[Foundation-l] Community, collaboration, and cognitive biases

Aryeh Gregor Simetrical+wikilist at gmail.com
Wed Jun 9 01:28:28 UTC 2010

On Tue, Jun 8, 2010 at 8:48 PM, Benjamin Lees <emufarmers at gmail.com> wrote:
> I really agree with this sentiment, but it seems difficult to get staff to
> really be part of the community unless they're _from_ the community.  The
> developers I've seen discuss their personal opinions on public fora
> (especially in ways that are accepted in an open community but not in a
> business environment—one example would be criticizing their co-workers) have
> been those who were recruited from the community.  There's nothing wrong
> with having outsiders as employees, but communication is rather different in
> the outside world, and I get the sense that a lot of the people hired from
> elsewhere aren't necessarily familiar with the Wikimedia Way™ of discussing
> things—and even if they understand that it's there, I'm not sure they always
> understand that they're supposed to join in.

It's not specific to Wikimedia, it's practically universal in
open-source development.  To get it to happen, you need pushing from
the top: formally stating it as part of people's job duties (so they
don't feel they have to do "real work" instead), and forcing them to
engage by only giving them public media to discuss things in with
their co-workers.  I recall reading that IBM improved its
participation in the Linux kernel community by getting rid of all
internal communications among its kernel developers, meaning they had
to use the public project lists to bounce ideas off anyone.

It's also worth pointing out that a good way *not* to engage with the
community is to not touch preexisting code that volunteers are
familiar with.  All the Usability Initiative stuff was created
separately: a new skin, and all other functionality in extensions.
There's mostly no technical reason for this; at least some could have
been integrated with the existing code.  Putting most of your code in
a directory called "UsabilityInitiative" is a good way of signaling
"this is ours, not yours", whether that was the intent or not.  If it
had touched code that volunteers were familiar with, they would have
been more engaged from the start, because they'd have stronger
opinions on the changes and no presumption that they shouldn't touch

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