Sometimes I forget how important communication is


Sven Vermeulen Wed 10 December 2014

Free software (and documentation) developers don't always have all the time they want. Instead, they grab whatever time they have to do what they believe is the most productive - be it documentation editing, programming, updating ebuilds, SELinux policy improvements and what not. But they often don't take the time to communicate. And communication is important.

For one, communication is needed to reach a larger audience than those that follow the commit history in whatever repository work is being done. Yes, there are developers that follow each commit, but development isn't just done for developers, it is also for end users. And end users deserve frequent updates and feedback. Be it through blog posts, Google+ posts, tweets or instragrams (well, I'm not sure how to communicate a software or documentation change through Instagram, but I'm sure people find lots of creative ways to do so), telling the broader world what has changed is important.

Perhaps a (silent or not) user was waiting for this change. Perhaps he or she is even actually trying to fix things himself/herself but is struggling with it, and would really benefit (time-wise) from a quick fix. Without communicating about the change, (s)he does not know that no further attempts are needed, actually reducing the efficiency in overall.

But communication is just one-way. Better is to get feedback as well. In that sense, communication is just one part of the feedback loop - once developers receive feedback on what they are doing (or did recently) they might even improve results faster. With feedback loops, the wisdom of the crowd (in the positive sense) can be used to improve solutions beyond what the developer originally intended. And even a simple "cool" and "I like" is good information for a developer or contributor.

Still, I often forget to do it - or don't have the time to focus on communication. And that's bad. So, let me quickly state what things I forgot to communicate more broadly about:

  • A new developer joined the Gentoo ranks: Jason Zaman. Now developers join Gentoo more often than just once in a while, but Jason is one of my "recruits". In a sense, he became a developer because I was tired of pulling his changes in and proxy-committing stuff. Of course, that's only half the truth; he is also a very active contributor in other areas (and was already a maintainer for a few packages through the proxy-maintainer project) and is a tremendous help in the Gentoo Hardened project. So welcome onboard Jason (or perfinion as he calls himself online).
  • I've started with copying the Gentoo handbook to the wiki. This is still an on-going project, but was long overdue. There are many reasons why the move to the wiki is interesting. For me personally, it is to attract a larger audience to update the handbook. Although the document will be restricted for editing by developers and trusted contributors only (it does contain the installation instructions and is a primary entry point for many users) that's still a whole lot more than when just a handful (one or two actually) developers update the handbook.
  • The SELinux userspace (2.4 release) is looking more stable; there are no specific regressions anymore (upstream is at release candidate 7) although I must admit that I have not implemented it on the majority of test systems that I maintain. Not due to fears, but mostly because I struggle a bit with available time so I can do without testing upgrades that are not needed. I do plan on moving towards 2.4 in a week or two.
  • The reference policy has released a new version of the policy. Gentoo quickly followed through (Jason did the honors of creating the ebuilds).

So, apologies for not communicating sooner, and I promise I'll try to uplift the communication frequency.