(This post is a creation by @steffenvanbergerem, @supertux88, and @denschub. However, we had to pick one account to publish it, so here we go.)
Let's have a seat. Back in August 2012, the then core team of diaspora* set up Loomio as a tool to enable the community to have discussions and to vote on controversial issues, which helped the new community leadership team to plan and collaborate. Loomio has been a very useful tool for us, and we sure made a lot of great progress, both as a software product and as a group of random developers working together.
When we compare our project with what it was at the very beginning; however, so much has changed. Not only have we changed most of the internal code and created a completely different looking front-end, we also had a complete turnover of the project team when the original core team decided to step down and move on to other projects.
We think we're doing great! Sure, there have been a few hiccups along the way, but overall we feel like diaspora* is moving forward very nicely.
One of the weakest parts of our project, however, has always been communication. Although we have tried our hardest since 2012 to improve communication with developers and the wider community, there are still improvements to be made, whether this is in enabling people to have detailed discussions about ideas and features, helping users who need some guidance, assisting new contributors looking for hints, or supporting podmins who have issues with their setup. We have used mailing lists up to now, but if we're honest, nobody looks at them anymore. We hang out in IRC a lot, but as we can’t currently cover all the time zones in the world, we can’t ensure that someone will be on hand to respond when help is needed, so it's not the best solution for us.
Loomio mostly works well as a tool for having discussions about the project, but there have always been some points that felt wrong to us and we are not as happy as we could be, so we have been looking for a tool that better fits our needs.
Goodbye Loomio, hello Discourse!
To improve the situation, we have set up a Discourse instance for the project. We strongly believe this is the right step, and we want to replace Loomio and the existing mailing lists with our new tool very soon. If anyone has very strong opinions about this decision, please speak up now, and we will have a discussion! There is a wide range of reasons for moving towards Discourse, and we will not be able to go into full detail, since it would blow the text limit on Loomio, but here are the most important differences:
- Loomio is focused around voting on proposals. While this is a nice feature, we have found that in practice a formal voting process has been less useful for diaspora* and has often caused more confusion than clarity. Most of our decisions are effectively made within discussions where people debate specific elements thoroughly. Voting has usually been little more than a process of ‘rubber-stamping’ decisions which had already been made in a discussion, and in most cases, are just an additional step that we don’t need. In addition, the distinction between comments and proposals on Loomio is confusing for new community members who want to get involved, and we often see proposals that are invalid for a wide range of reasons. Discourse, on the other hand, is designed around having long and meaningful discussions. Voting is still possible when we need clear community consensus on an issue, but having the focus on our discussions feels more appropriate for diaspora*.
- Sadly, Loomio is really bad at searching old threads. The Discourse search is a huge improvement and makes it easy to find that piece of old information you were looking for.
- Discourse offers us a fine control over ranks and permissions, which is not possible on Loomio. Loomio has no way of telling if a commenter is part of the project team or not, which sometimes indeed does make a difference. With Discourse, we have a simple way of adding ranks to people. Right now, we have labels for our core team and some members of the community who are not part of the core team but who have done a great deal of work for the project, and whose opinions we value highly. Both these groups of people have full moderation permissions. This means, for example, that we will be able to merge threads if duplicates arise, which has been a problem on Loomio.
- We will replace the mailing lists entirely with Discourse. Since we now have a generic tool for discussions, there is no point in maintaining these. People who want to receive important announcements by email are still able to subscribe to the "Announcement" category on Discourse, which means they will receive all threads and all replies to their email inbox.
- For the first time ever, there will be an official resource for user, podmin, and developer support. Right now, IRC is more or less the only official channel for support and as we all know, it's not ideal. After we move support to Discourse, we can make use of dedicated categories for support requests and everyone is welcome to participate! Since replies will be delivered via email to the person asking the question, we can provide help, even if there is a huge gap between time zones of the person requesting help and those offering support.
- In theory, it is possible to create semi-private areas for special needs. In the past, we had discussions about a "podmin only" mailing list where we could post announcements regarding security releases before publishing them, and other such important information. If we decide that this is necessary, we can set it up very easily.
- Last but not least, we are hosting Discourse ourselves on the same servers that already host the project site and the wiki. This means we no longer have to depend on external services and we are the only one with access to our users' data. Also, since Loomio has made some attempts at pushing their paid plans towards us, moving to Discourse is a great way of ensuring we can use and keep our infrastructure for a long time.
But... what about all the discussions on Loomio?
No worries! We have created a tool to migrate as much content as possible from Loomio to our new Discourse instance, and it works just fine. In addition, all migrated threads contain links to their original sources on Loomio so people can refer to that if that's needed.
However, we were not able to fully migrate user accounts. So while we created dummy accounts for all users that ever posted on Loomio, there is no way of logging into your account and some additional steps are needed to reset your accounts password. See below for more details. Also, we were not able to migrate your lovely profile pictures. Sorry for that. ;)
Cool! Now, let me have a look!
Sorry for the long post, and thanks for reading this far.
You can find diaspora*'s Discourse instance at discourse.diasporafoundation.org! If you are a Loomio user and you want to get access to your account, please click here and follow the steps on screen to recover access. Also, please take note of the big blue box on top of the start page, it contains some important information.
We need your feedback quickly!
Since maintaining two tools at the same time is not something we would like to do, please provide any feedback you have as soon as possible. If we do not receive negative feedback by the end of this week, we are going to put both Loomio and the mailing lists in a read-only mode, which allows us to fully use Discourse from now on. If you need more time to express your concerns, please drop a note so we know something is coming and we will hold off a bit!