As many Minds community members may already be aware, I have quite a substantial background within the IT profession (stretching over 20+ years with roles including technical and end-user support, adult educationalist, network and systems administrator, web developer and project manager). Whilst these days I prefer to take a more measured approach, I still enjoy providing support and advice to open source projects (and over the last year, my main focus has been on the Minds project).
Over the course of the last 3+ years of using the Minds platform, we have seen some interesting challenges and I still believe in the ethos of supporting a transparent and open source platform that is built upon the idea of providing a space where community members can openly discuss ideas, as well as upholding the ideals of free speech.
However, whilst this platform has done some things well, I believe that I have identified a number of issues with minds.com and the developers, Minds Inc.
1. Over reliance on public relations statements
Whilst it is always good to promote a project and the associated company (irrelevant if the project is an open source social media platform or otherwise provides some other services or products), it seems that certain members of the staff consider that it is satisfactory to mainly provide public relation (PR) styled statements when replying to help and support (H&S) questions, as well as seemly thinking that by producing these PR styled answers, they have completed their duties within the H&S group (as an example, how many time have we seen answers being provided by the staff such as “we are working to resolve. Thanks for reporting” without providing any follow-ups or further information).
Also, some issues that have been reported to the H&S group have been fairly long-standing problems with the platform, which have yet to be fully resolved.
Oddly enough, with recent controversial issues, in my opinion the staff have missed out on an opportunity to provide a suitable community wide statement to assure community members about resolving various issues.
2. Limited understanding of the term “open source”
As far as the staff seem to understand, it is sufficient only to upload the code (and associated licence agreements) to a repository for community members and the wider public to view to claim that this is a transparent open source platform.
The staff does seem to forget that within a transparent, community owned open source platform, it is not sufficient to only upload the source code to a repository and then ignore any further support for the code (ie. not providing a version numbering scheme and to not provide further supplemental documentation, as well as to treat any community contributions like they are owned by Minds Inc).
Whilst it is true that the staff have implemented some community ideas in relation to the search and “top” filtering facilities, they seem to have disregarded or ignored the majority of contributions from the community (as an example, examine how many posts are left without replies being provided by any staff members within the official Minds Feature Request group).
Whilst I have previously been fairly hesitant about the need to sign a Contributor License Agreement (CLA) document if providing new community contributed source code to the project, I do understand the need for Minds Inc. to further protect themselves from any intellectual property and copyright issues. However, due to the way that the current CLA document is written, this agreement seems to imply that the code can be owned by Minds Inc. and if they decide to relicense the platform, they could possible relicense any community contributions that is included within the code.
Please note that the “community owned” statement seems to have been removed from all recent published advertising material and Minds Inc. sanctioned interviews.
3. Lack of sufficient internal training
As many community members have witnessed within the H&S group, certain members of staff have been providing poor and insufficient replies, sometimes asking for further information whilst not actually following up on said further feedback and within some recent H&S enquires, actual providing incorrect information (which has been corrected by community based H&S volunteers).
These poor replies, lack of further feedback and (sometimes) incorrect information does suggest that there is a lot of room to improve upon internal staff training procedures.
Also the issue of an over reliance on PR statements (see point 1) as a way to deflect information away from community members of this transparent open source platform would further indicate that there needs to be a more rigorous internal training programme implemented within Minds Inc. (I can foresee that these issues could grow with an increase in staff numbers).
4. Issues with internal policies and procedures
Apart from the above issues with internal training procedures, as evident with recent controversial issues, there is a lack of documented polices and procedures about subjects including the banning of users and appeals processes.
Whilst I understand that the staff are working on these issue (and have suggested that they are intending to create policies and procedure documentation), these issues need to be fully reviewed and be transparently implemented.
5. Under appreciation of volunteering community members
Whilst some of the senior staff members do seem to have an appreciation for the work that has been voluntarily undertaken by various members of the community (especially within the realms of the H&S group and also within the recently formed Minds Community Open Source Initiative project), some of the newer staff members seem to have a disregard for those of us that volunteer our time and energy in providing support for this transparent, “community owned” open source project.
6. Over emphasis on the skills being provided by Minds Inc. staff members
Again, considering that the Minds project did at one time sport the phrase “community owned” within the associated advertising material and whilst I am not attempting to degrade the abilities of various staff members, I also believe that there is too much “back patting” of said staff members and a lack of encouragement by the staff for community contributions.
I personally believe that within the community there is a wealth of experience and knowledge that is being ignored by the staff, whilst the staff have often suggested that there is a lack of resources available to them.
As we have seen from many other open source projects, the project communities can and usually are a source of good advice, knowledge and further contributions (which again, has been seemly often disregard by Minds Inc).
Considering the above issues and also the fairly good provisions that have already been implemented into the Minds project, I would like to see this project grow and become a further rival to the main stream social networking platforms. However, if Minds Inc. continues to follow the same path that they have been going, the continuation of various actions and attitudes could further damage both the platform and companies reputation, credibility and membership.
This is why myself and other experienced, long-term community members founded the Minds Community Open Source Initiative (MCOSI) project. As founding members of the MCOSI, it is our intention to support Minds Inc. in making minds.com a truly transparent open source platform.
Please note that it is not my intention to be overly critical of minds.com or the providers of this platform (Minds Inc) but after spending quite a bit of time considering all the aspects, I believe that the above critique to be a fair, justified and objective review.