I have been reading the Catalyst mailing list for a while. I’m also subscribed to the DBIx::Class mailing list. These are reasonably busy lists where converstations range from incredibly techincal arguments about ways to refactor the cor to new and confused people sticking their head in and asking questions. Usually they’re polite and well thought posts from intelligent people.
This is a little different from a lot of Open Source projects!
There are intelligent people helping, unlike the last time I was on the Rails public mailing list. It apparently consisted of complete newbies who couldn’t get Rails installed asking “experts” who had been around all of two weeks how to get unstuck. My question there got dead silence, until someone finally said, “Gosh. That’s hard.”
The Perl folks don’t seem to consist of angry people who’ll tear you up if you ask a question that’s referred to obliquiely in one of the documents. That behavior always reminds me of the openbsd-users list, where you’d better have read every possibly useful man page before you ask a question. (Save yourself the trouble; just read them all.) Last time I asked a question there, I got snarked at to, “RTFM!” and then they got slammed with, “They did. Read the OP.” The final result was, “Gosh. Shouldn’t ought to do that. Dunno.”
I haven’t seen thoughtless idiots shouting, “Read the FAQ!” yet, either. That whole phenomenon explains why I stayed away from Linux for as long as I did; I had a problem and tried to ask if anyone knew a solution. I asked if anyone could help me debug it. I was willing to trace code as far as it took; I had time, I was a C programmer, I could help. All I got (dozens of copies of, from different jerks across the world), “Read the FAQ!” Guess what? I had, and it wasn’t there. Three years later I found it was an actual kernel bug.
I asked a question on the Catalyst list the day before yesterday. I wasn’t expecting it to be painful because I’ve read the list for a while and know that isn’t their style. I wasn’t expecting what I got, though.
I got not one, but several clear and helpful replies. In fact, the response has been fantastic.
They were of varying lengths, but all made interesting suggestions. They were from the authors of the modules Iam using, core organizers of the project as a whole, and other interested list members who had suggestions to make.
They pointed out techniques that could work with the current code, discussed some improvements they would like to see to some modules to make things easier, and made many useful suggestions.
Now, they did mention that the cost for excellent advice like tihs is to turn the advice in to documentation. I think that’s great, for a number of reasons. If it happens on a regular basis, it clearly explains why Catalyst some of the better documentation of an Open Source project. That sounds like topic for an entierly different post.
After they were so helpful and kind, how could I not want to follow up and write down a bunch of the things that were discussed?
In addition to asking a question, and getting a lot of fantastic help, I followed up on a prior suggestion here on this very blog, that I update the documents for a component of Catalyst. I took the time and did so. The response to that was also good. They didn’t snark about every possible little thing that could be different. They accepted the patch, and were pleased about it. They said “Thank you!” and it sounded like they meant it.
I know that saying “Thank you” is something we try to teach every little child… but somewhere along the way it seems to get lost. It’s so very nice.
In addition to these friendly mailing lists, there are the Perl Monks. That’s another big batch of folks who’ll talk on their forums and write messages and answer questions and be helpful. As well as silly, friendly, goofy, and encouraging. There are only two hard parts to talking to them; one is figuring out their slightly odd forums, and the other is getting up the gumption to post.
Seems to be worthwhile.
One of the points Matt Trout wrote about was to get people out of the mailing lists and on to blogs where they’d be easier to see. I think that’s great. I also thought I’d take a moment to tell someone who might find this to go to the mailing lists! They’re great too!
I’ll end with this: Thank you for the responses. They’ve helped me solve a techinical problem, and learn how the system works, and learn new techniques to finding things, and understand the libraries and Perl better. You really do form a community, and it’s a great thing.