Over the Fence, the fundamentals of support.
One of the mindsets that I feel is yet to be broken with the end user what I call The High Wall.
The High Wall is the mental barrier which many owners of commercial and propriatary software have concerning their access to the developers and support people for their software. Users are not familiar with the idea of accessible support and the avialibility of other users and experts. The have in their mind the picture of a High Wall which on one side sits the end user and on the other the developers of a product. For the end user the High Wall reprents a barrier between them which on one side stops them recieving support and on the other stops the developer recognising and responding to their needs. This wall has been created and maintained by the view that developers and users should never talk or meet. Commerical businesses who generate revenue by agreeing to allow communication across that barrier have certainly done what they can to add to the bricks and mortar of that idea. So when I am confronted with a new user of open source software, who has expressed a problem or issue with a package or a process I see the High Wall rising in their eyes when I suggest contacting the development group, author or team for a package. Literally I see this new user look skyward and sigh as, in their heads, they picture some unscalable and impossibly High Wall between them and the answers they are seeking. For me the common task I have in introducing new users to Free and Open Source software is getting them to understand that ( and I really hate appeariong to be quoting the Matrix ) “There is no High Wall”.
At the risk of stretching a metaphor beyond all useful context. I should point out that the barrier between user and developer can be a positive thing. Discussing how and why seperating Users and developers is a topic for another blog, instead I want to discuss how the Open Source community needs to be more about Garden Fence than Prison Walls when it comes to sharing, discussion and communication between User, Producers and Developers.
Should we be discussing Garden fence support ? Does the metaphor work and how do we go about reconstructing the idea ?
If Open Source Software is about Grass Roots development and ideas then we need good fences to make good projects. There is a quaintly English idea of two people chatting and gossiping over the garden fence, though for time when people talked and shared there was a feeling of a community that stayed in touch. We have replaced our own fences with websites, forums, irc and instant messaging but we still stay in touch and we know how to open conversations.
It is hard for me as a long term user of free and open source software to judge just how well we manage at maintaining and building those fences. Ive certainly experienced my own share of bad experiences in joining new electronic neighbourhoods and ive experienced some good ones as well. However since my focus is on how and what I can contribute to the Ubuntu UKTeam this particular thread concerning Walls and Fences has been growing in my head for some while now. The concept of Community ,Ubuntu, seems to be everywhere as such it may be time to consider how we tend towards our own gardens and fences and how we can share our experiences at the Garden Fence.
Thanks for reading.