if we build software that doesn't scale, that's okay because our communities are small, and it means the megas can't use it



I like this idea, but also have trouble reconciling it, on the upstream side, with needing scale for the things on which we build, and on the downstream side of needing scale to be accessible and inclusive.

maybe there are different kinds of scaling that help resolve this?

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@deejoe I'm not sure how not scaling to, say, thousands of users reduces accessibility, except that it requires more instances to be set up?

there's a premise that some people hold that accessibility requires centralization, but i don't agree with that.

@tindall @deejoe accessibility requires the ability to offload some work from some people to other people setting up tools for those people

that can be centralization but it doesn't have to be

it can be

lateralization? :D i dunno :D

@brion @tindall

yeah, maybe that's an entirely different idea than what people usually mean by scale. I think being able to do needful things does mean "bigger" in absolute terms than many of us are comfortable with, but not necessarily the "move fast and break things on the way to acquiring market share and excluding competitors" type of scaling.

@deejoe @tindall ah, by scaling i specifically mean scaling to serve a larger number of people

obviously you can choose to do this 'poorly'

@brion @tindall

yeah, I don't know. Accessibility aside for the moment, we also see small communities struggle with shifting priorities over time, burnout in the people running things, chasing upgrades, moderating, a hothouse environment for personality clashes, all that.

Best way to put this that comes to me just now is to shoot for "organic scaling"?

Or to trot out a more familiar usage: How do we maintain critical mass without it either fizzle out or a blowing up?

@brion @tindall

like, somewhere between 3 single friends in a dorm room before they graduate on one end and, well, Facebook, but heck if I know where other than that.

@deejoe @brion I don't see that most things need a "critical mass", though, unless they want to capture a market through the network effect.

@tindall @brion

That's at an end of the scale I think we all agree is best avoided. Towards the smaller end though, is everyone capable of running things, such that the loss of any one of them doesn't mean the loss of essential social infrastructure for others?

For instance, there's long been a tradition of people hosting DNS and email secondaries for each other, backups for each other. But that's then exclusive to tech folk with particular skill and interest.

@deejoe @brion Ideally, we'd be able to build tech than anyone who can use, can deploy. There are obstacles, of course, but that's the goal.

@deejoe @tindall (this is a good point! i've always had this concern about 'well-meaning 1st world techy 3rd-world aid projects' like OLPC etc that envisioned kind of drop-kicking tech into someone's culture and then just kinda abandon them, with seemingly no thought towards self-maintenance and self-management by the end-users on the ground)

@deejoe @tindall (decentralized anything needs to be able to survive an individual node manager dropping out, and the management of a node should be easy enough that that won't happen constantly just because of confusion/burnout! )

@tindall @deejoe @brion

Also as long as even a small community welcomes diversity, accessibility can be achieved.

I am part of a forum about vintage electronics where there are a lot of older people present, and the users will speak up if fonts / colours are hard to see and things get changed (they also share positive discussions on how to deal with doing things like close work and driving as their eyesight changes due to ageing)

@deejoe @brion @tindall I noticed this is a huge problem in the open source community — going from a hobby project to a community project. Few projects are successful at this, and pretty much none do it without problems.

Anything that would help with that step would have a tremendous impact on the whole community.


I'm thinking not about numbers alone, but about the composition. In the best case of assuming even distribution across a user base, a small community is going to have less diversity of experience, ability, & background. This then applies all the more to the development & operations components of that community, too. You can try to accomodate, develop for, and in general support people who aren't yet part of your community but that's not going to be the same as having those folks in it.

@tindall A key question becomes "what is sufficient scale?"

Given that FB et al are competing at billions, a system which "only" scales to a small number of millions ... should be tolerable. It's probably too big to be intimate (by numerous orders of magnitude) but is still far too small to be practicable for mass media applications.


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