OSM mailing lists: time for a change?

OSM has had a good run with our mailing lists, especially if you grade that based on quantity. We have over 100 of them for Iranians to Australians, for importers to newbies.

The problem is that they’re an echo chamber. Every mail is sent to everyone. That means intelligent postings as well as complete garbage get the same precedence and everything is equally loud.

Unfortunately some of the main lists have become less than nice places to be. Low signal to noise and a scorched earth policy from the more flamey participants pushes people away.

Below: Newbies prepare to enter talk@openstreetmap.org


Let’s look at some solutions. One is to get rid of them. We spend too much time worrying about this crap, just kill talk@ and move to a new list discuss@ or something. Let that list have a clear and simple etiquette policy list. Put someone in charge of kick/banning people who don’t play nice. The problem here is there are very few people willing to take responsibility for being the moderator. It’s unpaid, nobody will be nice to you (except me, obviously) and it’s hard work.

Below: Mailing list infestation marines prepare to nuke the talk@ list from orbit, because it’s the only way to be sure.


Another is that we let the talk@ list be. All the clueful people decamp to a new list with a nice policy as above. Stop linking to talk@ and leave the bozos there. Hopefully they don’t notice.

Below: a newbie after making a polite suggestion on legal-talk@


We could all migrate (one imagines this follows a sea parting) to the forums. There we could be safe for awhile. Newbies are more at ease in forums. It’s easier to delete posts, they don’t have the same permanence that a mailing list does: Forever in the archive, and already sent to all participants.

None of these options are easy and we can just vote with our feet.

There is an interesting technical solution possible though. Take the forum mechanics to a mailing list. So instead of every post going to every participant just send it to participants with high karma. If they like the post (either explicitly by clicking/emailing something, or implicitly by not doing anything) then it goes to others on the list. That list can have override features so I can get sent everything in a thread or block certain people. I’ve actually started building something like this but it’s too big to fit in the margin.

Below: calm arrives at talk@ during a license discussion, unicorns descend from the skies and free healthcare for all


Before utopia arrives, Steve’s top tips for the mailing lists are as follows

  • Stop asking permission on the lists, you will never get it
  • Don’t feed the trolls
  • Clueful people post more, and more cluefully to drown out said trolls
  • Someone should be appointed to moderate the lists and just warn, kick and then ban people who aren’t nice. Just use common sense to identify who they are

12 thoughts on “OSM mailing lists: time for a change?

  1. Gregory Marler

    You haven’t defined ‘nice’. I’ve been forced out of an IRC channel because I made a generalisation/joke to a newcomer that "wasn’t nice". The complaint came from someone else, who drowned out all conversations in the chat channel by attacking me, and got a moderator on their side. The newcomer has never said to anybody that they thought it was an issue and so I don’t think they saw the joke in a negative way (I understand they continue to be in that IRC channel). I don’t go in now out of choice, although I believe there is no longer a technical or official ban in place.The IRC channel in question hasn’t created any etiquette guidelines since (although they should), but they did consider having an entrance channel (similar to your discuss@ idea) where it’s purely for welcoming until newbies are ‘accustomed’ to the community. Did we have a newbies@ list?

  2. Steve Coast

    Nice is whatever I define it as. Or what the moderator does. I think if we sit around defining ‘nice’ and ‘the’ and ‘flibble’ we will be sucked down a rathole.Further, I think it’s worth the low risk of having a bozo moderator to instate one who bases their judgment on their own common sense.

  3. Steve Coast

    Nice is whatever I define it as. Or what the moderator does. I think if we sit around defining ‘nice’ and ‘the’ and ‘flibble’ we will be sucked down a rathole.Further, I think it’s worth the low risk of having a bozo moderator to instate one who bases their judgment on their own common sense.

  4. Roy

    If the problem is that OSM contributors don’t necessarily know how to behave "nicely" (in your opinion), then clearly it’s worth spending some time defining what "nicely" means – i.e. set some guidelines. In other words…I think it’s very likely you’ll end up having a bozo moderator, which would be even worse than the current situation. Think about it – what kind of person would volunteer to be a list moderator??

  5. 14K

    I was a newbie on the mailing list and i have to say that the reputation of OSM was a bit damaged after subscribing to it. Something has to be done… I’ll leave it to the ‘experts’ to decide wat exactly that should be!

  6. Max

    "Nice is whatever I define it as. Or what the moderator does."Wow. You’ve just spared me any need to argue. "Open" just got redefined as "whoever I happen to like". Fancying being a dictator much…? Good luck with that. It would trigger a vote with our feet, just not the one you expect.Oh, and the inability of all the lists to ever reach consensus has nothing to do with niceness. It’s called diversity of opinions. Best countered by gathering a bunch of yes-men around oneself and declaring anybody else a mere troublemaker. But I don’t think I’m telling you anything new there…

  7. russnelson

    Max, it’s not about disagreement. It’s about respecting the fucking idiot at the other end of the conversation. If you can’t do that, then you shouldn’t be on the mailing list.And yeah, I’ll volunteer to moderate talk@osm.org. Don’t confuse my ability to have an opinion from my ability to treat people fairly.

  8. dieterdreist

    It won’t be easy to find a moderator for any of the lists. I am trying to follow a bunch of them, but I would never want to check everything that others write. I also believe that this "new way" would slow down things tremendously.

  9. Max

    @Harry Wood: I replied to that on said page’s talk. And no, I don’t like recursive definitions.@ russnelson: I happen to subscribe to the view than no one who is willing to take any kind of public office should ever be allowed anywhere near one.

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