I've been pondering the problem of what do about Advogato's article section on the main page. Aside from the various bugs and feature requests I've been working on, the single most common complaint I've seen about the site is the low quality of the articles. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this problem has been brought up before.
It seems to me that rather than worry too much about how to prevent the occasional bad articles, we should focus on how to encourage useful and interesting articles. The first step is to find a definition of what useful and interesting mean in the context of Advogato.
Obviously, articles about software design, standards, or related topics are always interesting. If you're working on a paper or a talk for an upcoming FOSS conference, consider posting a freely licensed draft as an article to get feedback. The occasional interview, question, insight, or advice from someone in the community can also be interesting. Unfortunately, past experience shows we can't expect many of these types of articles. That still leaves a pretty big gap that will likely be filled by noise if it isn't used for something more interesting.
There are already plenty of sites like Slashdot where one can find vaguely FOSS-related links to news stories. I don't think Advogato should go the route of becoming yet another aggregator of recycled news stories. While that's an easy solution and would probably generate a lot of traffic, it's not why we're here. In one of Raph's early postings about Advogato he said the purpose of the site is "to bring a group of people closer together, not to generate hits.".
What is it that makes Advogato different from other Free Software/Open Source web communities? Most sites focus on a very particular FOSS sub-community: GNU, Apache, BSD, KDE, Mozilla, RedHat, Debian, FreeDesktop/X.Org, Perl, Python (to name just a few). Often, members of each community aggregate around each other, ignoring or forgetting what's going on in the larger FOSS community. Advogato, on the other hand, has active members from almost all these communities. This is one place where we can read each other's blogs and find out what's going on in other parts of the FOSS community.
When I realized what a unique position Advogato is in, it became obvious to me that one useful and interesting thing we can do is use the articles section to inform each other of what our respective communities have been doing on a weekly or monthly basis. Often the volume of news, blogs, and websites in each sub-community makes it difficult for an outsider to stay up to date.
As an illustration of this, I'm reminded of the LKML. The volume of the list makes it impossible for me to keep up - I simply don't have the time. However, I used to enjoy reading the Kernel Traffic summaries regularly so I'd have some idea of what the Linux developers were up to. Sadly, Kernel Traffic is no more. Likewise, there have been similar efforts to summarize activity in other communities (e.g. Brave GNU World, This Month in BSD, the gcc newsletter, WineHQ news, etc). Most of these are defunct, being replaced by dozens of individual websites, blogs, and mailing lists.
What I propose is recruiting Advogato users from each of the many FOSS communities to write and post a periodic summary of significant events in their respective groups. I'm willing to work with these volunteers to devise a useful format and a system for assembling the reports. This will take some time to get going so I think the best plan is to focus on the communities one by one, working out the system and getting things started, then moving on to the next group. As a start, I've written an example summary of the GNU project's activites this month. I've worked out where to get the information and how to assemble it into a simple format. I'll post it shortly as an article. What I need now is just one volunteer willing to contribute an hour of their time once a month to assemble and post a GNU update. Who's up for the job?
The next question is what FOSS community would you like to see a monthly summary of next? Ruby? Perl? BSD? I need suggestions and volunteers. email@example.com