flexibeast.space - gemlog - 2020-09-26

Re: Attack Vector for FOSS

Over on Circumlunatic Ramblings, there's a thought-provoking post about how, given that FOSS devs often get overwhelmed by rude and entitled users, trolling is a possible vector for attacks on FOSS:

Attack Vector for FOSS

The lack of respect from users of FOSS is well-documented, albeit not (imo) as widely discussed as it should be.

“Why open source developers are burning out: No respect”

It occurs to me that, whether or not users are trying to troll or not, the end result is the same: a (possibly Distributed) Denial of Service attack. When FOSS devs spend so much time and energy dealing with a particular user or group of users, there's an opportunity cost involved. Two hours spent dealing with one always-unhappy user is two hours not spent helping (say) five other users who will be appreciative of one's efforts. The customer is not always right; sometimes you need to fire the client.

Part of the problem is that there seems to be an unwillingness on the part of both devs and users to accept that their own side has contributed to the problem - not necessarily as the originator, but certainly as a reproducer. Gazillions of pixels have been spilled on this topic by both sides, explaining why the behaviour of ‘their’ side is justified by the behaviours of the other[a]. So as a FOSS dev myself, i'm going to make some comments about ‘my’ side (though i'm far more a user of FOSS than i am a dev, which i assume is true for most FOSS devs).

My own experience of FOSS dev culture over the last couple of decades is that it's often pretty toxic, in a number of ways. Aggressive, insulting, intimidating condescension is modelled by high-profile figures, and reproduced throughout the community. A classic example of this sort of thing was the behaviour of Ulrich Drepper, which resulted in glibc being forked so as to not have to deal with him.

Wikipedia: ‘GNU C Library’ / ‘Debian switches to EGLIBC and back’

In fact, this is one of several common behaviours in FOSS dev circles i'm no longer willing to have to deal with: behaviours which i find draining at best, and actively upsetting at worst. It's not pleasant to not only get lots of flak from end-users, but from fellow devs as well. The desire to volunteer and contribute does not outweigh the effects on my health. There are many more welcoming, friendly and supportive communities nowadays; one doesn't have to suffer these people as Part Of The Job.

However, criticising this sort of behaviour is likely to draw a dichotomising strawman argument in response: “Oh, so we should all just sit around and have a happy-clap love-in?” This clearly ignores the fact that there is a gamut of possible behaviours between these two endpoints. “You shouldn't use Windows.” “Oh, so we should all just sit around and use Macs then?” And in fact, there seems to be a sort of symmetry with arguments made by devs:

Devs:   “Read the flamin' manual!”
Users:  “It's difficult, and anyway, I shouldn't have to!”
Users:  “Learn how to treat people with respect, even when you disagree with them!”
Devs:   “It's difficult, and anyway, I shouldn't have to!”

i'm not sure how we'll be able to make genuine progress on this issue while over-simplifying / unthinking partisanship seems to be in play.

🏷 dev,ict,sociology


Gemlog Home

[a] Here's one recent volley, from Rich Hickey, creator of Clojure:

“Open Source is Not About You”

i read this when it first came out, as i was (iirc) following the Clojure community at the time. Despite being highly sympathetic to Hickey's overall position, as someone who has frequently defended ICT volunteers from entitled users, i wasn't impressed. But that would be another post.