I lit a communication fire

Today I inadvertently lit a fire during the weekly WordPress core development chat by mentioning a Skype chat that had been set up and thus far been used to say hi, link to a Google Doc, and alert five people to an IRC meeting. I’ve included the full transcript of the chat from beginning to end at the bottom, because I do value transparency. I’m telling you now that some of my messages sound meaner than my intent – that is, after all, what happens when I didn’t originally anticipate being held openly accountable for them. I also am often typing with a baby in one hand who’s struggling to mash keys and 15 other chats open, though that’s no real excuse, because I am generally very direct, anyway. Everybody else sounds like a decent human being 🙂

Communication is hard. Everybody has a different style, and a different vehicle that best fits that style. When it comes to communicating within WordPress, especially with people I don’t know or have only met once or twice, I have two general thoughts: one, that it’s better to over-post something in different places (of course, preferably with one canonical post and the rest linking back to it), and two, that it’s important to find ways to marry different avenues of communication in order to include as many voices as possible.

The latter is difficult, and often I think to myself that it’s rather idealist and perhaps impossible. However, I see this in WordPress core and plugin development often: we have scheduled IRC chats, impromptu IRC chats, posts to a P2 with asynchronous discussion in the comments, Trac tickets with patches and comments, private pinging on Skype or HipChat or text message, using GitHub for developers and WordPress.org for users. Many people view this as a negative splintering of discussions, and I agree that if they are not interconnected and used appropriately, it can be. But I believe that with a little effort and pruning, we can make it work. I may be very much alone in this – disclaimer that this is my own opinion, etc. etc.

In Matt’s State of the Word at WCSF 2013, he revealed that the group working on the admin redesign plugin known as MP6 used a Skype group chat for a lot of their communication. I had the same initial reaction as many: “ugh, that sucks, it’s a closed loop and they’re making people feel like they’re excluded from the cool kids’ club.” While I still feel that way in some respects (and for full disclosure, yes, I was later added to the chat myself and promptly lit into something I didn’t like), I challenged myself to see the positives instead: that the group could now include people who had a hard time with IRC for one reason or another, messages sent while somebody was offline could be received as opposed to retrieved, and that without the pressure of knowing conversations are public they were able to be more direct and critical with discussion and feedback, especially when it came to design itself. We say code isn’t personal, but design is a different skill and feeling entirely.

I don’t enjoy spending my energy figuring out best communication channels, and people as a whole tend to feel more comfortable when there are parameters. Therefore, I am glad that in today’s instance, we’ve scheduled a weekly chat in IRC that appears to work for those who have voiced a desire to be actively involved in this particular initiative (bringing even more goodies to the media modal and TinyMCE). Perhaps the Skype chat will fade away, or perhaps we’ll discover that it serves as a good way to notify those who tend to have only Skype open that an IRC chat is scheduled or an impromptu one has broken out. I think it’s important to be open to these discoveries, and I value the chance to be more inclusive over accusations of being exclusive.

I also find it important to keep up with regular summaries on more static communication platforms like a blog/P2. IRC transcripts can be hard to read and parse, and commenting on them after the fact is awkward. This is also important for those who can’t make it to a chat – no time is perfect across all time zones, and people have life things happen, like getting sick or having an appointment or putting family first. I myself am especially empathetic toward those who get called away without much warning, and very much value the ability to consume and respond to information at my pace when needed, rather than that of others. I am very guilty of putting off writing summaries when I am in charge of them, and want to continue to work on bettering myself.

I sat here for a while pondering how to write some sort of “conclusion”, and I guess it’s this: I’m happy to cop to making a error in judgment earlier that led to me sending a message that I probably knew would not go over well, and I think it’s important to see these struggles as learning opportunities and use them to continue to make things better. I also think we should just go ahead and admit that sometimes real ideas come out of being dumb in private with somebody you’re friendly with – we have the .wp-core-ui scoping class in core because I responded to a text message bemoaning the bleeding of the buttons CSS on the front-end with (and this is a direct quote) “f*** it, let’s add the .wp-admin class!” I was kidding at the time, but he saw how it could actually work, and so far it’s been great. Perhaps especially because I relayed a censored version of the exchange later in IRC. 🙂

Skype transcript as follows.

[1/20/14, 2:05:45 PM] Mel Choyce: Mel Choyce added Andrew Ozz, Helen Hou-Sandi, Janneke Van Dorpe to this conversation
[1/20/14, 2:05:58 PM] Mel Choyce: Mel Choyce set topic to “Media Modal Madness”
[1/20/14, 2:06:03 PM] Mel Choyce: Hey everyone 🙂
[1/20/14, 2:06:15 PM] jannekevandorpe: Hey! 🙂
[1/20/14, 2:06:24 PM] Andrew Ozz: hi
[1/20/14, 2:06:31 PM] Mel Choyce: Since it looks like we’re going to be tackling some big improvements to media, I figured we could get together in a skype chat.
[1/20/14, 2:06:41 PM] jannekevandorpe: Cool!
[1/20/14, 2:08:29 PM] Mel Choyce: Starting a to-do: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ensg5gC7rWbIoeQV1_T-t1Nzms2SSj7ufF6rUY1IEww/edit?usp=sharing
[1/20/14, 2:12:37 PM] Mel Choyce: I know Marko Heijnen was interested in and has been working on various media stuff — anyone have his skype info?
[1/20/14, 2:19:34 PM] Helen Hou-Sandi: shrug.
[1/21/14, 3:31:20 PM] Andrew Ozz: hey guys, can we continue the discussion about editing images in mce plz. Either here or maybe better in #wordpress-ui
[1/21/14, 3:31:37 PM] Gregory Cornelius: definitely
[1/21/14, 3:31:39 PM] Helen Hou-Sandi: i’m around, IRC sounds good.
[1/22/14, 4:48:03 PM] Helen Hou-Sandi: Helen Hou-Sandi added Mike Schroder to this conversation
[1/22/14, 4:58:59 PM] Mel Choyce: Hey — do we want to set up a weekly or twice-weekly check-in time for media stuff?
[1/22/14, 4:59:18 PM] Helen Hou-Sandi: probably, hash it out in IRC. 🙂
[1/22/14, 4:59:34 PM] Mike Schroder: Howdy
[1/22/14, 4:59:53 PM] Helen Hou-Sandi: for the record, i actually don’t like skype backchats either, but i am much more “go with the flow”.
[1/22/14, 5:00:01 PM] Helen Hou-Sandi: but i am going to push us to IRC instead.
[1/22/14, 5:00:10 PM] Mel Choyce: Once chatter dies down in irc, let’s find a good time together.
[1/22/14, 5:00:15 PM] Helen Hou-Sandi: can use -ui
[1/22/14, 5:00:15 PM] Mel Choyce: Heyo Mike
[1/22/14, 5:00:24 PM] Mike Schroder: Yeah, same here.  Just wanted to be sure I kept up to date on what was up.
[1/22/14, 5:00:24 PM] Gregory Cornelius: would be nice if we had znc.wordpress.org
[1/22/14, 5:00:26 PM] Mel Choyce: Hah, smart Helen is smart.
[1/22/14, 5:00:33 PM] Helen Hou-Sandi: just announce the discussion in -dev
[1/22/14, 5:00:34 PM] Mel Choyce: +1
[1/22/14, 5:00:35 PM] Helen Hou-Sandi: and ping marko or whatever
I lit a communication fire

6 thoughts on “I lit a communication fire

  1. My whole reason for not using skype is that it’s ONE MORE damn thing to have open. All the effing time.

    IM for work, IRC, email, Google+ hangouts, and Skype? Oh and Twotter and Foocebook.

    That said, I totally understand using Skype for some things. it’s very useful for a longer-private-like chat that Twitter DMs can allow, and it’s good for a first run of organizing. While I think things should be public when they CAN be public, there’s a time when we need to contemplate if public is holding back innovation out of fear of perception.

    In this case, though… y’know I don’t see anything wrong with any of this. Skype was used to touch base “Are you interested?” How is that any different from a ‘private’ direct convo on IRC? Which people use with me a lot. You talked, you got started, and moved public.

    There was no intent to snub or leave people out. And the intent is what matters most to me.

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  2. I’ve been known to get pretty HULK SMASH about project work being done out of the public eye without a damn good reason — but note, that’s the work being done, and I think that’s an important distinction for both the project teams and the people feeling left out to keep in mind.

    (Also note: I’ve been on both sides of that divide. It happens. It kinda sucks on both sides, but it shouldn’t be presumed malicious either.)

    Basically, if you find yourself coming to the official on-the-record space, be it IRC, P2, or Trac, and saying “hey, here’s the thing we built in our private and totally unannounced skype room/mailing list, pls commit!” then there may be a problem. If it’s “hey, I’m trying to get people together and organize an official meetup”, then I say throw it out on every damn channel that exists including carrier pigeons. No harm, no foul.

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  3. It’s important to find ways to marry different avenues of communication in order to include as many voices as possible

    Yes! This was a big lesson for me. I think to avoid the feeling of splintering it’s up to us (leads, team reps, interested parties, lovers of WP) to bind them all together. And not assume that what works best for us works best for everyone else.

    I also agree with Mika that the intent is key. Any channel can be appropriate given good intent and being open about why you’re doing it.

    I’ve felt this pain over and over with default themes because there are two hugely different working groups and decision makers (Matt, a designer, and one or two themers getting the ball rolling in private; a group of themers/contributors working in public).

    I came to learn that all the channels can be appropriate and used effectively if I follow a few simple guidelines. 1) document everything and share it regularly—in my case, make/core blog with weekly updates during a cycle 2) keep design critique discussions in the beginning private to allow for very focused and creative flow and 3) be a funnel myself for any incoming communication: Twitter, email, Trac, IRC, etc.

    As the team rep, it’s my job to let the firehose come in from anywhere and anyone—and not be annoyed at that diversity of inputs (something I really struggle with: Y U USE FACEBOOK FOR BUG REPORTZ)—and then funnel and delegate and prod and poke as a result in the correct channels. The empathy part I need to work on is that not everyone has access to all those channels, so they don’t have the same big picture I do. If I communicate that picture to them when they need it, I’ve done my job.

    I’ve seen first-hand that having as much as possible in the open—IRC, Trac, P2s—can allow both random passers-by to lurk and lurkers become contributors. However, when it makes sense for planning and initial design chats, a private channel can really focus the conversation.

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  4. While I am all for project discussion happening out in the open, I think that private discussions are valuable for building camaraderie and rapport among collaborators. Being able to develop a relationship with people you are working closely with is super important. Of course, in-person discussions are even better than private discussions in Skype. 🙂

    I also struggle with tone and at times proper grammar when communicating via text, which makes me at times a little more cautious and anxious when chatting in a public IRC room with public logs. When building stuff, being able to throw caution to the wind can be liberating even if down the line aspects of what is being built need to be reined in.

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  5. Macs and More Den Haag says:

    Twenty-one years ago, I was working as an IT manager at Booz Allen. Booz had a global frame-relay network and IT staff on 5 continents. My boss – who also made a classic futuristic video for Apple that year showing people sending emails from mobiles in a business meeting in a restaurant – introduced the department to FirstClass:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FirstClass. It is still around today – http://www.firstclass.com.

    With FirstClass, Booz’s IT Department functioned as a coherent unit despite the decentralised global obstacles. We held weekly chats which were preserved online and (if memory serves me correctly) the system enabled both internal and external links to resources such as documents and applications. There were both closed and open channels.

    While it is possible for WordPress to invest in such a system, my initial suggestion is to analyse what has enabled FirstClass to stick around for two decades. Indeed, most of the elements of FirstClass exist in WordPress already. At this point it is more a matter of tying things together into a coherent and flexible vision. Moving P2 to a plugin creates a vehicle to build this kind of a platform.

    Heck maybe Automattic should just buy it!

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