Since its inception in July of 2009, the Fedora Hall Monitor
policy has had mixed reviews. The intent of the policy is to promote
more civil discourse on various Fedora mailing lists—to embody the
"be excellent to each other" motto that is supposed to govern
project members' behavior. Questions were raised about the recent "hall
monitoring" of a thread on fedora-devel, because, instead of the usual
reasons for stopping a thread—personal attacks, profanity, threats of
violence, and the like—it was stopped, essentially, for going
on too long.
Kevin Kofler's open letter about why he was
not going to run again for a seat on the Fedora Engineering Steering
Committee (FESCo) was the starting point of the problem thread. But the
focus of the discussion was mostly on the update process for Fedora,
something which has been roiling
the Fedora waters for several months now. Kofler strongly believes
that the proposals requiring more "karma"—votes in favor, essentially—in the bodhi package management
system before pushing out updates are simply bureaucratic in nature and
won't prevent problems with updates. Other FESCo members, apparently the
vast majority of them, disagree. As FESCo member Matthew Garrett put it:
There is no change too trivial to not require testing. The software
industry is full of examples of obviously correct fixes causing hideous
breakage. Most developers get to learn that the hard way at some point,
but it's still preferable to put processes in place to protect users
But Kofler believes that package maintainers should be able to make these
decisions, without hard and fast testing requirements imposed by FESCo, or
Packaging Committee (FPC). Kofler and others are quite happy with the
status quo, whereas other community members—both FESCo and not—see that problems with upgrades are giving the project
something of a black eye. Kofler is adamant in his response
While you do have a point in principle, in practice, our maintainers are
quite good at judging the risk of their changes, and often the risk is so
extremely low that it is far outweighed by the benefits of getting the
change out ASAP. This is always a tradeoff. And 100% bugfreeness doesn't
exist anyway, testing is NOT going to catch all issues either.
Most of these arguments are familiar to those who follow fedora-devel. The
participants in the discussion are often the same and the positions they
take are fairly predictable. But the content was on-topic and the
discourse wasn't descending into personal attacks or insults, so it was
something of a surprise to many when hall monitor Seth Vidal stepped in and closed the thread:
This thread is now closed. We've received repeated complaints about the
redundancy of it.
No further posts to this thread will be allowed.
The last line turns out to have been somewhat premature as the thread
continued, only it switched to focus on the hall monitors' decision.
Toshio Kuratomi asked how the Hall Monitor
policy—which is undergoing some changes as a result of this
issue—could be applied to redundant threads:
There doesn't seem to be any lack of courtesy present in the thread yet. So
it doesn't seem to fall under the current policy. If "signal to noise" is
a valid reason for hall monitoring it should be added to the policy through
the appropriate process.
Vidal quoted a blanket provision in the
policy that allows thread closure posts for "aggressive or
problematic mailing list threads" as the reason the action was
taken. That didn't sit well with a number of folks. Kofler complained: "This vague paragraph can be abused to justify censoring pretty much
everything." Adam Williamson had a more detailed analysis:
That doesn't read, to me, like it was written to mean 'hall monitors can
choose to close any thread at their own discretion'. To me it simply
reads like a process point, saying that 'when a thread looks like it
should be monitored *for one of the specified reasons*, hall monitors
can choose to send a 'thread closure' post rather than move straight to
an official warning'.
At least, that's how I always assumed it was intended when the policy
came in, and I'm not at all sure I'm okay with a policy which says 'hall
monitors can shut down any discussion they choose for any reason they
users and two hall monitors had complained
about the thread, which was enough to constitute "repeated
complaints". But, because the topic had (mostly) shifted away from
the update process and into things like hall monitoring and Fedora's
"purpose" (or goal, i.e. "what is Fedora for?"), it was allowed to
continue. In the end, the "thread closure" led to roughly doubling the
size of a thread which may—or may not—have been winding down on
In a post to fedora-advisory-board, Kuratomi requested that the board look into the issue
with an eye toward clarifying the policy. He suggested three ways to
resolve the issue: restricting the hall monitors' remit to just insults and
personal attacks, specifically calling out redundant threads as an area for
the hall monitors to police, or allowing thread closures based on the
number of complaints received. Kuratomi is in favor of the first option, "as the others are taking us
too far into the realm of giving a few people the power to decide what is
and is not useful communication."
At its May 6 meeting,
the board did discuss the issue. While it is clear that several board
members are not in favor of having hall monitors, and were surprised when
this particular thread was "clipped off", as Mike McGrath put
it, there is more to the problem than just the policy. At its core, the
problem is that Fedora is still struggling with its identity.
Some community members would like to see Fedora be a well-polished desktop
distribution that gets released every six months and is relatively stable
from there—a la Ubuntu. Others see Fedora as a refuge for
those who don't like the Ubuntu approach, want to get frequent
package updates, and live closer to the "bleeding edge". It is, at the very
least, difficult for one distribution to support both of those models, but
in some sense that is what Fedora is currently trying to do.
Because the project hasn't made a firm commitment to a particular
direction, at least one to the exclusion of the other, there are advocates
on both sides who are trying hard to pull the distribution in the direction
they want. Kofler is loudly, and repetitively, making his case that Fedora
will lose a sizable chunk of its users and contributors if it becomes more
conservative about updates. Others argue that update woes are driving
users and contributors away.
McGrath is firmly in the camp that Fedora should first decide what it is
and what its goals are, and then ask those who are "chronically
unhappy" with that direction to leave the project. That would lead
to less contentious mailing list threads among other things. It's a hard
problem, he said, and "we don't want everyone who's unhappy with
Fedora to leave"
In a discussion that lasted for more than an hour, the board looked at
various facets of the problems, but hall monitor Josh Boyer brought it back
to the particular thread in question. He asked if there was "anyone on
that thinks the recent hall monitor action was inappropriate". Matt
Domsch and McGrath were both surprised at the action, while John
Poelstra was not, and the rest of the board was non-committal.
No one said that they found the action inappropriate, but Domsch suggested
that the board recommend
"that hall monitors provide additional latitude to long threads that
may be redundant, but that aren't violent".
Poelstra wanted to see some "overall objectives for having this
policy" added to the policy document as well. Both he and Domsch
took action items to edit
the policy for board approval at its next meeting on May 13. The changes
that were made seem much in keeping with what the board members were
saying, so it seems likely that the board will approve them.
Seemingly arbitrary thread closures are clearly a concern to some in the
community. Trying to determine which threads are "making progress" versus
those that are just repetitive is difficult—and extremely likely to
While the goals of the hall monitor policy are
generally good, it isn't clear that making decisions on specific threads to
try to stop discussions getting "out of hand" is a good way forward. It is
something of a "slippery slope". There
are too many fine lines that need to be drawn—and then challenged by
dissenters—that it may just be an exercise in futility.
For the current problem thread, at least, the real underlying issues have
yet to be completely addressed. As Fedora moves toward implementing the
rules, which may slow down the usual Fedora update stream, the decline in
users and contributors that Kofler envisions may occur. The opposite could
happen as well. Only time will tell.
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