Don't bite the hand that feeds-back
- Please add your voice here!
- Join our discussions: mailing list, IRC #mirage
- Come to our events: Compiler hacking and MirageOS hackathons
With work ramping up towards the next MirageOS release, I wanted to take a look at our fortnightly catchup to see if there are any positive changes we could make going forward. This call has run since the beginnings of MirageOS in 2010, with online logs from 2013 onwards. They started as video calls, and earlier this year moved over to IRC with logs tracked in Canopy. I was keen to gain insight into the perceived value of the call, whether people preferred IRC to voice/video calls and to see if there were any solvable blockers to participation.
I chatted with some of the core MirageOS community team initially, to ascertain if there was anything glaring that we should focus on first, then followed up with others in the core dev team, later extending the questions out to the mailing list and the wider community via Slack and Twitter. After much internal debate about the benefits of a short, focussed vs a longer, wider-reaching poll, I settled on questions that naturally formed two categories: one focussed on our fortnightly catch up, agenda and logs, and another more general category touching on the mailing list as a source of information and advice. I chose to keep all responses anonymous.
You can see the full poll here.
The poll has been online for 2 weeks, and we have had 11 unique responses from the MirageOS community. While I am pleased with that level of response, I have reopened the form to accept more feedback, and have asked members who have not yet participated to contribute. I have also opened it up to the wider group of MirageOS users, including the ReasonML #mirageos channel on Discord.
We had 30 attendees at our summer MirageOS hackathon, so that’s my overambitious feedback target!
Choice of Platform:
IRC is a well-loved, widely used open platform, but may appear basic compared to more feature-full applications such as Discord and Slack. It’s a fine line between encouraging communication from all members of a group or community via fun features like emoticons or gifs, and risking alienating the portion who would prefer not to engage with that form of media or interact with more third parties in order to have a meeting. There is also the question of providing your own purpose-built application and testing it as you go. Whilst this is noble and ideal, it isn’t always realistic or pragmatic (see the next point about that limited resource called time) and sometimes in order to avoid drifting or procrastination you will need to use the best-fit pre-existing approach.
The fortnightly call brings together MirageOS developers, users and interested parties following unikernel news. As with many open-source projects, MirageOS relies on a dedicated volunteer user-base, most of which maintain repos, dig through PRs and reply to mailing list threads in their spare time. People’s lives are full, and this can sometimes mean that projects drift, work is a dogged sprint from one release to the next, or is overly-focussed on the essential-but-dull minutiae of pushing code out of the door. There will always be elements of all of these and more, just as there are always multiple draws on our time, but if there are small changes to be made to the process, communication platform we use, or timing of our sync points, then we should definitely ensure we are aware of them.
Group dynamics are such that it can be easy to only hear from those who talk the most, or it is only the core team that feel able to provide the feedback - both of which can encourage a small pool of opinions and a high likelihood of repetitive and inflexible statements. We should be careful to seek a more representative view - one that takes into account the valued opinions and thoughts of the core team of developers and users, but also allows space for others to contribute, including those who are new, or those who feel their level of understanding is below an expected threshold but who have value to add. In a large community it is a difficult (read: impossible) task to please everyone, but if everyone feels they have had the opportunity to add their voice and that matters important to them have been considered, then that is a positive community process.
Things I have learned:
- It is surprisingly difficult to narrow down your questions for a poll and get the sweet spot of not TOO long, but still useful
- Asking people to use their voice and tell you their opinion is still asking people to do something. Careful it doesn’t slip down their to-do list…
- You can’t fix all the things at once
- Sometimes you don’t need to eat your own dogfood
- Not everyone will be pleased. But hopefully they will feel heard :)