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[libreplanet-discuss] Modernizing the Libreplanet Community Infrastructu

From: Connor Doherty
Subject: [libreplanet-discuss] Modernizing the Libreplanet Community Infrastructure
Date: Tue, 20 Jun 2017 19:45:41 +0000

For new coders, non-coders, and in general everyone who is not an 
older/established member or prospective member of our community, the structure 
for communication is seems antiquated at best, daunting and inaccessible at 
worst. Resources are fragmented among multiple sites, poorly optimized for 
search engines, disparate and unkempt - while communication channels are 
globally incohesive, hard to find, and usually outdated. I'm not here to 
complain - I've been brainstorming and researching this a lot, and I'm here to 
help fix it. I'm a web designer and FSF member.

First, we have the mailing lists.

  *   20 years ago, the go-to paradigm for a project's communication was the 
ubiquitous pair: a mailing list + IRC channel. Fast forward to today and things 
look... pretty much the same.
  *   The mailing list is good for long, slow conversation, the IRC channel for 
fast, shallower conversation. Real, productive conversation, however, doesn't 
necessarily play into this dichotomy.
  *   Mailman, the software usually used for mailing lists, shows its age, with 
an unnecessarily clunky, under-designed web interface.
  *   More importantly, the mailing list concept has proven bad for scaling. 
With tiny projects, the notion of "automatically subscribe me to every new post 
to every new thread" for a topic or a slew of topics might make sense or at 
least be harmless. But when a community booms, many find it unrealistic to 
manage all of the emails in the mailing list.
  *   The best mailman can do is roll up messages into a "digest". This makes 
it harder to reply quickly, and while it might solve growing pains at the 
couple-of posts a day scale, it's still useless above that or for people who 
don't want another daily email.

But the biggest anachronism of mailing lists is that they really only have one 
interface: email. Those of us that already get too much email, yearn for some 
sort of forum, something that lets you quickly jump in and see all the 
discussions at once, or even lets you reply right in the thread you're viewing 
(perhaps with this fancy new thing called HTML).

Now don't get me wrong - a lot of forum software is pretty old and clunky too, 
and has it's own problems. Using one of those would not really be a step 
forward. But all over the web, the case is being made against age-old mailing 
lists (better than I make the case) so I trust you'll understand by now the 
issue I'm raising.

However, I recognize that I'm talking to a potentially incompatible audience - 
namely, the very people who actually use mailing lists, and by extension, make 
such use of email. I'm aware of the possibility that many of you very much 
*prefer* to use email for everything. But that's fine, because I'm looking to 
something that will let us keep that ability.

My suggestion in this regard is a piece of libre software called 
Discourse<>. I apologize if this has already been 
suggested elsewhere.

Discourse is likely the only forum software today with an attractive, modern 
design. It's optimized for readability, and innovates around all the most 
annoying features of traditional forums (like pagination). If you haven't heard 
of it, I encourage you to check out the website,, and 
I'll refrain from extolling it's virtues here. What's relevant here, especially 
for those afraid of change, is that while Discourse may be a "fancy web forum", 
it can [now] be completely interacted with via email, putting it near feature 
parity with mailing list software. This means hardcore mail-list-ers and web 
users can peacefully co-exist - and more importantly, one can easily glide 
between the two. Not only will Discourse be a boon to the LibrePlanet 
community, it will be able to handle the growth as well!

I highly encourage you to check out the forums of our fellow software project 
MaidSafe, which provides an excellent example of a vibrant discourse community.

SAFE Network Forum<>
The main discussion forum of the SAFE Network community.

My suggestion is to host the Discourse instance on official FSF servers (it's 
trivial to manage) and then use the included import script to seamlessly 
convert the mailing list.

What would be even cooler is if they hosted a Discourse farm for all libre 
software projects to make an instance on, which would give the software freedom 
community a leg up on places like Github and Reddit that are currently popular 
among such projects (but have non-free code server-side).

Again, the goal is to maintain the ability to interact purely via email, 
perhaps even in the same way, while still upgrading the entire experience 

Finally, we have the LibrePlanet wiki. The wiki in its current form is a bit of 
a mess if you peek under the hood. Look at the list of categories, orphaned 
pages, etc. to know what I mean. It also seems to be stagnant, with almost no 
recent changes and almost no recent mailing list activity. I will now make a 
formal accusation: The LibrePlanet wiki's mission is a bit too narrow. is used host information about local user groups, and a lot of 
effort has been put into making that scalable. To that end, though, it's quite 
empty. There just aren't many groups right now, and that's been the case for a 
long time. Perhaps we can grow this following by providing a richer set of 

The wiki has the benefits of decentralized, collaborative contributions (anyone 
can edit) while at the same time having the benefits of official management and 
moderation (FSF admins, permissions). Why not use it for *all* of our free 
culture resources, by default?

Rather than just managing sparse user groups, why not use it as the place for 
all things software freedom? The name "libreplanet" is already unassuming. Even 
the annual conference by the same name is hosted off-wiki 
( Why? almost any features 
we need from a modern web page can be incorporated into a Wiki page, with the 
wealth of MediaWiki extensions. Then, you benefit from the crowd-sourced 

Most of the philosophy of the Free Software Foundation is not found on the 
website of the Free Software Foundation, but linked to pages on the website of 
a particular free software project ( Is that justifiable? 
Sure, but it's still a discontinuity. Why not host a more expansive, neutral, 
and comprehensive version of this information right on the LibrePlanet wiki? has a stock MediaWiki feel, which will immediately illicit 
mental hints of Wikipedia, a place where huge masses of people are already 
comfortable exploring new topics. Imagine we made a great article on GNU/Linux 
to counteract the glaring issues of the Wikipedia article "Linux". We could 
flesh out a whole glossary of the Terms To Avoid with their own pages, using 
redirects from the bad terms to the good ones. Using Semantic Mediawiki, we 
could create an always-updated list of privacy/other offenses by proprietary 
software companies, which could become the most comprehensive case for free 
software around.

On the Main Talk page, someone was asking where a general discussion topic 
might go - unrelated to any page. And that brings me back to Discourse. Thanks 
for listening, and I'll be ready to address your responses. I hope this 
community is open to drastic improvements and there might even be some who will 
want to help me with it.

Cheers- Connor

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