Open Minds for Open Discussions

Tuesday, September 30, 2014 » community

I’m thinking about setting up a mailing list for the Falcon web framework. This seems like a good way to bring more people into the conversation, and it should help capture tribal knowledge for posterity.

But I have a concern. Mailing lists tend to dehumanize people, opening the door to subconscious (and conscious) social behaviors that are anything but constructive. I’ve seen this happen first-hand in other communities I’ve been a part of.

Here’s a rough list of ways to interact with people, from most human to least:

  1. In-person visits
  2. Video conferencing
  3. Phone calls
  4. Instant messaging
  5. Mailing lists

Don’t get me wrong; mailing lists can be (and have been) used for much good. It’s just that the further down you get on the list above, the more discipline is required to keep communications constructive.

William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 1

Part of the problem is that mailing lists (and other forums that facilitate open discussions) can sometimes lead to a culture of distrust or even become a tool for subversion. This happens when individuals humiliate, intimidate, or even bully others in the community. The more abstract and unaccountable the communications medium, the easier it is for those with good intentions to unconsciously use a poor choice of words. Not only that, but it also becomes easier for unscrupulous individuals to manipulate the community for personal gain.

I have to hope that most of the time these sorts of communications (or mis-communications, as the case may be) happen unconsciously, perhaps due to a lack of shared context or as a failed attempt at humor.

Regardless of whether the intent is actual or perceived, the damage to the community is the same, and must be dealt with immediately, before it festers into a community-crippling culture of enmity. We aren’t always going to agree on how this or that should be done. But we can agree to treat each other with trust and respect.

We can agree to seek first to understand.

Once the Falcon mailing list is live, it will be interesting to see how this plays out and how much moderation will be required. So far the community has been really cool and I don’t want to lose that.

I’m hoping people will for the most part moderate themselves, behaving professionally and being cognizant of the way their words may be perceived. If we can all do that, while also assuming good intent when on the receiving end, we’ll be well on our way to building a fantastic community around Falcon.