Loomio
March 21st, 2017 18:02

Outgrowing Loomio

Dennis Schubert
Dennis Schubert Public Seen by 892

(This post is a creation by @steffenvanbergerem, @supertux88, and @denschub. However, we had to pick one account to publish it, so here we go.)

Ahoy,

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!

CS

Comrade Senya March 21st, 2017 19:11

Wow! Looks like a big job!

I never used Discourse before, so I don't know how it feels, but I think I can trust you that this tool is fine. Loomio definitely has a number of shortcomings so it's cool we shift to something that fits us better!

Thank you for that!

Sean Tilley

Sean Tilley March 22nd, 2017 02:43

Congratulations on taking this huge step! :D

Flaburgan

Flaburgan March 22nd, 2017 09:53

Awesome move, I deeply feel like we need a nice tool for support and I hope this could be a solid base to grow up the community with it.

On that subject btw I thought about non-english community. Do we want to have categories in other languages? How could we manage that?

Dominic Duffin

Dominic Duffin March 22nd, 2017 09:59

I'm happy about this.

Dennis Schubert

Dennis Schubert March 22nd, 2017 17:15

On that subject btw I thought about non-english community. Do we want to have categories in other languages? How could we manage that?

Not sure! Technically, we could add localized categories very easily. We'd need some kind of "moderator" role for that language, but that's doable. But I am not sure if we want this, to be honest.

You see, all official project discussions have to happen in English anyway, to invite as many people as possible to participate. For support, while localized support may be better, I feel like it's wiser to keep it all in English. Although people have to write a language they might not be comfortable with, the chance of getting a reply increases a lot of everyone uses only "one channel" of asking those. Also, I fear we might get a lot of content duplication if we have to answer the same questions over and over again in different languages. For off-topic stuff and some user support, the localized IRC channels are always a possibility.

I am not sure if localized categories would bring any real gain overall.

MV

Michael Vogel March 22nd, 2017 18:28

Not everyone can fluently read and write in English. And when then they try to explain their problem then nobody understands them. Then it is better that they try their luck in their own language.

Of course only the main languages should be covered where enough users are present. I guess this (at least) is French, Spanish and German.

Dennis Schubert

Dennis Schubert March 22nd, 2017 18:34

And when then they try to explain their problem then nobody understands them.

I hear that quite a lot. Honestly, we never had that. Sure, there were some cases where we had to ask one or two times, but in the end, everything worked out. We never had to cancel a case or had someone leaving IRC because the language barrier was too high.

Of course only the main languages should be covered

We do not have any active contributor from Spain - so who should do the moderation? Also, we have quite a large user base in Russia, but only a single contributor, who is already doing enough work so I won't even ask him to moderate the Russian section. And I am not even going to start talking about our Polish and Chinese (yeah, Chinese!) userbase...

Steffen van Bergerem

Steffen van Bergerem March 22nd, 2017 18:38

And I fear that people will ask in their native language just because it's easier for them. But asking in their native language often means worse support and less documented cases with someone having the same issues.

Flaburgan

Flaburgan March 22nd, 2017 18:42

We do not have any active contributor from Spain - so who should do the moderation? Also, we have quite a large user base in Russia, but only a single contributor, who is already doing enough work so I won't even ask him to moderate the Russian section. And I am not even going to start talking about our Polish and Chinese (yeah, Chinese!) userbase...

For sure, if we open localized categories, they have to be managed by the community. If nobody does it, then it will stay dead. The way to go could be to open a localized category only when we have at least 2 persons who are willing to be moderator there and manage it.

And I fear that people will ask in their native language just because it's easier for them. But asking in their native language often means worse support and less documented cases with someone having the same issues.

If the community answers, that's fine. Otherwise, they'll see that they need to ask in english.

I'm not too sure too, how to do it, but I feel it's important. For example to organize events (I will have a booth in Lyon for diaspora* soon, this is a french-only event, it would be easier and would probably bring more people if I can talk about that in French. Or user (not podmin) support, maybe with tutorials? The thing is, I don't know yet what should be on discourse and what should be on diaspora* directly. Let's start only with english at the moment, and we will see if there is a real demand.

Dennis Schubert

Dennis Schubert March 22nd, 2017 18:47

Otherwise, they'll see that they need to ask in english.

Or they'll just never come back - which is probably what's going to happen. ;)

Let's start only with english at the moment, and we will see if there is a real demand.

Agreed.

Dennis Schubert

Dennis Schubert March 22nd, 2017 20:40

Uh... So...

We only received positive feedback so far, and all of our active contributors have agreed to move and they seem to like Discourse. In fact, some have even edited their stuff to improve the contents and wanted to create new discussions. So, let's do this.

Loomio is now locked down as far as I can do it. This means no new threads can be opened and nobody is able to join any groups from this point on. Since the validation thread is in the root group, anyone who has ever participated in this Loomio is able to comment there.

"Sorry" for moving even faster than announced, but since we received a lot of positive feedback, there is no point in holding it back.

goob

goob March 22nd, 2017 20:42

While it's good to aim to make communication easiest for the largest number of people possible, there doesn't seem much point in unifying all of Diaspora's discussion/decision-making/help channels if we're then going to split them up by language.

It's a shame that one language has to dominate in a cosmopolitan project, but I think we do need to stick to one language for project discussions.

There are means for discussion and providing help on Diaspora itself, which already happens. And the project tries to provide documentation, including on the wiki and the tutorials, in as many languages as possible. I think sticking to one language for project discussions and decision-making is essential for things to run smoothly, and English is the language which will exclude the fewest people who want to be involved.

Dennis Schubert

Dennis Schubert March 22nd, 2017 20:53

Let's make a huge line here and continue this thread over on Discourse.


Loomio, it's been fun, don't come back. (That was a Portal reference...)



:tada:

G

Globulle March 25th, 2017 08:40

I use Discourse with another group of people for more than a year and we are very happy with it. It is suitable for instant discussion, as well as forum or wiki use, and very easy to use. Great choice!

Strypey

Strypey March 27th, 2017 00:54

Your points about the proposals engine being surplus and confusing, and the need for user ranks and permissions, are good reasons that Discourse is better for the D* use case than Loomio. But for the sake of people doing similar comparisons between Loomio and other platforms, I just want to point out a few things...

Sadly, Loomio is really bad at searching old threads.

Not for me. I just type keywords from the thread title into the search box and they come up. Careful naming of threads and Judicious use of themed subgroups can also makes it easier to find older threads.

We will replace the mailing lists entirely with Discourse.

This would have also been possible with Loomio, which now has full support for subscribing to receive comments to groups and subgroups as email and reply by email (as well as info about new threads and proposals).

In theory, it is possible to create semi-private areas for special needs.

Even public-facing Loomio groups can have private subgroups.

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.

Loomio is free code under the AGPL. You did have the option of hosting your own instance, so this isn't really an advantage of Discourse over Loomio.

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.

Of course the cooperative are promoting their paid plan, they need to keep the light on! But they have also guaranteed that existing groups will always have the same level of service they have now, without having to pay.

I look forward to checking out Discourse and getting a bit more involved in D* discussions over our winter.