I found this mailing list conversation snippet to be very insightful, and wanted to share it.
Scott: “Open to critique” isn’t quite the same as “responsive to critique”. From an outside perspective, it seems that frequently SugarLabs is just not listening to people who offer contrary opinions. This is better than flaming them, but maybe not as good as it could be. For an end-of-year report, I’d like to see instances enumerated where SugarLabs actually internalized some outside critique and responded in a positive way — some concrete change made to the UI, or Sugar, or to process. That would be more convincing that simply stating, “we are now open to critique”.
Bernie: We’re definitely intimidating to non-technical people. At least, this is what I sensed at the Realness Summit. OLE also seems to be doing a better job at connecting with educators. I’m not completely sure what corrective actions should be. We might need to do some work on the wiki, maybe add web forums, which non-geeks tend to prefer…
Scott: I suspect that the answer to this problem does not involve installing additional software.
Later in the day, Jeff and I were having this conversation on #teachingopensource.
Jeff: Is IRC really a barrier to entry? maybe I have simply been using it too long, but it seems immediately recognizable to me. I think one barrier might be the attitudes that crop up. Even with emoticons, sometimes it’s hard to discern intent. Hard enough in email, but sometimes devastating in real time.
Mel: Actually, yes. I had a really, really hard time figuring out IRC. First, figuring out that it existed and I had to use it. Then how to get it, how to set the software up. Then what the heck networks and channels and whatnot were – and why channels? my IM paradigm was “you have a buddy list and you ping people individually.” So “chatrooms are the default!” wasn’t hard to understand once I realized it, but it took a while to realize because I wasn’t looking for it.
And then “oh man, who are all these people? I am nervous about pinging them, will they yell at me?” And then all the /commands I had to remember. It was so bewildering and terrifying and new and it was being used as a way to present new information to me at the same time, sort of like… taking your first calculus class in… Mandarin, if you’ve also just started studying Mandarin as a foreign language. You can’t concentrate much on the calculus because you’re going “zomg it’s in CHINESE.”
It’s hard to remember how hard things can be, especially when you’re surrounded by a community of people who are the ones who self-selected and made it past that hardness. By definition, if you’ve gotten into FOSS, the current participation mechanisms worked for you… so why fix them?
Because we want others to join us.