In this episode of the Stack Overflow podcast, Joel and Jeff discuss the promise and peril of Email (both social and technical), Google Buzz, and the value of training material.
I will be at Webstock 2010 and in New Zealand for the next two weeks. I was excited to learn that the singer Wing is from New Zealand. Hear Wing in action. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. OK, maybe I didn’t warn you.
I encouraged Joel to have the Stack Exchange team on for a podcast while I am gone for two weeks. There’s a lot of interesting re-engineering of the Stack Overflow engine necessary to support lots of small and medium sites on our engine. If you have questions from the Stack Exchange team, please contribute them to this Meta Stack Exchange thread.
I am not a fan of email, to put it mildly, as I wrote in Is Email = Efail and Email: The Variable Reinforcement Machine. Given my discomfort with email, I struggle with the role of email on Stack Overflow — mostly trying to keep it at arms’ length while using it appropriately.
I agree with Joel’s position here, which is that aggressive email notifications are toxic to the growth of a community. That’s why our email notifications are somewhat.. slow. It’s intentional.
Joel describes Jason Calacanis’ cessation of blogging in favor of a private invitation only email list. He claims that it’s a way of reaching people outside the normal domain of blogging. There are certain folks who just don’t read blogs. Joel feels he has totally and utterly saturated the narrow world of programmers who read blogs, so it’s worth experimenting with different distribution mechanisms and perhaps reach different audiences.
The root of the email problem is that it’s the kitchen sink one-size-fits-all communication medium, when in reality, there should be communication escalation (or de-escalation) to fit what you’re trying to communicate. Tailor your choice of communication medium to the particular message you are delivering!
Is email for old people? I do think younger people are correctly intuiting that there are more efficient mechanisms for online communication. As Joel notes, email is really the only canonical form of online communication that everyone is guaranteed to have. You may not have a Twitter or Facebook or Friendster account, but surely you have an email address. Everyone does!
I am highly skeptical of the new Google Buzz because it is built on email. You just can’t build a stable structure on top of a broken system, in my humble opinion of course.
The act of sending mail is also incredibly complicated because spammers have abused the infrastructure for a decade. There are a few immune responses that are still effective, such as DKIM and Reverse PTR records. SenderID is another method, also based on DNS records, but it’s less well regarded. If you’re going to send email and you want it to arrive, you need to implement all this stuff!
- Joel has documented a lot of the process at Fog Creek in a series of training videos and a book, titled Make Better Software. Compared to most companies, Fog Creek is quite transparent in this regard, and I might even say they evangelize for better programmer working conditions.
Our featured questions this week are:
- Server Fault: What’s your recommended server room kit? A nice description of the key items any well provisioned server room ought to have.
We answered the following listener question on this podcast:
- Pierre “Good programming training material is expensive. How can students obtain good training materials?”
If you’d like to submit a question to be answered in our next episode, record an audio file (90 seconds or less) and mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can record a question using nothing but a telephone and a web browser. We also have a dedicated phone number you can call to leave audio questions at 646-826-3879.
The transcript wiki for this episode is available for public editing.
update: my 2010 webstock talk is now online.