I really don’t like commenting on things going on in that relate to Gentoo internally, and I won’t, but I think I will touch upon one subject that I see coming up lately, and that is communication with users.
I was just reading a forums post where someone was mentioning how the devs “never listen to the users.” Just for once, I’d like to give my side of the story.
I’ve been working on Gentoo development for about a year and a half now. I really enjoy it, and for the most part it’s a lot of fun. I try to read the forums to keep an idea of what’s bugging people (and that I can help out with), but I can only take it so far, as long as it’s something I can fix or something I’m interested in. Admittedly, some stuff I maintain even now, I don’t use anymore, or have ever used regularly. But I know that people appreciate it so I keep working on it.
I think that communication lines can be opened, but I don’t really have any great ideas on how to do it. As an (admittedly passive) member of user relations, I want to help, but at the same time I don’t have a lot of time to drum up something dramatic. I know there needs to be an effectual communication between what users are experiencing — to a degree. For instance, I think that we should fix what we’ve already obligated ourselves to maintain, but if someone has a different vision of how things should be going, then I invite them to participate and get involved. I think the whole “get involved” thing needs a brush up howto somewhere, since I think that can be a little vague, and people may want to help, but don’t really know how. I remember that’s how it was for me as a user for a long time. In fact, I should write up a document about some good, practical ways to contribute.
One point that I wanted to address though is that communication goes two ways. I wouldn’t say that developers aren’t listening as much as no one is really talking. I’ve stated that anyone is free to contact me anytime, repeatedly, on here and on the forums … and in all this time I don’t think I’ve ever gotten one e-mail from anyone asking for help about something on Gentoo. I certainly never get pinged on Jabber even though my contact info for that is up there, although I do get poked on IRC maybe once every three months or so.
So, from my point of view, I think that some users might have unreasonable expectations of how developers are supposed to “hear” what the community wants, especially if no one is talking. Ranting on the forums doesn’t help. I think that the majority of the devs probably don’t search through the forums on their day off hoping to find problems they can fix. I, personally, look through the Multimedia ones quite a lot (whenever I’m bored), and more often than not when I see users hitting a bug that I didn’t know about, that I can fix, I’ll go and fix it. That’s gonna be the exception though, and not the rule.
I’m just rambling, and I’m tired, so take this all with a grain of salt, but in my case, feel free to ping me about anything that I’m assigned to or working on, and I’ll be glad to update you with the status. The fact is, I have no idea how “serious” a problem is unless someone tells me or I start to see side effects. We don’t have any kinds of statistics tools telling us what is most popular or important, so my priorities as far as bug fixing and general improvements are either totally random or arbitrary depending on what I want to work on. If you want something fixed, feel free to speak up, and ask nicely, either on the IRC channels (there are a lot of them devoted to sub-projects in Gentoo), the mailing lists, etc. In my case, you have my e-mail, my IRC nick, and my jabber info.
So, if there are communication issues from developers to users, I apologize. I’m going to start looking at some ideas on how to improve communication and get feedback, but I could really use suggestions. Let me know what you think. 🙂
Edit: I should probably add a few disclaimers. One is that, I’m not advocating contacting developers directly, since some may not like that and I don’t want them to get mad at me. I’m certainly okay with it, though. Secondly, I could be completely wrong about devs watching the MLs and forums and stuff. Maybe they do cover them frequently. I have no idea. 🙂 I was thinking of forums when I wrote it, and I don’t see many developers posting there, or at least the entries I read. Just one man’s perspective, is all.