Another month, another episode. Like your favourite calendar with scenes from urban New Jersey.
Tables and Links
You've already read about it on the front page. The coding collective has delivered the goods on features that we never found the combination of time and political will to seriously consider and implement before.
We recently made a change to the order of users in the Other Users nodelet. This was really experimental. The current order of users is based on the number of writeups posted over the last year. Similar changes have been proposed in the past but were usually just toyed with and dropped rather than given serious consideration. This time we went ahead and made a change. It's not set in stone but this should also be regarded as being (QED) the case for the previous method of ranking users. The order by XP was not terribly meaningful and was discouraging to newer users. After nine years we had a set of users who were so firmly entrenched in the top ranks that anyone who's been here for less than five years could only gaze up. It was looking a bit stale.
There was some applause and some opposition to the trial change. Quite a bit of both, actually. There was also a healthy debate in the staff groups and a lot of messaging behind the scenes. There was, it appears, much more rank-consciousness in the ranks than I expected. While it's nice to see yourself in the top section of a ranking, this ranking was based on what has, since the beginning of E2, been described as "an arbitrary number given by an anonymous stranger." Perhaps our XP/level reform succeeded beyond our wildest predictions and made XP inordinately meaningful while I wasn't looking. Even if some older users are reluctant to cede the spot to a newer, more active user, did I miss a change in our goals from writing for writing's sake to writing for rank? Maybe the currently active users deserve more applause than resentment.
Some people objected on the grounds that we only used the number of writeups as a criterion. There are myriad ways of ordering a list when you have plenty of metrics and can create a zillion permutations and combinations of those metrics. We could have come up with some very fair and very arcane calculation that made the honor roll look like grade school math. We were using one of these metrics, XP, to the exclusion of all others. We tried something different, a much more fluid metric that would allow more movement in both directions. Some people, it seems, found that offensive. I'm inclined to make the list default to a random order and let everyone who cares pick the order of their choice. Anything else would draw valid criticisms of appeasement and handing out rose-tinted glasses.
What can coders do?
Following the change to the other users nodelet there was, I hear, a bit of Swap-bashing going around because Swap coded the change and makes no secret of what he's up to. I want there to be no doubt about it, no rumours, and no speculation: the initiative and the order came from me. I expressly asked him to add that change. Let me get something else straight: what you think that any coder's personal issues are should have no bearing on your evaluation of his work. We also have a very capable lead developer whose job description includes evaluating the technical staff's contributions. If you have a personal problem, bring it to me but it better be good. Nobody knows better than Oolong and I do that it's sometimes like having Tigger on the staff but Swap was hired on merit, not for his handsome Latin looks or his bubbly persona.
Coders have pretty broad discretion in what they do on the site. This has always been the case. I very much doubt that someone will find Oolong or Swap more prone to spontaneous coding sprees with mixed results than wharfinger, jaybonci, and kthejoker were. If you've worked with coders, you'll understand that the cat herding analogy was never more appropriately applied. You'll also understand that, if you eliminated those whose social skills could do with some work, your staff would suddenly look very, very thin. If you haven't worked with coders... well, believe me, it's true.
The power of initiative is something that is granted to the coding staff for a reason. It goes together with a spontaneous creativity that is necessary in that context and which drives innovation and progress in the alternate, technical universe that powers our little digital world. A lot of things look good in the development environment but produce unexpected results when applied to the live system with real people. Some things have to be tried live because the feedback depends on people seeing them in action. And, yeah, occasionally we'll come up with the odd stinker. Bottom line is, and I've said it before, there's not a whole lot that can't be undone.
Noding for Numbers
After the Other Users change, there was some talk suggesting that we are rewarding noding for numbers by placing people with a high number of recent writeups at the top. This is, as far as I am concerned, a bogeyman from the past. We haven't had a classic case of NfN in years. Nobody has noded radio station call signs, plurals of common nouns, or Windows error codes in a long, long time.
I reject the definition of NfN as posting many day logs, poems, or nodes of an apparently trivial nature. The voting public has an opinion on those. The staff will take into consideration this opinion and will decide what should not be kept on a case by case basis, as always. Should this arrangement change, you'll find it posted in this space.
The simple usergroup editor lets you see who's ignoring your group as well as when each member was last seen. Surprisingly, I sometimes have ideas that draw no complaints.
Trial runs may begin soon for a re-vote feature. This would allow users to change their vote on a writeup on which they have voted before. The terms under which this may happen and the implications in terms of XP, GP, and all that are under consideration.
We're still looking into reforming node heaven to give users more control over their posted (or formerly posted) content. This is a bit more involved on the technical side but it's something that we would very much like to have and may be worked on sooner rather than later.
The forum and message system may be complemented by on-site discussion boards. This is a feature that's been available to the staff for a while. We're exploring the possibility of expanding the availability of this feature to include usergroups.
Until next time... unangenehme Gefühle durch Spazierengehen loswerden. And that's my final word on the matter.