[theforum] A sound of silence

David Kaufman david at gigawatt.com
Sat Nov 22 23:23:05 CST 2008

Hi Adrian,

"adrinux" <adrinux at gmail.com> wrote:
> Matt Warden <mwarden at gmail.com>:
>> [...] We lost our community.
> I find this statement troubling. For me the community was always
> mostly thelist and the occasional article on evolt.org. It's certainly
> not lost, though it has diminished, for reasons which we've already
> gone over.

I wholeheartedly agree!  Over the past 5 years (I'm no old-timer, either!) 
I've noticed that ever so often, this pattern repeats, where someone 
declares that evolt is dead, and then a bunch of people pile on, agreeing 
that what evolt needs to survive is this or, to become relevant again is 
that.  Always a recent lull in list traffic is held up as evidence of 
evolt's terminal prognosis, and a lack or more recent, fresh articles as 
documentation supporting the prediction of impending doom.  As if the lulls 
in list traffic were not as periodic and regular in our nature as a 
heartbeat.  As if these lulls did not always occur in between just as 
frequent swells in both interesting, vibrant discussions on the list and 
fascinating new articles.

For me, too, evolt was always mostly the list and the occasional article on 
evolt.org.  For me too, the reports of evolt's death seem greatly 

>> I'm starting from the point where we have agreement that we no longer
>> have an evolt community, at least like we did.
> I disagree. My community is still there.

Mine too.  I'd like to see more new articles.  Geez it was like a *year* of 
nothing recently!  But Erika's iPhone article was timely, fascinating and, 
her very entertaining style and the enjoyable read aside, the links alone 
kept me from having to go look for any new reading material to advance my 
craft for weeks.

To me that is what evolt is about.  Ideas.  I came here for answers. 
Google led me in, and cautioned me not to leave too quickly, that there was 
much to be learned from, and shared with, this particular community.  And I 
listened -- in fact I never left.  Only after *years* did I cease to be 
amazed that every time I crafted a really great google search query, the 
one that worked, that found me the answer I was looking for, to some 
obscure technical, or philosophical, or bleeding edge question about some 
finer point of web development, our indrusty, dealing with clients, the 
internet ecosystem itself, finding just the right tool to get a certain job 
done, or facts to back me up in a debate I was having with a co-worker, 
boss or client, the answer I was looking for was always right here in my 
own back yard, sometimes on WEO, others on LEO.

Quality is in the eye of the beholder.  If it takes weeks or months of 
mindless blather and newbie questions being re-asked and either re-answered 
or ignored on the list, that's okay.  Because then one day someone will 
start a debate about RoR vs. Drupal, or perl vs python, or div's vs. 
tables, or fixed vs. fluid, and twenty or fifty very amazingly smart 
programmers, talented web architects, experienced cat herders, opinionated 
usability experts and sleep-deprived pixel pushers will all chime in with 
their own two cents worth, and the thread will add up to pure gold.  It 
will be the number one hit on google for the topic for years.

I'm not exaggerating!  One day I had to find a quick and dirty way to 
provide an ajax login form on a site, so someone could log in to a certain 
page without going to another page -- for various reasons reloading the 
page was undesirable, while allowing the visitor to log in at that point, 
if they weren't already was essential.  If you google "ajax login", the 
evolt article is the first hit.

Google "flash accessibility" and an evolt article from five years ago is 
the 8th hit.  These are just two examples that I can remember off the top 
of my head.  But every week, some (usually far less general!) google search 
will direct me right back here, to back yard, to our little "dead" list. 
That has no community.  evolt.org does not have an 8/10 google page rank 
because the design is so good.  It doesn't have a million page views a 
month because we chose to ditch NT for Linux, Cold Fusion for PHP or SQL 
Server for MySQL, though those may have been wise moves...

What we have here is: nothing.  We have air.  Web sites, mailing lists, 
people forming committees abot programs running on computers here or 
there -- these things are so less than crap.  The stuff of evolt is people 
stuff.  It is a community, of communication, about ideas, ideas about the 
web.  The entire evolt effect is composed of the tiny moments those people 
read something here, and as a result they feel more affinity toward the 
other people who are here.  Ironically, none of us are *here* here, but 
virtually here, which is far more important.  And convenient.  When they 
take a slice of time from their busy day being brilliant, to write to our 
list or for our site, about something they care about and that they know 
the rest of the community will care about too.  The contributions of our 
thousands of like minded individuals scattered all over the world who like 
evolt, are evolt.  That's all.  Not us.  evolt is not the organization or 
the site or the domain name or even the list -- evolt is just a word that 
unites the very best and brightest among us.

The community survives lulls such as these because we all have felt the 
evolt effect.  We've all learned something valuable here, from someone else 
here, often just when we needed it.  We all have felt gratitude that this 
community exists, respect for others here who contribute to the corpus of 
knowledge, the archive of that wisdom that WEO and LEO try to be, to 
capture and record and document and log the discussions this community 
continually has with itself.  We all know that when there is nothing being 
said, that there will be, eventually.  Because we know that that whole 
community, all three thousand four hundred and some odd kindred souls are 
scanning the subject lines of the list each day, and perusing the threads 
that are of interest to them and that, from time to time, magic comes of 

evolt is people, nothing else and nothing less.  the people we all want to 
talk to, and listen to.

I think its just great that theforum is all abuzz with activity, and that 
Erika discovered that the 10 year anniversary is coming up, and has fired 
many of us up to work on something.  I really do!  But I have to admit that 
if we (the keepers of the systems and the soft wares) did not upgrade our 
operating system this year, or harden our drupal, or swap out the old 
server, if we don't launch any redesign at all... if we fail to elect a new 
theme, or choose an MTA or implement any of it, it will not really affect 
the community one way or the other, any more than changing the wallpaper in 
your favorite house of worship will change who comes, who goes, who stays 
or who prays.

We, the forum, are like the Vogon bureaucrats.  We are not evolt -- we've 
just take responsibility for making sure it doesn't fall over.  Whether we 
decide that this or that technology, or this or that redesign is worthy or 
not... really doesn't change the fact that all the smart people will 
continue to read the list and google the site (as long as we manage to keep 
them running), and many of them will (try to) write articles for the site, 
and many more will have great discussions on the list, and as always, 
sometimes, for a while, they won't.  And that's okay too.

Like all web communities, the best thing we the Vogons can hope to 
accomplish is to deploy a web site with so little software, design and 
theme, that it stays out of the way of the content.  Something that does 
not get in the way of the words and ideas that people come to evolt to 
swap.  As Erika pointed out very early on, creating an account on WEO and 
posting an article is currently such an exercise in horrible usability, so 
symptomatic of all that is *wrong* with the web, that it wouldn't be 
surprising to learn that that alone is entirely responsible for the lack of 
valuable new articles being submitted to WEO.  Maybe it's not that smart 
web professionals can't overcome the frustrating ill-thought out process we 
have in place, maybe smart web professionals are just so disgusted by the 
process that they don't want to dirty their articles by having them appear 
on an allegedly magazine-like site that so user-hostile to its would-be 

Maybe we could just set a less ambitious goal, to just fix *that* by the 
anniversary... Can the collective skillsets on the team and Drupal 6 manage 


More information about the theforum mailing list