[darcs-users] splitting darcs-users

Eric Kow kowey at darcs.net
Tue Sep 28 09:51:24 UTC 2010

Hi everybody,

It may be time to take another look at how we're using our mailing

What I would like is
1. lots of users staying abreast of darcs development,
2. diversity in discussions
   (looking at things from all right angles),
3. strong sense of community,
4. transparent and participatory decision making process
   (no smoke-filled rooms)

I'm concerned that the amount noise on the darcs-users list is
detracting from these goals because it stops people from reading the
list or participating in the discussions.

So first question: do we need change?
 ... or am I just worrying for nothing?

Second question, if we want to change, how should we go about it?
I have two proposals:

A. move patch-related traffic to darcs-devel
B. traditional devel/user split

Current policy and data
We used to have a traditional -devel and -user split until about 2008-04
when Gwern made a case for the merge [1].

Right now, all discussions take place on darcs-users, including user
questions, patch reviews and policy discussions; issue tracker traffic,
and generally any automated noise goes to darcs-devel.

Here is a chart showing traffic to darcs-users:

I also have a publicly viewable spreadsheet [2], which I would sum
up as saying

Mean messages/month 2008 [from Apr]: 579
                    2009           : 485
                    2010 [till Sep]: 306

Half of the messages are related to a patch sent to the darcs-users,
either the patch itself or the review (see attached bash script).

Past arguments
To avoid rehashing the points we saw in [1], here is my attempt to
summarise what was last said

Arguments in favour of the merge were

 - avoids complexity and confusion, easier to follow darcs dev
 - not everybody has same opinion about category things belong in
 - user questions going unanswered (insufficient devel attention)
 - modern mailers make it easy to sort/delete
 - darcs users tend to be devs, so higher tolerance for devel traffic

Arguments for keeping the split were

 - users may see devel traffic as noise (particularly Tracker traffic)
 - easier to subscribe to two lists than separate out threads
 - actually developers are quite friendly to users

Proposal A: move patch-related traffic to darcs-devel
The first proposal is to send all patch tracker traffic to darcs-devel
rather than darcs-users. This would halve the traffic to darcs-users,
taking out a lot of admin messages like "could you amend this patch?"
The workflow would be identical for patch reviewers (just hit reply)
which should have the effect of sending messages to the right place.
We would still maintain the policy that all discussions should happen on

This is an attempt to keep the advantages of a merged list, while
avoiding noise in the process. Personally, I like the idea of treating
users/developers as a single community or at least blurring the
distinctions. One reason this attracts is the hope that we could promote
as many users as possible into developers in some shape or form (eg.
Documentation Manager)

I guess one example we could think about are the recent adventure branch

 - http://lists.osuosl.org/pipermail/darcs-users/2010-August/025048.html
 - http://lists.osuosl.org/pipermail/darcs-users/2010-August/025066.html
 - http://lists.osuosl.org/pipermail/darcs-users/2010-September/025233.html
 - http://lists.osuosl.org/pipermail/darcs-users/2010-September/025271.html

This sort of stuff had very little user participation and may be just
noise for people who aren't actively reviewing Darcs patches.  But on
the other hand, I tend to feel that is it's healthier in the long run
for the Darcs thought process to be visible to a relatively large
public (especially if there are weaknesses, like uncertainty about
testing).  I don't really know why. I can't back this up with any real
arguments, so this sort of feeling could be more sentiment/fantasy than
sense. But maybe somebody else knows what I'm getting at and can provide
the arguments on my behalf?

Aside from the fluff above, here are some potential shortcomings to the

 - It may be unusual, which means that people may have a hard time
   adapting to the norms, particularly newcomers who will have to be
   ushered from darcs-devel to darcs-users from time to time.

 - When patch review evolves into proper discussions, we would have to
   move it to darcs-users, which may be awkward

Proposal B: traditional user/developer split
Instead of trying to innovate here, maybe we should just restore the
traditional users/devel split.  This would subsume the first proposal,
but go a little bit further.

This might be simpler to use than the patches on darcs-devel plan,
because we can just rely on people's familiarity with similar norms in
other projects.  It would avoid the problem of having to nag the core
team to move things to -users when they turn into discussions, or
having to [remember to] redirect newcomers' -devel postings to -users.

People who want to follow darcs development could still subscribe and
participate in darcs-devel (or! just read Darcs Weekly News).  Perhaps
those who would do such a thing are already those who would participate
in darcs-users anyway, so we wouldn't really be losing too much
perspective.  To avoid the problem of user questions going unanswered,
we could maintain a culture of developers reading both lists.

Note that I was initially resisting this because I thought it would
impose an overhead of people having to figure out which messages belong
to which list (and redirecting from one list to the other, etc).  But we
talked about this on IRC [4] going through a few examples, and it looks
the distinctions are fairly clear-cut after all.  It's also not the end
of the world if an ambiguity exists.  We could just deal with it.

Also, we could adopt a cultural norm that all developers are subscribed
to both -users and -devel (to avoid insufficient attention to -users).

Examples of user vs devel discussion:

1. withdrawing old-fashioned: user
2. annotate UI: user
3. adventure branch governance: devel
4. benefits of patch theory paper: user?

Any comments?
So is it time for some sort of separation?  Perhaps if you find yourself
not really keeping up with darcs-users, you're the right kind of person
to comment?

I'll revisit this question in maybe a week, and figure out what to do,
taking your comments into account.

This could be a good chance for lurkers to speak up, particularly those
who commented on the merge last time. How has it gone for you?



[1] http://lists.osuosl.org/pipermail/darcs-devel/2008-April/007857.html
[2] http://is.gd/fvrvy raw data
[3] http://lists.osuosl.org/pipermail/darcs-devel/2008-April/007983.html
[4] http://irclog.perlgeek.de/darcs/2010-09-21#i_2849435

Eric Kow <http://www.nltg.brighton.ac.uk/home/Eric.Kow>
For a faster response, try +44 (0)1273 64 2905 or
xmpp:kowey at jabber.fr (Jabber or Google Talk only)
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