[openbeos] The importance of good communications

  • From: "Jorge G. Mare (a.k.a. Koki)" <koki@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: openbeos@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 14 Aug 2006 16:21:32 -0700

Hi Axel,

My rants on the icon contest thread were getting way off-topic, and I did not want to sidetrack the icon contest discussion anyone. So, I took the liberty of starting a new thread. Let me see if I can articulate better my concerns/issues, and if there is a consensus to do anything about them.

This is addressed to everyone on the list, so please read below and feel free to comment.

Axel Dörfler wrote:
"Jorge G. Mare (a.k.a. Koki)" <koki@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
The reason that I am pointing this problem out is because I do not think Haiku is learning from its mistakes: this has happened before, it is happening now, and will most likely happen again, as long as the members of the project do not seem to feel a need for change in this respect. But then, if that is what everybody wants, so be it. :-)

"this has happened before" - what in all worlds has happened, anyway?
We've come up with that contest idea on this list, and we made a news item to spread the word. The initial discussion goes on, and on, with positive insight, as well as criticism - the usual, AFAICT.
Where is your problem? We hardly can be more open.

Haiku is a community effort - *everyone* who contributes is a member of Haiku. Anyone who contributes has something to say. There will be many situations where we have to do important decisions, and those can only be done by extracting the common sense of these discussions. Those that contribute the most have the most to say, naturally; that's kind of a reward for your contribution. But that still means that we have to agree to something, and there will always be people who won't like our decisions - there just should be many more people who will

For people that are inside a project/organization it may not be easy to understand how those who follow the project from the outside perceive and/or interpret the information that is being made public through the various communications channels. This is not an uncommon problem.

I am of the (now probably well known :-) opinion that Haiku is missing an opportunity to grow its community, because it fails to recognize the power of good and effective communications with the community and beyond.

Every project has ideas that drive it. People that start a project build it around those ideas. People that join the project later on are moved/touched/excited/inspired by those ideas and/or the people behind them. I think it is also fair to say that every project would want more contributors, and that is certainly the case for Haiku. In other words, you want to grow your community (if you don't, you can stop reading here :-).

So, to that end, communicating your ideas in a way that is clear to understand, accurate and also compelling is very important. For that to happen, you have to be able to put yourself in the position of and try to understand the person that is the recipients of your communication: that is your audience. How do you do that? You can start by asking yourself questions such as: what are the things that touch an individual that follows a project to make him/her become an active contributor? what is the best way to outreach to these people? how can I build a strong sense of community through communications so that motivation levels stay high? Of course, there may be more questions (I do not claim to know it all). The idea is to try to figure out how to walk your audience through the process of awareness > understanding > acceptance that will take them to buying into your idea.

Good and accurate communication also needs to be authoritative. The easier it is for your audience to identify the official source of information, the better your real message will cut through all the noise generated in the multitude of information venues (even a project as small as Haiku has more forums, mailing lists and IRC channels than it could ever really need). Authoritative communication requires both discussion and decision-making before disclosure. This has nothing to do with being closed, but rather everything with sending a clear, consistent, accurate and easy to understand message. That is the goal.

In general, Haiku seems to apply an open discussion model to the decision making. Admittedly, this seems to work in development related-decisions that are made among a few devs (with the rest just watching), and that's fine. But in other areas, particularly when a communication is supposed to trigger an action by people not necessarily inside the project, this is very prone to translate into unclear and sometimes disjointed and/or contradictory messages, and also the lack of an officially-sanctioned communication.

When that happens, even the people that have insight into the project may have difficulty sorting out what is accurate and what's not, so needless to say that the outsider will be even more confused. This is obviously not good.

This open discussion model may, at first glance, seem compatible with Haiku, because this is an open source project after all. But ask yourself: does this really serve the interest of the project? Does it serve the ultimate goal of your communications, that is, to grow the project? I think the answer is no.

This is why, in another message to the list, I proposed the creation of a communications team, that would look into these things and try to manage the communications of the project in the best possible way. I am not suggesting that this would turn to be any kind of panacea, but I do think that, in the long run, it will help the project convey its message in a way that is more consistent, compelling and accurate, and this can translate into more followers and potential contributors.

In the same way that development has its teams by kit and purpose, the communications team could be open to all those who want could join and help out, so that it is a true team effort. Of course, there would also have to be some sort of interaction with the admins, but I do not see that being a problem.

Another side-effect of having such a team taking care of communications would be that the devs would be freed from the time-consuming tasks of posting news and announcements, giving them more time to do what they do best. :-)

I would love it if more people spoke out on this topic. Also, feel free to ask any questions you may have.


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