FAQ/ audience

Jeroen Coumans jeroencoumans at gmx.net
Sun Jun 8 22:28:12 PDT 2003


Bill's LFS Login wrote:
> On Sat, 7 Jun 2003, Jeroen Coumans wrote:
>>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.

Non-quantative doesn't mean non-measurable. In fact, a proper 
_qualitative_ analysis of LFS, the FAQ and a month of lfs-support (which 
can be both quantitative and qualitative) shoud reveal alot about both 
the intended, assumed and actual audience. I think I'm going to do such 
an analysis; if you have any suggestions on what I should include in my 
study-objective please feel free to contact me.

>>>>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

I'm not trying to suggest LFS is insufficient wrt. its intended 
audience, I'm trying to suggest it's intended audience and it's actual 
audience are not clear from the book.
So LFS has a problem of representation: it should present itself more as 
a _for_advanced_only_ like BLFS, and it should make clear what it's 
intended audience is and that newbies fall not in that category. The 
who_not_read page is clearly not suficient; it only redirects people who 
wish to learn about the Linux booting proces.

 >>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.

Yes, of course, I meant with that line that the books structure _does_ 
allow and include newbies, who are after all more than capable of 
reading and following the book; they just don't understand what they're 
doing. I'd like the book to move more in a direction where one has to 
understand what they're doing in order to be able to proceed (like BLFS).

> 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.

I fail to understand how we disagree on the book's intended and actual 
audience... (I think we both agree largely on those two). What we're 
discussig here is the book's presentation and accessibility for it's 
non-intended audience (newbie's), and we disagree on the book's 
relationship to the FAQ as a mechanism for diverting it's non-intended 
audiene.

>>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.

That seems reasonable. So the question we're dealing with is how to 
handle these unexpected participants. I think we should adjust the book 
to exclude these /a priori/ (like BLFS)

>>>>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.

Yes I see that. I should refine my point by saying that the book should 
be more difficult for newbie's than it is right now, thus more properly 
reflecting the intended and assumed audience. Also, more mechanisms 
should be built in for excluding it's non-intended audience. A more 
proper "whonotread" page is in order, along with more pointers to other 
good tutorials so people who lack the appropriate skill level can do so. 
Integrating the "prereading" hint is in order.

>>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.

That assumption should be made more explicit to avoid confusion 
(confusion being the "fbbg rule" vs. the "LFS is a guide, not a rule" 
domga's)

> 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
> it.

Of course. Those are all truisms. I'm just advocating that the 
newbie-friendlines be reduced even more, my arguments being in this thead.

>>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.

I don't want to change the focus of the book (allthough I would if it 
was _my_ book).

> 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.

Unfortunately, it seems that most postings on lfs-support (and this is 
reflected in the FAQ) come from those people which you say are only a 
minor difference between intended and actual audience. We have to deal 
with them somehow; and the FAQ, while an excellent mechanism, does not 
prevent them from posting. A consistent refferal to the FAQ does help; 
as Tushar and I have demonstrated. I'm trying to argue that this should 
be in the book by properly deflecting newbie's and redirecting them more 
consistently to the FAQ.

> 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.

I think the actual percentage doesn't matter as much as the question 
*why* the book continually fails to adress or defer or redirect these 
people to more appropriate documentation, and why they do not find the 
FAQ but do find the support groups.

> 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 hope so; and hopefully I will have more free time so I can start 
writing some pages and submitting it to the maintainers.

> I've enjoyed hearing your views.

Same here.

-- 
Groeten/Greetings
Jeroen Coumans

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