Goodbye Okular

The Okular team has never been all that big. Recently we lost Pino as the maintainer. His reasons are his reasons, but I can't say I blame him. I can personally no longer tolerate the level of abuse that we're seeing on bug reports. The latest example is Wishlist item 157284

I'm unsubscribed from the okular-devel mailing list. I'm not going to be in #okular. I'll still look at XPS bugs if I notice them.

It is difficult to leave. I really do care about Okular - I gave quite a lot of my time to improve it. It is a really nice application. However every time I looked at some bug comment insisting on a change (in something like the GUI that is subjective in the absence of actual usability study), I get disheartened. Even when I'm supposed to be working on something else, it gets to me. I've got better things to work on, where I'm not seeing that level of criticism of volunteer efforts.

I'd like to thank everyone involved in Okular, especially Albert and Pino for their maintainership, Piotr for the initial work, and Tobias for some inspirational work on the generator side.

Best wishes to Okular and its happy users.


I don't get it. What's so bad about that bug report?
It's a wishlist report and I can't blame people to use Bugzilla for that, because nobody looks at KDE Brainstorm and you can't assign ideas to a project there (just tag them).

It has a patch attached and many votes in favor of it.

By kamikazow at Sat, 01/09/2010 - 00:24

What's so bad is the irritation factor in how people went about handling the report.

It was filed. Fair enough.

It didn't get fixed "quickly enough". That happens sometimes.

Then people started to jump in and ask "why isn't it done?" and describing the UI as "crappy" and what not.

Now, what those people ought to realize is that even if all of that is true, they have played a big part in destroying the project by doing what they did. If you aren't going to fix it and someone else has already asked about it, back off and give the developers time. If you don't like it, vote with your feet and use something else or, better yet even, get involved and start improving the application directly.

Heckling and what at times amounts to on-line stalking is not only pretty immature, it is ultimately destructive and chases contributors away. Why would you want to hang around and be nagged endlessly by N different people who you have no real relationship with? What's in it for the developer? If we ignore bugs.kde.org, then people get pissed off about that and throw hissy fits elsewhere (dot.kde.org, linuxtoday.com, etc.) It becomes a no-win situation and eventually people who had been working to make things better just leave.

I see some familiar names on that bug report, which is really sad as it shows a pattern in behavior.

What's doubly sad is that I don't see anyone sitting back and saying, "so, what would work to everyone's satisfaction?" The developers did outline why it was the way it was, so the next step is to find something that fulfills that as well as the desires of the people who want it. Nobody did that. They just tried to argue for their pre-conceived notion of what the solution should be.

Some other hints: don't saying things like "usability studies don't matter", don't comment on fields of expertise you are not skilled in, don't use words like "idiots" or "crappy" (in fact, most of those people wouldn't have the balls to say such things in real life; astounding how they lose all their better sense when they step up to a keyboard), if you don't have anything unique to add to the conversation then don't bother. In other words, use common sense and err on the side of pleasantness.

That bug report was one big Fail, and I hope everyone who was involved with it feels the guilt they've earned through their actions. I don't care how they wish to defend themselves ("but, but, but ... i was just sharing my experience!"), the results speak for themselves.

By Aaron J. Seigo at Sat, 01/09/2010 - 01:08

Aaron, may I suggest a post about the problem of communication between users and developers in your blog? Perhaps after your series of key quest of KDE for this year or as part of it... In my humble opinion, the ensuing discussion could serve as a future reference as well as a mirror where some developers and users could feel reflected.

I think you and everybody in the community can appeal to people's common sense, respect and good maners but the reality is that this won't stop some individuals doing whatever they please. It's just part of the power that the anonymity and freedom the Internet provides (and I think this is a good thing) and we can't do little to make people behave. In a sense, it's inevitable.

What is a bit scary is that if a small group decide to subvert a whole project they can do it relatively easily with just a few comments or emails. I don't know what measures could be put into place but I think it's worth of dicussion to try to come up with ideas that could help in situations like this one. Projects shouldn't be perceived as something brittle that can be disrupted with little effort.

Anyway, let's hope everybody understand that we are dealing with software, nothing more, nothing less. There surely are more important things in life.

By Álvaro Manuel Recio Pérez at Sat, 01/09/2010 - 16:18

Just to clarify my last sentence (I'm not a native English speaker). I just meant that it's not worth getting so emotional about software. Personal welfare is more important...

By Álvaro Manuel Recio Pérez at Sat, 01/09/2010 - 17:36

Okular is a fabulous tool. Thank you for your work.

By maninalift at Mon, 01/11/2010 - 12:38

I'd also like to say this: I can hardly believe that when you read a blog entry where someone who has given so much says, "I can't take any more" your FIRST response is "I don't get it. What's so bad about that[...]?" Then you go on to justify the bug report. Even if you were factually correct, showing a little empathy and support instead of once again setting up a debate would go a long way to making things a little happier, healthier and bearable. Then maybe we wouldn't lose developers like this.

When someone says, "I'm hurt" the first response shouldn't be the equivalent of "Seriously? C'mon, suck it up!" Given that Brad put a lot of his time and energy into KDE, such a response is rather callous and despicable in my opinion.

By Aaron J. Seigo at Sat, 01/09/2010 - 01:15

I can't show empathy for an event I have no info about. The only info given was the bug report. I had a quick look at it and it didn't seem bad. I didn't read every single comment.
I saw:
1.) It has many votes.
2.) Someone wrote a patch to scratch the itch.

I have no involvement with Okular except that I use it as PDF viewer.
You can't blame me for not understanding what's going on with so little info given.

So instead of demanding empathy, how about a little empathy for people who simply don't understand the issue? Instead you put "suck it up!" into my mouth. I never said that and I never intended to say that.
Practice what you preach, buddy.

By kamikazow at Sat, 01/09/2010 - 13:34

"I can't show empathy for an event I have no info about"

Brad gave you the info you need in this case.

"I saw:
1.) It has many votes.
2.) Someone wrote a patch to scratch the itch."

Yes, those are the facts indeed. Interestingly, those facts didn't lead to the desired result. Something to think about.

" You can't blame me for not understanding what's going on with so little info given."

You don't have to understand what's going on in detail to realize that Brad's a little burnt by dealing with this. That's what is important here, because without developers we don't have software. Start there, and then once that's dealt with let's get to the issue of the bug report.

"how about a little empathy for people who simply don't understand the issue?"

In this case, you are not the one requiring support. In fact, you actually reinforced (albeit unintentionally) the problem here.

"Instead you put "suck it up!" into my mouth. I never said that and I never intended to say that."

That is, however, precisely how it comes across. I'm sure you didn't mean that to be communicated, but trust me, it's how it gets read on the other side. Too many people don't think twice about saying things that end up being really quite demoralizing when they are approaching developers; there is this "they are a developer, I want information" approach that does not take into consideration the fact that the developer is also a human being with feelings, needs and other things to do in life.

So the problem of "I never intended to say that" is really at the root of this whole thing: nobody in that bug report intended to push Brad or any other developer away. Yet by their actions they did. There is a missing link in there between intent and communication, and it is a source of community errosion.

It's resolvable, though, but thinking about how we communicate. Otherwise, expect more and more developers to become more and more insular. Not what we want, is it?

"Practice what you preach, buddy."

I'm sorry I showed you up, but in my world highlighting something hurtful (even when not intentional!) is better than losing valuable developers. I'd encourage you, and everyone here, to step back and consider this from a community health perspective and realize that when we pull support away from people's human needs through our communication, people get hurt and eventually leave. If I must choose between a developer and a user, I also know which side of that I will take.

By Aaron J. Seigo at Mon, 01/11/2010 - 19:01

That's true in the online world people easily forget about other people's feelings and want them to act like emotionless robots or something in the like.

However I have taken the time to read this bug and I must say the initial poster did _everything_ right:
1. He clearly explained his issue.
2. He provided a patch.

That's great. But what happened? Nothing helpful. For 2 years. He probably got frustrated and went away and never again will write a patch. And then our beloved trolls that didn't contribute anything took the chance trumped in and ranted...

So the first problem to solve in such and similar cases isn't the trolls. The first problem to solve is asking oneself: How can I avoid frustrating thoughtful people and let them feel useful even if I don't like their patch (at least not in that state)? How can I show them a way to solve their problem in a way that pleases me, too?

This is what went totally wrong with that bug.

This is not limited to KDE. I myself got frustrated on MediaWiki, when I tried to help other people that wrote cool patches for it (and also myself with some contributions). For instance there are some patches that enable MediaWiki inline music score editing (inline Lillypond or abc notation...) and even convert sores on the fly into sound, which would be really cool on let us say Wikipedia articles on music pieces. These patches float around since 2004 and were constantly updated for a looong time by their posters. But guess what happened? Nothing but some weak excuses (such as "potentially insecure, blabla") and _no_ hint how to proceed for the person who took the time to write a patch. And there again quite some people trumped in and ranted... And probably some MediaWiki core developer got quite frustrated, too.

So yes it is very sad that a further KDE developer got frustrated but all (including him) should also take a break and think which other nice people got frustrated by our own previous action, too? That way you can look things from another angle and then the badly missing empathy among thoughful people on any side will emerge.

By arnomane at Sun, 01/10/2010 - 01:08

"This is what went totally wrong with that bug."

Yes, that was part of the destructive cycle in this case.

Okular has been having problems as a project. As a result, patches haven't been getting merged and people aren't communicating well.

As a result, some people interfacing with the Okular project got testy and made the problem worse rather than better by how they behaved on bugs.kde.org and elsewhere.

There was unhealthy interaction to be seen all over that bug report.

The root cause? Well, in part Okular having trouble, which is a community management issue. In part, our users having too direct a communication line to developers without treating it with the required respect due to such a privilege of approach to a creative team.

This kind of challenge needs addressing by us as a _community_, including detecting when a project needs help and get it help before it starts failing to be able to handle poor behaviour from those outside of their project.

Still, in the end, there is _no_ excuse for the behaviour we see on a regular basis on bugs.kde.org. I'm increasingly in favour of just shutting that system down and creating a much more "walled garden" approach that has a meritocratic barrier to entry.

"That way you can look things from another angle and then the badly missing empathy among thoughful people on any side will emerge."

Beautiful advice :)

By Aaron J. Seigo at Mon, 01/11/2010 - 19:07