[Haskell-cafe] How can we make Haskell-Cafe scale? (was: Re: Edit Hackage)

Ivan Lazar Miljenovic ivan.miljenovic at gmail.com
Sun Oct 31 17:43:51 EDT 2010

On 31 October 2010 04:08, Sterling Clover <gershomb at gmail.com> wrote:
> There's been some grumbling about users migrating from -cafe to Reddit and Stack Overflow in particular. First, as Don has pointed out, the fact is that people are moving away, and that's just the trend.
> But why are people moving? One reason is that Stack Overflow, Reddit, and -cafe all provide *different things*, with features tailored to specific purposes. I'll try to explain what those things are, why they don't threaten, but augment -cafe, and why we need at least one new mailinglist as well.

Are they though?  Consider this:

* Someone subscribes to -cafe; this indicates (IMHO) that they find
Haskell interesting and want to keep up, get involved with the
discussions, etc.

* Someone subscribes or reads the Haskell reddit: they may comment on
articles they find interesting, but it could just be that they find
Haskell technically interesting and want to keep abreast of "cool
things" that are going on rather than actually using it.

* Someone posts a question on SO: a) they want help for homework, a
project, etc. b) they're curious about some design details (most of
the ones I've seen have been in the former group).

I am of course probably over-generalising this.  I wonder, however, if
people are really "moving away", or if these new discussion/question
forums are providing new people a chance to discover Haskell, and if
they do so and start following along whether they are really
interested or just finding it a curiosity.

> 1. When Stack Overflow is Better Than -cafe
> Stack Overflow is *better* for a Q&A format. I can scan for questions I'm competent to answer or interested in answers to (and the rss feed helps with that), and be confident that for the most part there won't be thread derails, and that the title will maintain consistency with the discussion inside. If the title isn't informative, I can be confident that someone with sufficient rights (which are granted by accumulation of karma) will edit it to be informative. Likewise the question itself, if it evolves over time, can be edited to reflect what it should have been to begin with.

Except that some of the greatest/most informative discussions on
-cafe have come out of other questions/threads (e.g. this one).

> And most importantly, if an answer to a question is provided on -cafe, it quickly gets drowned in surrounding traffic. And if an answer becomes out of date, there's no good way to "annotate" the archives to indicate that. I don't *need* to read all s.o. questions, on the off chance than an answer might become relevant to me later. I know that s.o. provides the right tools so I can find the answer when I need it. And I know that s.o. lets users update pages with new posts, or edits, so that answers don't become "stale" over time.

People will really go back and update old questions and answers when
best practices/styles/API change?

This to me indicates that we need to focus on documenting such things
and maintaining them on the wiki.

> 2. When Reddit is Better Than -cafe
> As for reddit, while some people obviously treat -cafe as an anything goes place to crack jokes or pursue arguments of rather narrow interest, I'm acutely aware that every message sent to this list lands in the mailbox of thousands some multiple thousands of programmers, many very talented, and almost all with better things to do than wade through the massive traffic of -cafe for the few things of interest to them.
> So, generally, I tend to shy away from posting to -cafe. Reddit, on the other hand has (although maybe a bit too much) a bit more of the freewheeling atmosphere of, e.g., the #haskell irc channel. People are going to reddit during a long compile, or on a coffee break. There's an understanding that the conversation will tend to be casual, that there will be occasional trolls and occasional gems, and that the primary content will be in high-quality links to papers, blogposts, articles, etc., while the discussion threads will be a way to shoot the breeze about them. This distinction between content and chatter is in many ways a useful thing.
> Again, the medium of reddit facilitates this type of content. Because messages are shown in their threaded context with relatively high information density, they don't have to quote or indicate their surrounding context. The incremental cost of each message, both to reader and writer, is tiny, and this facilitates a more free-flowing conversational style than over email. Again, upvotes and downvotes (the dreaded ratings and karma) make it easy to see immediately which points others found useful or bogus, and to register simple agreement or disagreement without adding more semantic noise to the mix.

I can't really refute any of this, though I'm still leary of having
such content under the control of a (commercial) third party.

> 4. Towards haskell-community at haskell.org!
> Of the the 2/3 of -cafe messages on topic, maybe half or those were all related to haddocks, or issues facing the haskell wiki (i.e. the blurb, wiki organization, etc.) or the new Haskellers.com site.
> This suggests to me that we have a growing understanding that we need to chip-in together to contribute to resources for the Haskell community, and there's a great deal of discussion to be had on plenty of details. But such discussion is not for everybody. So I would propose a separate haskell-community mailing list specifically for discussions over, e.g, unified design or the design of individual Haskell community sites, technical issues regarding Haskell community sites, social decisions regarding Haskell community sites -- i.e. on policies for the new Hackage regarding package maintainership, etc. Such a list would, among other things, server as a soundingboard/resource for the haskell.org committee.

This sounds fine in practice, but it then places an artificial
distinction: what happens when discussions cross boundaries?  (Even
the proposed "lets use reddit and SO more" solution[s] are ultimately
about splitting the community up more rather than having one central
discussion medium.)

As for the large number of posts: as far as I'm aware most email
clients allow you to say "mark all messages in this thread as read"
under some guise or another so you don't have to actually read each
email just to stop your client telling you that you have new mail.

Ivan Lazar Miljenovic
Ivan.Miljenovic at gmail.com

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