Sunday, February 19, 2012

Numpy, culture

I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn't just one aspect of the game - it is the game (Louis V Gerstner, "Who says elephants can't dance?" p182) 
I started a thread about governance on the numpy mailing list.  The thread didn't go very well.   It occurred to me that discussion on the numpy list has often been poor, and that this is due to the culture in numpy.

The problem as I see it is that numpy has a weak culture of participation.  There is a fairly explicit culture on the numpy list of listening to opinions not on the basis of the argument, but on the basis of the person's perceived or measured importance.  In fact, Scott Sinclair codified this in a semi-serious suggestion on the mailing list thread, where importance was to be measured by number of code commits.

I believe this is why discussions on the numpy mailing list are often unsatisfying and disorganized, with people talking past the point and offering opinions without addressing the issues.  This follows logically from the fact that opinions are assessed by the importance of the person delivering them.  Therefore, there is no need for the opinion to build on the argument that has been put forward, or advance from any point but the initial view of the author.   The discussion then becomes a series of impressions, and does nothing but point out that some people's impressions are different from others.  We listen to the impression of the person who is most important.

I have sometimes felt that this way of doing business is based on the idea that successful open-source communities are based on meritocracy.  I think this is a serious misunderstanding, and I try and justify that in my next post about meritocracy in open source.

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