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Re: Why Unanimous Consent Doesn't Work (Was: Re: why do we need change?)

From: Richard Frith-Macdonald
Subject: Re: Why Unanimous Consent Doesn't Work (Was: Re: why do we need change?)
Date: Wed, 26 Oct 2005 09:07:38 +0100

On 2005-10-26 04:58:54 +0100 Andrew Ruder <address@hidden> wrote:

> 1. Email the list.
> 2. Get some decent replies, including some sensible ones from core
>    developers and the like.
> 3. Crap ensues.  Cover your head, it is coming down fast now!
> 4. Anybody with any say over the original proposal stops reading because
>    the entire thread has become a flaming pile of poo. (And not that I
>    necessarily blame them)
> 5. The end.

I recognize that scenario.  Where is the incentive for people to enter a 
discussion if the response they get is to have someone twist their words or 
insult them, rather than politely tell them why they think they are wrong.

> See the problem?  Anytime something becomes controversial, there is no
> final say.  Alex is merely saying that all it would take is a leader to
> take a Linux-Torvalds-Dictator-Like-Approach and say either:
>   That's a dumb idea, it isn't going to fly. <end of discussion>
> or:
>   Quit your whining, this has some merits, I have questions about this
>   and this.  <discussion moves towards an end>

Unfortunately, it's not that simple ... the vast majority of proposals have 
*some* merit, so you can't dismiss them out of hand ... and that means you want 
to discuss them in a civilised manner.
This is hard to achieve ·.. it requires a decent chairperson for the 
discussion, and it really needs a moderated list, so that flame bait or 
off-topic emails can be filtered out before anyone sees them and is tempted to 
respond.  This slows things down and leaves the moderator open to accusations 
of censorship and other unpleasant personal attacks.
I've always preferred the option (though perhaps it's unrealistic) of asking 
people not to flame or post flame bait, but perhaps slowing things down using a 
moderated list would actually be beneficial ... it takes time for a good 
understanding of a discussion to form.

> Maybe nothing needs to be quite this extreme, but right now GNUstep is
> not majority rule, it is minority rule.  You get a few people to raise a
> stink about anything that might benefit GNUstep and the thread gets
> ignored for eternity by anybody that matters.

I think that's partially true ... we have a chronic lack of manpower, so things 
move slowly, but what actually happens is that people quietly note the better 
points of a discussion, and try to incorporate them when they have time.  This 
is far from ideal (some stuff inevitably gets lost amidst the argument/flaming) 
and is not good for producing an impression of aim/direction, but it does mean 
that the better (if not too time consuming) ideas raised in discussions usually 
get done.

Generally, any improvements anyone cares to make are happily accepted too ... 
as long as they are done in a self contained manner or are small/incremental.  
Certainly, I happily apply decent patches ... and even go to the extent of 
trying to fix bugs and/or reformat to match existing codign standards/style 
rather than just send them back to the contributer asking them to do better.

IMO the problem (apart from lack of resources/contributors of course) lies 
where we have far-reaching ideas such that the effort and/or potential period 
of inconvenience/instability for users of implementing them is not clearly 
outweighed by percieved advantages.  In this case few individuals would be 
willing to take them on, and we need a group decision.  We can't have a single 
leader deciding, because the people actually doing the work would need to buy 
in to the decision.
So for these case we *need* a calm, rational discussion, and we need to take 
enough time to think about the issues in some depth.

Perhaps what it would take is for someone at some point to say 'end of open 
discussion ...let's summarise the arguments and move this to another mailing 
list for discussion by the people who would actually be involved in 
implementing it'.
Perhaps we should use the developers list for this (or a new list if the 
developers list is too large) ... something like the idea of a 'steering 
comittee' I've seen proposed.  While it's good for initial discussions to 
contain all viewpoints, there certainly  there comes a point where 
practical/technical details are the issue, and the input of people who aren't 
going to do the work themselves starts to do more harm than good.  Also, there 
is little point in a discussion continuing if nobody is prepared to do the 
actual work.

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