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.