Internet-based collaboration -- impossible?

About 15 years ago, I was the administrator of what was at the time the largest MUD in existence. I ended up in my position as a result of a coup. The previous administration had acted like a bunch of authoritarian pricks, causing all sorts of ugly petty politics. I’m a labour organizer, so it’s second nature for me to organize groups of angry workers and direct their aggression in ways which effect change. I eventually fomented open rebellion, the admin shut down the MUD to stop it, and then the guy with physical access to the server opened the MUD up and handed the virtual keys to me and my fellow co-conspirators.

I’ve only recently been a participant on here, and already I’ve run into the middle of what appears to be ongoing conflicts. I was told at one point to either dedicate months to learning the code base and implement my suggestions myself or basically cram them up my ass; I was accused just yesterday of being part of some sort of anti-bloat conspiracy. At this current moment I’m trying to figure out how an IRC channel relates to this forum, and why the petty bickering from there can result in bans here (and the concommitant trolling, counter-trolling, counter-counter-trolling, anti-trolling, counter-anti-trolling, and so forth).

All of this has got me thinking about the feasibility of projects like this which appear to be entirely or primarily organized over the Internet.

There was a university psych study I read about years ago which attempted to answer this very question. A control group of volunteer students was timed while attempting to complete a project while all face to face in the same room. Another group was split up into separate rooms and could communicate only by computer. The experiment could not be completed because the group working over computer became so furiously angry with each other that they had to be escorted from the building by security to keep them from physically attacking each other.

The ability for people to collaborate over computers seems to be seriously crippled by the loss of body language, facial expression, tonality of voice, and so on. There seems to be an entirely instinctive assumption of hostily when unconscious communication levels are removed, resulting in ever-escalating levels of anger and combativeness. What little work does get done appears to be the result of small groups of people working out-of-band, resulting in a sort of elitist executive committee which controls the direction of the project, creating all of the problems associated with vertical organization while maintaining the pretense of being horizontal.

What do you think? Is it possible to create a healthy collaborative project over the Internet? Or does the medium itself have limitations which prevent horizontal organization?

I think it’s fully possible, the lack of facial expressions is why we have such a diverse list of emoticons. :stuck_out_tongue: I will agree that it is certainly more easy to be carried away in the heat of the moment while working on the computer though, so if people don’t remember and account for that fact it can lead to worse flare-ups more quickly. A group of people willing to remain calm, on the other hand, I think can actually accomplish more, due to the ability to work in different places on different things and still seamlessly integrate their work automatically without needing to worry as much about all needing to be their at meetings. (On the contrary I was just listening to a radio show about a new study that showed that group meetings were actually the least productive part of business, and if businesses took one day a week and tried to remove all talking from that day their productivity soared).

As to elaborate a bit on some of the other, not-quite-topic-related things you’ve posted here.

There are currently around 40 total active devs. Some of these, (such as KA101, Rivet, and Kevin) do a lot of merging without as much actual code creation, others tend to work on bug fixing, and a few only know a very small amount of coding and work on adding and changing little things. Almost every one has some sort of personal project they put time into, and many of which have real jobs that consume large portions of their time (nobody is full time here, everyone is a volunteer). On the other hand their are currently 2,607 forum members, with over 24,751 posts in the drawing board forum. Even accounting the number of posts that the mainline devs make, this makes for a vastly larger number of people generating ideas then there are people implementing them. Thus if you have an idea it basically come down to these options:

[ol][li]Convince a dev that it needs to be added. This can range from convincing them just that it needs to exist, in which case it might take a good while before they get around to adding it, to convincing them that it needs to be added right now. The latter is extremely difficult to do, considering human nature and the other ideas they probably have.[/li]
[li]Learn how to code yourself and do it yourself. This is pretty much the only way to get immediate results instead of just a “it’s on the list”, due to devs often having their own ideas.[/li][/ol]

Other than those two options there really isn’t any way to get things into the game, but hey, that’s already one more option then most games (where the only thing you can do is convince the devs). Because it’s open source dev pace tends to be rapid, but not quite as directed as with people who are being paid to work on a game. This is because most devs work on what they want to work on, not necessarily what a majority agree should be “next”. As a result dev goals are often kept fairly vague, though we have established a bounty system which should hopefully allow a little more direction through positive rewards for needed work.

Bloat is one of the most sensitive subjects out there due to an extremely split fan base. Generally most of the devs are on what many people would term the “bloat” side, but it is, of course, more complex then that. There have been a fair number of threads about it already in the forum, with some potential solutions suggested in several which I think would help fix the problem. Until those are implemented though, it is very delicate.

AFAIK bans in one don’t carry over to the other. However we’ve had problems with widespread attacks by trolls before, and the IRC and forums share many of the same mods, so if you come across as ban-worthy in one there is a good chance that mods for the other will be less tolerant of you stepping out of line.

As for how it relates, generally:
the forum - more serious discussion, main discussion for ideas
the IRC channel - meandering, more widespread discussion, useful for taking large idea polls, but also useful for contacting the devs about a basic idea
Github - more technical discussion addressing particular implementations of an idea, a large chunk of dev discussion goes on here

Generally ideas start as a basic query on the IRC or the forums, then move to the forum to gather support/convince devs, then move to Github to gather technical information and possibly be implemented.

[URL=]My question has been answered[/URL]. It’s “no.”


If you’re unwilling to have a dialog and just keep repeating yourself, yea it’s not going to work out so well.

I’ll be over here collaborating with a few dozen people over the internet…

Yeah, id put this game down as a big tick on the ‘it can be done’ side. Things have come a very long way from the original whales version, the nature of the beast means that progress is probably always going to be a little ramshackle and more items are going to be much easier to put in than full blown gutting and rewrites of the code, but shit, cant deny that a) The game is pretty damn good and b) the system seems to be working.

It is a nasty quirk of humanity that lack of facial communication can make some people for lack of a better description, fucking crazy. You see it on any sort of comment board or forum, online gaming and from my personal experience working in call centers, there is a certain percentage of people who just cant handle sorting out problems via the phone with somebody they dont know.
That said, there are still plenty of people capable of working in a non face to face environment. I know a couple of people who do contract work over the internet that is 100% email based, nobody ever sees or speaks to anyone but the work gets done to everyones satisfaction. Online guilds and clans can and do work and if you look at something like eve online, absolutely massive networks can be maintained with people generally working towards common goals.

As to having to learn to code to be sure your ideas will get in, well yeah, how else would it be? For one, if you cant code, you have no idea at all how much work is involved in any of your ideas, what seems simple can often involve full rewrites of large hunks of code that just arent practical at all. If people are putting in their own work for free, why shouldnt they be able to work on the things they think are important rather than what other people have dreamed up on the forum? Nothing worse in game dev land than a pure ideas man. You want to drive the car, you have to learn how to drive the damn car, its that simple.

That’s a dangerous argument to make.
You’re basically saying that any argument coming from a non-programmer is invalid until they learn to program.

A while back i made the suggestion of having an in-game structure editor. People said it was a good idea and that it was suggested before. Even Kevin ambiguously agreed (that it could be done at least).
But following your argument my idea would be invalid until i learn to program.

It’s a dangerous argument to make because it alienates the community.
I think that’s the point NoJusticeNoPeace was trying to make.

This isn’t about arguments being valid or invalid. To get an idea implemented in the game, you have to convince someone who can make it happen that it’s worth doing, and even more worth doing than any other ideas they’re considering. You can short-curcuit much of that process if you can do the work yourself.

How else do you expect it to work? if people implement ideas they don’t agree with, how do they decide which one to do?

Adrian, I’m going go out on a limb and suggest that maybe NoJustive wasn’t making a point so much as trying, in a very negative manner, to vent his frustration at what he perceived as being treated badly by projecting it onto the dev team as a whole and he approached the whole thing in a highly confrontational and argumentative manner.

Kevin himself has, on occasion, been just a bit… touchy… with his responses. But frankly I’ve read a lot of his posts here and from what I can tell that seems to have a great deal more with how often he gets directly attacked by folks; in other words, it seems to be more of a knee-jerk response than an intentional brush off. That said I read NoJustice’s comments in this thread AND the other, and he’s coming off like one of those guys that shows up somewhere, stirs up trouble, and then starts pointing at everyone, laughing, and calling it some kind of “psychological study I was doing”.

I’m sure he has accomplishments, if he’s being honest about where he’s from and what he did. I’m equally sure that he’s overselling how much those accomplishments are relevant to the current situation.

I don’t make a lot of suggestions here, because I’m not working actively on the project. I don’t edit jsons, I don’t fiddle with code, I’m not that guy. That’s not what I do. But I’ll throw my thoughts in here and there, and if that helps anyone, good. I don’t agree with every decision every person everywhere makes, but I’m also not arrogant enough to think that I can come into an established community and wow them with my amazing brilliance because clearly none of them knew what they were doing before I showed up.

That said, the nature of the project itself basically supports the attitude that if you don’t know how to add something into the game, chances are it isn’t something the people who do are going to do FOR you unless you can convince them it’s an amazing idea that MUST BE DONE RIGHT NOW OMG. That’s not “LRN 2 CODE LOL”, it’s “Dude, I’ve got a dozen of my own ideas, I’m a little busy, this project is open source, contribute if you like.”