[OpenAFS] Funding the formation of an OpenAFS Foundation

Russ Allbery rra@stanford.edu
Mon, 01 Oct 2012 14:49:28 -0700

First off, Troy, I wanted to sincerely say thank you, and that I greatly
admired your response to my message.  I had written something of a
broadside, and did a very poor job of distinguishing between speaker and
wording, and I know how difficult it is to respond to that sort of message
with grace and calm.  Your response was both very positive and
de-escalating; I have difficulty imagining a better response.

I am impressed, and grateful.

Troy Benjegerdes <hozer@hozed.org> writes:

> Is there any way you can imagine to quantify the 'abuse quotient' for a
> particular project or mailing list? Someone, somewhere has got to have a
> natural language analysis tool, and some sort of metrics for what
> constitutes abusive behavior.

I think this would be rather challenging to do, since there's so much
nuance and subtlety involved in connotation and tone.  Computers still
struggle even with denotation.  And there are so many factors: what sort
of welcome new voices receive, how arguments are conducted, how
contentious technical issues are debated, what forms of humor are
considered acceptable, and so forth.  I think even anthropologists
studying the field have difficulty quantizing behavior in that way.

> I was thinking while first reading your message that the reason lots of
> open source projects are run by assholes is that the assholes are better
> at getting funded to continue to lead open source projects. The nice
> guys end up taking other jobs to pay the mortgage, while the assholes
> can be obnoxious full time.

Hm, maybe.  But I think it's a broader cultural issue, too.

My on-line cultural background is from Usenet, so I tend to see long-term
cultural patterns around on-line communication.  Places like Usenet were a
breath of fresh air for a lot of us who prefer direct communication styles
(the whole study of direct vs. indirect communication is fascinating in
its own right).  It was also a haven for those who think and communicate
better in writing than verbally, a difference that is, on the surface,
unrelated, but that becomes relevant because the written medium tends to
drop a lot of communication cues.  Tone is notoriously difficult to convey
properly in writing, but (even worse) *reaction* to tone is not conveyed
at all unless someone produces a written response, which means that all
the natural human mechanisms for dynamic adaptation of speech to the
audience reaction mostly don't work.

Mixed with that was a strong tendency for early adopters of the Internet
to have a (small-L, and often non-political) libertarian bent: free speech
and openness are intensely valued, usually above community politeness.
That's also common within technical culture in general (and, separately,
is also more common among male-dominated culture than female-dominated
culture, for a wide variety of complex reasons involving societal gender
roles and cultural expectations).

None of this is necessarily bad, but I think it creates the possibility of
a strong feedback loop.  People who value community politeness tend to
leave when that value is not honored; people who value blunt communication
tend to stay, produce more of it, and push the community in that direction
rather than leaving when it's not honored.  As a result, a community that
starts with a tendency towards valuing bluntness over politeness tends to
skew more and more in that direction over time as it filters out those
with the opposite preference, and those who express themselves the most
aggressively are heard disproportionately often.

In other words (and a bit more succinctly), I think the natural tendency
of written communication to drop emotional cues and emotional feedback,
combined with an initial cultural tendency towards aggressive discussion
and a rejection of limits on what one is allowed (by community standards)
to say, leads to a reinforcing cycle that selects for and makes more
influential the participants who are the most aggressive.

Slipping into that cycle is very easy.  Breaking that cycle is difficult
and requires a lot of effort.  I think that's why that cycle is *so*
common in open source projects.

> And, as you alluded to, it DOES have something to do with gender..
> http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2011/11/03/workplace-jerks-make-more-money/

> 'assholes make more money' is an interesting google search.


> Now this is a very good social/ethical goal.

> So with that, I want to apologize for anything I've written that comes
> across as abusive, jerky, or obnoxious behavior. It may also very well
> be my mood in september and october is highly correlated with the price
> of corn and soybeans, and the market is up today, so I should probably
> avoid posting on a down market.


And thank you again for this apology, and accepted here.  And I also
apologize for letting my previous messages get too personal and for not
separating person from writing very well.

Russ Allbery (rra@stanford.edu)             <http://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/>