FAQ/ audience

Bill's LFS Login lfsbill at wlmcs.com
Sat Jun 7 12:09:58 PDT 2003

On Sat, 7 Jun 2003, Jeroen Coumans wrote:

> Bill's LFS Login wrote:
> > On Fri, 6 Jun 2003, Jeroen Coumans wrote:
> >>Maybe not just an analysis of the problem but also of the FAQ as an
> >>[...]
> >>really frequent one; #whynotversion), something is wrong with either the
> >>book's assumption about it's readers or it's logical presentation of the
> >>information.
> >
> > I think the former (its audience) is the answer is likely the cause of
> >[...]
> > thrashed thoroughly in several past instances.
> Yes I'm well aware of the discussions about that (and even participated
> in the). What I'm trying to say is: please adjust the book to properly
> reflect it's intended audience.

Because both "intended audience" and "properly reflect" are both such
non-quantitative items, and very subjective, it would be difficult for
me to argue that it does/doesn't properly address... That's always an
on-going evaluation by the folks that do the book and Gerard.

> >>Reasoning from the book's point of view, the FAQ's answers are not in
> >>the book because the book assumes it's readers follow it to the letter.
> >
> > Ummm... not to be nit-picky, but I think the book presents what has been
> > well tested to increase the chance of success and does not assume the
> > user follows [...]
> > the FAQ. I have seen "follow the book to the letter responses" only when
> > the judgement (apparently) of the responder was that the OP was delving
> > in areas where they might be over their head.
> Yes that is a proper nuance, thanks. But it does point out that LFS also
> targets it's own community, whom are encouraged to make changes to the
> book. But once people from outside the community (LFS-newbie's) do those
> things, they're falling in common traps which frequently are FAQ's. So a
> tentative conclusion which can be drawn from this seems to be that the
> book actually targets two audiences. On the one hand it encourages
> people who are trying to learn about Linux to follow the book to the
> letter, and on the other hand it's saying that the book is a guide and
> people are encouraged to make changes (grub/lilo, filesystems, editors
> etc.).

Flawed assumptions? The fact that people without enough experience try
to LFS does not necessarily imply that the book's intended audience is
more than one. Nor does it mean that the book's presentation is flawed
wrt its *intended* audience. I think the most we can say, considering
those factors, is that the actual audience includes some that were not
part of the book's design point. The *reason* those folks appear is open
to speculation, but I suspect good reputation for the project is a pre-
dominate one. There are, of course many other possibilities.

Also, IIRC, the "learn about Linux" is really "learn more about Linux"
and there is some brief discussion (used to be - still is?) about having
a basic familiarity with Linux. If I err, please correct me. I haven't
done an end-to-end reading in some time.

> >>It thus has a rigid structure: _any_ deviation, even something as
> >>trivial as a minor version number of a package, is a potential problem
> >>and certainly a FAQ. So reality (and lfs-support) shows us that this
> >
> >
> > I disagree that "_any_ deviation...certainly a FAQ" holds true.
> > Deviations ar *potentially* a FAQ.[...]
> > Many of these do not become (and should *not* become) FAQs.
> Again, proper nuance. But this doesn't nullify my point above (that the
> book's structure is not a proper reflection of it's intended audience).

AFAIK, its *intended* audience never included rank n00bs. If that is
correct, I think it does adequately address its intended audience. But
it does not address the *unintended* audience.

> >>assumption (fbbg) is actually a dogma which should, IMHO, be adjusted to
> >>properly reflect the book's audience and the supporting community.
> >
> >
> > Disagree. What you are implying (intentionally or otherwise) is "change
> > the book to match some percieved audience other than what is its
> > currently intended audience". [...]

> I disagree with your disagree ;). I didn't want to imply it, I actually
> meant it. Hope I made my point clear now (regardless if you agree with
> it or not). I don't think those changes are sufficient. I realise it's a
> continuing project but it may need some more focus on these areas.
> > And again, we want to avoid the "audience" topic. It will draw more than
> > groans of "Oh no! Not again". And, personally, I'm in agreement and
> > support those decisions.
> Well, either the resolution of those discussions wasn't satisfactory for
> my point or the discussions didn't touch the isues I'm trying to raise
> (but feel free to correct me). Regardless, I don't want to avoid the
> "audience" topic and actually am also in favour of bringing it up again.

For me, this is akin to "Lilo vs. Grub". I won't participate (con-
straints of time, interest and consideration for the community) again in
that topic. So, based on your above and below, this'll be my last on
this thread.

> >>Thus, while the book is written by Gerard, it's also a community effort
> >>powered by the countless people interacting with it. Perhaps an analysis
> >>of the people using it is in order to adjust some of the book's
> >>assumptions.
> >
> >
> > Casual assessments of that issue have led to the decisions I mentioned
> > earlier. Further, there has been some discussion of various "guides",
> > "tutorials", etc. But in all cases, the books intended audience has
> > remained steady and the philosophy guiding what is in the book has also
> > persevered. The "community effort" nature has been well acknowledged and
> > included in the discussions that occurred in the past.
> Yes but I still feel either it's intended audience hasn't been properly
> identified or the book's assumed and it's actual audience don't match.

That second line is probably the correct one. A natural side-effect of a
good project of this type is to attract unexpected participants.

> >>I find it significant that BLFS generates much less FAQ's
> >>than LFS, while dealing with much more diverse material [...]
> >>etc.), a part of that is also because of the book's structure.
> >
> >
> > The structure *sucks* if you are looking to, say install Gnome, and all
> > you have is LFS and low-intermediate experience. It is not designed to
> > get you point-a-to-point-b, as is LFS.
> Should I conclude from this that LFS is more newbie-friendly (newbie to
> Linux) and BLFS is not? If so, than this just confirms LFS does _not_
> properly reflect it's intended audience's skill level (being

I think anytime the technical background, investigation and
decision-making needs are reduced, you can correctly conclude that
something is "more newbie-friendly". That does not mean that the book
missed its mark (intended audience) wrt skill level. The fact that some
folks make various type of mistakes also does not mean the book missed
its mark. Nor does it mean its *intended* audience is n00bs.

It only means that, comparatively, one thing is easier than the other.
Just because something is "not rocket science" does not mean, e.g., that
a mechanic can design and construct a "good" automobile, even though the
auto design/build process is probably "more newbie-friendly" than the
"good" rocket design (may be a flawed assumption).

Regardless, *intended* is the significant adjective here. I believe LFS
does address, fairly well, the *intended* audience. If you use *actual*
instead, I won't argue that.

> intermediate/advanced Linux users). And I think it's structure does not
>   follow the heterogenous audience of people wanting to learn about
> Linux and people who want a customized distro. I agree that the book
> shouldn't target newbies to Linux but in too many ways it still does.

Two points here. The book's intention, AFAIK, was never to "follow the
heterogenous audience...". IIRC, it's intended to provide additional
insight into construction/dependancies of a (GNU)/Linux system, provide
a good chance of a successful install and result in a gain in under-
standing that lets the more adventurous (or needy) try custom things
with a higher level of confidence and chance of success. I *think* the
assumption is that a successful install or two will be done "by the
book" before significant deviations are tried.

Second, the book has been substantially changed over the last few months
to reduce the "spoon feeding" it used to do. AFAIK, that is still an
ongoing effort. I doubt it will ever be "done" because the changes and
audience needs (intended and actual) are so subjective. Plus the
software keeps changing. So LFS will never be "done" and it will never
be "perfect". There will always be another valid pov about what are the
audience, book objectives and "proper" content. I see no way to avoid

> > I just finished a BLFS "end-to-end" (but for KDE, mozilla and
> > a few other misc. items) install. BLFS *requires* a *lot* more
> > expertise, a *lot* more reading, a *lot* more decision making, and
> > therefore a *lot* more analysis of what you are doing. It addresses its
> > intended audience by effectively saying "here's the jigsaw puzzle - call
> > us when you have problems". There is no point-a-to-point-b. I think that
> > presentation a) scares off most of those that lack the experience and b)
> > tends to accrete those that have the needed personality traits to apply
> > themselves effectively.
> So the structure of the book and it's internal consistency with the
> intended philosphy is actually effective for assuring the book reaches
> it's intended audience. This in contrast to LFS. So this just validates
> my point that LFS's structure targets or attracts newbies more than it
> defers them.

To some degree, yes it validates your point. But as noted in the
"Exception..." I mentioned below (btw, it was not the only case) the
BLFS book also has failures wrt whom it attracts. I think there is a
more significant consideration as to why LFS gets more unintended users
than BLFS though.

The consideration has to do with the disparate nature of the two
projects. LFS intends to provide guidance to intermediate-to-advanced
users that lead to an installed and operational system of sufficient
capability to move on to other endeavors, like BLFS. By that very nature
it will be more attractive to less-experienced users. Nothing will
change that. And, as you will certainly point out, that provides an
argument for changing the focus of the book and the FAQ, et al.

But regardless, there is a potential difference between *intended* and
*actual* audience for any project. The fact that the actual audience
differs to *some* degree (and I believe it is a relatively small
variance for LFS) does not necessarily mean that the owners of the
project should change the *intended* audience or the presentation, based
predominately on that variance. It only means, IMO, that regular list
participants have to constantly (re)decide whether to view and respond
to various posts from OPs who sometimes exhibit severe deficiencies in
ome or more areas (like inability to focus, excessive over-confidence in
their abilities, inconsideration for other list participants, inability
to see the words "FAQ" or "SEARCH" on the home page, ...).

Of course, if LFS were a commercial endeavor, all considerations would
be radically different.

An interesting, but probably very laborious, study would be the number
of different users that have posted requests for support on something
covered adequately (subjective) by the book vs. the number of reqistered
users (9,559 today) plus some reasonable number of unregistered users. I
would suspect that some percentage substantually less than 20% of users
have requested help would emerge. For a project of this type in a 'net
environment, I would consider that not bad at all and would conclude
that the LFS book was doing well in accomplishing its objectives.

> > Exception: one recent individual must have had a support request for 50%
> > of the crap he tried to do. 80% of those were answered by essentially
> > quoting what was in the book. I have a lot of sympathy/admiration/?? for
> > all those folks that answered all the posts.
>  >
> >>PS - sorry for the rant. Answering a lot of FAQ's does that to you. I
> >>initially wanted to post to lfs-chat, but this is all about the book's
> >>future so still relevant here.
> >
> >
> > I don't see it as a rant. I see it as an interested contributor
> > suggesting things that may benefit the community.
> Please continue to do so :)

Well, this'll be all on this thread from me. But, based on my experience
watching the list, Gerard and others have heard and considered your
thoughts, albeit in silence, and incorporated the points you raised in
their on-going considerations.

I've enjoyed hearing your views.

Bill Maltby
lfsbill at wlmcs.com
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