Default to open, please?

by Michael Tremer, February 21, 2013

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Something that bothers me the most these days is, that I have a massive amount of private email conversations. Most of them are about bugs or development in general. For me, this is a disturbing trend because doing my daily work gets even harder.

I personally aspire to default to open – to say it in Red Hat terms1. Especially when it comes to the IPFire community. Basically, this means that you default to sharing everything in the open by default and only keep things not open after specific consideration. It is easy to do. You just have to live by the following rules:

  • Default to sending email replies to a list when you are giving an answer to a question asked on the list.
  • Default to asking in the IRC channel instead of sending someone a private message.
  • Default to file tickets instead of sending emails asking people to do something for you.
  • Default to reply on bugs instead sending private emails.

The essential difference is that you don’t think about “can I post this publicly?”. This should be the default thing to do. Only a number or rare things should be kept private, because there are some things we must protect. Those are for example security bugs which should not be discussed openly unless there is a fix available, yet.

If you think that this makes things only easier for me, you are thinking wrong. It even helps you and the community, because:

  • A group of people can answer faster than just one person. You won’t have to wait until one specific person has time to answer your email or phone call. It is more likely that someone in a group has got a couple of minutes to help you with your problem.
  • You get peer review of an answer from the group. That wouldn’t happen if you were only talking to one person. Sometimes, people have different opinions about something or a looking at a problem from a different angle. That will help you to make sure that an answer given to you is approved by more people, which leads to:
  • Discussions end up with a much better solution if multiple people in a group contribute.
  • You increase the knowledge of the community, because your questions and answers are publicly available they can be found from people who have exactly the same question you had. They can see the answers right away and add more comments or opinions.

So keep in mind, that if you send me something in private, that I will often ask you to reshare it with the community. Everyone will benefit from it.