feel too separate. My concern with Layer is whether MB has the right skills to build this type of thoughtful community-centric integration. I’m not saying it doesn’t, but serious community-centric development seems to have been repeatedly neglected in favour of features for a long time at MB, making me rather wary.

  14. Kirill Korolyov

    +1 for Discourse replacing current forums and the mailing list. A somehow relevant discussion can be found here https://meta.discourse.org/t/how-to-sell-discourse-as-mailing-list-replacement/11218

    The blog is handy to have as an overview of upcoming/new features and other news. The comments though could potentially be integrated with Discourse.

    Entity-based discussion would provide a huge benefit for the editors. Also, it would be nice to see all communications around an entity — both entity comments and edit comments. Currently the only way to see the entire discussion is to go through the entire edit history, which might span multiple pages and only have a few comments.

    Just a few minutes ago I’ve encountered this (and it made me write this comment): http://musicbrainz.org/recording/fd1fad1d-6d92-4e6e-8282-81d6b9f48a44 – you can clearly see a conversation going on inside the annotation. It would be nice to be able to integrate the entity discussion feature with Discourse, but even if this is not possible, a custom solution would be welcome.

    It’s important to have real-time communication — the best alternative to IRC seems to be Slack, but ability to view only the latest 10,000 messages makes it inferior to IRC in terms of keeping history. On the other hand, this limitation would push real-time messaging more into discussion and out of decision-making territory. Even having entire messaging history in IRC doesn’t mean it’s easy to find information there — so perhaps this feature is not even needed? I’m a member of a few Slack communities, and never experienced a need to look up something in not-so-recent history. Forums with messages grouped by topics and tags, as well as entity-based discussions, are a much better place for discussions that have to be well-structured and searchable.

    There’s also a list of different messaging software here https://github.com/cjbarber/hipchat-alternatives

  15. CyberSkull

    I was thinking as far as entity based discussion goes, I’d like to see it on artists, release groups, recordings, works, events, places, areas and series.

    I specifically don’t want it on releases, as discussion of one release would be too limiting and easily missed.

  16. mfmeulenbelt

    @CyberSkull:
    If the discussion is on entities instead of a central place like the forum, chances are nobody but the original poster will ever see those discussions. We have 364499 artists without subscribers. If I were a new user with a question while editing one of these artists, creating a discussion there will most likely never get a reply. If you look at the threads in the “Style Discussion” part of the forum, you’ll notice that people rarely have questions about The Beatles. It’s usually something pretty obscure.

    Personally, I would like every entity to have a discussions tab. On that tab you could see a list of all the threads on the forum referring to that entity, plus a link that would create a new discussion on the forum. And all those forum threads would have a link to the relevant entity at the top of the page. That would have two advantages: a user who has a question while editing can easily start a relevant discussion to ask the question, and experienced editors can see all new questions from a central place, without having to visit dozens of entity pages. The obvious downside of course, is that it’s a pretty custom solution, so someone has to develop that.

  17. bflaminio

    However it shakes out, I am +1 in favor of consolidating communications. I’m a “forum guy”, and so that is my preferred hangout. I’ve used forum software (vBulletin, for example) that had chat functionality that could replace IRC (IRC is impenetrable for newbies). Mailing lists are primitive technology, and best left on the dustbin of Internet history.

    I would also caution against devising a grandiose and overreaching communications system that while awesome and ambitious, would take years to develop and implement. Swift, sure moves are needed first; don’t hold off making these choices first before embarking on the Grand Unified Theory of Communication.

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