PROPOSAL: The list needs to fork (desperately)


#1

This is the classic response to a high-traffic group, and it never
works. You should look at Clay Shirky’s essay “A Group is its own
Worst Enemy”, which points how how this pattern’s been repeated many
many times over the last 20 years:
http://shirky.com/writings/group_enemy.html

The basic problem is that 1) no one wants to self-identify as a
beginner, and who really knows when they transition from beginner to
“user”? Will you require “experts” to monitor the newbies list, or
just rely on the goodness of their character?

Also, 2) many “newbies” and “users” will tell you that they’ve picked
up valuable information by reading questions and answers by the
“hackers.”


#2

Andrew Otwell wrote:

This is the classic response to a high-traffic group, and it never
works. You should look at Clay Shirky’s essay "A Group is its own Worst

I basically agree. And, I wanted to add that a high volume group CAN be
helped considerably by a very well maintained FAQ, combined with
extreme consistency in NOT re-answering questions that are in the FAQ.
Of course I wouldn’t endorse rudeness here, but instead politely
pointing the re-asker to the FAQ (with a direct link to the specific
Answer). For example:

Please consult the RoR FAQ (link), Question #12.5.

I’ve seen this work very well on a few Usenet groups with results of
relatively high SNR (yes they do exist, even today).

–Steve


#3

Andrew
> The basic problem is that 1) no one wants to self-identify as a
> beginner,

Not true: see all the “[Noob] …” people add in their questions subject.
And many would gladly help beginners solve beginners problems, even
other beginners who are just a little more advanced on this one point.

Alain R.


#4

On Dec 11, 2005, at 8:09 AM, Stephen W. wrote:

direct link to the specific Answer). For example:

Please consult the RoR FAQ (link), Question #12.5.

I agree with everything above.

People tried this (splitting single list with exactly the same
arguments) for many lists, e.g. Apple’s Cocoa-dev list, which has
approximately the same volume as this one. Guess what - all those
extra lists died.

And IMHO, if your MUA is not capable of threading, you are your
enemy, also…

I read (well, subscribe to, I don’t read every message) this list
with gmail forwarded to Apple’s Mail.app (and also several other
lists of approximately same volume), and it is not a problem at all.
If you can’t handle this list, I would suggest it is you and not the
list which should rethink the approach.

Let me also repeat what others have said: The list in its current
form is extremely valuable learning tool, especially considering
Rails’ rate of change. If you can’t handle this rate of change,
again, don’t blame it on the world.

izidor


#5

Well said.

The only thing that I would add is that the FAQ would work best if it
were periodically posted (automatically?) to the list so everybody would
see and make use of it. It would also make referencing the FAQ easier if
it was just a few threads “up”. Perhaps put “[FAQ]” in the subject line
so non-newbies can automatically route it to a kill folder if desired.

I was amazed that nobody maintains a FAQ for this list, but
I guess everybody’s too busy to maintain one. Perhaps make it a wiki
page that is automatically posted? Not sure how spam would be handled.


#6

I’d just like to weigh in as a newbie who has been reading the list
quietly for the last few weeks. I LOVE this list. Some questions may
go unanswered, but I’m hugely impressed by how helpful this community
is. I read both newbie questions and advanced topics – anything
where the subject catches my eye – both contain enormous amounts of
helpful information. For me, this list isn’t so much about getting my
own questions answered, but about getting a feel for how people are
working with rails, keeping an eye out for common pitfalls, and
scouting ahead on topics like optimization, deployment, versioning
etc. in case there’s something it’s better to be aware of in advance,
etc. And just absorbing more general knowledge. For these purposes,
it’s actually ideal to have a mixture of beginners and advanced users,
all the way up to people working on the rails code. My archive of the
list in it’s current abundant, slightly wild-west state sits just
after the Agile Rails book and the Pickaxe in my list of critical
rails resources.

So, first, thank you all.

& second, a vote for the list in its current incarnation (& yes, this
is the first list where I’ve actually switched over to threaded
viewing in an ongoing way - super helpful).

& the FAQ’s a great idea too. possibly including the usual advice
about how to ask questions on a list like this.

Sal


#7

On Dec 11, 2005, at 3:18 AM, Lou V. wrote:

The only thing that I would add is that the FAQ would work best if it
were periodically posted (automatically?) to the list so everybody
would
see and make use of it. It would also make referencing the FAQ
easier if
it was just a few threads “up”. Perhaps put “[FAQ]” in the subject
line
so non-newbies can automatically route it to a kill folder if desired.

Yep. For a group with a large influx of new users, such as this,
probably should happen weekly. It’s another common practice on
Usenet groups.

I was amazed that nobody maintains a FAQ for this list, but
I guess everybody’s too busy to maintain one. Perhaps make it a wiki
page that is automatically posted? Not sure how spam would be handled.

I don’t think a wiki works, actually. Should be a dedicated FAQ app;
though it may have wiki-esque features for editing. I just don’t
find that a raw wiki works well for organizing FAQs. If it’s not
easy, nobody will use it!

I hope all this ignorant business of splitting the group into (as
many as 12!?!?!) lists will go away soon!

–Steve


#8

Following myself up here…

Looks like someone, Casey Gollan, has already started a [Rails FAQ]
1. Perhaps we can find out if Casey’s willing to open this up to
the community. The more editors, the more it can grow.

My suggestions to Casey:

  • open editing, submitting questions, and answers
  • editing should be wiki-esque (Markdown?) - makes exporting to other
    formats simpler
  • allow export to TXT, PDF, HTML so people can take it with them
  • remove “new user” focus - no reason it can’t answer all kinds of
    questions
  • add organization by category
  • numerical chapter & question? for things like “See FAQ
    #12.9” (though this might make it hard to move things around?)
  • needs a search
  • really needs to be a full-blown RoR app

–Steve


#9

Stephen W. wrote:

Following myself up here…

Looks like someone, Casey Gollan, has already started a [Rails FAQ]
[1]. Perhaps we can find out if Casey’s willing to open this up to the
community. The more editors, the more it can grow.

My suggestions to Casey:

  • open editing, submitting questions, and answers

+10
this will make or break this effort

  • editing should be wiki-esque (Markdown?) - makes exporting to other

markdown works well

formats simpler

  • allow export to TXT, PDF, HTML so people can take it with them

TXT and HTML is sufficient for me

  • remove “new user” focus - no reason it can’t answer all kinds of
    questions

focus should be on all common rails questions and tangential issues

  • add organization by category
  • numerical chapter & question? for things like “See FAQ #12.9”
    (though this might make it hard to move things around?)

number are good.
numbers could be autogenerated by a program, such as, oh, perhaps ruby?

  • needs a search

either that, or an option to scwuntch everything up into one long page
so that native search can easily be used

  • really needs to be a full-blown RoR app

it presently looks like a RoR app to me


#10

On 12/11/05, Stephen W. removed_email_address@domain.invalid wrote:

  • numerical chapter & question? for things like “See FAQ
    #12.9” (though this might make it hard to move things around?)

Each entry could have a text “tag” that could be used to refer to it
independently of any “chapter number”. That way you could organize
things in a chapter fashion, but if things were later moved around,
links that used the text tag would still be valid.


Regards,
John W.
http://johnwilger.com


Alice came to a fork in the road. “Which road do I take?” she asked.
“Where do you want to go?” responded the Cheshire cat.
“I don’t know,” Alice answered.
“Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.”

  • Lewis Carrol, Alice in Wonderland

#11

On 12/11/05, Lou V. removed_email_address@domain.invalid wrote:

Stephen W. wrote:

Following myself up here…

Looks like someone, Casey Gollan, has already started a [Rails FAQ]
[1]. Perhaps we can find out if Casey’s willing to open this up to the
community. The more editors, the more it can grow.

May I humbly suggest my Rails Weenie site? It’s my take on an Expert
Exchange site. Answer questions or post helpful tips for points. I
actually wrote Rails Weenie as a way to help newcomers, as well as
provide some kind of incentive for folks to help out. Well, I know my
‘points’ aren’t worth much in the real world, but it could get some
friendly competition going.


rick
http://techno-weenie.net


#12

re: http://rails.techno-weenie.net/

. nice access controls
. can’t figure out how to add questions, just answers.
ah, i think it’s under ‘tips.’ not very intuitive.
. i get an application error when i click on ‘Events’
. search appears to only search titles, not full text
. prefer markdown over textile, myself
. would be nice to be able to see short list of most popular
searches and articles clicked on
. nice presentation
. site is sluggish
. not sure how site would translate to plain ascii
. maybe other people, e.g. Casey Gollan, would donate their
entries
. would have to write a small program to periodically and
automatically post to the rails list, perhaps with a list
of the most recently added article titles

conclusion, it’s a wonderful start.


#13

. can’t figure out how to add questions, just answers.
ah, i think it’s under ‘tips.’ not very intuitive.

You go under Tips to add tips and Questions to add questions. Yes, I
should have big fluffy buttons and whatnot. I still only get a 4 on
the Web 2.0 validator, and that is unacceptable.

. i get an application error when i click on ‘Events’

Fixed. I was experimenting in the DB and didnt fully clean my mess up
:slight_smile:

. search appears to only search titles, not full text

Fixed.

. prefer markdown over textile, myself

Well, I don’t expect folks to be doing too much formatting beyond a
simple code tag for syntax.

. would be nice to be able to see short list of most popular
searches and articles clicked on

Hmm nice idea. There’s an issue related to my caching though.

. site is sluggish

That’s odd, since I’m using Page Caching on the whole damn site. I’m
using a referenced page caching plugin that saves which objects were
rendered on a certain page. When those models are updated, I expire
all the caches fo the pages they were rendered on. So, the first hit
will take a bit longer to render depending on how many articles are
being rendered. Each hit afterwards should be blazing fast. I wonder
if any of this sluggishness is due to the site being proxied through
apache?

. not sure how site would translate to plain ascii

For what?

. would have to write a small program to periodically and
automatically post to the rails list, perhaps with a list
of the most recently added article titles

Not a bad idea I suppose, but I’d hate to bother folks that subscribe
to the list and don’t want it. There are lots of Atom feeds though.


rick
http://techno-weenie.net


#14

On Dec 11, 2005, at 10:52 AM, Rick O. wrote:

. not sure how site would translate to plain ascii

For what?

For regular group postings. Also where Markdown helps, I suppose.

Overall, sure, your site seems like a good place to tackle this job.
Not quite your typical FAQ; but, I’d say still great.

–Steve


#15

Rick O. wrote:

[snip]

. would be nice to be able to see short list of most popular
searches and articles clicked on

Hmm nice idea. There’s an issue related to my caching though.

I don’t see the issue, especially if the lists are generated just
once or twice a day.

if any of this sluggishness is due to the site being proxied through
apache?

oh, after further testing your site is very fast when I use Firefox, but
slower than molasses when I use Mozilla 1.7.11. Must be me. Don’t worry
about it.

. not sure how site would translate to plain ascii

For what?

some people like to access FAQs off line.

. would have to write a small program to periodically and
automatically post to the rails list, perhaps with a list
of the most recently added article titles

Not a bad idea I suppose, but I’d hate to bother folks that subscribe
to the list and don’t want it. There are lots of Atom feeds though.

a FAQ does little good if it isn’t advertised.

as long as the subject is marked [FAQ] all the gray beards can write
their mail filters appropriately. Might take 30 seconds. I’m not
suggesting that the rails list should be constantly spammed, just
remind everybody that a living FAQ exists. Maybe people would even
use it. Call me crazy.


#16

Hi:

I am agnostic on whether the list should split. It seems like a good
idea, but I have read that others with more experience say it is a
bad idea. Their opinions are more informed than my own; I defer to
their greater knowledge.

However, we may be considering two alternatives vs 3 and the third
might be better. If people were to put the level (their judgement)
in their question it might certainly help. Noobs often do anyhow,
but perhaps others also.

How I deal with the volume in this list (I certainly don’t have time
to read each one) and being a NOOB myself - I look for simple stuff
only and see if I can reply usefully. I don’t even look at the
complicated stuff yet. But at least I have that option if I wanted to
learn a thing or two.

It does not take more than 2 seconds to read a subject header and
delete and email so even at 150 entries a day, it is a 5 minute
investment to read the list. I have learned things that have saved me
hours and got answers to questions that have saved me hours more. I
consider I am “in profit” on my list time.

Anyone who does not want to be helpful and be somewhat level
identifying in the subject line runs the risk of simply being ignored
by some people.

To summarize - a voluntary system of assigning 1 of three levels
perhaps, would facilitate focus without splitting the list. Those
who don’t cooperate may suffer some minor tendency to be ignored by
some less important faction of the list, but it would likely not be
fatal. The list seems to run mainly on good will anyhow - so it
might be worth a try. I see little downside if this idea fails to
catch on, whereas splitting the list may lead to more permanent
damage as may overwhelming people with too many entries to read.

bruce


#17

. would be nice to be able to see short list of most popular
searches and articles clicked on

Hmm nice idea. There’s an issue related to my caching though.

I don’t see the issue, especially if the lists are generated just
once or twice a day.

The issue is that my pages are cached, and therefore not being hit by
rails. I’d have to hook up some stats analysis (which I really should
do anyway) to get that. I’ve really been meaning to setup weed for
something like this actually.

. not sure how site would translate to plain ascii

For what?

some people like to access FAQs off line.

There are apps for this kind of offline caching.

use it. Call me crazy.
Well, anyone can set this up. Just scan the rss feed and post a
digest every few days. I still think it’d be unnecessary noise on the
list and all the beardless can subscribe to the feed. Though,
advertising for the site is definitely a weak point…


rick
http://techno-weenie.net


#18

On 11/12/2005, at 9:25 PM, Izidor J. wrote:

with gmail forwarded to Apple’s Mail.app (and also several other
lists of approximately same volume), and it is not a problem at
all. If you can’t handle this list, I would suggest it is you and
not the list which should rethink the approach.

+1

With a mail program that does decent threading, the volume of this
list isn’t a problem at all. I have the same setup as Izidor, and it
takes me a couple of minutes to scan through a day’s worth of topics
and read anything I’m interested in.

And to the people who say “We’ll split off a beginner’s list, but
we’ll all still read that one too”, if you’re still going to read the
same number of messages, what, exactly, is easier about doing it on
two lists rather than one?

Pete Y.


#19

On 12/11/05, Stephen W. removed_email_address@domain.invalid wrote:

relatively high SNR (yes they do exist, even today).

–Steve

Big plus one on the FAQ idea. The wiki is great and all, but it is no
substitute for a well-maintained, reliable faq in keeping the same old
newbie questions answered.

  • Rob


http://www.robsanheim.com/
http://www.ajaxian.com/