[talk-au] Hitting reset on talk-au

Steve Coast steve at asklater.com
Mon Jul 11 08:00:23 BST 2011

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.


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