Again, noise ratio
bofh at stremler.net
Sat Mar 2 15:55:30 PST 2002
begin repeating what DJA wrote on Sat, Mar 02, 2002 at 01:25:59PM -0800 :
> To quote myself for my own opinion (as I don't want to
> rethink/retype it) Today's comments are denoted by [DJA: ...] :
> On the future of the list(s):
> Another prediction I made long ago: Any new list will tend, over time,
> to degenerate to the state of the original list, at rate proportional to
> the number of posters.
They either die, from lack of use, as everyone sticks with the 'more
interesting' list, or they degenerate into copies of each other. :-/
> On the whys and a proposed compromise solution:
> Here is my observation. It seems that OT and occasionally
> [Kooler] threads are often born when someone asks a technical
> question to which no one else has a direct, appropriate answer.
> Maybe the only answer is an
> "I [don't] know, but <insert some smartass remark here>."
Hey, I resemble that remark!
It also doesn't have to be that simple. A non-trivial answer will
frequently have many parts; some parts of a response could be informative,
while others are off-beat, irrelevent-but-funny, oh-that-reminds me, or
just generally smart-aleck comments. I would think that the same post
is frequently an answer (thus freeing subsequent posters from the need
to worry about responding) AND a point of departure for severe topic drift.
> A more social approach might be to ask posters to refrain
> from responding to topics if they have nothing to contribute.
> I.E., if you don't have the answer to someone's technical
> question, just don't respond.
This results in a stale and boring list.
> That includes the
> superfluous "Me too." and "Me neither." clutter.
Well, AOL-ing *should* be discouraged.
> If more people practice self control at the keyboard,
> there'll be less need for more esoteric technical solutions.
<smartass remark deleted>
> I can see a minor downside to even that practice: questions
> to which no one has an answer may seem to a newbie to have
> drifted into the black hole of ignorance.
This happens anyway. I get a huge backlog of "questions to come back to
when I might have time to find an answer", and every so often I just
move 'em off to the archive 'cause I have too many questions in the
> I am sure others can think of other ways of modifying or
> moderating the social behavior of the list.
The cure should not be worse than the problem. :)
> Another common behavior here (as it is anywhere friends meet)
> is that when topical content drops off, people start
> socializing until something more distracting (read "On topic")
> comes up. It's the same phenomenon you find at meetings when
> the presentation starts to loose the interest of those in the
> back of the room.
> I think the OT problem has been controlled as well as it can
> be, given that one pesky element which is the bane of all
> societies - [that is,] People - exists here as well.
The very crux of the problem.
> There seems no way to partially regulate this list. It's
> either going to have to be run in a strict totalitarian fashion,
> probably via moderation, or not at all.
Moderation has its place, but frequently, a moderated forum does not
retain the interest of a large group of people. If all you want out of
the list is the simple question/answer format with a high S/N ratio,
then by all means choose moderation. (The newbie list might be a good
candidate for this... the moderator can redirect off-topic irrelevent
answers to the kooler, or advanced topics to the regular list, etc.)
> I think we have come as
> close as we can to regulating ourselves with the [Kooler] tag
> and maybe the other lists. We're going to have the occasional
> flare up of OT stuff, but that's part of what keeps most of us
I always thought that the [Kooler] (and by extension, [Newbie]) tags
were a good solution, and that the technical solution would be to
offer pre-filtered versions for those who find [Koolers] annoying,
or who only want to see [Newbie] topics.
Failing that, an actual move to a newsgroup -- and there's sufficient
traffic in the lists to support a few newsgroups -- would be a good
idea, as newsreaders have long ago handled the problem of forum-hopping
discussions, and offer quick and easy filtering capabilities within
the reach of even newbies.
> On list splitting in general:
> again. It is an invitation to types of management, and associated
> disagreements, where none need exist. It is, in fact, a bureaucracy.
Interesting viewpoint. I'm not sure that I disagree. It is, in fact,
a compelling point.
> Remember, mailing lists are more Lurk and Learn than anything
> else. Many people just like to read the posts, trying to absorb
> as much as they can, while not necessarily understanding all of
> what they are reading. They don't have a specific question, but
> know that when they do, chances are, it was already
> asked - and answered - on their list.
Personally, I have a difficult time lurking more than a month or two.
This comes, no doubt, as a suprise to many folks. ("He can actually
> What is the benefit of
> multiple lists to people like that? Maybe their question has
> been asked and answered a dozen times on another list to
> which they are not subscribed.
I suspect that the geeky interaction -- shell games, successive refinement
of performing some system-wide task and the reasons for doing, or not, this
or that thing (I'm thinking of the 'using find and xargs thread' -- provide
amusement to many and irreplacable education to others.
One of the hardest things to learn about computers, I think, is
how you go about finding answers to your problems. Watching someone
do that seems to be an educational experience.
> Here's the simple answer: Human Nature. Problem is, in a
> group like this most solutions to problems related to simple
> Human Nature (or anything else) end up being technical solutions.
> That's not at all uncommon in technical communities: apply your
> technical specialty to every problem, even if inappropriate.
It's a very common phenomena.
> Filtering, list splitting, script writing, etc. are technical
> *fixes* (vs. solutions) to social phenomena.
The RISKS folks talk about this on a regular basis. It doesn't matter
what the technology is to solve $PROBLEM, if it doesn't work *with*
people, they'll subvert it, ignore it, misuse it, and quite often make
$PROBLEM worse than it was before.
(Consider the automatic-close-and-locking doors; they are more secure.
But too frequently, folks find it too annoying, so they tape, jam, or
othewise disable the latching mechanism for when they just 'step out
for a moment'. Adding security "solutions" results in LESS actual security.)
> People (again, this is a PEOPLE issue not a KPLUG or Linux or
> mailing list issue) rarely stay persistently on topic in *any* mode
> of conversation - on- or offline. Why should that pattern be any
> different here?
A group of people always needs a default "irrelevant" channel. It might
have been better to not create [kooler] but to create a [advanced questions]
Habit is a powerful force.
> > This is IMHO a very strong argument for a separate list
> > and against the [Kooler] tag. The [Kooler] tag is unusual
> > and so Tracy is correct as to conventionl list manners,
> > which seem to me to be based on simple common sense.
> [DJA: Note that common sense is generally that which is neither common,
> nor sensible - thus the need for laws.]
The [Kooler] tag, while unique in details, is not unique in practice. The
use of meta-tags to subdivide a forum's discourse without creating additional
sub-forums is widely used in areas where the participants tend to engage in
both topical and social discourse.
> I don't agree with the former, as I perceive this list as having
> suffered since the split, but it is an acceptable compromise.
> Of course I continue to support the much more elegant [Kooler] tag.
> To drag this thread momentarily to the technical side, I see
> list splitting as an engineering solution, while the [Kooler] tag
> scheme is a programming (or algorithmic) solution.
> [DJA: I will modify my statement above to say that the [Kooler] tag
> is a proper solution to a *social* problem. ]
The list-split was an engineering solution retrofitted to replace the
social solution. This *never* sits well with a population; witness the
cameras-at-intersections debacle. (Personally, I don't run lights, and
am more willing to stand on the brake to stop for a yellow than to risk
being in the intersection when the light turns red. But even I find my
instinctive reaction to cameras-at-intersections to be one of outrage
and unhappiness, with much muttering of 'big brother' and 'inappropriate
> My personal observation is that technical people tend, as a group
> to be control freaks (an admittedly exaggerated characterization).
> Interestingly, this group seems a bit less so, although the trait
> is still noticeable.
There's also a few nonconformists, and probably quite a few rebels, who
automatically throw a spanner in the works when a control freak tries
to assert control. We need more nonconformists.
> [DJA: I seem to remember I was the only one who answered this question.]
I don't recall if I got busy 'round that time, or if I answered it. I
recall touching on the question a time or two, but I don't know if I
actually ever responded to *that* particular post.
> I don't want to have to wade through many topics on the
> [Kooler] list just to get my feet wet in a couple, or follow a
> hopped topic from another list. If a thread hops from here to
> another list, then for all intents, it's dead for me.
Likewise. I don't follow thread-hops between newsgroups, which has
built-in support for such things.
> [Okay, long winded regurgitation of old stuff, but at least I didn't have
> to say the same thing again for the umpteenth time. And I did it all in
> one post so all of you who don't GARA only have to round file one long
> post instead of three or four.]
Personally, I recognize my tendency to touch on every topic under the
sun, and have avoided the newbie list for just that reason. I've spent
many years practicing my topic-drift skills (first in FidoNet, then in
Usenet), and now it's all second-nature. This is a bane in the stolid
technical forums, but I *did* look for desolate cries of "Oh, God, No!
Stewart's Back!" when I rejoined the mailing list.
If there were [m]any, they were lost in the noise.
-Stewart "The Long Winded" Stremler
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