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Do we want a Tool approval process?

Topic Type: 
Question

As the Farm Hack community grows we may want to set up a verification process by which admins approve new tools given a minimum set of guidelines. At face value this idea seems at odds with the Bazaar style of Open Source development (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cathedral_and_the_Bazaar) but we may be able to structure this moderation mechanism in a way that does not stifle collaboration. By stifling collaboration, I mostly mean the risk of turning Moderators into bottlenecks in the community where the time it takes to approve a new Tool causes the documentation and discussion efforts to fizzle.

The best idea I've been able to come up with is using a similar model that Stack Exchange uses for new communities. Stack Exchange is a Question and Answer platform that the Stack Exchange team will duplicate on a new site for a new topic when there seems to be interest. The new community then has a time frame to prove that it will be a sustainable community as opposed to a wasteland. If the community doesn't meet certain usage metrics, then Stack Exchange deletes the site. This is my understanding of how it works anyways...

So how might we use this model? I say we continue to let anyone create a new Tool and let people see that new Tool. The catch is that if that tool doesn't reach certain documentation expectations and attention from the community, it will be deleted. For example, if someone adds a Tool, marks it as "Prototype" and a month later has no documentation talking about even a plan to start building the Tool, the Tool is deleted. That one is a no-brainer. BUT, maybe that Tool sits there abandoned for 15 days and someone else in the community starts posting questions. Other folks see those questions and they start discussing. Pretty soon people are posting Information topics for that tool and before you know it, someone summarizes all of the efforts on the Tool's Wiki page and an otherwise false starts is adopted as a community wide effort. Win!

Also, if you read between the lines, the time line creates a sense of urgency and thus momentum.

David Meehan's picture

The stack exchange model seems like a pretty good starting point. It would definitely keep the site from becoming a collection of abandoned projects which in turn may make it less credible as a professional outlet for ideas. Conversely the premise of a lifespan on tools may keep some new users from using the site and disenfranchise users who may have listed a new tool idea which did not proliferate within the community and was accordingly removed. In short, I’d say that the implemented system should be much more sensitive than stack exchange’s. Removing someone's question (like in stack exchange) isn't too big of a deal, but the removal of a tool, its documentation, and forum discussion is much more important, but the core basics can really help keep things organized. The biggest point would be to make sure the metrics were reasonable; it’s better to have a wait time before deletion that is slightly longer than might seem necessary than one that is too short.

I would say that communication would also be vital for such a system to work effectively. Users would need to know that posted tools that do not appear to progress may be removed, so that way there are no surprises. In this instance surprises are never good. Perhaps something like a FAQ or Guide could be implemented to outline the process of adding and editing tools which would also include necessary details about site deletion. Furthermore, it may also be a good idea to send a notification to any user who has a tool which may be deleted soon. Keeping the users informed is vital to maintaining the integrity of the site.

Another thing which came to my mind was that projects at different stages might need different metrics for evaluating. A tool at concept or at prototype level which does not appear to be growing over X amount of time, like you mentioned, may be a candidate for removal. Conversely, tools which have seen more development and are more stable would probably not follow the same metric. For instance, a tool which has become established with large amounts of documentation and has reached the DIY or even more so commercial product level, it would be a bad idea to remove that tool from the site if the amount of contributions on it suddenly slows down or stops for some time. The worst case scenario would be to compromise the reliability of the site by removing tool pages which people may be relying on.

I am not sure how viable (or accurate) any of these concerns or ideas are, but just some food for thought :)

Louis's picture

I agree with David's points: 1) Communicating the expectation that a new concept tool be followed up on (which could be done by the OP or anyone else) or generate active discussion should be communicated to a poster of a new tool 2) Different criteria should be used for tools at different levels of development. For example, perhaps only a concept or functional prototype needs no approval but needs to progress or generate discussion to stay listed. Meanwhile, DIY or commercial products might need moderator approval but become permanent fixtures

Dorn's picture

I think that it is important to have someone to sponsor an initial tool posting, hopefully someone who has experience either using, or building it. I think this would lead to better documentation and exploration and improvement. Otherwise we can just have posts that we find around the internet that are cool looking but without the social connection - I think the forum is perfect for that kind of post.

If this discussion for advocating for a new tool is done in the forum, then we can avoid discussions afterwards about why something was posted or having to remove from the wiki incomplete inappropriate, or commercial products that are not documented.

R.J. Steinert's picture
brshute's picture

It's exciting that the Tools section allows for collaborative development of new tools, but I think we limit the depth of our potential tool resource library if we set standards that are too strict for what is and isn't a tool page.

Those who have been actively contributing to the development of Farm Hack are no doubt jazzed on using this platform to comprehensively develop new tools by collaborating online- but not all farmer inventors are going to want to delve in so deeply!

Let's remember to make space for someone who sees an interesting tool on an old timer neighbor's farm and snaps a few cell phone photos of it and gets a good description from the neighbor about how it was made. Keeping our platform open to lower commitment levels of participation is more inviting to new members of the Farm Hack community (who may delve in more deeply later), and will mean more information, even if some of it isn't completely thorough, in our library.

Dorn's picture

I think that this starts to overlap with the tool sorting/searching function discussion. I think it is important to have really low barriers to posting, and agree that it would be valuable to have a space where people can post and tag tools they find even with very thin documentation - sometimes that is all it takes to spark an idea, and we SHOULD promote that as much as possible. I also think that we need to not lose projects that are active and underway in the the middle.

For example, I think that the Root washer, FIDO, and oat huller are all tools that have users actively involved in farm hack and are projects with activity behind them. I think that these should maybe be in a different category and highlighted. Perhaps we list "tool browsing library" for casual listings and "tool documentation kits", or "tool projects" or something along those lines to indicate that there is member activity moving from concept to some type of action by the community?

There could be no barrier or permissions for posting to the browsing library, but if there are on-going projects then there might be a sponsor for moving the project - which would have the benefits mentioned above. I would suggest not adding any permissions requirements at all at first, but at some point I think the tool wiki should be editable by subscribers to the tool? This should not be not very complicated to manage, but just add one step to commit a little more to the project.

Dorn's picture

I wonder if we might implement a rating on completeness of documentation as a method to keep the barrier to entry low, but also encourage the idea that the aim is for enough information to be shared that anyone could replicate the tool.

There are a lot of tools posted right now with fairly limited descriptions or images. In some cases that may be all that is needed, but I think an open rating system may set expectations for where the community would like to see the documentation move to.

I think that we might also add a note in the tool template that in that it is OK to appeal to the community for help in further documenting tools.