Is the active user-base of Advogato incompetent?

Posted 22 Mar 2003 at 07:21 UTC by glyph Share This

Looking at the articles I see posted on the front page of advogato.org lately, they all seem to fall into 5 categories: simple technical questions, blue-sky functionality requests, political rambling, complaining about advogato, and interesting technical articles. They seem to appear in that distribution, as well. This article is of the "complaining about advogato" variety, and I'm posting it here in a febrile attempt to incite useful contributions from the real masters here who seem to be lurking in the shadows.

Advogato used to be my primary source of insightful technical commentary. With a free software bias, a ranking system to keep out the clearly unworthy, and a friendly, community-centered atmosphere, it was a great place to read about what the great minds of free software were doing.

In the "journal" section, some of that feeling still remains, but it is considerably diluted. Slowly, the master population of advogato seems to be moving to other weblogs that provide more cute features. And why shouldn't they? The current climate of discussion here is characterized by opinionated, and frankly incompetent people.

Why do we see the same obvious, tired wisdom like "profile before you optimize", "you should care about portability", and "raph designed the metric this way on purpose" trotted out here in article commentary again and again? Should people writing articles really need this kind of handholding? Repeated factual errors in many posts and even in some articles? Buzzwords used in meaningless ways?

Also: stop talking about the war. I don't care what your position on it is, you're not changing anybody's mind by posting diatribes about it here, and you're wasting bandwidth and effort that could be better spent in a more productive way. Don't like the war? Go to a peace protest. Write your senator, if you're in the USA, or appropriate political representative if you're not. Maybe write to an embassy. You like the war? Congratulations: one of the world's most powerful military organizations is already doing your bidding. Stop gloating!

(I have read a few insightful commentaries on the war at this site, but I would rather lose those few than continue to drown in more drivel from both sides.)

If you are a Master of free software, you like this site, and you know it, please come up with something that will sustain the interest of other masters and create an engaging dialogue. Think about writing articles here as actual articles, not merely half-formed questions or slightly longer diary entries.

If you aren't sure, be careful before you post. Think about what you're saying. Are you just posting your opinion because you don't see it represented yet, or are you transmitting knowledge that you have which others might not?

I have no suggestions for changes to the trust metric or other technological issues to help remedy this. I think that the community has simply failed at this point and we will need some human effort to get it going again.


hypocrisy, posted 22 Mar 2003 at 07:51 UTC by mslicker » (Journeyer)

What I notice about the advogato population is there is a whole lot of people who complain about the free speech of others. These same people don't have any interesting speech of their own to offer. A constant theme here is how filter out people, as a means of generating interesting conversation. There is no interesting conversation in eliminating free speech. Instead of complaining, you could take the conversation in a new direction, provide interesting content, fuel discussion. Alas, you have no interesting content of your own as is apparent with this article.

site purpose, posted 22 Mar 2003 at 08:57 UTC by ftobin » (Observer)

According to the front page:

The goal of the site is to serve as a community resource for free software developers around the world, as well as a research testbed for work on group trust metrics.

We can talk about two things:

  • Do the sorts of articles you mention in line this purpose?
  • Are the articles of a less-than-desirable quality

With regards to the first question, I think we can agree that the articles are inline (since it's so vague!)

With regards to the quality of the articles, I would probably agree that they are less than desirable. For me. I suggest trying Kuro5hin, since it has a moderation system for stories. The only reason that Advogato probably hasn't completely degenerated is because the number of active users is so low.

Looking the other way..., posted 22 Mar 2003 at 11:50 UTC by Stevey » (Master)

 I agree with some of your points and recently said that I was going to make a post upon the kind of articles people would like to see here.

 I have a piece in progress containing tips for people writing online sites, and CGI's, I've held off posting it for three reasons:

  • None of my tips are new.
  • The people that probably need this advice will not read, understand, or follow the instructions.
  • Posting it here would draw attention to the weaknesses of this site.

 I don't think the community has failed here, there's just a mismatch between what a "master" represents and the powers that they recieve. Just because somebody has written a large piece of software doesn't mean their words are worth listening to more than other peoples - although I can see why the filtering system exists.

 As for other blogs - cute features are nice. It's very frustrating to come back to Advogato after a long abscence and see that the "conversation" you were having with another user, or two, in the recentlog has now gone - and you've missed any references to yourself.

 Without the ability to post comments upon other peoples diary entries, or just learn when you've been namechecked in somebody elses entry, it's hard to remain a focussed community and much easier to simply stop participating.

 I used to visit this site on a daily basis, because of the lack of articles I now only return every two or three days, during which time I can have easily missed something that would otherwise have caught my attention.

Interesting Content, posted 22 Mar 2003 at 18:19 UTC by glyph » (Master)

mslicker,

There is no interesting conversation in eliminating free speech.

I'm not talking about restricting anyone's right to say what they want at their own expense, so it's not about restricting "free" speech. I'm talking about restricting arbitrary speech in the context of advogato. Moreover, I'm asking that people do this voluntarily.

Meta-conversation about how to improve the discussion can be much more interesting than completely unfettered, arbitrary comments (what you seem to mean by "free" speech). To illustrate how things can be made less productive without this kind of self limitation, imagine I had begun this post with "mslicker, you ignorant slut".

Instead of complaining, you could take the conversation in a new direction, provide interesting content, fuel discussion.

With what little time I have had to play around on advogato, I've tried to do that. If you don't feel that my other comments have been useful, I'm sorry, but I tried :-). One of my frustrations is that the commmentary I've provided in many cases has been necessarily trite and obvious, because the folks I was responding to seem to have spent so little effort considering their own point of view.

This little purple halo I've got comes from my contribution to the larger conversation of F/OSS elsewhere. The reason I am complaining is to serve as a rallying cry to others who may be similarly disenchanted - the other comments so far imply that there is a common feeling of poor quality articles, at least. Maybe it won't work, but if all I'm going to do is focus on good quality content for myself, I'll post it on my own weblog, not here.

Maybe it won't work, posted 22 Mar 2003 at 18:35 UTC by yeupou » (Master)

Maybe it won't work, but if all I'm going to do is focus on good quality content for myself, I'll post it on my own weblog, not here

I think you'd better propose something instead of only criticizing. Complaining is not enough.

Your self-description is "I just troll about the trust metric and flame other developers for being whiny". You posted 5 logs and 2 are about trust metric.

Well, it does not really help much, IMHO, purple or not.

Diaries are better, posted 23 Mar 2003 at 00:29 UTC by Bram » (Master)

The advogato diaries seem to work much better. I mostly just read those.

Trust metric applied to articles, posted 23 Mar 2003 at 00:45 UTC by djm » (Master)

If the trust metric was applied to articles and comments to articles, then glyph could simply ignore ones from people he (and I) doesn't care to read. Problem solved.

Yes, the articles could be much better, posted 23 Mar 2003 at 10:15 UTC by raph » (Master)

Thanks for your opinion, Glyph. It's appreciated.

I too am disappointed in the quality of the articles. However, I'm not sure that the best way to improve the situation is to write an article complaining about it. What I feel would be most effective is to post more well-written articles here myself. I haven't been doing this because I've been trying to reserve my serious writing time for my dissertation.

There are also some technical or structural approaches I could take. One would be to apply the trust metrics to articles as well as diaries. Another, on the back burner for a long time, is to have a system of drafts and commentary, so articles can improve before they're posted to the front page. Regrettably, I've had little time to implement either of these ideas.

As you point out, this site does belong to all of us. I'll continue making improvements at a slow pace myself, and of course welcome volunteers to come in and turn up the juice.

Maybe it's inevitable, posted 24 Mar 2003 at 14:09 UTC by salmoni » (Master)

As free and OS software becomes more widespread, more and more people are attracted to this form of development for whatever reasons, whether they be political beliefs, self-development, something to enjoy for a hobby or to look good on their next job application form.

The original hackers, most of whom were very skilled experts in their areas, appear to be diluted by newer entrants who simply do not have the experience, skills and knowledge of these luminaries which could result in a lower quality of articles. This may be an almost inevitable process: as the community grows, so do the people within it with a subsequent change in the skill levels.

Obviously, I include myself among these newer entrants who are simply not as good as our forebears, but remember that learning is a process. Nobody is born with an innate ability to hack the Linux kernel (no, not even Linus!), and we are all learning as best we can with all the other wonders that life has to present us. Obviously this means that a lot of us will write things that are well below the level of a lot of us here, and discouraging people from writing may have drawbacks that could harm this community in the long term.

From a personal perspective, I have had the idea for a couple of articles, but I am always concerned that they may be a little patronising to many of the skilled people here, or even worse, they may serve as the basis for a pointless flame-war when tolerance should be the order of the day. As a relatively unskilled person, it is difficult to see what I can contribute, and what will be valued. Of course, the only solution is to actually write something, but then your comments do discourage me somewhat by making me question whether I have anything of worth to say. However, when I get some time, I will write and be damned for my obstinacy. ;) Is anyone interested in an article on "practical usability testing"?

Perhaps it would be necessary for all the newbies to submit articles no matter how dire, simply in order to get the masters moving.

In response to the war diary entries - well the war is quite important even to people who have little interest as its effects are so wide reaching in our society. It is a major event, and I feel proud to be part of a community that will not champion apathy, even if I do not agree with particular opinions. This may not be the best forum to air such views, but it is a forum nonetheless, and one that is read by many people.

As a purely technical point, is there any way to search the article base? This would be valuable for 2 reasons: 1) so that authors do not submit articles that have already been done, and 2) the knowledge buried here would be extremely valuable to many people.

Sorry if I have missed the point of your article.

Perhaps Education is the answer, posted 24 Mar 2003 at 20:09 UTC by johnnyb » (Journeyer)

"The original hackers, most of whom were very skilled experts in their areas, appear to be diluted by newer entrants who simply do not have the experience, skills and knowledge of these luminaries which could result in a lower quality of articles. This may be an almost inevitable process: as the community grows, so do the people within it with a subsequent change in the skill levels."

Although this is true, it is not necessarily true. What has happened, is that the old-schoolers have failed to write down their knowledge and wisdom for the up-and-comers. I'm working to fix that with what I can do (I am writing a GFDL book, and am writing classes on advanced programming techniques - did the first one today, plan on selling [GPL-style-selling] the VideoCD of the lecture soon).

I think if more people joined in, and we had an open set of documents that we use as "official reading" (official because that's what everyone recommends not official due to obligation), we could simply refer newer programmers to the documents which explain to them the concepts, rather than having to start every discussion from a simplistic-minded idea.

Contributing to Advogato/mod_virgule, posted 24 Mar 2003 at 20:35 UTC by pphaneuf » (Journeyer)

I have made a patch to mod_virgule recently and sent it to raph, to no avail (not applied, no answer).

Looking at things, if I go to mod_virgule, I'm pointed at two pages, the levien.com home page and the Freshmeat page, plus it gives a CVS server address. If I follow the link to the home page, it says that it's in GNOME's CVS. The Freshmeat page points to a SourceForge project, which has its own CVS (with a rather confusing structure).

My investigation tells me that the "virgule" project on SourceForge is actually a fork, and I choosed to believe the comment about the CVS repository on the mod_virgule page here on Advogato.

But in any case, that's quite the goose chase to be able to contribute something, only to get ignored. One could say something about barrier to entry or something...

raph: you should fix http://www.levien.com/free/mod_virgule/ to say the truth, update the Freshmeat project page to point at one of your levien.com page or the project's page here on Advogato (rather than point to the fork of mod_virgule, which is most confusing). This would take all of 2 minutes. Then you should write me an email to tell me how great I am or how much I suck.

Thanks! :-)

I'd say ..., posted 24 Mar 2003 at 21:00 UTC by badvogato » (Master)

Crackmonkey is incompetent. He let me down for no obvious reason. John Kozubik is very competent, by my measure, at sustaining users interest in buying johncompanies virtual servers. Johncompanies is the first P2P (personal to personal) business that thrived in the first round without much corporation overheads at all.

Respect is the answer... part of it, anyway, posted 25 Mar 2003 at 02:49 UTC by tk » (Observer)

Seriously: the proper way to learn from the True Masters of Programming is to go directly to them, grovel and say respectfully, "O Great Programmer Most Wise, what is the way towards writing a great program?..."

Apparently some people have the idea that the masters owe it to us to pass down their great knowledge, perhaps after some nudging from us. But this is disrespectful. Besides, very likely they don't even see the wisdom they possess as wisdom: they're humble people, unlike you and me who say things like these:

What has happened, is that the old-schoolers have failed to write down their knowledge and wisdom for the up-and-comers. [followed by stuff on "advanced" programming techniques]

What arrogance!

Also: stop talking about the war. I don't care what your position on it is, you're not changing anybody's mind by posting diatribes about it here, ...

The "Free as in Freedom" subcommunity certainly sees free software as part of a larger movement towards an improved world, so in that sense the war's relevant to them. It may be a subcommunity, but it's a significant one at that.

On the quality of articles... well, I have a suggestion: perhaps raph can fork out a wee bit of time to grant mod_virgule CVS commit access and server admin access to more people?

Apologies for ignoring pphaneuf, posted 25 Mar 2003 at 06:00 UTC by raph » (Master)

pphaneuf: Thanks for providing a concrete list of todo items. You might notice I've done some of them.

Sincere apologies for ignoring your patch. I've felt somewhat more overwhelmed than usual, and have set aside hardly any time for mod_virgule maintenance. I'll make sure to review and commit the patch sometime in the next few days.

And as tk suggests, I'd be happy to grant commit and admin access to people who want to pitch in and help. There are definitely some improvements that could be made if there were a little more manpower available.

Re: Apologies for ignoring pphaneuf, posted 25 Mar 2003 at 18:35 UTC by pphaneuf » (Journeyer)

Thanks for the clarifications on your web pages, I've already figured this out, but I think this will help others in the future.

I know the feeling, I've just come out of an overwhelmingly busy period myself.

I think it's a matter of responsibility, posted 26 Mar 2003 at 18:23 UTC by johnnyb » (Journeyer)

"Apparently some people have the idea that the masters owe it to us to pass down their great knowledge, perhaps after some nudging from us."

I _do_ think that people in an industry has a responsibility to their industry as a whole. At my company (which is a mixture of art and technology) we do this by displaying and selling the work of local artists in our business, and by giving free classes, and other means that we can find to promote our industries.

Is it disrespectful to ask this of others? I don't think so. I think that, as a culture, we need to set this up as an expectation. Obviously, open-source developers contribute a lot more already to the industry itself that closed-source ones. However, if the old are unwilling to help the young - what hope does the young have? Will they have to re-invent everything again? In fact, this re-invention seems to be happening quite a bit, and wasting a lot of people's time.

I've spent a lot of time listening on devel mail lists and whatnot, and trying to collect the implied wisdom in existing code and discussions. Hopefully others will join in with me to create a standard set of documentation and educational materials for new and intermediate programmers.

Obviously, not all are educators. But we need many more. The open-source movement is getting a lot of interest of new programmers. If those new programmers are left to their own devices, free software will just be a trough of half-baked old ideas implemented poorly.

Why any would write an article?, posted 27 Mar 2003 at 14:00 UTC by Malx » (Apprentice)

just IMHO

I think reasons to write an article are:

  • To ask smth in genreal (things wich is hard to find on google - some meta questions).
  • To inform about some ivent (or find people to join it).
  • Find people to help with some project (an article describing key ideas of some project)
  • An article presenting some idea (it is almost usless to presen ideas which are not already a part of your own project - so again this is project presentation, which is not wellcomed here)
  • Discussing some desision (there was talk about .NET reimplementation)

It is hard to write an article which is not based on this :) I mean not technically hard, but to start writing it.
So... let's tolerate project introductions (key goals, people required, why yet another, needed libs etc)?

What is a quality article?, posted 27 Mar 2003 at 22:33 UTC by robocoder » (Observer)

First, what should an Advogato article be? Is it an area for polished e-papers or is it a forum for discussion?

The former takes a certain amount of effort that is perhaps better spent on more important things (as raph notes).

For the latter, this is the pattern I enjoy seeing on c2's wiki pages:

  1. It should inform and/or pose a question.
  2. It should engage/provoke thought.
  3. It should solicit feedback (whether positive or negative).
  4. It should consider the target audience, and be of interest.

Using these criteria, I think an event announcement (while meeting requirements #1 and #4) would not qualify because it does not satisfy #2, and #3 tends to be of the "this isn't an appropriate article" variety. Yet, this article seems oddly appropriate. If you want better articles, set criteria, and demand it of the community.

Alternatively, thinking out of the box: if people could attach comments to diary entries, then there'd be a place for people to collaborate on some discussion of interest. And from that, perhaps the diary owner could summarize and post an article?

Too Much Time on Their Hands..., posted 28 Mar 2003 at 13:02 UTC by tapir » (Observer)

Actually, Advogato's problem is the trust metric.

It doesn't take programming knowledge to get approved on Advogato, it just takes a lot of time.

Skilled academic and industrial programmers are busy programming. Advogato participants are mostly weekend programmers and CS undergraduates. Good programmers are in demand, and they don't have time to waste arguing with people who've got too much time on their hands. In particular, they don't have time to advertise themselves to other people in the community so they get approved.

or maybe some people should look in a different direction, posted 29 Mar 2003 at 00:00 UTC by yeupou » (Master)

... or maybe, Tapir, some people spend to much time focused on the supposed identity of others ones, pretending being so much "skilled" so they do not have time to talk with "weekend programmeers".

I assume that you, Tapir, describe yourself as a "skilled" and "industrial" programmer. And we'll surely agree that HTML is not even "programming".

These are the very first HTML lines of your company website's index:

& nbsp;< BR><html>
<head>
<title>Quality web engineering from Ithaca, NY: web sites, web applications, custom software.</title>

No doctype, HTML breakline outside of HTML... in a page that claim to promote "quality web engineering". [...]

The problem actually, IMHO, is that some "skilled" programmers seems to be here only to point out how good they are by comparison to others, instead of bringing some content to share their knowledge.

No Tapir, I do not agree with your crappy distinction of people around here. People can spend their time how they want to, and if they have "plenty of time", it their problem not yours. People may be "weekend programmers" or not, people may be very skilled or not, you'll have to live with it, it's not your concern.

What is your concern, and the concern of everybody here, is how advogato work and how it can be enhanced:

- You can work on the trust metric if you are not happy with it. It would be a lot more interesting than sharing your fascinating judgment on how other people may live.
- You can post articles and share your skills.

If you do not have time to collaborate even a little, if you do not have time to even make some realistic proposal ("weekend programmers go away" is not), do you really have time to read advogato?

What are you talking about!?, posted 3 Apr 2003 at 08:29 UTC by glyph » (Master)

tapir,

Good programmers are in demand [...]

What!?

What alternate universe do you live in, and how do events differ there such that the current economic depression is not happening? Good programmers, for the most part, aren't in demand at all. What's in demand, as far as the meager demand currently goes, seems to be programmers with a particular set of skills for dealing with legacy systems that should never have been valuable in the first place, but are such entrenched investments on the part of most large corporations by now that there's no way for them to escape without a ton of maintenance.

I agree that the Advogato trust metric needs work - there are people here who have high certifications that are inflated - but there are a LOT of skilled (what I am guessing you meant by "industrial") programmers here, as well as some good academics. Many of these people are busy, either with the concerns of unemployment or trying to keep their jobs, but that doesn't mean they don't come here.

What are you talking about!?, posted 3 Apr 2003 at 08:30 UTC by glyph » (Master)

tapir,

Good programmers are in demand [...]

What!?

What alternate universe do you live in, and how do events differ there such that the current economic depression is not happening? Good programmers, for the most part, aren't in demand at all. What's in demand, as far as the meager demand currently goes, seems to be programmers with a particular set of skills for dealing with legacy systems that should never have been valuable in the first place, but are such entrenched investments on the part of most large corporations by now that there's no way for them to escape without a ton of maintenance.

I agree that the Advogato trust metric needs work - there are people here who have high certifications that are inflated - but there are a LOT of skilled (what I am guessing you meant by "industrial") programmers here, as well as some good academics. Many of these people are busy, either with the concerns of unemployment or trying to keep their jobs, but that doesn't mean they don't come here.

Action items, posted 23 Apr 2003 at 21:30 UTC by garym » (Master)

Since we now know trolling with a whining gripe isn't especially effective, how exactly would you change advogato to make it more to your liking?

Kuro5hin is one approach. So is the Drupal scheme where everything can start out as a diary/blog and it's only through the brutally darwinian vote/reputation system that items can make the front page ... or be purged. Is this the answer? In-crowds and lynch mobs?

Give me chaotic anarchy or give me death.

No wait. Let me rephrase that ...

Why I Don't, posted 18 May 2003 at 12:53 UTC by moshez » (Master)

I've noticed that although I do have things to write, I tend to avoid doing them in "others'" sites. The only recent exception to this was my Threads Considered Harmful Kuro5hin posting. Nowadays, I just have a good-enough way to distribute my wisdom (for low enough values of wisdom) that does not constrain me in content or scope. Sure, I could write my recent how to attack Google article here. I would probably get mostly inane comments like "yes, this is a good idea!" and "no! google has a right to do whatever they want". This walls under the heading of what glyph referred to as the obvious trite that is always bandied around here. Also, a point of personal dissatisfaction with Advogato -- personal diaries have no separate RSS feeds. I mean, a URL like http://advogato.org/person/glyph/rss should have pointed me to an RSS feed for glyph's stories. This means that people (especially interesting people) who use their advogato diary as their personal blog make life uncomfortable for me -- I can't use my uber-aggragating script to read about their personal life.

So, did I have a point?

Several. Advogato is not an attractive avenue for on-topic articles, since many people prefer to post such things on their personal blogs (or blog-substitutes, such as glyph's vanity mailing list). Advogato is not an attractive avenue for personal blogging because of the lack of such features as RSS or comments. Add to that minor inconveniences such as advogato occasionally taking WAY too long to answer requests, and it's just not worth the hassle anymore.

I'm not sure that in its current format, Advogato has that much to offer. There are alternatives -- I can imagine myself using something like Live Journal for free software developers, especially if there was an easy way to automatically post diary entries there. (Yes, I know there is currently a way to automatically post diary entries to advogato. However, this gives me no advantage -- a threaded discussion per comment would give me a sufficient advantage to implement this.)

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