The playground schematic analogy for designing a fediverse service.

In recent days, the discussion around Lemmy has become a bit…spicy. There’s a few points of impact here. To list some examples:

This is not an exhaustive list. There’s significant grumbling about lemmy under the mastodon hashtag too.

On the flipside, there’s also been positive reinforcement towards lemmy and its dev, as can be seen by the admin of and many of the lemmy ecosystem in that thread.

You’ll notice all of these are frustrations about the (lack) of sufficient moderation in the tool-set of lemmy. This is typically coming from a lemmy admin’s perspective and the things that are very important to protect themselves and their communities.

In the discussions around these issues, a few common arguments have been made, which while sounding reasonable at face value, I think are the wrong thing to say to the situation at hand. The problem is somewhat that the one making these arguments feels like they’re being more than fair, while the ones receiving them feel dismissed or disrespected.

Before I go on, I want to make clear that I am writing this out of a place of support. I have been supporting lemmy years before the big lemmy exodus and after I made my own lemmy instance, I have created dozens of third party tools to help the ecosystem, because I want lemmy to succeed. That is to say, I’m not a random hater. I am just dismayed that the community is splintering like this, out of what seems to me, like primarily a communication issue.

So one of the analogies made in the sunaurus thread, likened lemmy development to designing a playground. It strikes me that this analogy is perfect, but not for the reason the one making it expects. Rather, it is perfect for exemplifying how someone coming from wholeheartedly supporting FOSS developers might still misjudge the situation and escalate a situation through miscommunication.

In this analogy, the commenter likened lemmy development like building a playground and external people asking for some completely unrelated feature, like a bird-watching tower, and expecting the developers to give it priority. The problem here is that the analogy is flawed. The developers are not building a playground for themselves. They’re building a playground schematic, which they expect people would and should deploy in many other locations.

Some people might indeed ask for “bird-watching observation posts” in such a schematic and it would be more than fair to ask them to build it themselves. but it is fallacious to liken any and all requests as something as out of scope as this. Some people might request safety features on the playground and those should absolutely be given more priority. We already know what can happen if you design a shitty playground, even if you give it for free!

To extend this analogy, the other lemmy admins, are not asking for luxury features. They are asking for improvements in the safety of the playground. Some people point out that metal slides become dangerous based on the weather. Some other point out that the playgrounds might be built in very unsafe areas, so a fence to protect the children from predators should be mandatory.

And here is the disconnect in communication happens. The overworked developer is already busy designing the next slide which can get them paid, or making sure things don’t break down as fast etc, and they perceive the safety requests as “luxury” items, someone should deal with themselves. However for the people who have to deal with upset parents and missing children, this dismissive attitude come out as downright malicious.

And thus you have a situation where both sides see the other are unreasonable. The devs see the people asking for the safety features as entitled, while the people who are suffering through the lack of those safety features perceive the developers as out-of-touch and dismissive.

Leave such a situation to fester long enough, and you start to get the exact situation that we have now. The Lemmy software starting to get a bad reputation in the areas concerned about most safety while forks and rebuilds are popping up.

All of this hurts the whole FOSS ecosystem by splintering development effort into multiple projects instead of collaborating on a single one. It turns our strength into a weakness!

This also brings me to another argument I see lemmy devs making somewhat too often. That they don’t have anything to gain from a larger community and just get more headaches. I always felt this was a patently absurd statement!

The lemmy devs are making more than 3K a month from lemmy. Enough that they are claiming they’re working on lemmy full-time. These funds don’t come because they’re running or developing a single forum for themselves. They come because they provide the “playground schematic”. If the community splinters into other software than lemmy, naturally the funds going towards lemmy development will likewise dry up.

This statement is completely upside down. The more people there are using and hosting lemmy, the more the lemmy developers benefit.

I would argue, the people lemmy developers should be listening to most are exactly the people hosting lemmy instances. These are the people putting incalculable hours into running and maintaining the servers and often paying out of pocket per month, for giving a service to others. Each admin is basically free value to the lemmy developers.

My position is in fact is that this scales down like layers. Lemmy Admins need to listen to instance admins most. Instance admins need to listen to community mods most. And finally community mods should listen to their users most. In this way you create bottom-up feedback mechanism, that doesn’t overwhelm any single person easily and everyone has a chance to be heard.

In AI Horde, I follow a similar approach. The segment of my community I listen to the most is in fact not the ones who are giving me money. It’s the ones who are providing their free time and idle compute for no other benefit than their own internal drive: The workers. They are effectively using their time for the benefit the whole ecosystem, which indirectly benefits me most. Without the workers, there would practically be no AI Horde, even if I am the only remaining. Likewise, without lemmy admins, lemmy as a software would be dead, even if the people kept hosting forever.

So what can be done here. I think an important aspect here is to make sure we are talk in the same wavelength. Cutting down on miscommunication is very important to avoid exacerbating an already precarious situation.

Secondly, it’s totally understandable that lemmy devs don’t have enough time for everything. But likewise, there’s a ton of people who need safety features but can’t get them. As such, in my opinion priority should be put into making the frameworks that more easily allows people to extend lemmy functionality, even if it doesn’t match the lemmy developers visions, or immediate roadmap.

For this reason I strongly suggest that effort should be put into developing a plugin framework for lemmy. Ironic to suggest a completely different feature when the problem is too many things to do, but this specific feature is meant to empower the larger community to solve their own problems easier. So in the long term, it will massively reduce the incoming demands to the lemmy developers.

In the meantime, I do urge people to always consider that there’s always a human behind the monitor on the other side. A lot of time people don’t have the skills to effectively communicate what they mean, which is even worse in text form. We all need be a bit more charitable on what the other side is trying to say, especially when we’re trying to collaborate for a common FOSS project.

The purpose of copylefts

Cory Doctorow knocks it out of the park with another great analysis of what the recent WotC decision means for the .

This perfectly showcases what a lot of people are missing about the strengths of the licenses like GPL and Creative Commons: These licenses are not meant to protect the creator (like copyrights) they are meant to protect the user!

When I share something I made and I provide it to your as AGPL, what I am effectively saying is that I want you to use this, and not only promise not to ever take it away from you, but also explicitly legally bind myself to that extend as well!

The point is that people change and things change, but just because I changed my mind later or got greedy, shouldn’t allow me to retroactively take away ideas I’ve given away. In fact things like AGPL shouldn’t even need to exist, and all ideas should work likewise.

But as always capitalism has ruined everything to the point where we need to make exceptions to avoid the expropriation of even things like human ideas.

This is why proponents constantly harp not to trust corporate licenses like these. They are not meant to protect you, they are meant to trick you.