Fog Creek Software
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Heisenberg effects

Looks like Joel is going to post an entry about this message board, but it won't go on his site, just out as email - http://www.joelonsoftware.com/news/20030225.html

Why? "because it's full of Heisenberg effects". What the hell are Heisenberg effects I asked myself. And google answered - The Heisenberg effect is the act of observing the system causes the system to change - http://www.iunknown.com/Weblog/fog0000000056.html

Ben
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Or as we joyfully pronounce it, a Heisenbug.

Simon Lucy
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

I also wondered about this. In absense of clear info one starts to speculate.

There does seem to be a hidden identification field in the form he uses: "INPUT type=hidden value=XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX name=slid" (I replaced the actual value with XXX here)
This could be used to map the subscribers email adress to the visitors IP, board-name,... who knows what.

Since this would be out of line with Joel's previous behavior I do not think he would try to pull a stunt like this though.

What's up Joel? Please tell us more.

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

All I can see is sUniquePost - I'm guessing that's to stop multiple being posted if you happen to hit refresh after adding your message.

Neil E
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Neil,

I was refering to the email subscription form on http://www.joelonsoftware.com

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Is this being sent on the same mail list that we signed up to to receive news of each new bit of writing? Or do I need to sign up again?

Tom Seddon
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

A conspiracy!!!
"There does seem to be a hidden identification field in the form he uses: ... This could be used to map the subscribers email adress to the visitors IP, board-name,... who knows what."

... or not. Look at the <form>'s action - it's going to "whatcounts.com" - it's probably Joel's customer id with them.

Duncan Smart
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Duncan,

You are right. You caught me with my pants down. Thanks for the clarification. Applogies to the FCS team for speculation. The strangeness and vagueness of the article had aroused my suspicion, so when I looked at this field I jumped the gun instead of checking two bits beyond my noses' lenght.

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

How is emailing out the information going to prevent "Heisenberg effects"?  I suspect that regular readers/posters will mostly sign up to receive the email.  So how is that different from posting it?  Prevents the non regulars (not the bulk of posters, thus not the ones mainly responsible for the "conversation") from knowing the rationale behind the forum design? 

How will that help anything?  Assuming that anyone who reads the email finally has nothing more to complain about with respect to the forum design (and assuming the current formula remains the same), it's unlikely that future regulars won't have the same questions, and post the same boring whines we've been reading for months and months.

And instead of being able to post a link to the article, we'll have to say: "Joel sent out an email about that, but we can't tell you what he said because it's copyrighted"?... It's more likely that various different regulars will either post the email verbatim (getting the thread deleted, but probably not before a number of people have read it), or post their interpretations of the email.

Call me paranoid, but I agree that the explanation for requiring an email address to receive the article comes across so oddly that I have trouble accepting that there isn't something more behind the request (irrational as that is).  If FCS hadn't been deleting random threads recently for no apparent reason (PC/real PC, I feel your pain) - I would perhaps be more trustful.

It doesn't help that the dynamics of this board remind me strongly of Intuit's message boards some years ago (high quality conversation was eventually killed off by Intuit moderators, who also randomly deleted threads and messages, but also edited messages - sometimes changing the meaning completely).  I'm hoping that JoS doesn't go there.

Heisenberg effects indeed.
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

well I just signed up with a junk email address just to see if I get _any_ spam.  And the advice to let "*@whatcounts.com" through seems like asking for junk (I recall that whatcounts has been accused of being spam-friendly before, on this board.  If you can't find those threads, maybe there is a conspiracy...)

The whole thing strikes me as silly.  I can only conclude that there must be _something_ extra in asking for the signup.  Possibly Joel simply wants to get a larger mailing-list population because most online visitors come and go and can't be accurately counted?  Maybe the article is really about the ease of getting email addresses?  And maybe the whole thing is a publicity stunt to get people interest in "what we will tell you but you can't tell anyone else.. coming soon!"

Ah well, least it gives us all something to talk about ;-)

nice
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

I have never received any junk email from signing up for notifications for JoS before, so I definitely do not think this is anything to be concerned about.

Also, if you have already signed up, you do not need to again, as it states in his message that you can sign up at the bottom of every page.... meaning it is the same as the regular email signup.

I for one find this rather interesting.... but I will refrain from the speculation as to what it is about.  It should hopefully all be clear once he sends out the article as to his motivations for not posting it on the site.

atom
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

It's probably something about "board policy".

If he posted it here or on this site it would immediately trigger a bunch of messages debating the policy, since content on a web page can be linked. He's probably just trying to minimize the amount of crap, er, stuff that gets posted about it.

Or maybe not, but in light of several threads about registering user names that have just vanished, I'd bet proverbial good money that's what it is about.

A close runner up is some statement about technical board features in general.

Bored Bystander
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

"If he posted it here or on this site it would immediately trigger a bunch of messages debating the policy"

Personally, I think that whether he posts it or emails it, it will trigger a bunch of messages debating the policy regardless.

MaisOui
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

My cynicism is acting up, but it's leading me to a different conclusion. :-)

First of all, I assume that when he refers to Heisenburg effects, he's talking about "making news" vs. "reporting new".  At some point, the information in the article will be internalized by the web participants, who will change their behavior, rendering the article incorrect.

Emailing it and posting a note of how to get it doesn't solve the problem; it only adds a layer of indirection.

Personally, I think it's either:
1.  By posting it, it will become permanent and referenceable in the future, and will become a visibly incorrect portion of the site.
2.  He just wants to up the percentage of web participants on his email list.

Personally, I think it's #2... not that there's anything wrong with that.

Tim Lesher
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

i'm looking forward to this article coming out.  the increase in deletions of posts is beginning to mess stuff up, like this link didn't show me any new replies had been posted in this thread, but when i went to add my own reply, i saw that there was indeed a new post.  odd.

i, too, miss the (2) french threads.  i am interested in looking for employment in europe, and would love to relearn the language i learned years ago in high school.  i wish i had copied those links before they were deleted.

nathan
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

It's been great, but seeing as how Joel has decided to artificially keep this forum 'on-topic', or is using us as guinea pigs, there's no point in sticking around.

So long...and good luck to all.

GiorgioG
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

OK,

I signed up on the basis of trust. We'll see how it goes from here.

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

I don't have a problem with any self interest shown to date in running this board. This is one of the very best technology employment boards I've run into. Striking a good balance between technical content and "deep thoughts" about life and career is incredibly elusive and yet it exists here.


I think that the few threads that have disappeared didn't contribute anything meaningful and were probably removed because they would make someone (not necessarily Joel) uncomfortable. One that comes to mind was someone talking about "funny" (entertaining) user names. That one vanished, probably because it would drive off anyone mentioned.


And no, not mindless sycophancy, because if I thought that the JOS administration was heavy handededly one sided or narcissistic, I'd leave skid marks.


I am coming to think that good BBS moderation is like 4 star restaurant service: it's so swift and efficient and consistent that you aren't aware that it happens. That is the case here. Compare to an chain restaurant  type place where the server either gets in your face every three minutes, or disappears 1/2 hour after you wanted the check. That's how most BBSs are at either extreme.

Bored Bystander
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

"...that the few threads that have disappeared didn't contribute anything meaningful and were probably removed because they would make someone (not necessarily Joel) uncomfortable"

FWIW, I've noticed dozens of disappearing threads in the last couple of days, so "few" is understating it a bit.

I can understand why some of them disappear.  But I admit to being at a loss as to why the second french thread disappeared - the one asking about learning terminology for software development in French. 

Given that this is a board about software development, and given that Joel has an interest in languages (as evidenced by needed to scroll past half a million language links to access this board) - I'm somewhat confused as to what was "not meaningful" / potentially not "comfortable" about the thread. (On that note, if someone would repost the links, I'd like to copy them down this time before they are deleted)

MaisOui
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

What is the big deal about threads disappearing? I honestly haven't noticed and I visit here too often. If a thread doesn't last long enough for more than one or two people to notice, my opinion is that it didn't last long enough to contain anything that substantial.

If someone posts a topic and it disappears, then they re-post and it disappears again, my opinion is that this indicates that this is *not* the place to discuss that topic. Instead find another board.

There's no money in running BBSs. Nobody here is going to pay. So the only reason to run a BBS is self interest. Anyone donating their time and effort to run anything basically owns that resource and can do with it as they wish. If the board owner is relatively gracious about quibbles over board policy, then that earns him high marks in my book.  He doesn't have to listen, respond, or even allow the discussion to occur.

We're visitors and houseguests using a free resource that none of us would ever pay for. For some reason this simple fact escapes everyone complaining.

Bored Bystander
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Except Joel does not run this site only out of the goodness of his heart.  See that banner at the top "Fog Creek Software"?  He has created a small community that happens to be the target of his company's software.  It's called marketing.

Joel me fait chier
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Monkey hand! Monkey hand! Five fingers on your hand like a monkey!

Monkey hand!

(belaboring the obvious)


Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Based on my experience on the Intuit board, I'd say that the trouble with random deletions (particularly if there is no explanation as to why a certain topic got deleted as opposed to a different one) is that eventually users get fed up.  If you post a question / comment / whatever, and it is immediately deleted, you're not as likely to post next time, especially if you have no idea *why* it was deleted. 

If you respond to a thread (and many of the deleted threads had several responses) and it is subsequently deleted, you become less willing to spend time responding to a thread, on the chance that it will get deleted.

If we use the french threads as an example - each of the thread had a slightly different topic:
#1 asked about learning French in general
#2 wanted to know why #1 got deleted
#3 asked about learning french software terminology

So, possibly #1 was offtopic (although more interesting than the endless threads about interviews), and #2 was just noise.  But I agree to confusion about #3.  Esp. since we've had discussions about languages in general before, about learning in general, and even about learning language.  We've also had many, many threads about doing software development outside of the US context - so one about software development in another language shouldn't be a stretch.  So perhaps it is just "French" that was objected to?  I don't know - but I can tell you that I'm not likely to want to post to most threads unless they've been around for at least three or four business hours (seems to be the only consistent criteria I can get for determining whether a thread is going to get deleted or not).  Maybe curbing conversation is the goal - Whatever.  I don't particularly care, although it's sad. There are other message boards.

Heisenberg effects indeed
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

One possibility is that the threads about French were deleted because they attracted flames (Iraq war & France's position on the war in particular being a current topic.) And if the engine used for the forum lacks the ability to remove individual responses readily, the threads themselves just got whacked.

Just a guess, I didn't see the threads and I have no idea what's under the hood.

On the usefulness of a board vs the incentive to post: the 'Realrates' contractor message board suffered a major meltdown last year because the admin didnt' want any traffic about politics or H1B visas to continue, and so all casual (non career) discussions were prohibited. There was an immediate diaspora of 95% of the participants to another board created by one of the former users, after a major flame war in which the admin participated noticibly and insulted most of the users who differed with the stated policy.

The point is, on a scale of arbitrary fascism from 0 to 10, 10 being Stalinesque, the Realrates forum actions ranked at 9.5 and the seeming JOS forum policy ranks (in my opinion) at about 1.
There's ALWAYS going to be a real human behind the scenes of a BBS who 'wants' the BBS to be run a certain way. The government has not gotten into running BBSs as a form of social entitlement, last time I checked.

Bored Bystander
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

I think the people who see this bbs as some big marketing ploy by fcs are only partially right.  There's always that aspect, but it's an interesting thing in its own right.  It's a HARD problem, facilitating useful and meaningful discussions.  Make some wrong choices, the discussions start becoming a series of in-jokes and bbs politics.  Sometimes, you have to accept that people will say, "I don't like how discussions are manipulated here!" and leave.

lone sunman
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

The threads themselves were pretty straightforward.  The first one had a bunch of advice about how to learn french (given mostly in french, admittedly - maybe the moderator has to delete what they don't understand?).  The third one had a number of links pointing to lists of french terminology for software development and there was some commentary on that.  Nothing about the war.

Since the repost of the french links (thanks!) is now gone (possibly due to the Amazon link?), but this thread is still here, the engine obviously has the ability to remove individual responses readily...

So neither of those theories make any sense. 

My feeling is that there are some moderators that tolerate less than JoS, so yes, you're right in saying it could be worse - but also that the tolerance level has dropped for some reason.

MaisOui
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

It's pretty obvious he is going to talk about both the board's UI design and his moderation policy. No big deal.

Nothing to see here, move along
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

While all of this speculating is fun, I would be careful not to get my panties in a wad over it. Apparently Joel is going to tell us about the board's policies in his article this Friday. After reading that article, it may be appropriate to make a judgement, but, at this point, we're all just jumping to conclusions.

Benji Smith
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Perhaps Joel is losing it?

Jim Dandy
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

He's selling the list big time. NO DOUBT! He has to make some money out of us. We all know how he looooooves money. right?

Jim Dandy
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Since people have been asking, pretty constantly, for an explanation of the moderation policy for this board, I think it is high time Joel explained it.

My belief has been that it is just plain inconsiderate for Joel and/or his lackeys to delete people's posts without good reason, and without explanation.  By and large, those of us who contribute here are professionals, and if we write something and post it here, we are taking time out of our day to do so.  This seemingly arbitrary silencing of certain people is creepy and wrong.  It suggests an extremely childish, "This is my board and I pick and choose who gets to play here" mentality.

So I am glad he is finally choosing to explain, after people have repeatedly requested it.  But it would be "too easy" for him to just explain it on the board.  He'd be "giving in."  So he has to do it in a quirky and strange way (requiring subscription to receive an e-mail) so we can all be puzzled and think he has some important reason for doing so.

programmer
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

> If you post a question / comment / whatever, and it is >immediately deleted, you're not as likely to post next time, >especially if you have no idea *why* it was deleted. 

I disagree with you on this. I posted a topic with reference to job openings in South India, a while back.

I got an email from Joel which said that my topic would not be of interest to most people (which I agree). My point being if you put an email id with your post, you ca get your *explanation*.

Prakash S
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

There is a policy of deleting threads that nobody replies to after a couple of days. That seems reasonable enough.

There is also a policy of deleting "off-topic" or possbly contentious threads, though this is not consistent. This policy is debateable but understandabke.

But messages are also disappearing for no reason whatsoever. I suspect a bug in the software rather than anytihing else, (unless they're trying out a new random number generating algorithm and we're the guinea pigs), but the fact that no explanation is ever sent for the deleted posts stops one from reporting the bugs.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

programmer said
"My belief has been that it is just plain inconsiderate for Joel and/or his lackeys to delete people's posts without good reason, and without explanation."

-AND-

"It suggests an extremely childish, "This is my board and I pick and choose who gets to play here" mentality.""


Well it is his board isn't it???  If this (deleting topics) is the hot button of the day, then I'd say its a pretty good day

-apw

"...I didn't even have to use my A.K...."

apw
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

FWIW:

http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=88

http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=89

Prakash S
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Actually the policy is that off topic posts are removed. Off topic INCLUDES learning french, I'm sorry, this is not a BBS about learning french. It also includes meta-discussion -- discussion about the board itself -- including this thread, which I should have removed a long time ago. Why? Because people come to Joel on Software to discuss software development, not to discuss learning french, and not to discuss the Joel on Software forum itself.

Sometimes we delete typographical errors, e.g. where someone types the first half of their post and posts it by mistake, and it is immediately followed by the full post.

Also I've been known to delete massively ad-hominem personal attacks against other people, especially participants, although I try to use a higher standard with regard to posts about myself, e.g., I'll tolerate a certain amount of ad hominem attacks against myself if there's even a modicum of useful argument somewhere in the post, rather than just pure venom without useful non-personal arguments.

There are two people (both Fog Creek employees) who have the ability to remove posts.

That's all. There are no bugs in the forum. Discussing the forum itself, as I said, is only of interest to a tiny fraction of the people here, and it usually signifies the beginning of the end of a community that has grown too large, and I hope that doesn't happen here.

Joel Spolsky
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

"One possibility is that the threads about French....
And if the engine used for the forum lacks the ability to remove individual responses readily, the threads themselves just got whacked."

No, I've seen individual  responses deleted, and the response count was not properly updated.

Paul B
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

... it got awfully quiet in here. Are those crickets I hear in the background?

CreepingOutOnTipToes
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

I still he will sell the list!!

Jim Dandy
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

People wouldn't think there were bugs if they had been informed of  the deletions in the first place, or if the policy was clearly stated.

It is normal to create another seperate forum to discuss forum topics when the forum reaches a certain size; that way you have the best of both worlds.

Instead of deleting the "meta-threads" you just move them.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

>>>>>I still he will sell the list!!

Jim Dandy
Wednesday, February 26, 2003 <<<<<<

What makes you think anybody would pay for you anyway?

I've been on the emailing list much longer than I've been aware of these forums, and I can assure you all you get is a monthly link when Joel feels he's published an interesting article.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Hear Hear!

Prakash S
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Joel said, "Discussing the forum itself, as I said, is only of interest to a tiny fraction of the people here, and it usually signifies the beginning of the end of a community that has grown too large, and I hope that doesn't happen here. "

And he may be right.

But isn't that just one more good reason to implement a registration system?  Keep the casual lookers, passers-by, and general riff-raff off the board.  I like it the way it is and don't want it to change.  I'm afraid the current board's popularity may do it in, and it seems like a registration system would be one good way to stem the tide.

Herbert Sitz
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Joel Writes...
<<
...Because people come to Joel on Software to discuss software development, not to discuss learning french, and not to discuss the Joel on Software forum itself.
>>

Well apparently software developers eat, drink, sleep & crap software development.  What's so wrong with someone asking about learning french?  Ever consider that some people here might want to learn french in order to be SOFTWARE DEVELOPERS in france or wherever they choose.  Entropy exists in all systems.  You can try to contain it, but not without some opposing force.  And here we are.  Some readers/posters are discontent.  Do something to fix it.  Companies, organizations, people & systems must be adaptable & flexible, because as much as we like this forum and your articles, it's mutually beneficial.  Don't forget that. 

And may I add, it's amazing that there are so few of us that care about the forum itself, that we have had countless threads on it.

Entropy
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

I'm only doing this so that Joel has to delete it.

Joel is an idiot.

Realist
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Assuming that the message labelled "Joel Spolsky" was actually written by Joel and not by some random mischief maker:

"Off topic INCLUDES learning french"
Okay, so general questions about learning french are offtopic (that explains why the first thread got deleted).  However - given that it is a forum about software development - why is it inappropriate to ask about where to get software development terminology for a different language?  Why'd the third post about french get deleted?

Seems a bit strange that threads about going for interviews (somewhat more peripherally associated with software development, in my opinion) are not considered off topic, even when they are *not* at all related to the "Guerilla Guide to Interviewing" (on topic). What about threads related to references, job openings, and unemployment? Or the "How did you find this board" topic, which if it isn't a meta discussion, I don't know what is? 

"...including this thread, which I should have removed a long time ago"

But, I thought:
"The purpose of this discussion board is to provide a place for Joel on Software readers to chat about topics that I posted" Joel Spolsky Oct 2001.  Isn't this thread about a topic you posted?

"There are no bugs in the forum."
Always a dangerous statement :)  Personally, I think the fact that the number of posts listed on the index page doesn't match the actual number of posts is a strange feature, as is that message about access violations and other database related issues.  As a user, I would tend to call those bugs rather than features.

"[Discussing the forum] usually signifies the beginning of the end of a community that has grown too large, and I hope that doesn't happen here."

Or it could signify some problems with the usability of the forum - as large numbers of different posters have been consistently commenting...

I for one would never comment on the forum if it didn't have a number of things that drive me crazy, coupled with my knowledge that *you* think it is rational to determine what makes a good day etc - ie usability - and then figure out how to fix it. 

Joel, given that there are design elements that drive me crazy, other than going away quietly, other than complaining, and other than copying your content to my own site where I can play with it to my heart's content (strongly considered) - what do you want me to do?

MaisOui
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

> But, I thought:
> "The purpose of this discussion board is to provide
> a place for Joel on Software readers to chat about
> topics that I posted" Joel Spolsky Oct 2001.
> Isn't this thread about a topic you posted?

I think that is why it was not deleted. Were it not for his "coming-soon" post, I don't think it would be on topic.

Marc
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Don't you people see the utter futility of these posts? Joel creates a forum as a gesture of goodwill, and people are attracted to it because of his reputation. People start using it.

People then start demanding he do this, that and the other thing, start hassling him and stating innuendo about his motives, and endlessly debate the most proper way that he should go about doing things.

It's as though some of you think that he's made an iron clad guarantee that he will do anything to make every single faction completely happy, or that he's created some implicit contract with each of you that you demand that he honor.

This goes to show that NO good deed goes unpunished. 

This forum is a freebie. Its use is a *gift*. Grow up and accept this unequivocal fact.

Get a life! Move on! Nothing to see here.

Chicken fried piece of crap
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Joel said "Discussing the forum itself, as I said, is only of interest to a tiny fraction of the people here ..."

At 49 replies and counting (if you trust the reply count!), this makes it the 5th most popular topic of those currently available on the forum.

I'm predicting it'll hit #1.

7FFEFEC0
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Actually, the various posts / complaints have built up over time.  They started out with things like x is hard to use (eg if you visit the forum from multiple computers, finding the spot you left off is a big pain - adding a date to the list of topics would really be a help here).  The response was something along the lines of "the forum is carefully designed; everything is perfect".

But - this is coming from a guy who wrote an entire book on usability, and about how: "The more you feel that you can control your environment, and that the things you do are actually working, the happier you are."  Except that a large number of people (take a count of the number of threads and screen names - Joel could do better and look at IP addresses) - are stating that not only can't we control our environment, but things aren't working for us.  I don't think that the majority of people would have posted about our frustrations (due to "Learned Helplessness"), except that Joel's published opinions seem to indicate that he'd at least be willing to listen.

So far, I've not had even the smallest sense of - "yah, that's a problem, but I won't fix it because I [fill in the blank - eg don't have time]" - instead it's "I thought about everything carefully, and it's right".

It becomes a bit of a credibility issue - don't you think? That's why he's getting a hard time, IMO - not because of the forum design per say.

Hey Chicken!
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Stephen Jones:

You're way too green man! who pays for our email list?? are you really a software professional?

Jim Dandy
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

<<
It becomes a bit of a credibility issue - don't you think? That's why he's getting a hard time, IMO - not because of the forum design per say.
>>

Agreed - I think on the whole it's more of an ego-tripping thing (granted, it's difficult for some to know/believe/admit that they might be ego tripping)...Moi?  the guy that wrote a book on UI design, write something that has some serious usability issues? Nah - they must all be on crack. 


Wednesday, February 26, 2003

"The purpose of this discussion board is to provide
> a place for Joel on Software readers to chat about
> topics that I posted""

One of the reasons there has been a lower tnan normal proportion of  posts dealing with software devellopment per se lately is that Joel's own articles have really been avoiding the subject since December (and please note that the thread on microphones and sound was exactly what I've been looking for for ages).

Most sites have a webmaster address you can send comments about the organization of the site to. All that's needed is to have those comments posted on a small and separate forum, and the rest of the board can be kept clean.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, February 27, 2003

The forum is carefully designed; everything is perfect. I like it just the way it is. Why should he change it when it works great for me?

Ed the Millwright
Thursday, February 27, 2003

i enjoy using this forum more than any other.  keep up the good work joel!

Scot (the first)
Thursday, February 27, 2003

You are asked to subscribe to the same mailing list used to notify about Fog Creek development. That's the reason the article will not be posted on the site.

Nikola
Thursday, February 27, 2003

First of all a big thank you to Joel for breaking his radio silence on the issue of moderation. While not vital info it does help to put out some speculation that inevitably arises in the absence of communication.
As Joel has referred to "Heisenberg effects" in his latest mini article, I think we can rest assured that whatever it is this board will no longer be the same after Friday. This is not a bad thing. I have always found the ideas behind the design of this board, especially the graceful degradation, to be spot on. No positioning help beyond "tread has not changed since last access (I know, only when you read on 1 machine), keeping up a long tread becomes progressively more difficult, keeping an older tread active becomes progressively harder were all excellent implementations of the underlying principle.
Unfortunately in its current form I believe the current implementation has been stretched to its limits. Looking at the statistics on http://www.usabilitymustdie.com/jos/WW_MonthlyStats.html you can see that in the course of one year we have doubled in size.
This also means that what used to be in the "hard" parts of the graceful degradation curves, we now reach fairly quickly due to the increased traffic. It is also not so easy to see how just "fiddling with some parameters" could solve the problems. There are no real parameters for most of the stuff, since it is all grounded in the natural dynamics of the mechanisms.
We have limited attention span and memory. We do not like scrolling. Finding a point in a long list with no explicit clues becomes very tedious as the list grows beyond a few dozen entries. All the regulatory implementations of this board are based on these "natural" tendencies. There is no simple knob we can turn up a few clicks on any of this to adjust.
This unfortunately also means that there is in this format a maximum amount of activity that can be dealt with. We have reached this maximum.
It will be very interesting to see whether FCS will be able to bring on a new system that is as brilliant as the current one was for the phase we are now ending.

Just me (Sir to you)
Thursday, February 27, 2003

Yo Joel, thanks for the post on moderation policy. If you had posted this ages ago, you would have had fewer meta-discussions as you call them.

Like someone else noted, the biggest irritation is not that an individual post or entire thread gets killed. No. The problem is that it gets killed for no apparent reason.

Let me site an example. In this thread http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=28267&ixReplies=14 (discussing T1 pricing) my post gave details of what we were paying in the UK. My post was zapped, despite the fact there had been at least one response to it.

I then posted a response, complete with a link to a scanned invoice from our provider validating my claims. Again, I asked for an explanation on what the moderation policy was, and still no response.

Joel, some threads die a natural death (3 responses). Others are alive and go all the way to 60 responses and maybe spawn child threads. That is how YOUR community decides what it wants and does not want to discuss. I think the noise to signal ratio is pretty low. Hell, this is the only site I link to from my site .. http://www.tapiwa.com

As someone said, the problem with random, or seemingly random deletions, with no explanation on moderation policy, is that one is less inclined to spend time making a coherent response if one is not sure whether the thread/post will still exist in an hour's time. You are implicitly discouraging intelligent discourse.

We are not making demands. Yes, these are your boards, but the community out there is what adds value to them. Do not unnecessarily antagonize them.

Just one more piece of advice, these meta-discussions you so detest would seem less abominable if you looked at them as FEEDBACK.

tapiwa
Thursday, February 27, 2003

Ah Ed. Why should the forum change when it works great for you?  Because many, if not all of the changes requested would have no impact on you whatsoever, while improving the experience for the rest of the users.

How would a date/time of last change on the forum list make your experience worse?

How would preventing other people from using Fog Creek nicknames spoil your day?  What about allowing (not forcing) regular users to register an account, whereby other users could not use their screen name?  This would mean that we could finally have some confidence in who is posting what.  The only impact on you would be if you routinely impersonate others.

If Joel allowed users to register an account, what about then allowing them to hide topics *not of interest* - to reduce scrolling.  Again, no impact on you - you don't have to register, and if you did, you wouldn't have to use that feature. 

What if registered users could set the list of responses to scroll the other way (newest first) if that was their preference?  [There are all kinds of things that could be done with registration, but I'm trying to keep my suggestions modest]

What if the search/archive were improved such that it were possible to find threads that had previously been asked? Less repetition, I guess?

What if there was a clear moderation policy, posted somewhere?  You wouldn't have to read it, but some of us would appreciate it.

What about if there was a separate forum on the side for comments about the forum - to keep them out of the software development forum.  If Joel had registration, this could even be hidden from the riff raff, since regular users are most likely to post here.  Of course, a feedback form that Joel visibly responded to would go a long way in quelling comments and possibly make such a forum unneccessary.  The presence of the feedback form wouldn't change your user experience, would it Ed?

Really though, attitudes like yours ("it works fine for me so it must be perfect") are *exactly* why average joe user is so frustrated with software in general.

Hey Chicken!
Thursday, February 27, 2003

Chicken,

since the dynamics of this board are "compiled into" its user interface, changing the UI for you does most cetrainly impact my experience. This software is shared by the group. It facilitates certain dynamics, and makes other things more difficult. Your usage and mine interact, they are not separable.

Just me (Sir to you)
Thursday, February 27, 2003

"Your usage and mine interact, they are not separable [sic]"

Actually, that's a myth.  To some extent we already have different usage - the user interface that I am using here is quite different from the one I use on my other computer - different browser, operating system etc. 

Accessing this site via a text only browser is quite different from using it via IE, as is having it read to you.  Yet - although I have used all of these mechanisms - I bet you haven't noticed a difference in my posts from user interface to user interface.

If I were able to sort threads in reverse order, even if you didn't - it simply wouldn't impact you.  How do I know that?  Because I've done several usability studies on collaboration systems where users can interface with the same interface or different interfaces.  It doesn't have an impact (and actually, most people simply assume that others have the same interface as they do.  The interface becomes a non-issue - and ultimately, isn't that the point?  When I'm contributing to a list - why should the interface intrude on my consciousness at all?)

But my saying that isn't likely to get you to change your opinion.  Probably you wouldn't believe me even if I shared my research results with you (sorry, can't do that).

So, we'll agree to disagree.  But - I think that there are enough people who agree with me when I say that using the forum causes a whole bunch of minor annoyances that add up.  The annoyance factor is not just one user.  It's not just ten users.  And it's not a learning curve.  This is clearly demonstrated by the high number people and posts on the topic.

Long term, that is not sustainable, and the reason it is not sustainable is articulated much better by Joel himself in his book.

And really, based on your previous post, I think what you are worried about is the long threads should die out naturally, and the only way to make that happen is to make it hard.  The thing is, long threads die naturally anyway.  They get boring, and people stop posting on them.  But if it's hard to read them, what happens isn't that there are fewer overall posts - just that there are more threads (look at the number of threads about GPA in the last little while).  People don't stop posting about a topic because it gets too hard to scroll to the bottom of the page.  They stop because they get sick of the topic.  So the current mechanism doesn't actually work.

Hey Chicken!
Thursday, February 27, 2003

I am guessing that Sir is referring to changes that would affect the way people respond to topics.

If a new option would allow you to easily quote others, chances are posts start showing up endlessly quoting someone quoting someone.
That would impact someone elses experience.

However, Hey Chicken is right in asserting that there can be many improvements that truly do not affect anyone else should they chose not to use it.

Besides, the potential of abuse should not be the sole motivation for not creating something useful.

Practical Geezer
Thursday, February 27, 2003

If the intended dynamics of the board are gently enforced into the system through a technical implementation. If you meddle with the implementation, you also meddle with the dynamics.
If I go to a discussion board where 99% of the users are participating through a treaded reader, and I see it through a flat sequential reader, I am not going to find this a pleasant experience.

Just me (Sir to you)
Thursday, February 27, 2003

Practical Geezer,

There can be many improvements and I am sure we will see some of these tested out in the (near?) future. I found the implementation of this discussion board one of the best I ever came across. It has served its purpose very well, but it is starting to show its cracks, not because of "errors", but because the dynamics of a community the size we are now are very different from the much smaller community that was before.

P.S. To all, my appologies for the many typos and language mistakes I make here. English is not my first language, and I do not have the patience to use a spelling and grammar checker on every post. I spend way too much time on this already.

Just me (Sir to you)
Thursday, February 27, 2003

I am unhappy posting here, since it'll be used as Evidence that this is an important subject. ;)  When the reality seems that long meandering threads are the absolute worst.

This board is optimized for the early part of the learning curve, and is designed *not* to scale.  Computers scale too well for human communication!

sammy
Thursday, February 27, 2003

What I wonder is if Joel's post was deliberately provocative and the Heisenberg Effect is the effect of his post on this discussion.

Mark Morgan
Thursday, February 27, 2003

Hey Chicken said

"The thing is, long threads die naturally anyway.  They get boring, and people stop posting on them.  "

Most likely true, but another reason threads die is that they get pushed down the list.  A forum I regularly visit (a car owners forum) the topic order constantly changes based on age of messages posted to a topic.  I can post a topic, the topic makes its way down the list, someone responds, presto... my topic is at the top of the list, until the next topic or message is posted.

-apw

apw
Thursday, February 27, 2003

"What I wonder is if Joel's post was deliberately provocative and the Heisenberg Effect is the effect of his post on this discussion."

It seems to me quite obvious  ...

Giorgio Pallocca
Thursday, February 27, 2003

I was bored by this topic, but something about the second last post piqued by curiosity.  At this other site where posts with activities get pushed to the top - how long does it take for a topic to die?

MaisOui
Thursday, February 27, 2003

Having posts pushed to the top when somebody posts is a lousy idea.

Posts should be allowed to die. Apart from anything else a thread scrolling off the screen allows one to retire gracefully from a flame war without loss of face.

Allowing the reader to choose how things are displayed ia a reasonable idea, but it requries a lot of work, and I doubt if it is really worth it for a single forum.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, February 27, 2003

MaiOuis, I run a site where the most recent activity in the discussion floats to the top of the list. In my experience topics with broad interest can become immortal.

Mark Morgan
Thursday, February 27, 2003

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