After a normal (if frantic) day at the office wherein I tried and partially succeeded in prioritizing, I went to pick up Addi (Drupal docs lead) and Emma (online community consultant) from the airport, since SJC and their hotel were both on my way to Karsten's. Notes in the form of little paragraphs, because I'm sleepy.

Documentation important, but undervalued, along with many other kinds of open source contributions that aren't code - code is still king for currency in the vast majority of projects. I think this is fairly well-known, so how can we change this situation faster? One way is working across projects, thinking of documentation skills and practices as something that can be shared across multiple project communities. Both Addi and Emma are part of, which is trying to do just that. Another thing I think we may be missing are case studies of examples of communities where non-code currencies are king. Obviously, is one. FLOSSmanuals is likely another. Sugar Labs tries to be, but has a mixed hybrid of currencies right now. Moodle may be an interesting study as well. Deliberately constructing experiments to try out alternate currencies is also an alternative. one of those catch-22 situations. Like seeks like, so documenters (or people of the type you don't have in your project, but do want) take a look at the current crowd and climate of a community and think "nobody like me is here, therefore this place is not for me." But they're exactly the kind of people you want, because you don't have them! Recruitment strategies should change accordingy.

...needs to be written not just for a project's code, but for its culture. Addi has this awesome idea of doing this in travel guide format - instead of "Brazil" or "Thailand" or "Germany," you'd have guides for "Drupal" or "Fedora" or "Sugar," but using the same outline. What are the common terms you should know, the map of interesting places (websites, features) you should see, the multi-day sightseeing tours (here's the "i18n contributors" trail hike, or if you have more time you could do a scenic drive through Marketing territory), the cultural quirks you might not know (don't sneeze in public in Japan; don't private-message people in Drupal). Basically, everything you need to start wandering around, being productively lost. There's a pun to be made from the "Lonely Planet" travel guides here, by the way; OSS is far from a lonely world.

Cultural context like telling a fish it's swimming in water. Once you grok, it's hard to imagine not getting it, or how anyone else could ever possibly not understand this. This is a problem, because it's still hard for the folks it hasn't clicked for yet. However, too many newbie experiences still go like this:

Newbie: "How do I help?"
Folks: "Don't ask! Just try stuff, do what you want!"
Newbie: "But..."
Folks: "Just do it!"
Newbie: *tries*
Newbie: "But you said I should try, and you didn't tell me that there was a right way to try, and... but... AAAH! I give up."

...makes us repeat the same party line over and over again, sometimes without considering what it means. "The project is open! Anyone can participate!" is not... as easy as it seems. Anyone with the time to keep up with the mailing list, anyone with relatively fluent grasp of $programming_language, anyone with thick enough skin to not get discouraged by multiple rejections and dead ends, anyone who can make calls at 6am EST on Tuesdays, anyone who... you get the idea. By the same token, Microsoft's projects are open to anyone who wants to participate. All you have to do is study and gain qualifications to apply for a job there, then get hired, then get put on that project... Basically, let's not pretend we're all-inclusive. Let's figure out who we are and aren't inclusive of; then we can figure out how we would like to change that.


...made a lot more sense after a 15-minute intro crash course over dinner. What made my multi-month fruitless stumblings several years ago not click the same way this just did? Have I gotten more context for open source projects in the meantime? Is it talking with live people who can tailor their explanation to your precise situation so your signal to noise ratio is excellent? All the information they told me is and was avaiable online, it just took me weeks to find the same things they told me in 15 minutes, and those things were the most valuable things I needed to know. Is it... well, I don't know. How can we replicate that kind of experience without needing to physically meet people all the time? (Can we? Meeting people in person is awesome!)

This reminded me of the previous night when I managed to teach Jason in 30 minutes (in person) all the web development stuff I've been trying to explain to him over text chat and email for literally months. "It's just clearer when you're standing next to me," he said. It sure does seem that way. Maybe there's a magical physical-presence factor. Someone must have studied this before, but I lack the vocabuarly to clearly phrase this in the form of a question. Help?


... is delicious.