Wednesday, September 8, 2010

local Perl Monger admin boards: do you want them to behave the democratic way or does Democracy not really matter there?

  • Shall the admins of mailing lists be publicly known?
  • Shall their decisions get filed to somehow public places, shall these decisions be reviewable by committees?
  • Shall they ask for permission for disciplinary acts (like elimination of group members) at more central instances?
  • Shall it be possible to appeal their decisions?
  • Shall it be possible to sue them in democratic courts for misbehavior? I mean: you do like your legal system somehow, don't you? Or do you prefer anarchism over you country's legal system?!?
  • Shall it be possible to ask this kind of questions?

To be honest with you: I personally prefer the democratic and transparent way, and I certainly answer all those questions simply with a straight "yes, certainly, of course!".

For almost 20 years I had no doubt, that Larry Wall's followers are just nice and certainly also democratic and well-behaving fellows.

I actually hate wasting my and your time with this kind of "trivial" and basic things, as I used to think, that educated people are certainly convinced of democratic principles anyway.

I certainly agree, that discussing technical things in a foreign language means quite an obstacle to also many Perl programmers, so having "a place" for every indigene language does of course make some sense. There have long been Usenet groups like fr.comp.lang.perl.misc, de.comp.lang.perl.misc, and so forth, so why are there dozens of national Perl Monger groups all over Europe anyway? Who invented them in competition to the indigene Usenet groups? Why were they invented in the 1st place? Sorry, but I missed that bit of Perl history during the last 20 years. I mean, local Perl Monger groups don't discuss, how to get Perl into secondary schools in suburbs of Munich (e.g.), that would even get discussed more appropriately on a Bavarian level anyway. What sense does it make, if every village or town has its own Perl Mongers, if the only local issue discussed on that mailing list is the monthly call for "let's come together for a beer!". But if nothing serious at all occurs between "let's come together for a beer!" and "let's discuss this in our native language!" on a local mailing list, what's the reason for maintaining it? And in the end, the formal mailing list maintainer may even regard the mailing list her private property. Don't you laugh! That seems to be the sad reality. I can tell you names, if you want.
I personally think a single indigene (Usenet) group is enough per language. And actually you can subscribe to them via Google Groups, if you don't like NNTP. And there is no legal requirement for any of us to moderate a Usenet group. Less administrative work, more time for the family or for coding, as you want. Yes, we would have to look up again, on how to ignore flame wars on the Usenet, but there is plenty of literature and to-dos on that out there.

Furthermore: It looks to me, as if the Python mail manager used by quite a couple of local Perl Monger mailing lists goes together with a lack of democracy far more than Google Groups. The board is obscure, board decisions are obscure, almost everything is obscure there. But technically seen they work well, you may think.
Yes, Google Groups also suffer from deficiencies: they don't enforce public resp. reviewable decisions on article moderation and member elimination, but they are a far more suitable platform. Please prove me wrong!

Usenet groups got created somehow at the end of the 1st third of my IT life time, I sort of know, how to cope with them, as long as they don't get moderated by weird company staff. I always thought, they are good enough for almost every discussion, as long as HTML mails are not necessary.
Mailing lists got created quite a little later. I am not sure, why they got created in the 1st place. I mean, you can maintain local NNTP servers for local and secret Usenet partitions, you can also have the distributed variant of that, and let your corporate NNTP servers talk to each other.
I seriously have no idea, when and why indigene Perl Monger groups got invented, and why there are even village oriented Perl Monger groups.

I am interested in reading your comments.

And, yes, it's true: this is a blog, it's my blog, and of course I am non-publicly moderating the comments to my blog. Maybe we should continue this discussion somewhere on perl.lang.misc or so. As you want, just let me know!

Update after Brian d Foy's comment:
Brian is falsely assuming that the group knows and likes the board or even knows about the board's decisions. Through the technical nature of the mailing list (e.g. Python mailman) the board's identity is absolutely obscure.
If a board goes mad, and if it removes "disturbing elements" on the spot, then irregular board decisions can't get discussed on the local mailing list, and the "disturbing elements" can't even show up on group meetings, as they are no longer aware of them. So these irregular board decisions never get discussed in the local group, and disagreement never comes to the surface. Doesn't that remind you of certain political systems?
Brian also ignores the fact, that local Perl Monger groups are something, that you don't just tear down and re-build. The process of setting up a second Perl Monger group in "a village" might be more than just quite confusing, and if you don't reach the agreement and cooperation of the "owners" of the web sites, where the "national" Perl Monger groups get listed, than nobody will ever even notice, there is a new Perl Monger group in "that village". So in a way local Perl Monger groups need cooperation upstream to some extent, but there is no surveillance on local activities downstream. Well, there is some in a way: new local groups don't get easily listed.
Brian is right in that he proclaims, that local Perl Monger groups are good for local activities only. But what if the local board only calls to pub and beer garden events, with no technical equipment and facilities for presentations or just any kind of serious interaction possible. But through the nature of the organization and linking, they resp. their board are still the one and only local Perl Monger group standing for that village. They are pretty able to mute, extinguish, and prevent any activity, they don't like.
Back to the main issue: the board members are not (necessarily) known and defined in a public place, they don't get elected, their decisions are obscure as well. This just doesn't sound good for the reputation of Perl.
If you grant the brand Perl Mongers, you should also surveil its proper use. Use proper rules! Don't change the rules on the fly, as parents do with their kids! Manage transparent processes! Make legal prosecution possible!
I don't see a powerful organization backing the brand Perl Mongers, that imposes rules and surveils the processes.
So things are bound to go wrong sooner or later without rules and surveillance. And things are already going wrong.
Although since the Antique philosophers called humans the zoon politikon, geeks aren't. Geeks don't want to bother with group politics, neither with benevolent or other dictators. Geeks want to get back to their computer or their bed after the group meeting as soon as possible, they hope everything goes well with the group management, and they don't pay for it anyway, so why should they bother?
Maybe as long as you don't personally experience a local Perl Monger group, where things don't work out properly, you don't really understand what I am talking about. And the issue does not get solved by settling a single disagreement.
My request again: remove obscurity from local boards, remove "moderation" and all other disciplinary abilities from local boards, allow appeals, don't fear but support the interaction with the local states legal system! I don't really see the need for local Perl Monger groups below the "indigene language" / national level anyway. I mean: Simply calling for the monthly beer on the "national level" mailing list will leave the callers ashamed sooner or later, which certainly is a positive effect. And calling for the monthly event shouldn't really involve a lot of noise on the "national level" mailing list anyway. So removing the brand Perl Monger below the indigene language / national level looks to me like a step towards the right direction, if you don't want to impose a proper system together with rules and processes. And also on that level, these rules and processes must seriously get imposed.

Now I am tired, and I think everything is said more than once.

Update / 2010-09-09 02:37 local time:

I changed the title after recognizing the old one actually caused quite a stir.

MST let me know on 2010-09-08, he removed my blog from; and I somehow agreed to his reasons; but of course I am sorry to see this happen.
But then I still see an article of mine on that super-blog.
So did MST manage to remove a single article of mine and actually leave my blog on ironman.*?

I must actually say, that in 2010 I regard it a necessary feature of "Democracy-compatible" public organizations (such as at HQ level) to tolerate inner-organizational critic in public.
And then: after 20 years with Perl I still feel a little unwell with any truely incorporated Perl organization.

"Wasted" a couple of minutes on "my indigene" Perl usenet group during the last 48 hours or so, and I must say: that feels fare more right than any local PM group (that I know). Wherever bashing leads on the Usenet, you just don't have to fear, that your article does not appear or even that you get removed from "the public". Maybe some of you don't really understand how much that hurts. That's why they call my statements whining.

True: looking at whatever "bad" resp. just silly things may happen in local PM groups, compared to what KKK made happen, that's completely and utterly irrelevant. I guess for saving a single life "deleted" during KKK actions, I would entirely do for the remainder of my life w/o any PM involvement. Just to make a point. I am not kidding. I still have no real idea of how bad my idea was to quote KKK in my title. I am sorry for that. I mean it.

Update / 2010-09-11:
Renee, I am sorry, I disagree with you. Mailing list owners resp. (obscure) admin boards are not democratic per se. They didn't get elected, they don't resign by themselves regularly resp. at all, members cannot enforce changes on the board, their decisions and actions are neither public nor reviewable, members cannot appeal against (incorrect) sanctions.
Renee, do you seriously think, there's already enough democracy, if members can suggest and organize events by themselves?!?
Renee, I quoted the "board", because I know a PM "owner", who referred to people she seemed to involve in her decisions as "the regulars", which I rephrased here as "the board". I thought, I should assume there is at least a board and not just a single owner.
It looks as if you don't seriously expect proper democracry in local PM groups. If you are fine that way, that's alright, but that amount of democracy does not satisfy minimal expectations.

Moritz suggested, I should reason of why groups moderators or mailing list owners play bad. Well, I had already spent a lot of time on that, and I came to the conclusion, they just shouldn't be able to play bad at all. There positions and powers should be pretty similar to the ones of governments. Rather short legislations periods (maybe a year or so), their decisions should be public and reviewable, their powers should be separated, they shouldn't play law maker, judge, and prosecutor at the same time.Of course, there are more members than board members resp. group owners, and therefore there are more members to play wrong. Disciplinary sanctions may get applied against all of them, of course. Please read it up above! And no, I don't like dictators, neither benevolent ones nor others, none of them. But geeks think, in front of their computer screen they have no need for democracy. I completely disagree with them. There is no place, where democracy is unnecessary. And in our democracies I would like to be able to take kindergarden dictators to court. As simply as that. And public courts may then decide, who is right and who is wrong. Maybe a little more expensive, but that's the very reason for the incorporation of clubs. To provide some rules and also some protection against unserious actions against board members. There is no need to reinvent the democratic wheel for geeks in 2010.

Update / 2010-09-14:
That Moritz got actually a little angry with me, requesting me to unconditionally letting his comment through here. He seems to confuse a personal blog with something really public. I am sorry, but I won't let comments through here, that I don't like, simply put. My public statements may well get responded to, but not necessarily on my blog. A public mailing list or newsgroup or a pub really are something quite different.


brian d foy said...

Perl mongers mailing lists should be used to coordinate purely local activity that's not of general interest to people outside the group. The group can decide for itself what it wants to do and how to handle its list. If they don't like what's happening, they can just create another list and leave the old one behind.

Beyond that, no one outside the group has any business telling the group what to do, how to do it, or where to do it.

Dave Cross said...

If you have a specific problem with a Perl Mongers group then the people at will do their best to help you.

Otherwise, the international PM organisation (which is part of The Perl Foundation) is deliberately hands-off in its approach to the local groups. It acts as a facilitator, not as a policeman.

To be honest, I'm not sure what you were trying to achieve with this post.

JH said...

What am I trying to achieve?

Hmmm, there is an international PM org. and there are local PM groups, but the internation PM org. has no interest and no right to interfere with the local PM groups. If any such local PM group board runs mad, then so be it.

As I mentioned before: Why does the international org. let the local groups use the brand name PM, if the international org. does not care, how "business" goes in the local groups.

I would like to remove the obscureness from the local groups' businesses and add an awful lot of democracy.

But I wrote that before, I am only rephrasing.

Dave Cross said...

I didn't say that that doesn't care. I said it took a hands-off approach.

If it becomes necessary for to step in then it will. In the past they have, for example, closed down web sites that have turned into warez sites. They have also transferred control of groups away from problematic leaders.

But these are extremely rare occurrences. In the vast majority of cases, the hands-off approach works well.

As I said before, if you have a specific problem then email and it will get fixed. If you'd rather deal with an individual then feel free to email me ( and I'll do what I can to help.

This post seems to imply that the local Perl Mongers groups are a hotbed of of political manoeuvres and backstabbing. In my experience (and I'm speaking as someone who ran for four years) that's simply not the case.

perigrin said...

As a european you may not realize exactly how offensive your topic is. The choice of the KKK is roughly equivalent to invoking Godwin's Law and referring to Perl Monger groups as Nazis.

Dave and Brian have been far more fair in replying to the substance of your comment than I could be. I personally couldn't get past the overtly inflammatory title for such a mundane piece of whining. But then I am a Perl Monger leader who lives in a part of the world where the Klan is still active.

JH said...

Thanks for your comments, Dave, I rather appreciate them.

I seriously think the "incorporation structure" of the local PM groups is the core of the problem.
Right now the way things are, if you get in conflict with such a local PM board, they remove you, and as they back each others up, I see little chance getting them to not only revert there decision but also getting the procedures tuned to more democratic style. I guess you would even know the names, and assume they are lovely persons.
The style of incorporation right now seems to give them every right to act the way they did.

And the way you responded (as nice as you did), makes me believe, you don't agree to the strangeness of the incorporation style of Perl Cyberland aka local PM groups. And as long as that incorporation style has not changed, I don't particular memberships and participation really matter to me personally.

Thanks again for your interest.
You are not going to see this blog again on ironman.* in the near future or ever anyway.

zby said...

I totally agree with the general sentiment that our current communication methods are not optimal ones and that we should not stop seeking better, and in particular more democratic, more open ways, and I also believe that this is not just theory but it would be practical because it would lead to more efficient communication, quicker problem solving and generally less frustration.

That said I don't think a centralized action would do much good here, this was already said - nobody likes to be told what to do, a better way to approach the problem would be by finding like minded people and establishing your own communication space working on the principles that you agree. You can try NNTP for that if you think this is a better technology - but you'd have to take into account that this would limit the number of participants. If your project is successful it will demolish this and all other arguments against it.

ReneeB said...

PM groups *are* democratic. If you want a technical meeting -> organise one. If someone is interested in it, he will come. If no one comes: that's also a free decision.

There is no such thing like a "board" of a PM group. There is an admin of the mailinglist who can remove you from the mailinglist. But I haven't seen a single PM mailinglist admin who has removed a member without any reason (and without talking to other people - maybe not on mailinglist, but privately). And a PM group is not just a mailinglist, it's more.

And if you want to attend the PM meeting, you can do it. It's no private club.

If the majority of the PM members want to have technical meetings, they can have them. Just organise a location, prepare the technical meeting and do it.

Maybe do it the "Vienna way": First part of PM meeting is technical and then they go to a pub to have the social part.

Do you need someone who organises it? Then you have to wait until someone does it. That's life.

If the majority wants to have just social meetings, they have it.

JH said...

No, Renee, you are not right. Berlin.PM e.g. is certainly not a democratic "institution", it's rather a private club of Tina Müller and maybe some obscure clique around her, and she decides in a non-public way, whom she likes or dislikes, and whom she removes from *her* club. This isn't good for Perl and for the Perl community, and it's literally evil for the reputation of Perl in German capitol. In other words: Tina Müller is bad for the reputation of Perl in Berlin and Germany. But she manages well to hide behind her weak, handicapped mask. She is overly bad.