(Sorry about the length of this; I'm sick of it too. Jump
to the last section for a new topic...)
You know, I really don't care what my "status" is. Certify
me as a summer squash, it doesn't matter. I'm merely
frustrated at being denied the ability to fully participate
on this site, and there are times when an interesting
article is posted where I'd like to join the discussion.
But, because I'm not in the "in" crowd (not certified by
someone close enough to the seeds to matter), I'm
arbitrarily excluded, whether or not my contribution to the
discussion might be worthwhile.
For example, I posted this
diary entry because an article interested me enough to sit
down and try playing with some code to come up with
something that seemed interesting. Once I had something
working, I wanted to post a reply so others in that
discussion could see what I came up with. That's when I
first discovered that I had become decertified. Having
nowhere appropriate to post the message, I decided to post
it as a diary entry so it wouldn't be a complete waste of
Nobody reading that article would have any reason to expect
to see a reply in a diary entry, though it was relevant to
the discussion there. I was arbitrarily barred from
participating in that discussion because the certification
system is now turning away the majority of people. I
thought maybe it was a temporary glitch; I tried to send
email to Raph (but no email address was on this site, so I
had to guess), and I mentioned it in that diary entry. Then
I left it alone for a month before trying to draw attention
to the problem.
If it was just me, I would have dropped it much sooner.
Indeed, after some people certified me and I was listed as
an "Apprentice", I could have quietly gone about my business
and it probably would have ended there. The only
reason I continued to discuss certifications is that I
believe the system isn't working as intended, and I was
concerned that many people were being excluded that
shouldn't have been. (The fact that there's more Masters
than Apprentices and more uncertified accounts than
certified seems to suggest that something is out of balance,
Let's ignore any research goals Raph may have had for this
site. Even taken solely as a site dedicated to serving the
free software community, does it truly serve the community
to be excluding most of the people who come along, people
who might become more motivated to contribute to free
software based on their participation on this site? Doesn't
it make more sense to get as many people certified as
Apprentice as possible, to encourage them to get more
involved in free software?
As long as you don't throw open the gates so far as to let
the spammers and trolls in, wouldn't having 3,000
Apprentices instead of 300 be better for the
community? We want as many people as possible to involve
themselves with free software, right? Exclusionary
practices are great for a clique, but hardly form the basis
of a welcoming community.
Could the certification system be improved? I don't know,
maybe. Do I know how it should work? Not at all. I've got
some ideas, but they're untested. Raph has put a lot of
work into design and analyzing this system, and I don't want
to second-guess his algorithm, since I don't completely
understand it and can't promise to offer anything better.
It does seem counterintuitive to me that your vote is
trusted less and less the more you use it; I should think
that people who are trusted to make good decisions should
have all those decisions considered equally good, not
devalued for each additional one. Then again, Slashdot has
a "meta moderation" system that doesn't seem to work as well
in practice as it does in theory.
Discussion and brainstorming alternative algorithms would be
interesting, but that sort of thing belongs in an article
(where I can't participate right now), not in diary
entries. However, other possible algorithms probably can't
really be understood without testing them, which probably
means someone would have to setup a new site for the
purpose. (Wouldn't want to endanger the functioning of this
site if the theory doesn't work out!) If I really cared
that much about it, I'd make a new site to experiment
with it myself, but I'm not sure I want to get into that
So I wouldn't recommend that Raph throw out his algorithm,
but I think some of the numbers could use some tuning.
There are over 1,000 Masters and Journeyers, but only four
seeds. Why not 50 or 100 seeds? Don't count Observers or
Apprentices, and just take the top 50 or 100 strongest
certifications, and use those people as new seeds. (Or just
select from Masters; there's over 300 of them too.) Once
you have the new seeds, play with the numbers for distance
from the seed, the threshold for certification, etc. The
current algorithm would probably work much better with some
hacker: I withdrew most of my
certifications only after ncm
knocked me back down to Observer by withdrawing his
certification. So, as an Observer, presumably my votes were
already worthless. Even if I become barely certified again,
what's the point of spreading my meager voting power out so
thin that it barely helps anyone? I might as well focus it
on someone I know personally, who could be a worthwhile
member of this site.
If certification was only a matter of what "status" tag is
associated with you, and what color you're associated with,
I really couldn't care less about it. People will judge you
as they're going to, and obsessing over it helps nobody.
However, on this site, certification is the dividing line
between the "haves" and the "have-nots", where only the
"haves" can fully participate on the site. This may be
effective at keeping out the spammers and trolls, but it
also relegates most of us to our little ghetto where we can
post diary entries here, but that's all we can do.
I don't think that was the intent of the system, yet by
raising the issue for debate, I get ostracized for it.
Don't shoot the messenger! I didn't design this system, and
I didn't create this artificial divide. While I could go
elsewhere, I think this is a worthwhile community that I'd
like to participate in. However, maybe I won't be allowed
for daring to point out that the Emperor has no clothes.
It's not my fault that things are the way they are, and
blaming me for shining a light on the problems isn't going
to make them go away. At best, it might make me go away,
but the problems would remain if I left.
I'm not very familiar with Blogger. (Though I much prefer
the term "weblog" in general -- "blogger" sounds strange to
my ears.) Slashdot is a system with very little barrier to
entry, and it's very active. It's also filled with spammers
and trolls, though the moderation system doesn't do all that
badly. I don't mind having a barrier to entry high enough
to dissuade spammers and trolls, but the barrier here is
much higher than that.
With more people turned away than accepted, it becomes more
of an elitist clique than a welcoming community. If that's
what Advogato's masters and/or denizens want, so be it. If
the true goal is the avowed purpose of furthering free
software, I don't believe that is achieved as well by being
exclusionary as it would be by being inclusive. Yes, you
want to exclude spammers and trolls because they
deliberately harm the community by lowering the
signal-to-noise ratio dramatically. But why exclude anyone
else who is there to share in a common purpose?
And yes, people are being excluded. I didn't come here to
post diary entries; I have a homepage which is really a
better place for that. It's just a strange twist that
"diary" entries have turned into a substitute for actual
discussion forums, probably because so many people are
prohibited from actually joining the discussion in the real
forums under the articles. These "diary" entries have
largely transformed into an unstructured free-for-all
discussion forum, as evidenced by running threads of
conversation between different people via their diary
entries. Of course, this free-for-all has no protection at
all against spammers and trolls, which is really ironic.
At the time I arbitrarily chose Master (I basically flipped
a coin), I said that I haven't "visibly participated" much
in the community. I didn't claim to be the author of an
"important" free software project (who decides what's
"important"?) and I didn't expect anyone else to certify me
above Apprentice for a very long time. And I didn't care.
I expected to have to wait a few weeks to find myself
certified before i could really participate, and I was
prepared for that.
As I've said before, I decided to arbitrarily certify myself
as "Master" based on my skills, even though I didn't match
the full description. I knew my visible contributions were
meager, but I intended to remedy that over time. Since I
never expected anyone else to certify me as a Master
or even as a Journeyer, I figured it really didn't matter
what I selected. None of the descriptions really
fit, so what was the point?
Besides, haven't you ever had a teacher ask you to write
down and turn what you think you deserve for your grade in
the class? In those cases, you always say "A"! Even
if you feel like you deserved a B, why sell yourself short?
If the teacher thinks you deserve a B, that's what you'll
get. Think of it as a "positive visualization" thing. I
didn't expect to be certified as a Master, and didn't even
want to be, but I think I have the skills to qualify
and as for the rest, I was trying to "visualize" it, which
was a large part of the reason I selected it. I would have
selected Journeyer, but I'm better than "competent" and I do
want to make significant contributions to free software. I
just haven't figured out the best way to get from here to
there, with all of life's obstacles.
Instead, I was certified as "Journeyer" almost immediately
(quite to my surprise) and thereby became embroiled in a
debate about the certification system, which I never
wanted. Now here I am again, stuck in a similar controversy
that I never wanted, for the heinous crime of wanting to be
able to join the discussions around me. Forgive me!
Yes, I've heard that rms isn't really
Richard Stallman, and it certainly doesn't ring true. RMS
would probably never come to a site like this, but you can
bet he'd have a lot more to say if he actually did! It
feels like an imposter, but without asking RMS himself, I
can't prove it isn't him. But I doubt it, and I know others
do too. (Has anyone actually asked him?)
Do you think I want to spend all my time discussing
certifications? Certainly not! I'm sick and tired of
arguing about it also. If it was a primary interest of
mine, I would have asked Raph if I could work on
mod_virgule, or started my own site to test alternate
theories. Maybe I will sometime, maybe I won't. For now, I
have other things I'm more interested in.
The truth is, I don't care about certifications at all when
it comes to the supposed "status" they may represent. I
only care about being excluded from full participation on
this site. I don't want to go to Badvogato, because I share
Advogato's goal, to further free software. Honestly, part
of the reason I want full access on this site is simply
because I'm hoping that being active here might help
motivate me to get out there and actually get more work done
on free software projects. Being in the company of
like-minded folks tends to help with that, which is exactly
why I'm concerned that so many people are excluded just as I
am. It just seems like a lost opportunity to get people
motivated to work more on free software...
Let me try to change the subject here...
This whole debate has reminded me that I'm not making any
progress towards releasing my conferencing system as open
source. I decided many months ago that I want to go ahead
and release it, but the name is a major stumbling
block. As I mentioned before, the system is currently named
"Phoenix", but I've been wanting to pick something new, with
an available domain name to go with it. I'd prefer to
change the name as part of the process of releasing a 1.0
version, just because it seems more confusing to change the
name after it's released.
Unfortunately, almost all of the good names in the DNS are
already taken, and even most of the bad ones too. If anyone
has any bright ideas here, I'd love to hear them, and soon.
I'm starting to believe that the search for a new name could
stretch out indefinitely; I've already been on the lookout
for a new name for years, literally.
The one candidate I have right now is "gangplank", and I was
able to register "gangplank.org" for it. (I figured I may
use it for something else if not this.) It's a strange
name, but it's a real word, and easy to remember and spell
-- even if it really has no relevance to the project. It's
even harder to find a good name that's meaningful. (One of
my favorite ideas was "Nexus", which I love as a name, but
it's been used for many things and of course there's no
domain available for it.)
So, hacker, do you have any thoughts for me
about this? Should I just run with "gangplank" because I
don't have anything better? Should I keep waiting for a
better name to fall into my lap? Do you like the name or
hate it? (I found it sounded truly bizarre at first, but it
grew on me later...)
The sooner I figure out this name dilemma, the sooner the
software will be released! :-)