Hitting reset on talk-au

I’m speaking strictly personally here, posting to talk@ and opengeodata.

OSM often crosses bridges in it’s growth. Mostly they’re technical, like introducing color maps, rendering new things or speeding up the system. We have a much more ugly bridge to cross in front of us.

Would you want to be part of a community which includes people explicitly working to disrupt it, trolling it and breaking data? Would you want to be part of a community where people are literally scared for their jobs when thinking about helping run it?

Over the last few days there has been a bunch of discussion on talk-au which you can read in the archives, though for your own sanity you might want to skip it.

For the most part the posts revolve around the OSMF, the LWG and the license process. I considered my presence there over the last few days as both a last ditch attempt to salvage the data and more importantly the community that’s there. As RichardF pointed out, their license acceptance rate is about half what most EU communities have achieved. I would say that the people on that list feel disaffected with the process and their representation in it.

Despite multiple attempts at trying to have a reasonable dialog over both what happened and what we can do about it, mostly I’ve been met with extreme animosity.

Most of that comes from people either banned from the main lists, been deleted/blocked from OSM or been moderated or who have publicly stated they’re here to disrupt the project.

I’ve tried to get many people involved posting there in what I thought was a worthwhile effort, in effect to save that list. Almost everybody declined to do so. Only RichardF braved it and was met with a predictable response. Frederik has given up and from my reading of his email considers talk-au dead (I think you should make that email public). I find that understandable.

I’ve been trying to find someone to moderate the list along the Etiquette guidelines on the wiki. Mikel has given up, understandably, and he leads the main moderators. We found one native Australian to moderate but they backed out because they literally feared for their job safety, that the people who now inhabit the list would make life with their employer difficult. Thus, they declined to do so after initially accepting. I actually am convinced that was the right decision and the people on that list are capable of it.

I don’t think anyone I know in OSM would want to be part of a community like that. I think it’s a sad low point in what otherwise is a wonderful project to be involved in.

Let me be more clear, *I* don’t want to be part of a community that accepts this. Who in their right mind would want to be a part of a community run by people explicitly out to disrupt, fork and troll?

In the best traditions of open projects our ideas and code are Free. It’s not clear that our time and server resources should be. Unlike our ideas and code, they’re finite and open to abuse. Make no mistake that our time and resources are being used explicitly to destabilize the very project which provides them. Used by mostly anonymous or pseudonymous people who as I say have been kicked, banned or explicitly stated they want to destabilize OSM. This is not about censorship. If you read the lists, you’ll find we’ve made available repeatedly both the methods and the people to help resolve issues. These people are free to fork the project and the data, it’s all available for download. They have their own mailing lists. Are there genuine questions about license, it’s implementation and so on? Absolutely. But level-headed discussion is not welcome on talk-au for the most part. There are a few people who can discuss this stuff impersonally there but it’s a small part of the list.

Now – why are we at this point?

The OSMF and the working groups, the apparatus of how a chunk of this project is set up, are unable to deal with direct threats like this, even if it’s been going on for a year or more. One of the main forks of OSM (if you can call it main, it doesn’t yet display a map) is run by an ex-board member. When you have someone like that working together with those who’ve explicitly declared they want to disrupt OSM, it’s very hard for a young, open and democratic organization to deal with. For the most part we have no idea how many of these people are even real too, it’s been suggested that a few of the pseudonyms are in fact just one person creating them on the fly.

We simply don’t have the tools for it. Until last week we had no moderation at all, and that took many, many months (perhaps years) to set up. The board meets too infrequently to be able to respond to people explicitly working for its downfall, which perhaps is a little ironic. The working groups likewise I don’t think have the bandwidth as they currently operate. Generally in an otherwise do-ocracy there is a lack of people who feel they have the authority to take on a role like moderating. Even if they do, it’s an extremely thankless task that almost nobody will take on.

So – what do we do now?

Well to answer that I have to assume you agree with both the horrific tone on that list and that it should not be part of the community we represent. For that, you might be wanting references to some of the things I cite (like this http://lists.openstreetmap.org/pipermail/talk/2011-April/057947.html ) but I’ll allow others to do that exhaustively (Grant is usually good, hint hint).

I want to get back to mapping. I can only do that if we do something about these people on our lists.

I don’t want to contemplate ignoring the problem, which is one extreme end.

I don’t want to be a part of a community that accepts this, so leaving it as-is is not an option.

We’ve tried hard to find moderators and failed. If you want to volunteer and moderate under the Etiquette guidelines, this is the first option I would consider, but you will get a lot of flack. And a beer from me.
We can remove everyone from talk-au and start afresh. No pseudonyms, no license talk (would have to go to legal-talk) under the new list. This would hit reset but remove people who have legitimate concerns and those just trying to get on with mapping.

We can block the ‘main’ people. Then you have to draw the line somewhere between the good and the bad anonymous posters. I would suggest anyone who’s posted that they want to disrupt the project and anyone operating under a pseudonym.

We can place everyone under the emergency moderation flag and clear each post one by one, by moderator, by vote, I don’t care. I can log in and do that too.

Lots of people from talk@ could join talk-au@ and make it a nice place to be again, the way we took back legal-talk@ from the very same people.

Maybe you have a better option?

Either way, this is an ugly bridge to cross. We need to do something to make it clear this is not how things work in OSM. We need to make the message heard that this is not normal, this is not the reputation we want to be known by and we won’t let it be this way.


10 thoughts on “Hitting reset on talk-au

  1. Jo Walsh

    Sorry to hear this has been frustrating and painful, understand that trawling back over the list if difficult, but more context for the grief is probably needed if you want public support for closing the list. As an outsider, the one email you link to doesn’t seem particularly aggressive; being disruptive on lists isn’t the same as being disruptive of the project as a whole. "Breaking data" is cited – seems more serious if there’s evidence of a deliberate attempt to lower quality. Wikipedia deals with malicious edits, imagine OSM has similar bot-catching and blocking processes in place anyway?"people either banned from the main lists, been deleted/blocked from OSM" … "We can block the ‘main’ people" – worried by this. Who decides who gets banned, who gets their edits reverted? Who carries it out? Who are We? If the process lacks transparency or right to appeal then perhaps some people affected have become aggrieved and defensive. Do you have a link that decribes how the ban/block process is managed for the map and the lists?

  2. Steve Coast

    JoIt’s been years of this crap, Grant or someone will be along with a ton of links I’m sure, I’m just a bit burnt out by it to go citing 500 things. I don’t think it’s easy to summarize, you either have to really get to the ‘inside baseball’ and go trawling through the lists and talk to people to understand what’s been happening or it doesn’t make a lot of sense.As for the We and Who and so on – that’s all up for discussion in the context that I give it. Otherwise see the Etiquette wiki page and the Data Working Groups pages on what they do.

  3. BlueMM

    As an Australian contributor, I used to follow Talk-au until about 2 years ago, when I decided the tone & responses from some people had taken a turn for the worse. I just wasn’t interested in getting worked up, in that kind of community. Ironically, the people that were making a fuss about the license change back then (& one of them is linked from this article – so I assume it’s the same people) were the early adopters & biggest contributors (before about 2 years ago). They were very helpful with advice on mapping & tagging for newbies & I liked the "community atmosphere".But it changed so I started not keeping track any more.I don’t know how bad the current situation is, but there used to be a lot of community goodwill back then, so hopefully that can return.

  4. James Livingston

    [I’m one of the Australians, who hopes they fall into the good/not-getting-kicked-off group. Also OSMF member, or at least haven’t got my renewal fee due email yet]Having been away for a few days, I’m still trying to digest the flurry of email and see if there’s anything worth responding to there. A lot of it isn’t great and something does need to be done about it, but what to do is a good question.It was probably only 18 months ago that were were talking about holding a small local "State of the Australian Map" event, but most of the proponents have either given up mapping completely or gone over to one of the alternative maps (FOSM, CommonMap etc). My local mapping group hasn’t met for 8 months – the primary organiser and half the group got sick of licensing arguments, and not being sure if their mapping work would simply be thrown away. We were talking of setting up a Local ChapterIt’s sad to see that have happened, that we’ve got from being very enthusiastic to very bitter in not too long a time.> I would say that the people on that list feel disaffected with the process> and their representation in it.As far as the licensing side of things goes, yes. There are probably a number of reasons for it.A big one is that it is difficult to discuss things with people from Europe or the Americas, (although most of the arguments seen to be between us and the Europeans, for some reason). The only real way is email, and a lot of us got sick of talk list due to the bickering there not leaving many avenues for discussion with people from other regions.SotM is probably a good place for discussion, but you’re unlikely to see many Australians there. Getting from where I live to anywhere in Europe would be at least 1200 UK pounds at current prices (probably 1500, without going to expensive airlines), and it’s around 25-30 hours of travel each way. It’s probably similar for people in the US too.The live video feeds and irc chat for SotM ’09 were good, they partially made you feel like you were there and could follow what was going on. However they didn’t really help with trying to contribute to any of the Q&A session (especially licensing) because you couldn’t speak up. Posting a comment on IRC after you heard something on a slightly delayed video feed doesn’t work as well as being there in person.Joining calls like the LWG is hard because it’s 4am for most of us (3:30 or 2 for some .au people). Obviously not impossible to join, but awkward especially if you have things early in the morning or late night, so it completely disrupts that night’s sleep. What to do to make it better I don’t know, rotating meeting times or similar will just make it harder for the existing members and you don’t know if you’ll get new people joining.Discussions like SotM or LWG meetings isn’t the whole issue though. For whatever reason, us Australians seem to be more against the re-licensing in general – quite a lot of pro-PD people, and a lot of anti-Contributor Terms people too.The Australian part of the OSM community has become a bit hostile to the rest of it, but it’s not just us Australians that can be like that. I un-subscribed from the talk list ages ago because I got sick of it.I’ve also received some not-too-friendly email from various people because I haven’t agreed to the new Contributor Terms (partially not liking or not being sure about sections of it, partially because I have to do a pile of work to split up contributions on my account from imported data).A lot of it seems to be people arguing past each other, and ignoring what everyone else has to say (on both sides) followed by a lot of frustration and then trolling.@JoContext is probably quite difficult, because as Steve said there is a lot of mail over a fairly long time. Made even more complicated because the talk-au threads need to be put into the context of simultaneous discussions on talk, tagging and legal-talk lists, and the knowledge of which Australians don’t like which Europeans, and which Europeans don’t like which Australians.This has been simmering (well, slow boiling) for quite a while, and I imagine it’s going to be a fairly long and tedious task to try to understand exactly where everyone is coming from.

  5. Sam Wilson

    I also am an Australian contributor (well, in a small way—contributer, that is; not Australian; although I might be that too…) and used to be on talk-au. I gave it up because I’m far more interested in wandering the hills with a GPS than typing replies about legal issues that I really can’t be bothered getting my head around.I’m going to stick with OSM, because… well, I guess I don’t have much of a reason, other than that it seems a more friendly community. I was a bit worried there for a while, about what was going to happen. I don’t like the thought of dividing the map-making effort!I got an invitation to join the sharemapau mailing list, out of the blue. Asked there, what it was all about. Steve Bennet said the most useful thing: "Either the OSM world is about to explode, or nothing much is happening. It depends who you ask."

  6. sanderd17

    I’m not australian, but I think there are enough ways of comunicating. You could for example make an Australian Wiki Cafe. While mail archives are more difficult to read, this is no problem for a wiki page and thus could make people be a little calmer. Moderation is also easier and could be done by any respected member. You could also go to a forum instead. There is no shame in abandoning a mailing list.

  7. Steve Coast

    Sam Wilson, BlueMM, please drop me an email as I can’t find contact info for you.

  8. Steve Coast

    Sam Wilson, BlueMM, please drop me an email as I can’t find contact info for you.

  9. Gregory Marler

    I don’t read a lot of the arguments, but it seems the disrupters and anti-license-change folk are angry because the change will take away PD(public domain) from OSM. Well OSM wasn’t PD to start with, so if they were such PD purists why did they join OSM?The comments about alternatives to a mailing list seem worth considering (there are some OSM forums, but it’s not the main talk channel). But having no mailing list is a bit sad, as it could be a secondary au-talk channel, and you don’t want to leave the mailing list just full of trolls.BlueMM mentioned the live video feeds of SotM 09, but did they not watch SotM 10 feeds? Someone in AU should make a video talk for SotM this year. There was one from Addis Ababa last year and with similar jokes it felt they had been in our coffee breaks. They accepted questions over Twitter or IRC and after a few talks had a live phone call after a few other talks(not sure if that worked well, I just saw their twitter replies). http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/SotM_2010_session:_OSI_Scholarship_Lightning_TalksGeographical distance is something OSM is encountering this year and needs to learn/develop what to do. You can see that with Europe & the Americas. It’s great that SotM has moved to a new continent, even though it is too far/expensive for many of the European attendees. It looks like it will do well, I think because there is a big geo community in the USA and people easily travel across the large country, there are also many people going who have attended SotM in Europe. SotM EU has formed, there are still lots of people in Europe who won’t go to the USA, and again I think it can be organised because people have seen SotM in the past and it is easy for people to get across Europe.

  10. tom_chance

    On Jo Walsh’s concerns, I can see that one would need to trawl through a lot of emails to understand the individuals and issues concerned.In general I think Steve’s post is pretty reasonable, and it’s good to see action being taken to save the majority the disruption caused by a minority of trouble makers.However, her concerns about legitimate authority need to be thought through. In common with a lot of community projects led by people with great technical skills and not a lot of experience of governance, there is a reluctance or even antagonism towards discussing these concerns.We could leave OSMF board members (?) to decide when an individual has overstepped the mark, taking steps such as banning the individual from mailing lists, and trust that they make good decisions.Or we could, at the very least, establish processes requiring the board members to notify the community of their intention in advance, and to document the reasons when actions are taken against individuals.But really it would be more appropriate to strengthen the democratic credentials of the OSMF. For example, we could formally agree community behaviour guidelines and a process for taking action against individuals who violate those guidelines thereby causing harm to the community. This process would need an efficient appeal process. OSMF members should be able to call the Board to account at Annual General Meetings if they feel a bad decision has been made, and a petition passing a certain threshold of OSMF members should be able to call an Extraordinary General Meeting.Tom

Comments are closed.