Debian is Too Large to be Polite? (March 26, 2006)
A lot of the discussion at this year's Debian
leader election is about people on the mailing list being rude and
crude. Apparently, the group has grown a little large for fully
Some candidates propose applying a code of conduct around the
mailing lists. On its face this sounds counterproductive to me -- a
mailing list is supposed to allow all opinions, are they not?
With 900 people speaking, you fundamentally need to prepare yourself
to get shocked once in a while.
Additionally, many of the people proposing such codes of conduct
have not been careful to say how they will enact it. Censorship (why
beat around the bush?) can be helpful, sure, but it is important to be
woefully careful about it if you want your organization to stay
Most importantly, though, focusing on crude comments misses the
main issue. The issue is for the team to work together to enrich each
others' understandings and to make decisions that everyone feels is a
fair reflection of the groups' desires. Here are some directions,
taken from existing democratic political organizations, that seem
likely to help:
- When crafting a general resolution, Debian's closest thing to law,
follow a sort of parliamentary procedure that has been adapted to the
Internet. That is, everyone gets a round to speak before the next
round of rebuttals comes in, etc. I am sure there are clever people
in the project who could devise a good protocol.
- Branch off special-interest groups when possible so that the
number of people to coordinate in a discussion is manageable. When
they are done, they can bring their ideas to the general group for a
- For yes/no legal decisions, such as those discussed on
debian-legal, use a judicial system. Have someone advocating each
side, and have a judge mediate the back and forth argument. The
current situation on debian-legal is essentially mob rule. The
popular folks simply drive through what they want and drive out
people they do not like.