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January 28, 2006

Official openSUSE Forums?

Joseph Gaffney, Pediatric Cardiologist, Author, and dead Irishman (no, I'm kidding, this is him) sent me an email about a discussion on the openSUSE Mailing List about whether or not to create an "Official" openSUSE forum. He linked to some notes that recap some of the discussion that has already taken place here.

The idea is that an Official forum would make things easier for new users, better utilize Novell resources, and improve integration with existing Offical resources such as the mailinglists, Bugzilla, and openSUSE Wiki.

I replied to his email and he was kind enough to share it with the list. My response wasn't especially insightful so I'll spare you the repost. Instead, I'll try to repackage my thoughts into a somewhat more digestable format. I can see both sides of this issue, but come down somewhat on the side of not creating an Official forum. The reasons:

  • Pascal's point that there are some legal "gray areas" which warrant discussion that Novell can't allow on anything with their official stamp on it, such as **GASP** us crazy F/OSS people watching DVDs on our computers.
  • I'm a SUSE and Novell fanboy so, gentle reader, please don't interpret this as disrespect or ungreatfulness, but openSUSE is a community project and I don't think Novell needs to be in final control of every aspect of it.
  • Two popular English-speaking SUSE Linux forums already exist: SuSELinuxSupport.de and SUSEForums.net (SUSEForums.net is down right now as they transition from shared to dedicated hosting) both are great and very newbie-friendly; they have served the SUSE community very well so far. Least of all, I think it would be an insult to their respective mods, admins, and users to create an "Official" forum when theirs already exists. I have the strong feeling that if a new "Official" forum is created users will start to migrate from the "old" to the "new". But more importantly, both forums already have experienced moderators and established communities, why disrupt that?
I would suggest looking at what can be done to raise the visibility of the mailing lists, openSUSE site, and Bugzilla on the existing forums and vice versa. Maybe choosing 2 representatives (possibly Novell employees) to be a moderator at each of the existing forums (assuming the existing forum leadership agrees).

Then give it a trial period to see what works and see what we learn. By making attempts to fix what we have before setting up a new official forum we can avoid most of the "negatives" people are afraid of without alienating anyone or uprooting whole communities. If this doesn't sufficiently address the issues then we can look at the situation again later and consider the possibility of a new Official forum.

The huge problem with all this is that there are two popular competing forums. They split some time ago over some "differences of opinion". Most of the talk you see today is how they don't compete, they work together, or there's no bad feelings. Well, this may, or may not be true, but there were bad feelings. I saw the public threads and the drama whirlwind that occured when they split. Both forums seem happy enough to be split and this is their choice. However, I don't think it's a good thing to have two sets of forums. Some say choice is good, and for the most part, I agree, but in this case, I don't see the two forums as being different enough to justify the duplicated efforts.

And the efforts are being duplicated. When SUSEForums is back up, go take a look at them both and see if you can count how many matching Topic titles you can see. There are brand-new SUSE users having to go back-and-forth between the two forums to get a wide variety of answers to their questions; this is duplicated effort on the part of the experienced users who enjoy helping and fielding questions, this is requiring undue effort by new users to find the information they need.

Again, I like both forums, I've exchanged emails, or participated in forum discussions with many of the Mods and Admins and they're all great people. I wish we could get these forums back together, but from everyting I've seen, this doesn't seem likely.

So if this were a survey, and the statement were, "There should be an Offical openSUSE Forum right now", I'd check the "slightly disagree" box. I just wanted to raise awareness of this topic. If you have a strong opinion about the subject, I'm sure the mailing list guys would like to hear it, just do them the favor of reading all previous discussion on the matter before posting to prevent re-covering old ground. If you'd just like to see what's been said so far, you can see the arcives at http://mbox.mewes.tv/mbox/opensuse/2006/daily/2006-01/. They are in mbox format, but appear as plain text in Firefox, and I assume in other browsers, as well.

Posted 14 years, 7 months ago on January 28, 2006
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