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Lessons learned from open source

communitiesCache invalidation, Troll hugging,


and Reactive functions.
Be bold
In Asian culture, a lot of us feel that communicating progress
is a form of boasting, since we believe that empty vessels
make the most sound; this, however, could not be further
from the truth. Share your experiences with courage, as well
as a thick skin. Say something foolishon the Internet, the
best way to get attention isnt to ask questions, but to
provide the wrong answers.
If you want the opportunity to learn new things, give the
wrong answer to a problem; out of nowhere, experts will
materialise and correct you. If you are not initially talking
about an imperfect answer, however, no one will show up to
say much about anything.
In the words of Leonard Cohen, There is a crack in
everything, thats how the light gets in. Without an

imperfect sketch, there isnt anything to inspire you to do


better.
Searching and Asking
Another important point is to ask questions. The benefit of
having a community is that you can find people and
information through forums and chat rooms. When you are
working on a new project, you want to put it all in an easy-toremember Web domain. With the new crop of top-level
domains, getting friendly URLs is much easier and cheaper
than it used to be.
Keywords are very important. The project go, for example,
could not be found in search engines, so researchers had to
invent a new keyword, golang, so that others on Google or
in the Forum would be able to find the right place to be able
to ask the right kind of people.
Coming up with new names, of course, is a very difficult
thing. There is a saying: There are two hard things in
computer science: cache invalidation, naming things, and offby-one errors.

RTFM Considered Harmful


So when someone asks you questions, when they finally find
you through keywords, you can seriously respond, instead of
coldly saying, Read The Fine Manual.
Saying RTFM is like saying, Do not deal with peopledeal
with books instead. But this way is unproductive because it
blocks what we call our social objects. In contrast to RTFM,
someone can ask a question, meet new people through
answers, learn things through their answers, and again meet
new people when offering this answer to others, continuing
the loop.
If you cut this chain of souls, saying to someone, Your step
to me is the last stepgo back and read the manual, then
their journey of joining the open source process is blocked,
and they must find a new upstream before they can continue.
So please dont ever do that. Rather, help a person go down
this road together. You can walk this road together much
longer and go much farther.
Warm Reception

Sometimes such mutual support and community is viewed as


a clique, a coterie, and so on. But, dont look down on cliques
when it comes climbing with a group of people in the cold
of the mountains, a close group around the campfire can be
the most basic need. This is essential, especially for the
novice who climbs for the first timein psychology, we call
that the Basic Assumption Group.
Only when the need of closely-knit supports is present will
people be able to form a Working Group, which does the real
work of climbing higher peaks. Especially for the novice, such
a closely-knit support circle is indispensable.
Now I want to talk about how to offer constructive criticism.
Although we just said individuals need to be open-minded
regarding the varying development of others, under specific
circumstances it is possible that other peoples brains contain
cached information that has expired. At this time, we still
need to offer criticism, asking others to clear their cache.
This time the focus is having a friendly attitudeto find at
least one common ground that both parties agree upon. They
may make ten claims, nine of which you think are wrong, but
you still can respond to the one with which you agree: I think

you are talking about one thing that is right, but


circumstances have changed for those nine other things.
Cache Invalidation
We can take a very practical example. After a big earthquake
in Nepal, more than 2,000 mappers from all over the world
helped in the humanitarian OpenStreetMap team effort to
create a street map around Kathmandu. Within 72 hours,
they had mapped hundreds of thousands of roads and
buildings based on satellite images.
In Taiwan, a civic hacker, Billy Lin, wrote an instructional
article that called for novices to join OpenStreetMap and
spend maybe half an hour learning to help with the Nepal
mapping effort. Coincidentally, our president-to-be, Tsai,
shared Billys call for help, resulting in an influx of interest.
At this time, the media was interviewing T.H. Schee, who had
helped in the Typhoon Morakot relief effort and is an expert
on crowd-disaster relief. He said that this is not always a good
situation because in disasters, resources are very precious. A
sudden influx of thousands or tens of thousands of people
rallying together can overwhelm server resources, leading to

a system breakdown. Instead, he thinks the priority should be


reserved for the professional OpenStreetMap community, not
for newbies.
When I communicated with T.H., I began by noting first that
his concerns are certainly valid; this was especially true in
2008 when Elastic Storage was new to the scene. Seven
years ago, if there was an influx of new contributors, there
was no fast way to absorb them; but today we have autoscaled elastic servers and machine-learning or peer-view
systems in place to validate new contributions.
While T.H.s concerns may have been important and valid
back in that time, now the situation is different. Still, its
necessary to adopt a friendly approach to communication.
Subsequently, T.H. checked the mailing list and found that it
was not the same as before, so he also publicly corrected
this. However, the key here is to first agree on the concepts
behind his ideas, although there may be some
preconceptions that have since expired, so we just need to
clear the cache.
Troll Hugging

Of course, not everyone will respond this gracefully to such


communication; many others react negatively, so being thickskinned is good. Perhaps someone writes 100 words, and 95
words are ad hominem attacks, and only 5 words have
redeeming quality. From this point of view, you might as well
ignore those 95 words, and instead politely and sincerely
respond to the 5 words.
Here is a concept I proposed called Troll Hugging. As long
as someone comes across as disruptive, I do something to
keep talking until they stop. This is my personal interestnot
to say everyone here needs to cultivate this hobby.
Specifically, how does that work? If someone types ten
statements, nine of which are trolling, you can still respond to
one single non-trolling statement in a sincere manner (and
even that one line is trolling, but you can interpret it in a nontrolling fashion). Then, the person will learn that the nine
trolling statements had no effect, as they received no
response, but the other one statement was meaningful.
Trolls, in fact, are usually just people craving attention; by
understanding what is constructive and merits attention, we
can encourage participation and make contributions in a

constructive way in order to get attention. In that case, they


will be more likely to become a part of the community.
Reactive Functions
Here, listening is very important. Sometimes during a flame
war, if one side stops and says, For the next two hours, I will
quit talking and listen to you, there suddenly is no war
anymore. Often, we are caught in the heat of the moment;
every 30 seconds, we cant resist the urge to type, Hey, this
sentence you said is wrong, but they have not yet finished
typing. So it is important to sit quietly and let the other
person speak their mind.
Reactive here means not rushing to say something, instead
giving the other person your full, complete, listening
attention; this is called active listening. There is an easy
mnemonic for this technique.
We may know that there is a protocol called HTTP, which is
the way browsers communicate with Web servers. When a
browser talks with the server, the server can respond with
five different kinds of codes. When we are in active listening,
we try to take only the first three kinds, and ignore the 4th

and 5th kinds of responses.


Specifically speaking, when someone is telling you
something, you can offer them three kinds of responses:

100, please continue to speak;


101, I dont understand, can you speak a common
language?

200, I heard you;


201, I heard you, and heres what I think you meant.

300, there are lots of different communities for this topic,


you can try to approach any of them;
301, I suggest you find another person with whom to
discuss this.

Its great up to this point. Avoid 400, which is saying, You are
wrong, this is your fault, or 500, which is saying, Oh, Im
sorry, it was my fault. Okay?
So, the point is to avoid 400 and 500dont rush to identify
blame in the situation.
Empathy
Sometimes say, Yes, please go ahead, sometimes say, I

understand, make sure I heard the meaning, and sometimes


say, There are some people we need to consult. Then,
when the other person finishes what they have to say, there
is no fire in the flame war anymore; this is a fundamental
demonstration of empathy.
By looking at others statements this way, youre making
moves to put yourself in their shoes and gradually learning
about their character. Anyones activities in the open source
community leaves footprints, meaning we can trace back
their words, their comments, and so on, seeing a new
worldview from that other persons point of view.
No One is an Island
Characteristics of the open source community, its solidarity
as sociologist Gilles Deleuze described in the book A
Thousand Plateaus, are of the Rhizome model. Think about
plants like ginger, with organic growth in various directions,
self-organized, and wherever it breaks it may sprout in the
broken point; where there are vacancies, a new community
springs forth. Communities keep pushing forward in all
directions based on this idea.

The point is, regardless of how brilliant you are in a fielda


so-called demigod, evenit is still important to remain
humble because only with a humble attitude can we welcome
others with different skillsets to join the project. Otherwise,
its like saying, I dont need you; I can do things my way.
Such an isolated attitude cannot help us connect with new
contributors.
Worse is Better
There is a formula called Worse is Better, which I translated
to Chinese as . In short, it means Do not be afraid of
losing face. No matter how bad something is at firstsuch
as JavaScriptin the end it becomes the most popular
language, so you should not be afraid of initially losing face.
Throwing out an ugly version is fine.
Three iterations of the gov-zero logo.

The leftmost logo was designed by two great programmers


who are, however, not great at designing logos.
That logo was displayed in the 0th gov-zero hackathon, where
the designer Even Wu saw it and became rather troubled; this
is known as one who cares, suffers Wu was compelled to

improve the design; otherwise his day would have been


ruined.
So as long as the first initiator is not afraid of losing face,
better improvements will surely appear.
Safe Space
Here we emphasize the cultural concept of intersectionality,
which means that each person is in a social class, status,
ethnicity, gender identity and orientationmaybe we are
privileged in some aspects, and in minority positions for
others. Using our own experiences in vulnerable positions, we
can empathize with people in the minority; you can put
yourself in their shoes, fostering genuine solidarity.
In the past few years, we are encouraging conferences to
adopt Codes of Conduct to set norms for participation. As no
Code is universally applicable, we encourage conference
organizers to consider and imagine that participants come to
learn things; then commentary on body shapes, skin color,
and sexy pictures are perhaps unwelcomed distractions. If
they are indeed distractions, maybe we can agree
beforehand not to avoid perpetuating those commentaries.

This way, everyone can have a safe space to learn together.


Solidarity & Diversity
Just as there are different cultures, like Perl, Ruby, and PHP,
all these communities have their own unique methods of
operation, and its important that we are able to humbly
communicate with each other thats the only way to learn
from each other.
During apartheid in South Africa, blacks and whites didnt
speak to each other, but if you ask Obama now, is he white or
black? People in the audience, are you white or black? The
concept of diversity is not to divide people into binary groups,
like programmers and non-programmers.
By contrast, if there are 1000 people here, then there are
1000 kinds of people here. Only in this context is authentic
communication possible, so we can understand each other,
rather than labeling each other.
Self Governance
Open source folks, of course, likes to have fun, but also has
the responsibility, on a personal level, to practice techniques

such as Pomodoro Technique and Inbox Zero, which help to


keep promises on things we agreed to work on.
At the community level, its important to be as transparent as
possible in the decision-making process. Why transparency?
Because in life there are so many things outside of the
community, and maybe one day you cant take so much
responsibility anymore.
Delegation over Inheritance
When we write programs, we know that inheritancein the
sense of abruptly leaving a legacy to be inherited is seldom
a good idea; we should instead focus on delegation, gradually
passing the baton through a modular approach, enabling a
collaborative, community-based approach to the project.
This is a natural element of the project cycle, because open
source is not a zero-sum game; there is no risk of losing the
race at the starting line. As long as you make sure that the
person picking up the baton can run toward their own
direction, then they have won the race already by deciding
on a goal of their own.

Shared Memory
Eventually, the only thing that remains is how we live on in
each others minds.
Deserts Xuan has a lyric that says, Time soars away, were
not beside each other, but within each other. In this era of
the social Web, we are each others horcruxes, embedding
our soul shards through work that lives in each others minds.
I may have left Perl 6 development for a long time, but the
community still keeps the culture alive, and together a
production-ready Perl 6 release was delivered on Christmas
2015in the spirit of Optimizing for Fun.
This picture contains the four main elements of optimizing for fun: a stable support, a safe space,
unconstrained activities, and finally, new ways of looking at the world.

Ars Longa!
Projects are like the pyramidsthe community may see the
pyramids from a distance, and then gather around the
pyramids to form a bazaar, where we find each other, and
learn from each other.
A website exists for a time, of course, and open source is for

a lifetime.
A lifetime is not long, however; life is like a rainbow, emerged
and borrowed from nature.
Others who see the rainbow may be touched by it; people
touched this way are inspired to make new creations, and the
creation can move more people, which is how culture
becomes endless and brings us continuous delight.
The logo of Git. It shows we are linked in solidarity, and also connected to the external world.

Finally, when I was learning Git myself, this is how I learned


its commands:
1.

Fetch new facts as they ariseaccept it.

2.

Merge with your existing understandingface it.


Conflicts may arise here; we just need to resolve them.

3.

Commit to an actiondeal with it.

4.

Push it to the worldlet go of it.

Why let it go? Because after you push out open source
code to the world, its no longer yours.
Open source means that anyone can take the code, and run

with it toward a new creative direction. We need to avoid


obsessing over the ownership of our work.

These are the lessons that I have learned from open source
communities. Thank you.