[Haskell-cafe] Edit Hackage

Lauri Alanko la at iki.fi
Fri Oct 29 21:22:17 EDT 2010

On Thu, Oct 28, 2010 at 01:55:12PM -0700, Don Stewart wrote:
> The number of subscribers to the Haskell Reddit, for example, is double
> the -cafe@, and there are comparable numbers of questions being asked on
> the Stack Overflow [haskell] tag, as here -- so anyone who only reads
> -cafe@ is already missing a lot of stuff.
> A lot of the community has already voted on the efficacy of mailing
> lists for large communities, by moving their discussion elsewhere.

Do you mean that people have actually unsubscribed from the list in
favor of only following web-based media? New people who only join the
web forums do not "vote" since they may not even know about the
mailing list.

I know that this is a hopeless battle, but since I feel very strongly
about this, I'll indulge in defending the mailing list even though
this is rather off-topic.

The reasons why I prefer mailing lists (and newsgroups, rest in piece)
over web-based discussion forums:

* Usability: mail and news clients provide a consistent interface to
  all the discussions, and the customizability and diversity of
  clients ensures that everyone can access the discussions the way
  they like it. In contrast, web forums come with their built-in
  interfaces, and if you don't like them, you are SOL.

* Scalability: related to the above, since mail and news provide a
  consistent interface to all the discussions, adding new lists and
  groups to be followed requires minimal effort since they just show
  up as new items whose updates get tracked automatically. In the
  worst case, adding a new web forum to be followed requires visiting
  the site frequently to check whether new messages have arrived. RSS
  and similar syndication technologies help, thankfully, but support
  for them is inconsistent, and often incomplete (they might not
  notify about new comments, only new topics). I subscribe to tens of
  mailing lists without problems. I wouldn't want to try to follow
  tens of web forums regularly.

* Archivability: with mail and news, it is trivial for me to get local
  copies of the discussions (and the messages I myself have written)
  which I can peruse and search to my heart's content later without
  being dependent on the continued functioning of some external
  service. Although it is possible to save web pages locally, this
  usually very inconvenient, especially if one wants the local copies
  to be kept up to date with ongoing discussions.

* Offline support: related to the above, with mail and news fetching
  and sending messages are separate from reading and writing
  them. Hence one can read and write messages even when one is for
  some reason not online. Web forums practically require an online
  connection when one wants to read the discussions.

* Neutrality: newsgroups are completely distributed and not controlled
  by any single entity. Mailing lists are a centralized service, but a
  purely technical one. The haskell.org mailing lists (like the rest
  of haskell.org) are directly maintained by the community. In
  contrast, external web forums like reddit and stackoverflow are
  owned by companies, and visits to the sites bring ad revenue to the
  companies. Moreover, the contents of these sites are subject to
  deletion (or perhaps even editing) by the whims of their owners.

In short, the old technologies of mail and news are technically vastly
superior to web forums, which have required additional technologies
(e.g. RSS) to attempt to overcome the obstacles that mail and news
solve directly.

It is true that web forums are nowadays very popular and have some
nice features that the older technologies don't. The main reason for
this, I suspect, is money: mail and news are from the older, more
innocent age when internet technology was driven by the desire to
communicate efficiently instead of making money. They are by their
nature so neutral that they provide no financial incentive to develop
them or support them. The web, on the other hand, provides many
opportunites to profit by offering services, so it is no wonder that
web technologies have flourished in the commercialized internet.

Perhaps this is inevitable, and it is certainly ok for the haskell.org
front page to provide links to reddit and stackoverflow just to inform
visitors that these sites might be of interest.

But by saying "I encourage people to use the online forums: Haskell
Reddit and Stack Overflow" you are effectively saying: "please let
Condé Nast Digital and Stack Overflow Internet Services, Inc
capitalize on your interest in and knowledge of Haskell". I most
strongly object to this becoming the standard policy of the Haskell



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