Lists vs. Wiki (was Re: Roadmap update)

Bill's LFS Login lfsbill at
Thu Jan 29 15:03:08 PST 2004

On Thu, 29 Jan 2004, Archaic wrote:

> On Thu, Jan 29, 2004 at 12:03:25PM -0500, Bill's LFS Login wrote:
> >
> > I have my doubts about its viability just because of the lack of support
> > for the wiki. Since facilities should generally meet the needs and
> > desires of users and/or developers, the wiki is only viable if one or
> > more of these groups want it. Most developers seem to be, at best,
> > apathetic about it. Feedback from user's has been almost non-existent.
> I've always kept silent on the wiki, but it would seem that people share
> my view that the wiki is nothing more than a hassle for most things. To
> the developer, he now has to worry about doing twice the work (or
> getting someone else to do it for him), and the user has to look in more
> places. IMO, any change in the book needs to be directly stated in the
> book. If the idea of errata is taken, that means taking a stable release
> and plastering in big bold letters that there is errata known. Also, I
> think a big bold announcement on the main (news) page of the webserver.
> I ask myself the question, if there is news, why can I not get it from
> email.

Keep in mind that I carry no *strong* opinion about wiki vs. lists. I
only see that some folks see utility in it and say if we are to use it
effectively, we must support it.

Now, having said that, let me tell some of the reasons I think it
*could* be useful. And some of my dissatisfactions about the lists.

 1) Absolutely no discipline on the lists. An intelligent discussion is
    difficult because people casually hi-jack threads, associations lead
    threads into side issues. For the purpose of design they are worse
    than a chalk-board because nobody has an eraser and nobody is
    filtering what makes it onto the board. If you want to find a
    particular topic within a thread, there is not much choice beyond
    going through each post, unless you get digests and use utilities.
    And that certainly is not ideal for many people for reasons.

 2) Lists are *too* convenient. Every Tom, Dick and Harry, *regardless*
    of level of interest finds it easy to insert their two bits. This is
    one of the things that makes 1) a problem. If people want to
    participate, that's fine. But they need to discipline themselves in
    their use of the lists. If they don't the lists become progressively
    less useful and then the use of a facility such as the wiki *may*
    offer some relief because the poster would at least have to have
    enough interest to do the extra steps before they added their
    two-bits to the thread.

 3) When someone does take the time to go to the wiki and post, even if
    the post is off-topic or starts a side topic, it is easily
    rearranged, sorted and categorized (if the primary topic person
    chooses to do so) so that some sort of structured view is

    This is difficult with list posts *unless* someone tracks the posts
    (either copying as they arrive or laboriously pouring through the
    archives) and then does a similar re-structure, re-order, re-hash
    summary of what was stated in the posts.

 4) If the person who starts a particular area on the wiki gives it
    sufficient thought, he *may* not have to go through the trouble
    mentioned in 2) and 3) above because he can provide some links right
    from the get go that provide some structure, meaning a poster there
    *may* be more likely to put things in the right place anyway.

 5) It is entirely feasible that wiki activity could be automatically
    converted to mail and delivered to the lists and/or newsgroups,
    providing the convenience valued by some with the discipline needed
    by others.

 6) Because the volume of mail is so large, and because a given topic
    can really appear on any of the lists (in spite of best efforts),
    and because of the lack of discipline makes many threads much larger
    than they need be, and because threads so easily wander all over
    creation, many people un-subscribe as a sanity-maintenance measure.

    Even as I write this, I'm considering that because it is keeping me
    from doing other things that I need to do. But I would/might like to
    participate in a forum where: people stay *on-topic*; I don't have
    to re-read complete or even properly snipped parts of preceding
    posts in the thread; I can check in at my convenience and get an
    immediate view of as much or as little of the activity as I need.

    "Use the newsgroup" you say? Surely you jest! It has all the same
    problems as the basic lists.

 7) A wiki area can be *secured* (if we choose) so that the person
    responsible for the area can keep the structure he desires,
    keep things on topic, prevent personal issues from appearing,
    provide a *rational* work area instead of the mud-wrestling matches
    we have now.

 8) If I have a true interest in a particular subject, I do not find the
    extra steps onerous. Especially in view of the potential benefits of
    seeing a nicely structured discussion that doesn't have most/any

As support of the above, I ask this question. Why was the hlfs-list
started? Because it moved a particular *topic* of interest to a place
where those of interest could see its threads *segregated* from other
topics. The other areas benefited similarly.

This was nothing more than bringing a little more *structure* to an
amorphous mass. The wiki offers the same potential.

You say it's downside is a convenience issue. I say the lists as
currently used are much more *inconvenient* than what you envision as
inconvenient on the wiki.

In summary, nothing wrong with the concept of lists, lots wrong in their
use. Nothing wrong with the concept of wiki, may be some weaknesses in
the way they are used. But we don't have enough experience yet to see
all the strengths and weakness of a wiki for *any* purpose. But we all
see the strengths and weakness of these lists.

> Why should there be developmental things discussed in the wiki,
> but not in the mailing list?

See above. But I really have no objection to lists if they are
*productive*. There are many times they are *not*. They *can* waste a
lot of my time.

> I spend a good deal of time just trying to
> keep up with things of interest. I've long ago had to drop reading
> lfs-support and I don't like that, but I just don't have the time, so
> why would I want to commit to constantly checking out the wiki?

Is it possible you don't have the time because of the problems I mention
with the lists? That's my take right now. Conceptually, the lists are
the ultimate convenience. In application, they are the ultimate "Tower
of Babel".

> Now, as far as patchlevel releases, there is generally nothing in a
> bugfixed version of a package that requires extensive testing.
> Basically, one could check that the files installed equal the same
> before and after the bugfix, and perhaps do a build of everything after
> that package just for a quick confirmation of buildability. Obviously a
> kernel or toolchain bugfix would all but require a full build, but
> again, this should be scripted by the testers at this point and with
> bugfix releases being only for the most critical stuff and not likely to
> change any ABI's or anything major, all we need to do is have but one
> tester say "it builds, and package X installs the same files in the same
> places as before". Done. Generate and release. Then, when we recommend
> to use stable versions, we are accurate and safe. As far as having to
> diff, only one thing (possibly 2) should have to change. The version,
> and possibly the install procedure for the one package in question. That
> can be done manually faster that automated since it's such a tiny,
> restricted change.
> In conclusion, I think continuing to discuss development issues on the
> wiki actually cost more time than it would take to just make a patch
> release.

Um, IIRC, the suggestion related to this thread was to use the wiki as
an errata page, not a discussion forum. If I'm only a user and I have
just gotten the latest release and I'm getting ready to install, it
would be handy to be able to go one place and see if there are any
issues I need to be aware of (especially if my book is printed) and
print a page or scribble my notes and get on with it. No matter how you
slice it, Cliff's notes exist for a reason. The wiki (in use as an
errata area) *could* be much more useful to an end user than any of the
other facilities we have, as far as quickly getting a concise set of
instructions that tell me things of interest before/during my install.


> Comments? Opinions?

NOTE: I'm on a new ISP, if I'm in your address book ...
Bill Maltby
Fix line above & use it to mail me direct.

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