Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

The thankless jobs of community managers

Sep 25, 2014 GMT

When a writer criticizes a book, they are partly explaining how they would have written it. In the same way, when Aaron Seigo criticized the role of community manager last week, I assume that he partly means that he prefers not to lead that way. As a result, while I find little to disagree with, his criticism seems harsher than his topic merits.Seigo begins his comments with a frontal attack. The community manager role, he declares in his opening sentence is "a fraud and a farce." He goes on to add that a community with a manager "probably isn't a community to begin with."Instead, he views the position as either a means for an organization to act the way it wants,...
GNOME and KDE: Financials and culture

Sep 10, 2014 GMT

These days, large free software projects resemble any non-profit organization, with governing boards and obligations to release regular reports. How many users read those reports is uncertain -- not many, I would guess, because, even in free software, the reports tend to be glossy exercises in PR. However, if nothing else, their financial statements are worth a close look, because they suggest the priorities and directions of project's governing bodies.Two examples are GNOME and KDE ( I would have looked at other popular desktops, but none of the others release quarterly or annual reports). Examining their statements for the 2013 financial year shows two projects have very different...
Is cloud storage innately insecure?

Sep 05, 2014 GMT

Whenever a major security story like the recent leak of nude celebrity photos occurs, I hope that some serious discussion will happen. But I am always disappointed, and this time was no exception. No one, apparently, wants to explore the obvious -- that, just maybe, buying cloud storage is a flawed business and security model.I understand why people buy cloud storage, of course. It's convenient, especially if you want to access your data from multiple computers and different locations. Almost certainly, it is cheaper than paying for your own system administrators or even  buying new hard drives.And let's not forget the coolness factor of using the latest technology. For an industry...
11 Common Mistakes in Amateur Typography

Aug 31, 2014 GMT

Digital typography is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, thanks to office suites and typesetting applications, as well as an increasing number of free-licensed fonts, any computer user can potentially produce professional-looking publications. On the other hand, conventions left over from the typewriter, half-understood rumors, and some odd choices in popular office suites have left most of us unable to come anywhere close to realizing that potential.True, we have calmed down enough so that we no longer feel obliged to use every design feature available. Those who remember the late 1980s, when many design features were first introduced, may still have nightmares about text that was...
7 Favorite Cinnamon Applets

Aug 27, 2014 GMT

Some users condemn panel applets and desktop widgets as clutter. For me, however, they are two of the most important features of a desktop environment because of the degree of customization they allow. Their lack is a major reason I am indifferent to GNOME and Unity, and conversely why I prefer KDE and -- increasingly, Linux MInt's Cinnamon.Cinnamon's applets and desklets are a relatively new feature. Two releases ago, there were only a handful of applets and two or three desklets that amounted more to proofs of concept than anything of much use. However, in the latest release, I count 27 applets pre-installed and another 169 available online, as well as 17 desklets, making for a healthy...
How to avoid giving a summary presentation

Aug 20, 2014 GMT

Information designer Edward Tufte said it first: slide shows allow as much two-way exchange of information as a Soviet May Day rally. The presenter has almost total control, which tempts them into reading their presentation off the slides in a kind of death march through the bullet points. Meanwhile, human audiences falls into stupors and other species gnaw off a leg to escape -- twin fates that make the looming return to school and seriousness in September something to dread unless you take definite steps to improve matters.If your presentation runs in an unsupervised loop, you may want it to be a summary of your talk. However, in almost all other circumstances, you need to struggle...
How reliable is a Wikipedia citation?

Aug 06, 2014 GMT

"I don't trust it," someone wrote when Wikipedia and its reliability was discussed on Facebook recently. One or two others added that, for them, a Wikipedia citation immediately discredited an article. I was surprised by these old school sentiments, having imagined that familiarity had years ago blunted contempt, and Wikipedia now had at least a reluctant acceptance.Not that Wikipedia hasn't had its share of dubious episodes, with contributors accepting payment, and editing wars that can change the reliability of an entry from hour to hour. At times, the conflicts have become so heated that some entries have to be protected, so that just anyone with a grudge or a need for...

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