Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What the hell is going on with the Cloud Computing group on Google?

Update: There is some counter evidence to Sam's claim that he is the number 3 poster on the Google Groups Cloud Computing group, so I edited this post to reflect what is actually confirmed at this point.

Update 2: Sam points out below that he measured his ranking based on the last month, not all time. I'll leave the text the way it is, as I can't verify that (though I have no reason to doubt it), and the text is still accurate. If anyone in the group can verify Sam's claim, I'll change the text back and qualify it better.

One of the great resources for cloud computing fans and foes alike has been the Google Groups Cloud Computing online community. Started by Reuven Cohen at Enomaly in Toronto, and promoted by many of us participating in its discussions, it has quickly grown from 0 to over 3500 members. It is generally pretty active (though it ranks as "low activity" according to Google), but the sweet spot has been the frank and open discussions on threads that were incredibly informative and civil.

Normally one would praise moderation for keeping the riff raff out, but yesterday Sam Johnston told a story that has me very, very concerned. In the midst of a rant about the Enomalism as "vaporware" (which I won't discuss here), Sam describes an exchange that, if true, indicates abuse and self-serving censorship of the kind that undermines the credibility of the group as an open forum.

Here is what Sam had to say:
"It's worth mentioning that I had good reason to do some background research. My recent post (cached copy) to one of the larger cloud computing Google Groups announcing Cloud User Shell (cush) (a free, open source prototype and the first cloud computing shell) made it through the invisible moderation net but information about its mailing lists was silently redacted and an off-list invitation for "Moderator " (later found to be Khazret Sapenov, Director of R&D at Enomaly) to participate in the list management rudely rejected. When I requested that he "please add a few of the other active community members to [help] administer it" citing that "long blackouts are extremely disruptive" he childishly and silently evicted me from the group, deleted me from the member list, updated the FAQ to read 'This group is moderated...at moderators personal discretion', and worst of all, silently and inexplicably deleted the announcement from the archives. Furthermore, in a stunning display of hubris they have hidden the member list even from members and infringed copyright by retrospectively relicensed the group posts under a Creative Commons license with neither notification nor permission!

Repeated requests to rejoin were denied and as the #3 poster at the time I reached out to Reuven, calling for "an unfettered communications channel which is open for anyone to join and post, and which is not dependent on (nor able to be held hostage by) any one person". Reuven conceded that Khazret was his employee and that this "rather fascist approach to its moderation" was a "recurring theme", adding that he "would love to have [me] involved in [his!?!] cloud book". He promised to take care of it the following week (but didn't) and repeated calls for them to open up the community have gone unanswered. Of course they claim this is an extracurricular activity but it's hardly a basket weaving group, rather a massive conflict of interest directly related to their core [in]competency. Did this heated debate about the private cloud oxymoron really end here for example?"
Reuven and Khazret need the opportunity to respond, and I offer this post as a neutral venue to do so. Assuming they respond with a family friendly response, I will update this post to reflect it. Reuven took the initiative to found the group, as well as CloudCamp, and has an excellent blog, so I'd like to think this is all a big misunderstanding. I find it likely that Sam said something controversial about Enomalism or something, but unlikely that he did anything that justified being expelled.

I also think, however, that the Google Groups group needs to ask the Enomaly guys what their moderation policy is. The group's home page says, "[M]oderation of comments is necessary to prevent spam, personal attacks, profanity, or off-topic commentary." However, it is very hard to see how the Cust post could be seen as clearly falling in any of these categories. Is Reuven looking for independent moderators? If so, he should ask for them via a post in the group, and perhaps cite this controversy as a driving need for someone to step up. Out of 3500+ members, I am sure he would find two or three qualified people to help out.

In fact, perhaps moderation needs to move to a balanced team of, say, 3 people--no two of which work at the same company.

At the very least, transparency MUST be better than it has been in this case; having the number 3 poster a top 2% poster--one with that often forced you to think hard about your positions--cut without announcement or explanation is not acceptable. I, for one, am going to lose trust in the openness of the forum unless transparency and accountability improve.