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What would you think if I started an internal-to-Red Hat Fedora users list?

So I had an idea this week, partially in response to one of our stellar global support staff members saying that he wishes there was a person or place to send internal people needing user help with Fedora. The kind of help they would get from the external Fedora users mailing list, the kind of peer support that an internal-enterprisey-IT-service-desk can’t really provide.

“What’s wrong with the actual Fedora lists?” Robyn asked me. “We’re just not being very true to our roots when we have a special list just for Red Hat folken.” There’s a very real risk that people will reckon the list receives priority by other Red Hatters (it might, that’s the point!) and is elitist (“Too good for our lists, eh?”)

I don’t disagree with those concerns, and here’s what I’m thinking for reasons and mitigation:

  1. People inside of companies using software to get their work done may perceive external community lists as outlaw places, as unsafe (because some discussion might touch upon confidential materials, devolve to attack/defend, etc.), and – honestly – scary unknown territory. Speaking with colleagues for support (“Hey, Jo, how do you …?”) gives people the feeling that the responsiveness of the community is going to be proper to the situation – no one other than a Red Hatter can know how important it is for Foo Bar from Sales to get her presentation to work on her Fedora 15 laptop. (That, I believe, would be the perception by people of why to use an internal-only list; hard to battle that perception without first getting them in to a  common forum – albeit a private one – to hammer out the real issues.)
    • For example, I know folks who first had to be hand-held through using internal IRC, then they got their entire teams to use it, and after a number of years, were willing and interested in venturing in to the open community IRC. I am confident that final step happened only because the earlier ones came first – for some people, the long-time in non-public space is perhaps the only way they’ll make the transition.
  2. Desktop Linux users often get help from their local user groups, from special for-newbies-only mailing lists, and so forth. I would consider an internal fedora-users mailing list to be a similar, hand-holding gateway – ask questions here first, and if we can’t get an answer and need help from a Fedora list, either we’ll help you do that or ask for you.
  3. If managers know their team members can ask questions on a private, confidential, internal list, they may be more likely to permit Fedora usage. Otherwise, there is little value in switching from the corporate standard build (CSB) of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL).
    • Sometimes people really do need the kind of software that can only be found in a latest Fedora. For example, I’ve heard from some of the big movie animation studios that while they run RHEL on their render farms, they may use Fedora on their desktops if a designer or developer needs what can only be found in a super-modern Linux distribution. Having support when you need, where you need it from, is a good thing.
    • Similarly, folks who aren’t paid to be available helping on external Fedora lists are in fact paid and empowered by Red Hat to help other Red Hatters. It would be great to get that help to happen out in the external lists, but maybe it just has to start somewhere else first.
  4. Communities need private spaces, maybe this could be one?

I would make a goal of the list to be, help internal users to gain the confidence and competence to go the external community instead. The internal list could be a training community, and those who want to graduate go on to make other Fedora lists better with their experience and point of view.

For those of you who would love to see dozens or hundreds of Red Hat worker bees who run Fedora participating on the mailing list … this is the only way I can think of so far that might yield more of that.

Ultimately I’m asking all of you out here first because while I know other Red Hatters might like and use the idea, it is your perception that I can never adjust by just showing you the private archives to prove it’s a reasonable approach to take. If I’m going to ask you to take our word for yet-another-hallway-discussion-being-OK, I should at least ask you before I start the hallway discussion group.

I’m curious if your company or organization does something like this. What do you think of this idea? How could it be made better? How can I mitigate the risks more?

Comments are open.