Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Who is not connected these days?

This probably seems like a stupid question to ask.  It's like a teacher asking all those not present to please raise their hands.  Aside from that mythical programmer living in a cardboard hut in East Botswana (appologies to anyone who actually live there...) with some strange bastardised bicycle generator device powering their all night binge programming session, I'd say that most folks these days are connected at least some of the time.  By connected, I connected to the Internet in some fashion.  Of course if you're reading this, you're obviously one of the connected ones.  Because of this one of the many things we're always thinking about is what do connected developers mean for how they work and interact on a day-to-day basis.  This goes for globally interconnected virtual teams as well as physically localized teams.

What kinds of online resources do you use on a day-to-day basis?  Blogs, Newsgroups, forums, chat, IM?  For all these kinds of resources, do you prefer RSS/Atom feeds, direct web-browser access, or some combination of these things?  Do you like  online forums with a reasonable level of moderation or the mad, mad world of open, anonymous, unmoderated newsgroups?  What about something in-between?

My personal feeling is that the Borland/CodeGear newsgroups in their current form are not as helpful as they could be.  It'd be nice to be able to quickly identify those folks who are the most helpful, insightful, and generally add value to that experience.  This is actually one thing I tend to like about web-based forums that have a peer rating system.  This allows someone to easily filter out the flame-bait and only look at the stuff that meets certain criterion.  NNTP in its current form just hasn't caught up to this kind of online experience.  Of course I'm not advocating that we eliminate NNTP, but rather provide a richer experience while still allowing those old-skool folks to stick with their news-reader of choice.  I'm sure there will be many of you shouting “Heresy!  You'll pry my news reader from my cold, dead- fingers!”  But maybe it's time to mix in a richer, more interactive experience?  Not just in online discussions but in all aspects of the developer's everyday online experience...


  1. I follow several blogs. DelphiFeeds does a good job of pulling a lot of good content together into one feed, but I also follow a few other blogs like Raymond Chen and Worse Than Failure (plus some webcomics and a few other non-coding blogs).

    I rarely go to newsgroups or forums. Blogs have much better bang for the buck when I want to learn something new, so they're my day-to-day source.

    As for format, I go for the combo: RSS/Atom via a Web-based aggregator. Google Reader can keep track of which posts I have and haven't read, which makes it awesome for reading blogs from multiple different PCs (home, work, etc.)

    (I also regularly review and rate my unrated QualityCentral reports through the QC client, but I'd do that via RSS if I could.)

  2. I use Google reader, i read these every few hours:

    - Digg

    - DelphiFeeds

    - JoelOnSoftware

    - Many Google Blogs

    - reddit programming

  3. I'll be going on 'holiday'into an unconnected part of the world not far from east botswana and taking my 'work' with me.You will surprised how much preparation you need to do .Check if your internal modem still works , download all the 'docs' you think you will need.Download all kinds of updates and patches , just in case.Tell friends and others to slow down on the attachments. Maybe I could use the portable for a pillow and forget about the rest.

  4. I live in an area not to far away from east Botswana (just over a 1000 Km away), working for a company with installations in east Botswana and I can actually connect remotely to some of there PC's if I need to. So there is connectivity even in east Botswana.

    Oh as for my 'required readings':

    - Delphifeeds + 1

    - JoelOnSoftware + 1

    - CodingHorror

    A couple of other non programming blogs.

    I do look at the borland Newsgroups from time to time but are not a very active participant. I've used it in the past as a very good information resource (via Google) and when necessary will do the same in the future.

    As for asking questions, I most properly would quite like a forum, that could be linked to an article repository like www.delphi3000.com /cdn with proper well formed articles containing answers on wide variety of subjects and easy to navigate, search and add articles to. The forum should have feeds (RSS, Atom, etc) as should the article repository.

  5. I am definitely what you'd consider a 'connected' developer. I frequently peruse the CodeGear NNTP newsgroups, subscribe to many blogs using Google Reader, find Google Groups searching to be an invaluable resource during the course of my development work.

    I also used to be an avid Pandora listener, until they introduced IP filtering to restrict access to US residents only. I'm currently seeing if Last.FM can fill the void. It's OK, but it ain't no Pandora. :-(

    As for moving away from NNTP for CodeGear forums, the main problem I have with that is the UI. I am yet to encounter a browser based forum front-end which is as quick and easy to use in a keyboard centric fashion as my favourite NNTP newsreader is(XanaNews). If you can overcome this achillies heel, I'm happy to be dragged from the middle ages into a more rich forum experience. You'd certainly have your work cut out for you though.

  6. Georg StegmuellerMay 15, 2007 at 5:55 PM

    I pay per minute for my online-access. This means that I currently download all newsgroups-postings to local newsreader and read them later, while offline.

    Therefore I do not look forward to a supposedly rich user experience using a webbased forum which is most of the time cumbersome and slow.

    I do not know, if it would be possible to mirror such a forum to a NNTP-based solution.

    I do not understand why you want to change a good, tested and working system with something else.

  7. For conformance:

    - RSS engine from my browser (Opera) for Blogs (DelphiFeeds aggregate)

    - newsgroups.borland.com in a newsreader (Thunderbird)

    - Forums? Personally I find them rather difficult to manage them.

    But what IMHO is (much) more important is to include the community members in the life-cycle management of your products. Of course, you'll decide (after all these are *your* products) but in order to succed you must be obedient to the user's needs. In order to be obedient you must know them and for this a survey is simply not enough. QC is much more static and you cannot find with ease what ideas others have and/or what new updates are on your reports and QC wide. (a RSS there it's a must imho). Borland was (until now) a very closed circle. Many users have the fear of the unobedience. ("Why you don't listen us?" - I saw this many times in n-groups - even is was right to say it or not) A company "where developers matter" must have a structure that implement users needs, not technologies (ie. "we must cover the user's need for easy management of their many data sets in their database" not " we must implement a TDataSet visual inheritance and/or object prop providers/consumers" - even if the 2nd is (perhaps) the natural consequence of the 1st) so (daily) speaking with the community on technical themes is IMHO saving for you and for us. I mean in inverted roles. YOU must ask now for support. We must learn from each other what we don't know. I think that this our situation is. Someone said: "The gap between the best software engineering practice and the average practice is very wide—perhaps wider than in any other engineering discipline. A tool that disseminates good practice would be important. —Fred Brooks" you must build that tool but and another fellow (Edsger Dijkstra) said that "The people who are best at programming are the people who realize how small their brains are. They are humble. The people who are the worst at programming are the people who refuse to accept the fact that their brains aren’t equal to the task. Their egos keep them from being great programmers. The more you learn to compensate for your small brain, the better a programmer you’ll be. The more humble you are, the faster you’ll improve. The purpose of many good programming practices is to reduce the load on your gray cells." (citation taken from Steve McConnell's CC2nd Ed.) Practically, IMHO, you can ask in a newsgroup/blog called, let's say 'architect', something like "Hey, guys, we implemented class fragments like this: <...> What do you think?" or "We think to implement 20% from .NET in native (which covers 80% from the following areas: 1., 2., 3..). What do you think?" or "Can someone help in Unicode-ing the following components: TMemo, TLabel, ... using the following specs?..." or "In the .Architect.Attachements ng is a NDataStore sample. Can someone test it? Rewiew it? RFC...". But what is the most important is to give to the users that their hopes, their work has a finality, and if something isn't implemented, state it clearly. Is crucial for every man the feeling that he is listened (which means love, isn't it?). And in a final analysis the users are also men, isn't?

    my 2c,

    m. th.

    P.S.: I like your blog, Allen. If you want to tell you a "succes story" - how an in-house Delphi app is 'better' (till now) than SAP, Microsoft/Navision/Dynamics, SAGE, Everest aso. please drop me a line: th at vatopedi dot com

  8. Me again...

    the real eMail is th at vatopedi dot gr (if you're interested - even if I don't think so... but for conformity)

  9. You will be very surprised about the incredible number of working places in which an Internet connection is not needed, not suitable, not recommended or, even more, not allowed !

    Think in mobile cards production factories or in monitoring software in scientific laboratories.

    Any of them allows an Internet connection to carry out the daily tasks because of security issues or the risks of sharing such a vital information.

    That is why we, as developers, must take into account these kind of requirements instead of thinking that "everybody needs somebody"

  10. For staying up-to-date with new stuff blogs are fine.

    For issues with new software versions both blogs and NNTP are good sources.

    For "mysterious problems" and "how was I supposed do this again" or "somebody else must have done this already" nothing beats a quick Google Advanced Group Search through the borland.public.delphi.* newsgroups.

    As for contributing to those groups: only occasionally when I have time to spare ;-) or when I just want to realx a little and browse through them.


  11. I have grown to like community server, it powers many different sites.

    It has an option for Forums to be both NNTP and web based. I believe you do have to login to the NNTP version using the creditials you setup on the web based version.

    You can have feeds of the data and read the forum data aggregated in your faviorite RSS reader of choice. You can have the forums sent via email with a single email to "post" new messages too, allowing for "ancient list server" type access if desired.

    You can setup forums that only specific people have access too, so internal, beta, and partner forums can also be run on the same server.

    It supports blogs as well... Although the blogging engine has it's roots with .Text, is nothing remotely like .Text.


  12. Stephane WierzbickiMay 15, 2007 at 10:27 PM

    Delphifeeds.com every night and days ;)

  13. but what am i bending? cause there is no spoon... :-)



  14. Allen:

    I'm forum moderator at http://www.clubdelphi.com/foros a spanish Delphi comunity by more than 10 years.

    The online forums there started around 1999 (maybe 98) and the entire experience there was awesome, despite the fact you must be online to read and write, which i don't like at the begining, when i have to pay per minute... like some other here.

    But... in these forum comunity I have found help when I needed it, and an amazing amount of info, ready to be searched when I have doubts or trouble anytime.

    I think it's possible to create or extend the current forum software to provide NNTP access to those guys prefer this flavor... so, who says you cannot get the better of both worlds.



  15. Web based forums suck.

    NNTP based news groups allow a choice of client apps. They are faster. Search actually works.

    Ratings systems and other WebForum paraphanalia are pure B.S..

    The best ratings system is a newsgroup reader with "killfile" support. (So you don't have to even see messages from those you deem to be trolls, or other subspecies of idiots.)


  16. To me search is the critical component. Using the google groups advanced search is hard to beat. Rarely access the groups with a client app. I don't need to see everything that moves though the groups. I don't seem to have any problem at all filtering trough the junk posts when searching.

    To me there is a difference in what information I get from different sources

    Blogs: what's happening type information

    Newsgroups: How do I do X? type questions.

    I have yet to see a Forum that gives me the search I need and I would not go to the effort of checking a Forum for updated news.

    Of course I am only a consumer of that information - I rarely contribute. In my opinion, people that contribute are the ones that need to be happy with the tools they are using.

  17. You call it flamebait, but I have found that the problem frequently isn't the original poster, but rather those that respond irrationally with yelling, shouting and derogotry replies just because they don't like what was said.

    So ya, who picks the flamebait? The rabid, unthinking pro-fanboys who would squelch any voice of dissent?

    Get a few opinions you don't like and suddenly a customer who may be telling you something important, if unpleasant, is suddenly told to shut up and get out? Not a good way to run a business.

    You either communicate freely, and risk getting opinions that aren't popular or you tell customers, nay the world, to get lost.

    Flamebait can be impossible to tell apart from an unpleasant but important truth, the real problem is the flaming that follows.

  18. Mr. Johnson,

    I was talking about peer rating and "karma" stats. I was not advocating that reasoned and respectful discussions be squelched merely due to a difference of opinion or viewpoint. However when someone is abusive, rude, and generally disruptive, it is certainly appropriate for the community at large to self-police this individual. Chaos and anarchy are fine for free-for-all warez chat groups, but for something you want to be valuable to customers and potential customers, you need to have a way to make sure civility is maintained. If people would be more accepting of even the "up-beat, positive, fanboy" then there may actually be more folks willing to join in and paricipate. If the environment isn't viewed as "safe" then only those that seem to thrive on controversy or conflict will actually get involved.

  19. please keep nntp and please focus on your product

  20. Back before the NNTP groups were implemented, Borland experimented with some not-very good, slow and cumbersome web software; I don't think it even lasted six months. (I don't remember the details of the software, alas).

    That was more than eleven years ago, and web-based discussion software has come a long way, at least in terms of usability; administration remains a pain. Scoop (currently used by dailykos) is powerful but difficult to administer; slash (used by slashdot) is even worse. On the other hand, a group blog with comments, powered by wordpress, would probably work decently well.

  21. C Johnson: the question of how to moderate user forums in a fashion which retains tolerance for discussion but *also* maintains a reasonable level of civility is a difficult one, and it's surprisingly difficult to avoid either being too tolerant (and therefore driving people away by creating an environment which is rough and hostile) or not tolerant enough (thereby creating an environment dominated by groupthink and intolerant of dissent).

    In the end, the answer always seems to boil down to: you need moderators who are willing to enforce boundaries, and those boundaries should be well defined enough that people can predict when they will transgress while *also* not being specific enough that they encourage rules lawyering.

  22. Allen: one of the dangerous things with karma-like implementations is that if the site gets overrun with people who value abusive, rude, and disruptive speech, then karma works to *encourage* such speech rather than to discourage it, and that encouragement accelerates the departure of those who aren't comfortable with such speech.

    If I were designing a discussion system to replace or augment the newsgroups, I would be extremely reluctant to hand out comment rating ability to all comers, because I've already been involved in a site that has been burned by that; comment rating should be restricted to known, trusted users. Failure to do that makes it impossible for the people responsible for the discussion system to prevent its core values from being undermined by a sufficiently large wave of newbies.

  23. For "what's happening" I use Delphifeeds.

    For "How do I do X? " Tamaracka archives.

    And for the requests on specific points, I do not feel any more HTML-interactive format is necessary.

    To improve the off-line requests, is there a way to get ALL (or most) the CodeGear newsgroups archive (in a .ZIP for instance) which would avoid going online to query this huge knowlege base ?

  24. I frequently am "disconnected" for 2 or more weeks per month (ocean going research ships with very limited connectivity). I originally thought I was less productive during the disconnected time. The alternate states of connectivity may actually be more productive than being connected all the time. Felix's comment makes sense ... I suggest you can use the Xananews news reader(google it ;#) ) by Colin Wilson (written in Delphi). You can download what you want when connectivity is high, then search, read, etc. when it is low.

  25. Just spotted this blog after a Google search and since there are some peeps discussing the "forum vs NNTP" issue I just thought I'd make a quick comment.

    I once made a big mistake by mentioning the word "forums" at borland.public.delphi. Not knowing the guys had such strong feelings over NNTP I stepped solidly on a landmine and was thoroughly told to go F... myself. My main point was that CodeGear was not getting the exposure they should be as many new young future developers doesn't even know about the Borland NNTP groups or what an NNTP news reader is for that matter.

    My thoughts leaned towards a forum for new customers and newbie developers where community members could moderate and help out the guys either by supplying help themselves, or by pointing them to the more "matured" newsgroups. However, I don't think the integrated NNTP/forums system work very well at all so I wanted to recommend two independent systems.

    Anyways, since the people here hate forums so much I don't see CodeGear implementing it ever, or even just trying something such as vBulletin. It would be the same as committing a felony around here.


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