posted on Thu, Jan 14 '16 under tags: social, foss, mozilla

Chat apps are probably used as the hello world project for learning server-client programming. I think so because there are so many messaging apps out there and rarely do they inter-operate. The shift to mobile phones and rich text messaging just speeds up the process of fragmented communication channels.

What does communication look like in a typical FOSS community these days? Fragmented, incomplete, confusing, and altogether chaotic.

The culprits

These are the most commonly used communication tools (in the order that I have seen them being used):

And some strong newcomers

The problem

There are several characters for communication tools.

Synchronicity is the state of being quick and synchronous. Synchronous communication media are suitable for quick chats, discussions, question-answers. The sender and recipient are both online and on the same page talking to each other at the same time.

Openness is when communications are out in the open, easy to access, and in an open standard.

History, threading, and link-ability are features that make communication effortless. A message which is easily retrievable months later, a discussion that’s archived forever, etc make communication meaningful in the long term. This allows new contributors to read and learn history. Similarly, threading allows ease and eliminates confusion in discussions. Link-ability is the property of a message having a permanent link which can be used to access the same from anywhere.

Ease of use might be very important in a community which expects a lot of newcomers.

Number of active users (or the size of the cloud) is, although a catch-22, important for communication to reach as many people as possible.

Now you know the problem. There is no one tool that is good in all categories.

Working towards a solution

Being prescriptive about a tool and pushing people to it will only help in alienating a lot of people. And there is no one tool you can sincerely recommend to people either. Even hardcore FOSS activists cannot decide between their software.

And that’s why I propose that we choose all tools available. Have presence on multiple platforms. Open communication channels everywhere.

Easily said. Who will maintain multiple tools? How should one cross-post on multiple channels? What happens to discussions?

I have no perfect answer. But I do have some recommendations that work.

There could still be interactions that happen inside platforms which aren’t relayed to other platforms. Well, in that matter, there are also real life conversations between community members that happens in private spaces. If these conversations are important, they deserve more attention and should be summarized and broadcasted to all channels. But if nobody cares enough to sit down and write a blog post or discourse thread about it, maybe that conversation isn’t worth it.

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