Are we (still) a welcoming community?

Introduction

I have just seen a chat thread in the Ember slack and it’s prompted me to write this post as a point for discussion. Link (https://embercommunity.slack.com/archives/C045YSXTK/p1534092148000056)

I’ve been an Ember enthusiast for a long time (since way before 1.0). I work professionally with Ember and even wrote a book on the topic of testing a few years ago (hopelessly outdated now, but was useful at the time).

I probably should have written a blog post during the call for posts recently and I don’t think I really understood why I didn’t until I read this recent thread. I’ll try and explain my thoughts below.

Contributing and Participating Doesn’t Always Feel Welcome

I feel like there’s a concentration of power within the community that can send a subtle, but negative message to others. It’s hard to express this without sound ungrateful for the hard work that a number of people put in on their own time.

Some of the comments made in the Slack thread resonated with me, however, so I’ll comment on them.

whenever myself or my friend comment on anything in slack we get knocked sideways by a handful of people and shouted down. We’ve kind of given up

I have also reduced my participation in the Ember Slack channel. I used to be very happy to help out with answering questions, but these days feel like questions are generally answered by a limited group of individuals and have felt like my input is ‘unwelcome’. That’s my interpretation and I may well be wrong.

We are participating less and less and focusing more elsewhere because of this

I believe you only get one shot at this and tbh I felt like my input was worthless

Or the person making the criticism doesn’t want to get involved in a row, so they just apologise and drop it, so no-one learns anything from the experience other than the OP who learns its best just to keep quiet.

When you get into a situation where folks feel dismissed, they are only going to tell you once if they even bother to tell you at all. Most people don’t care for being confrontational and will withdraw. Their willingness to contribute is forever damaged.

Once this has occurred all future conversations are viewed through that lens. For prolific contributors on the ember slack, there’s a very real risk of folks becoming nervous about communicating with them based on any negativity they pick up. It’s a problem that compounds over time and is difficult to break.

It places a large amount of expectation and need on individuals to always be the peacemaker. As humans, with feelings, this isn’t an easy ask.

but I can attest to having conversations on here where the slightest amount of criticism immediately led to a) a borderline tribal level of defensiveness and b) adversarial responses, almost as if they were trying to “beat” me in a debate I didn’t even realise we were having

I’ve witnessed many a pile on when someone asks a questions or makes a ‘controversial’ comment. I feel like we need to teach good behaviours around how to encourage and respond to feedback without it turning into festivals of ego and bad will.

Concentration of Power

Ember currently feels like a hobby for a select clique - I can’t base my career on that.

I’ve seen people getting a bit too defensive over fair criticism (which is very subjective admittedly, but fair to me because I see it too) and as a result the replies are sometimes… less than optimal

I’ve been a contributor in a limited way across a number of Ember libraries and addons. The depth and breadth of addons available for Ember users is amazing. The overall level of quality is very high, particularly for libraries that are mostly maintained by core / almost core team members.

The downside is that there’s been a gradual concentration of power (not sure this is the right word, others could be responsibility, ownership or authority) with a limited number of people. I feel like we need to have a conversation about how we can share some of the ‘power’.

It feels like the community is now, to some degree, owned by LinkedIn, in that a few of the most prolific contributors to Ember are employees. Broadly, I welcome these folks and cannot underemphasise their amazing contributions. The downside is that there’s fewer places for other folks to get involved (whether or not this is the reality, or simply a perception).

The other downside that I’m perceiving is a concentration of decision making with folks in North America. The reason I see this as problematic is that most of the core team are based in the US and there doesn’t seem to be a clear pathway for folks from other parts of the globe to participate. Communicating with folks who are geographically and temporally close is clearly the path of least resistance.

My primary concern with the concentration of authority is that it gives the impression that the in-group are the only opinions that matter. Practically speaking, that’s the path of least resistance and I can certainly see many benefits. Being able to get a diversity of opinion and perspective, however, can tend to be missed.

I’ve seen two contributor workshops run at EmberConf in the past two years as paid addons. That adds a significant financial and travel burden for folks to participate. As a open source framework that wants to gain more traction, I feel like we need a greater focus on providing better opportunities for folks outside North America to participate and contribute. Perhaps there already exists such programs, but if they do, I’m unaware.

It feels to me like we’re losing the diversity of opinions and perspectives that really drove some of the best parts of the framework and the community in earlier years. I believe it’s a risky place to be and takes lots of conscious and active work to prevent.

Loss of Momentum

Concentration of decision making power leads to a loss of momentum. A recent example personally has been contributing back some code I worked on that added abilities to an ember core library. Broadly speaking the PR has been well received, some changes requested and addressed, but since then, I repeatedly had to prompt for “what’s happening here?”. It’s still not merged or rejected and a month has gone by.

I don’t believe for a second that it’s malicious or careless, but it does point to an availability issue. A person can only do so much and when it gets too much they have to either drop things or delegate some power to other folks to help out.

I see an increasing number of outstanding issues and PR’s across various common libraries and that starts to look like stagnation.

As a community, I feel like there needs to be a concerted effort into identifying the next generation of contributors and mentoring them to the point where they are given approval rights to the various libraries.

Thanks For Reading

Hopefully if you’ve made it this far, you’ve been able to give the most charitable interpretation to my feedback.

If anyone is confused, let me be very clear. I don’t think ember.js is bad, nor the core team or the folks who make such big contributions to the ember Slack. I’m sharing my observations and concerns to provoke a discussion of how things could be better.

Frank feedback is often uncomfortable, and for that I apologise. Know that this feedback is given from a place of respect and concern.

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In my opinion, I think the learning team do a cracking job under the circumstances. Locks especially clearly pumps a lot of his own time into helping users on slack, and he’s personally helped me past a brick wall I’d hit a few times, which I’m thankful for.

As someone who’s worked with OSS projects, and had stints in customer services, I appreciate that long term, things like this can make you jaded. When you see enough criticism, its not unusual to start seeing all criticism as someone “having a go”, and I get the feeling sometimes it’s down to that.

During the call to blog posts I recall one “negative” post (that wasn’t really that negative IMO, but more just opinionated feedback) where when I got to the end, I walked into a string of replies from various names I recognised from Ember Slack, with some essentially just implying his opinion was wrong. At one point the OP actually apologised for having that opinion! That was my first experience of that sort of thing in the Ember community, and I found it all a bit disappointing and it cemented in my head that there’s probably no point in raising similar issues unless I was ready to spend an afternoon debating it with them and, potentially, get piled on for my troubles.

I feel like in many of the scenarios I’ve seen since then, the OP could have been placated almost immediately by just acknowledging their point and moving on - even if they didn’t agree with it. I could point to some conversations in the past week, where a team member on slack who, I assume, read a message as a personal attack, then essentially escalated it into a tit-for-tat argument by trying to get one over on the person raising the issue, as if some sort of thinly veiled, passive aggressive character assassination solves anything.

To make it clear though, I do consider stuff like this an anomaly. 99.9% of the time everything ticks along nicely and everyone is respectful to each other, but - as you mentioned - all it takes is for someone to feel like they’re being attacked/belittled/ignored, and you’ve most likely lost that user (and any user that respects their recommendations) forever. Sometimes this is necessary, but sometimes it’s simply because someone didn’t stop and think “If I was in their position, would this reply annoy me? And is there any other way I can handle it?” before responding.

As a side note, I appreciate some people can be incredibly unreasonable, for example, I’ve seen people kick off on slack because the framework doesn’t support their niche edge cases out of the box. Perhaps these people need to be handled differently in those circumstances, but we need to be careful not to then lump everyone with genuine, constructive feedback into the same pile.

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Re: Contributions feeling unwelcome

I can’t argue here, but only because I cannot argue with how you feel. I suggest you take note of interactions that make you feel this way and bring them up (privately) with myself or another member of the Ember core teams.

Re: Concentration of Power

I really can’t agree here – there are 30 people across the various Ember core teams https://emberjs.com/team/, not counting alumni (who are often active), with many more that are regular contributors that have not officially joined a team. Growing to this point has been intentional and through the mentorship of contributors into leadership roles. Stay tuned for the result of the EmberJS2018 blog posts for more on this.

I believe the contributor workshops at EmberConf charged only to cover costs. @jenweber and @locks have created resources for others to host their own contributors workshops.

Things have definitely slowed down in summertime, and yet I have been personally amazed at the quantity and quality of work going on – creating the roadmap from the blog posts, continued efforts on module unification, the constant publication of releases, of the Ember.js times, various RFCs, creation of interesting new addons, work on the homepage, and the landing of long-awaited features. And I’ve surely forgotten other work that would be worthy of mention!

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Hi @mfeckie, I can tell that you wrote this carefully, and I encourage anyone else who replies here to try and be similarly gentle/kind to one another.

I think we are a welcoming community! But there’s always room for improvement. With that goal in mind, I’ve devoted a ton of my personal time to writing beginner articles, Q&A in the help channel, working to “fix” StackOverflow, running a meetup, workshops/talks, etc.

I’ve accomplished those things through the incredible support and encouragement of less “loud” leaders. I’ve almost never worked alone. There are a lot of people who care and show it in different ways.

If you see places where contributing doesn’t feel welcome, please reach out to me or others who manage various projects. I can help. The only way to make there be more voices in the room and around the world is if people are willing to really dig into the work that needs to be done, and they pair up with someone who can show them the ropes.

Re: international workshops, what time zone are you? Wanna run one online contributors’ workshop with me? I’d love to see them pop up in other places in the world, and I can help guide anyone who wants to lead one! Unfortunately, I’m not aware of a giant pool of money to fly volunteers around the world to run trainings, but we can do a lot by supporting people where they are already, geographically.

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I have done so in the past, but what I’m trying to convey is that I’m someone who’s generally pretty comfortable having difficult conversations, other people do not share that trait. It’s the less assertive folks who don’t feel comfortable who I feel get lost by the (perceived) unwelcome contributions.

I wasn’t aware of the resource, so that’s useful. My concern is less around costs of the session, more that it’s a significant financial barrier for non US based folks to attend. I think they could also happen remotely or even be recorded so they can scale.

I haven’t really seen an issue with the size of the team and I’m certainly not knocking any of the work that happens, it’s of a very high quality.

My concern is around concentration of decision making around 1 company in particular and geographically. Whilst I don’t see LinkedIn as ‘owning’ Ember, it comes across as having a disproportionate level of influence by merit of having employees who primarily focus on open source work (it’s entirely possible that my perception is wrong).

Nothing that I’m suggesting is about bad behaviour or malevolence on the part of individuals, it’s something I perceive as an evolving structural issue that could be aided by increasing the number of people have the ability to make decisions.

It’s incredibly difficult to see these kinds of issues from the ‘inside’

Taken from Slack for “safe keeping”:

daniel.jeffery [5 hours ago] Nice post Martin, I think that sounds pretty accurate

daniel.jeffery [5 hours ago] You mentioned LinkedIn, I find that interesting.

My own thoughts are that Ember feels a little less “homey” as it did a year or two ago (back when I first joined the Slack).

Things feel a bit more “serious/corporate”, which isn’t inherently a bad thing, it’s just different, but I was attracted to Ember because I thought it had a nice mix of playful/serious.

“As a community, I feel like there needs to be a concerted effort into identifying the next generation of contributors and mentoring them to the point where they are given approval rights to the various libraries.”

That’s also an interesting point, as someone who is definitely still on the “new” side of the Ember Community I do have some concerns about who can fill the shoes of some of the people who have been with Ember for a long time.

Perhaps the answer is that those people are committed and want to be doing what they’re doing for another five years? Which if so is great, but I imagine that people either a) get tired b) don’t have the same passion etc, so I think there needs to be thought given to how people can progress and contribute.

daniel.jeffery [5 hours ago] The point about “questions being answered by a limited group of individuals”, I’ve felt that more questions have gone unanswered.

I wasn’t sure if that was down to people not wanting to contribute or for some other reason.

I think that the people who do answer routinely sometimes come off as a bit unfriendly, however I also know that is probably a result of answering the same question over and over, and understanding so well that it’s difficult to empathise with newer less experienced people.

daniel.jeffery [5 hours ago] Another point I think is relevant here, I would love to hear more from Tom and Yehuda on Slack, or just in general.

I understand that they’re probably very busy, have other goals, or whatever, but their enthusiasm and communication dynamic was a big part of why I wanted to pursue Ember.

Having said that I do think that Sam Selikoff and Ryan Toronto are a great duo who represent Ember really well with their podcasts/videos etc.

To me it’s very important to have highly visible people who can be looked at for direction. :slightly_smiling_face:

Also sent to the channel melsumner [2 hours ago] Can I ask what your expectations of highly visible means? I mean to be fair, Tom’s a newlywed and Yehuda has a young child. Is it just them specifically? There are quite a few regularly engaged core team members, especially now that the core team has grown (https://emberjs.com/team/). I see regular interaction from most of the folks on that page. emberjs.com Ember.js: Team Ember.js helps developers be more productive out of the box. Designed with developer ergonomics in mind, its friendly APIs help you get your job done—fast.

daniel.jeffery [2 hours ago] That’s a helpful answer to my question really as I wasn’t sure if there were reasons why they were less visible.

Obviously I can empathise with those reasons and agree that’s a higher priority than extra time on Slack :slightly_smiling_face: Haha

melsumner [2 hours ago] Just some food for thought, though. If you feel that way, it’s valid, and I’d like to unpack it a little more to see what the expectations are and help get (all of the community) closer.

daniel.jeffery [2 hours ago] Sure thing

daniel.jeffery [2 hours ago] I mean for me personally I was just curious where those two were

chrismou [2 hours ago] @daniel.jeffery Yehuda posts occasionally on Twitter, though not so much about Ember nowadays. Worth a follow though

daniel.jeffery [2 hours ago] I think it’s important for people who have been contributing to coding or really any field for a long time to have some time off, focus on other things, family, relationships - very important

daniel.jeffery [1 hour ago] @chrismou Yeah I need to use Twitter more, as I follow them both!

mfeckie [1 hour ago] Personally I’d like to continue the conversation away from slack, so I’m not gonna reply to any of the questions around expectations here.

daniel.jeffery [1 hour ago] On Discuss? I’ll be happy to read what you have to say

wayne-oo [29 minutes ago] quick question: why is everyone replying here and not on discourse?!

I’m very glad that you’ve had that experience. I’d like to see a larger number of folks have similar experiences.

As I’ve said in another reply, the issue I’m sharing is less about my ability to have difficult conversation. My concern is more about the impact this has for people who may be less argumentative than me and / or be dealing with a language barrier.

I’m based in Australia sometime Sometimes GMT+8 sometimes GMT+10 (depending on if I’m in Melbourne or Perth) and yep, I’d happily help facilitate.

I suggest you bring up the interactions that cause the unwelcome feelings so that they can be addressed with those making those comments, which could hopefully prevent others from ever experiencing that from our community.

I believe @jenweber has done work in this area. FWIW, I do believe there have been contributor workshops at past EmberFests (The European Ember conference).

Awesome, looking forward to it @mfeckie! I am loosely planning to have an online participation option for a workshop I’m running in Boston next week, but it’s at 6p EST and I want to do another one that’s workable for other time zones. I’ll send a DM to schedule.

I hear you on people being hesitant to speak up. If you see something, even if you’re not the person involved, you can still bring it up with someone. Mel Sumner has been vocal about offering to chat and work through things, and I encourage people to take her up on it.

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Couple different thoughts:

Communication style: I think one thing to consider if that different people have different communication styles, and sometimes what seems blunt or dismissive is just the way people talk. And different parts of the world are more or less blunt as well. I don’t feel like Ember is North American centric, at least not anymore so than other tech projects are, but I also don’t dismiss others that may feel that way.

That said, sometimes those in a leadership role have to be extra careful how they communicate because many times people only give feedback once, and if they feel dismissed or piled on, they may not contribute again, via feedback or code.

Visibility: I do think (and I believe it’s been acknowledged) that the lack of public visibility re:Ember on things like Twitter particularly, but also Stack Overflow and blog posts, hurts Ember and makes it less likely for others to consider it vibrant and consider it for adoption. I think there are a lot of initiatives to help this, but ultimately, this is the kind of thing that the community needs to address - no one needs permission to write a blog post, answer Stack Overflow posts or post tweets tagged with #emberjs. While it is “easy” to like/retweet a core team member, if people using Ember just commented about how they were using Ember, struggles or wins they had with it today, blog about the same, etc. - that would go a long way toward helping increase the visibility. And it would likely raise interaction from core team member who could signal boost good content.

To the original point of whether the community is welcoming, I still think that it is, by and large. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be times where things get heated or people feel dismissed, or even someone who’s been around a long time doesn’t feel like going over something for the Xth time. But over all, I personally feel like I’ve had positive experiences asking for help, making suggestions (even when critical). I do think this is an area that it good to discuss though, just to make sure as many people as possible are having a positive experience.

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Communication style: I think one thing to consider if that different people have different communication styles, and sometimes what seems blunt or dismissive is just the way people talk. And different parts of the world are more or less blunt as well. I don’t feel like Ember is North American centric, at least not anymore so than other tech projects are, but I also don’t dismiss others that may feel that way.

I want to highlight this point. Some people are unaffected while others are. It would be helpful to be aware and communicate this to people when we see how their message could be misunderstood to continue being, and improving, as a welcoming community. I understand it’s easier said than done though.

When I was new to the Ember Slack there was a time where I felt this way simply by the type of interactions I saw happening in some of the more active channels. From that point on I was wary of participating in any chats, so I can relate to this comment on “withdrawing” from the conversation (although I hadn’t participated in any conversation at this point).

After being a part of the Ember Slack for a while I realized that some of these interactions I saw weren’t people being dismissive or confrontational it’s just their way of communicating and things don’t always come off the way it’s intended to through online chat. Today, I try to participate more online with the community through Twitter, GitHub and Slack.

With that being said, I think we, as a community, could do better to be more conscious of the way we speak publicly because there is always someone out there who is observing the community before they choose to be a part of it.

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I feel this concentration of power made Ember deviates from its original vision, where they said to have core developers that works on real apps from many domains to make sure all the needs are met. This don’t just apply to people on the outside. From what I’ve heard, many people within LinkedIn hates Ember. So not even all the needs are being addressed within the company.

I’ve been a part of 2 large ember apps (I’m not from linkedin, fyi), and I’m currently working on emberclear.io in my spare time (much smaller app).

I also have 2.5 years of professional react experience on > 3 large apps, and I love ember more and more as I use React. I’m just so tired of solving the same problems over and over again. I’m tired of writing glue code between libraries.

Granted, I’m currently using module unification, typescript, and anglebracket invocation – so I’m in the future with ember, and I couldn’t be more excited than ever!

But talking to the core team members is super cool. I’m on slack, and will ask them questions, and they’re all super nice people. <3

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I do worry that we can come off as dismissive and locked in a bubble from time to time as a community. To be fair, I think this happens all over the industry - every community is busy solving their own problems, and when communities have diverged far enough, sometimes the lingo and the discussion is moving so quickly that people trying to enter in without context get swept away. I feel the same thing whenever I try to jump in on React conversations - it takes a while to understand how things work, and why things were made the way they were made.

All that to say, I can see why this would happen. Ember is different enough from the other frameworks that we have our own thought bubbles and streams, and we can seem dismissive because of that.

I try my best on Slack and elsewheres to be communicative, but as others have pointed out sometimes its hard to know how you come off. I think it’s partially due to differences in communication style, but also partially due to comfort level in the community - I had a very similar experience to @darindoria where over time, I realized that everyone was busy, and that often times things that felt hostile weren’t, they were just curt because someone had to run to a meeting, or finish implementing a feature, or because this discussion had been had many times before and they didn’t have the emotional energy to deal with it that time.

That said, are there any good pointers for things we should/shouldn’t be doing in chat, on forums, etc. to make sure we’re being as inclusive as possible?

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