Similar to @paulgraham.com (@email@example.com @paulg)’s 2008 observation about trolls¹, there’s a sort of Gresham's Law of developers (vs users): developers are willing to use a forum with a lot of users in it, but users aren’t willing to use a forum with a lot of developer-speak.
Whether such forums are email lists, chat (IRC, #Matrix, #Slack, #Discord), or, well, online forums (#Reddit, #HackerNews), when discussions either start or shift into technical details, jargon, or acronyms, users (in a very broad sense) tend to stop participating, and sometimes leave, never to return.
Users in this context are anyone with a desire (or a preference) not to chat or even be bothered spending time reading about technical plumbing & #jargon, and see such discussions as a distraction at best, and more like noise to be avoided.
Paraphrasing Paul Graham again: once technical details, jargon, acronyms “take hold, it tends to become the dominant culture” and discourages users from showing up, discussing user-centric topics, or even staying in said forum.
The #IndieWeb community started in 2011 as a single #indiewebcamp IRC channel (no email list²) because it was tightly coupled to IndieWebCamp events, which were both highly technical and yet focused on actually making things work on your personal site that you need³, that you will use⁴ yourself. Conversations bridged real world use-cases and technical details.
It only took us five years after the first IndieWebCamp in Portland to recognize that the community had grown beyond the events, and had a clear need for a separate place for deep discussions of developer topics.
As part of renaming the community from IndieWebCamp to IndieWeb⁵, we created the #indieweb-dev (dev) channel for such technical topics like protocols, formats, tools, coding libraries, APIs, and any other acronyms or jargon.
The community did a good job of keeping technical topics in the dev channel, and encouraging new folks in the main #indieweb channel who started technical conversations to continue them in the dev channel.
Still, it was too easy for user-centric topics to veer into technical territory. It often felt more natural to continue a thread in the channel it started rather than break to another channel. There was also a need for regular community labor to nudge developer conversations to the developer chat channel.
We had already started documenting IndieWeb related jargon⁶ on the wiki and turned it into a MediaWiki Category so we could tag individual pages as jargon and have them automatically show-up in a list. Soon after, @aaronparecki.com (@firstname.lastname@example.org) added a heuristic to the friendly channel bot Loqi to recognize when people started using jargon in the main IndieWeb chat channel and nudge⁷ them to the development channel.
Having Loqi do some of the gentle nudging has helped, though it‘s still quite easy for even the experienced folks in the community to get drawn into a developer conversation on main as it were.
We’ve documented both a summary and lengthier descriptions of channel purposes⁸ which help us remind each other, as well as provide a guide to newcomers.
Both experienced community members and newcomers share much of the user-centric focus of the IndieWeb, the IndieWeb being for everyone⁹, whether developer, hobbyist, or someone who wants an independent presence on the web without bothering with technical details. Whether some of us want to code or not, we all want to use our IndieWeb sites to express ourselves on the web, to use our sites instead of depending on social media silos. That shared purpose keeps us focused.
It takes a village: eternal community vigilance is the price of staying user-centric and welcoming to newcomers.
The ideas behind this post were originally shared in the IndieWeb meta chat channel.¹⁰
This is post 8 of #100PostsOfIndieWeb. #100Posts
development channel (indieweb-dev)
Hacker News (HN)
main IndieWeb chat channel (on main)
meta chat channel
social media silos
¹ https://www.paulgraham.com/trolls.html (2008 essay, HN still succumbed to trolling)