freenode is about you and don’t just take our word for it

We are still experimenting with this blog and we would really like to get some input on what interests you guys and gals. So please take five minutes, sit down and write a comment to this blog post. Tell us what you feel, what you think, what you love, what you hate, what you always wanted to know about us and anything else you can come up with. Talk to us. I promise we will answer.

FOSDEM 2007

I was at FOSDEM last weekend and I liked it. There were loads of interesting talks in over a dozen tracks. Dev rooms, hacker’s corner, booths with funny gadgets and interesting software, you name it :). A huge thank you to all the people that made this happen!

In hindsight, we should probably have announced some sort of informal freenode meeting so people would have been aware that some of us went there. It is a pity that we did not think of that beforehand, but I will try to make sure we let people know well in advance next time!

Still, a few of us staffers got together and did something unusual: Talk with our mouths, not with our hands. It was pretty neat to sit in front of people and talk to them :).

I met quite a few people which I have known for years but never seen before. By chance, I even slept in the same room as one of them. One thing I did was to more or less systematically was to ask people about their opinion of freenode. I have gotten lots of feedback, some good, some great, some bad, some worse. While it is always nice to hear that we are doing good and helping people do what they like to do, I have to admit that I was mainly interested in the negative things people had to say. I spent quite a bit of time clearing up a few misunderstandings and minor issues, which was a really good experience for everyone involved.

One thing which stood out a little bit, and which also is sadly true for this blog, is that, sometimes, people will complain, but not to us. Unless you talk to us, we can not help you fix your problems! So please, do use any means of communication you want and tell us what ails you.

I will write a tiny blog post right after this one, feel free to use it to get back to us :).

The Heart and Mind of a Catalyst

As the staff has so recently begun this blog, I’ve been carefully thinking about freenode and what make it different from so many other networks. Ask 10 people and you might get 10 different answers, but I have my own theory, which I thought I’d share with you here. The difference is, quite simply, the people that populate the network – and their heart and drive to make it something better. For a long time, though I was operating a channel of my own, I never realized that freenode officially encouraged the sort of behavior that I often employ – self-mediation, moderation, arbitration, catalysing, or whatever you want to call it. But indeed, freenode has an entire section on its website about the importance (and role) of a Catalyst!

What is a catalyst, you might ask? “Catalysts try to resolve problems, not through the use of authority and special privilege, but by fostering consensus, gently nudging participants in the direction of more appropriate behavior and by generally reducing the level of confrontation rather than confronting users with problems…[while] Channel and network administrators may be catalysts…[a]n important characteristic of successful catalysts is the infrequency with which they wear authority or invoke special privilege.”

The freenode section even goes so far as to provide some key functions/skills of a catalyst: to remain relaxed, open-minded, responsible, unobtrusive, realistic, careful, attentive, minimalistic, courteous, cooperative, in a problem-solving mode, and humble. Reading through that list and digesting what is described/suggested can be intimidating, but in fact, it makes a lot of sense. For example, how could I possibly, as a catalyst, help to calm a situation down if I am not relaxed myself? Nor could I ever hope to help resolve a disagreement or situation if I have pre-conceived ideas of what is happening and what the resolution should be (as opposed to having an open mind and hearing out the parties involved).

As I mulled over the role of the catalyst and considered its application not just to freenode, but to daily life, I realized that even if someone were not “naturally” endowed with the demeanor of a catalyst, the skills can be learned. Becoming a catalyst is a choice – one must demonstrate a willingness to put aside things like pride, indignation, blame, annoyance, frustration. Instead, focus on identifying the issue and helping to resolve it. I have found in many situations that diffusing a situation is most effective when done in /query. When you have an opportunity to discuss something in /query, you can avoid embarrassing the person you’re speaking with. Also, frankly, showing that you care enough to find out what’s going on and how you can help is often a large part of the process.

Be aware of cultural and language differences. Not only may there be differences between disputing parties, but there may very well be differences between you and the person you are speaking with. It is extremely easy, particularly in the flat, toneless text of irc, to misinterpret someone’s intentions or even the actual words they use. Don’t be afraid to write in complete sentences. Determine whether you and the person you are speaking with share the same native language. (That is not to say that if you don’t, you should avoid catalysing – but merely that you should be aware of how easily you will (mis)understand one another). Age differences, perspectives, it will all have an effect on your ability to communicate clearly with the person you are talking with.

Each opportunity to catalyse will be drastically different from every other. I encourage you to learn from your mistakes (we ALL make mistakes – whether large or small). Don’t hesitate to go back over a conversation after the fact and look for areas in which you can improve your skills. Read the Catalyst section of the freenode site periodically – use it as a “refresher”. Be self-critical but not critical of others. Realize that you won’t be successful catalysing every situation and don’t be discouraged from trying.

In short, become the person you would want to have available to help resolve a dispute that you might have – impartial, attentive, open-minded, courteous, and humble. Catalysing is a thankless job in some respects – you often won’t have a lot of people saying ‘gee, thanks for taking care of that’. On the other hand, your channels will be much more effective and enjoyable places to spend your time. Help keep freenode the wonderful place that you, the user, have already made it! Become a catalyst today!

Group registration with freenode

Hi all. I’d like to talk about a unique feature that freenode has that many are not aware of for my first post to this blog. Sitting quietly in a small corner of our website, the concept of group registration is one of the things that makes freenode unique amongst IRC networks and it is something that I think highlights our commitment to open projects. The process is simple: after submitting a group contact form, a representative of freenode will contact you, usually by telephone, to verify your identity and to help get things set up.

The concept of registering your project and the availability of this service has been around for some time. Rob Levin, the late founder of PDPC and freenode, placed particularly emphasis on the importance of real world-backed relationships between projects and the network, and there are many benefits to the projects for going through the process: they have rights over the channels they register, and to this end can request transfer of ownership of any channels that they lay claim to as part of their group – assuming, of course, they are able to prove that they are involved in the group to a sufficient level of authority to authorise this. Additionally, project cloaks can be requested. These replace the default unaffiliated cloaks given out; for example, I wear a Wikimedia cloak to show my involvement. Group registration is also possible for about, reference or topical groups, such as those found at ##cooking, ##philosophy and ##security on freenode, to name but a few. They too can request cloaks and gain an official relationship with the network and its staff.

Now, for a bit of honesty: we’re rather backlogged in processing requests for group registration. This is no secret; those of you who have already submitted forms will have probably noticed that you have not been contacted. Recently however, several staff have got involved in the verification process and we are starting to process forms more quickly. We operate on a squeaky wheel system: poke a staff member listed on /stats p to process your form if you have not heard back from us after a week or so, and they will try and find someone. We’re also making improvements to the systems and infrastructure we’re using to record the forms and verifications to make things smoother for everyone.

So, if you like freenode and are using it for your open project, why not register your group today?

Bringing people together?

When I first came on board as freenode staff I had no idea what a incredible experience I was in for.

Over the past few years I’ve gotten to know some amazing people, both online and in person, become involved with some exciting projects, learned a lot about cool new stuff.. and it’s all thanks to the community surrounding the network.

Here I am now, starting to find my confidence and getting comfortable in my role as Head of Staff for freenode, and as a director for the PDPC.

I am psyched about the fact that the network continues to grow, we’ve just hit 36,000 users a few weeks back. I’m excited and geared about new projects we’re taking on like FOSSCON, the Free and Open Source Software Conference we are arranging in San Diego later this year.

I am proud to be working with such an amazing team of volunteers, the entire freenode staff is made up from people who share a drive and passion.

“If freenode didn’t exist, someone would have to invent it. That’s how you know that it’s not only an essential idea, but something you can’t imagine not being there.” Those were the words used by a gentleman I met this weekend at Southern California Linux Expo, and it filled me with this feeling of warmth.

We matter, we matter to the projects that use us. Alex Ionescu of ReactOS went as far as to thank freenode for playing such a large part in the success of the ReactOS project, stating that without freenode the project wouldn’t exist now.

That feels nice, having people come up and say “We appreciate what you do,” people thanking us for the time we put down working on this. And more so, it encourages us to continue working on making improvements and offering a even better service.
freenode may not have the ambition to be “the best network IN the world”. But we do strive to become “the best network FOR the community.”

freenode is a value-based network, driven by a curiosity to find and develop new strategies for communicating, learning and collaborating.

We realize that the times we live in demand creative and innovative thinkers and actors with insight, courage and determination. And I believe that these are exactly the sort of people we have on freenode, both my staff and many of the people involved in the wider community.
We aim to provide other projects with a safe space for creative thinking and discussion, a communication platform where you can collaborate and turn small ideas into big explosions.

We are about bringing people together!

I am going to blog soon about some of the changes that are happening with the network and how we communicate with and look for feedback from our users. I am going to let myself bare a bit and tell you how the last few months, following Rob “lilo” Levin’s death has affected us, and how it has changed us.

But for now I am going to simply thank you for using freenode, for helping us make this into what it is, wish you a happy Valentines Day and leave you with a few wise words by my friend Albert.

“A human being is part of the whole, called by us “universe”,
a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our
thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest.
A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a
kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and
to affection for a few persons nearest to us.

Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by
widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living
creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty… We shall
require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to
survive.” — Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

Here, there be blog posts

If you are reading christel’s blog, you will know that we have been mulling over creating a staffblog. It is not meant as an official newsfeed like freenode news, it is our semi-official way to talk about what happens behind the scenes, what makes us happy and what we think needs changing. We really do hope to get this thing flying and are aiming for at least one entry per week. Let us see how good we do once novelty wears off..

We will start our regular blogging with a message from christel, our head of staff. Most of you will probably have heard of her, anyway. For those who did not, she is a twenty-something nurse trying to live in the UK. She fails horribly at this and is cursed with lots of traveling around the world. Apart from Free Software and open communities, her interests include pink.

Expect to see her first post soonish. :)