Re: Demystifying the Politburo (was: Re: Arabic encoding model (alas, static!))

From: Gregg Reynolds (
Date: Fri Jul 08 2005 - 12:17:17 CDT

  • Next message: John Hudson: "Re: Back to Coptic (was: Demystifying the Politburo)"

    Kenneth Whistler wrote:
    > Gregg Reynolds asked:

    Thanks very much for taking the time to make a very informative and
    even-tempered response.

    In response to your excellent discussion of what this list is and when
    it works and doesn't work, etc., I have a few observations and
    suggestions which I make in good faith. (I have some other
    questions/thoughts (beware!) that I will send separately.)
    > It becomes dysfunctional
    > when people try to use the list to voice complaints about
    > ISO process or to wonder darkly about "who makes the
    > decisions".

    I suppose that is at least partially aimed at me. I'm not wondering
    darkly (fun as that is, rhetorically), I'm wondering openly. Nor am I
    conspiracy minded; my original questions were made in good faith, driven
    by an interest in getting a clearer picture of what the Unibeast is, how
    it works, etc. One reason for this is that I've been thinking a lot
    about things like alternative encoding design principles, the relation
    of "industry" standards like Unicode to the larger community, whose
    interests get represented and how, etc. (FWIW, I think Unicode is a
    Good Thing, but it isn't everything.) That in the interest of clarity
    as to what Unicode is, what it claims to be (possibly the same thing),
    and especially what it isn't. As any good sociologist will tell you,
    institutions are more than the sum of their parts. Maybe this list
    isn't the right place for such inquiries, but... see below.
    > Go visit *any* other long-established forum focussed on some
    > particular issue.

    I (like most people on this list, I suspect) have visited such forums
    fairly regularly for over more than a decade. I've never seen anything
    like the Unicode list.

    But I don't think this list is like other lists. It is, de facto if not
    de jure, about many things. The "particular issue" covers a huge amount
    of intellectual territory. One the one hand it is highly technical; but
    on the other hand, it seems to be about something any literate can
    recognize and understand, namely characters and written language. The
    fact that most of us don't really understand the nature of written
    language isn't particularly relevant; we think we do, because we read
    and write. (Aside: how many people, even on this list, can explain why
    the English and Chinese writing systems are similar, or why English
    spelling is well-designed - or are even aware of stuff like that?) So
    it is completely unsurprising to me at least that people show up on this
    list and have things to say about their own written languages. Even
    more so, considering the general nature of many of the discussions on
    the list. Personally I don't think such people should be attacked.
    Contrast this with other lists (e.g. an XML list or a compiler
    development list) where it's easy for everybody to be aware of what they
    don't know.

    Also, most software projects have at least two lists, one for users and
    one for developers, and maybe one for announcements. Which leads to the
    obvious suggestion of splitting this list. I can think of several

   - the tech place, where one goes to have questions
    about what Unicode *is* and how to use it answered

   - newbies and nontechies here

   - go here to speculate about encoding stuff

    In addition, two "mudlists" where we can hurl insults at each other:

   - only two msg texts allowed: 1) "You're an
    idiot"; and 2) "No, you're an idiot"

   - more florid insults go here

      Newcomers who show up and who immediately
    > start complaining and/or ranting will invariably find that
    > the forum (or list) "is not a very friendly place."

    Well, sure; that goes for anybody who rants. But what about newcomers
    (or oldcomers) who don't rant? I've been repeatedly astonished at the
    sheer rudeness with which honest questions/comments have occasionally
    greeted here. But I guess there's nothing anybody can do about that.
    Lists don't insult people, people insult people.

    > the way forums and lists work. People who want to be accepted
    > and have influence on a list need to spend time learning the
    > focus, interest, attitudes, concerns, and history of the
    > forum or list, and to learn how to contribute. If they don't,
    > they may end up getting hostile responses or worse.

    Ok; but that strikes me as a little self-defeating. Essentially you're
    saying (as I understand it) that the barriers to entry are very high,
    tough luck if you don't like it. So you get a self-selecting group of
    encoding geeks. I would think a standard that affects basically every
    literate community on earth would put a high priority on lowering those
    barriers in an effort to attract native speaker/reader participants.

    Put it another way: it's not your father's internet. The traditional
    rules of engagement that developed among highly technical users don't
    necessarily apply, and maybe they shouldn't.

    > is not where decisions about the standard
    > are made. People who have a serious desire to add to or impact
    > something in the standard need to suck it up for a several-year-long
    > commitment and to educate themselves on how to get involved
    > with the UTC directly, with their national body, and with ISO
    > JTC1/SC2/WG2. People who figure that out get things done --
    > as in the recent work on getting N'Ko and Balinese encoded
    > in the standard.

    An absolutely valid observation.

      People who don't figure it out tend to come back to the
    > list and whine about how f'd up everything
    > is.

    Which is where separate lists might be useful. Maybe
      In the end there's not much Politenessman and other etiquette
    superheros can do about an open list, but separate lists might make
    self-policing work. At least for the signal/noise ratio might be
    improved on the tech/dev list.



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