Working in the open is hard

A recent conversation on a Mozilla mailing list about whether IRC channels should be archived or not shows what a commitment it is to remain open. It’s hard work and not always comfortable to work completely in the open.

Most of us in open source are used to “working in the open”. Everything we send to a mailing list is not only public, but archived and searchable via Google or Yahoo! forever. Five years later, you can go back and see how I did my job as Executive Director of GNOME. Not only did I blog about it, but many of the conversations I had were on open mailing lists and irc channels.

There are many benefits to being open.

Being open means that anybody can participate, so you get much more help and diversity.

Being open means that you are transparent and accountable.

Being open means you have history. You can also go back and see exactly why a decision was made, what the pros and cons were and see if any of the circumstances have changed.

But it’s not easy.

Being open means that when you have a disagreement, the world can follow along. We warn teenagers about not putting too much on social media, but can you imagine every disagreement you’ve ever had at work being visible to all your future employers. (And spouses!)

But those of us working in open source have made a commitment to be open and we try hard.

Many of us get used to working in the open, and we think it feels comfortable and we think we’re good at it. And then something will remind us that it is a lot of work and it’s not always comfortable. Like a conversation about whether irc conversations should be archived or not. IRC conversations are public but not always archived. So people treat them as a place where anyone can drop in but the conversation is bounded in time and limited to the people you can see in the room. The fact that these informal conversations might be archived and read by anyone and everyone later means that you now have to think a lot more about what you are saying. It’s less of a chat and more of a weighed conversation.

The fact that people steeped in open source are having a heated debate about whether Mozilla IRC channels should be archived or not shows that it’s not easy being open. It takes a lot of work and a lot of commitment.


4 Replies to “Working in the open is hard”

  1. The fact that these informal conversations might be archived and read by anyone and everyone later means that you now have to think a lot more about what you are saying.

    Nah, not really. (Emphasis mine.)

    I’m someone who probably comes off as nearer to the idealist-enough-to-seem-grumpy end of the spectrum than average, but it’s clear that there’s not a lot of meat to the objections in the .governance thread. Whatever reservations a person might have against channel archives are concerns that would already be having an effect on discussion. Most clients support logging, and it’s not as if it’s not a feature that’s not getting exercised, because there’s definitely logging happening, redundantly. It’s not even as if there’s some distinction to be made about personal logs for private use and logs open to the public (which would be a dubious argument to begin with), because there are bots in some channels where logging for publication is part of the bots’ raison d’être.

    The only respite from this is if there are connectivity issues, but there’s nobody making a tactical assessment about what to say based on looking at who’s in the channel and saying to themselves “yes! now’s my time to say how I really feel; all bots are offline”. It would be neither tactical—because personal logs would still be an issue—nor pragmatic, least of all because it’s not possible to know that someone hasn’t introduced a new bot under a nick you don’t recognize.

    The logging thing is so clearly an upsides-only proposal; the discussion in .governance smacks of a want of something to bicker about, which is, in one word, dumb, for trivially recognizable reasons, but also because Mozilla is no utopia, so there’s tons of discussion to be had that actually addresses something with the intent to move it forward. I don’t know if there’s anything to be done about it, because this is what open source is reknowned for (although FOSS development doesn’t have an exclusive claim to this phenomenon).

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