Open Sores

Ah, the joys of building a community around an open source project! Build your software, release it, flog it left and right, and before you know it you have a thriving community of users asking for advice, reporting bugs, suggesting improvements, sometimes even submitting patches. Then, of course, you have your kooks. In fact, I’m beginning to think that you can measure the success of an open source project by the level of kook activity on its mailing lists. If all mailing list traffic is invariably polite and constructive, then you have a niche project which only attracts a small number of highly specialized and competent people; only a truly great software project will make enough of a splash to attract the attention of a genuine, grade-A, accept-no-imitations kook. We’ve had our share of kooks on the Varnish mailing list. There was one who suggested that Varnish should in fact be a client-side proxy, not a server-side cache (we get the client-side proxy thing a lot, but the bit about throwing out the server-side cache was new), and another who tried to convince us that the features our users are asking for (and paying for) in 2.0 are “of no real use”. A recurring question is the one about how Varnish compares to <insert name of project with which Varnish has aboslutely zero feature overlap>. Recently, we had an unrepentent narcissist who kindly informed us that Varnish is “braindead and stupid”, and that I am a “rude thick-headed and thin-skinned individual” for trying to point out his errors and complaining about his language. On a more serious note, I’ve been asked to ban kooks from the mailing lists. This is something I would never do, for a number of reasons: firstly, I disapprove of censorship in general; secondly, I disapprove even more of censorship when it targets detractors of the ones performing it; thirdly, even if the act could be justified by the subject’s abusive behaviour, different readers have different levels of tolerance, and should be free to decide for themselves what they do or do not want to see; finally, unless the lists were closely monitored and moderated (which would completely defeat their purpose), such a ban would be easy to circumvent and would only serve, at best, to justify the kook’s opinion of us, and at worst, to goad him into even more outrageous behaviour. In the meantime, all of these exchanges are lovingly archived for posterity by Mailman, Gmane, The Mail Archive and others. Perhaps, as the kooks grow older and wiser, they will come to regret their past indiscretions…

EDIT 2016-02-17 restore text that was lost in conversion from Blogspot

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