otsukare Thoughts after a day of work

Webcompat Outreach, Mon Amour…

I was listening a podcast by Brian Kardell and Eric Meyer. Toward the end, they are mentioning the challenges of outreach in the context of broken Web sites.

Brian says:

It would have to be, enough people would have to complain. A browser wouldn't tell a lie if they could reach out and get you to update it.

I wrote in the past about the need for browsers to lie to websites and the consequences for both the websites.

  1. Websites fails to support a browser A for a reason X. Sometimes not enough market share for them to care.
  2. The browser A lies to be able to get the right code path.
  3. The websites analytics show that browser A is not accessing the website.
  4. Goto 1.

And if you wanted to update my website or your website, that would be relatively easy. They would just send us an email and we'd be like, 'Oh, crap, let me fix that right away.'

It's not that easy. It is still hard to contact individuals. It takes time. The person has sometimes no real control over their "personal website". And the Benefits/Cost Ratio is very low. (Note that Brian and Eric were talking about their actual personal websites and indeed this is easier to contact public tech savy people.)

But when it comes to Wells Fargo, or Yahoo, or some big site with lots and lots and lots of people who go there…

Here it depends on the category of websites. Yahoo! is a lot easier to contact, than certain types of websites:

Another parameter: culture!

The structure of business for creating websites and the relationships of the Web developers with their direct and indirect hierarchy is not the same depending on the regions of the world. For some Web developers it will be very hard to be able to challenge the decision making process with regards to a website. In some circumstances, the bottom-up approach of contacting will not work, and you would need to go to a top-down approach.

Brian continues:, right. And can we actually reach them? Can we get them to change it? Even worse, for ones that are under the covers, they're the same, but you don't know. They resell, effectively. It's a website's package and it gets very, very hard to know who to reach. They're unresponsive, because they've sort of outsourced their website, really. So there's not always a person you can reach out to. But in the meantime, everybody's going to complain, so they'll lie. And those are the sites really. Those sites are going to be included every time. You know what I mean?The things that we estimate usage on are estimated from looking at the HP requests to lots and lots and lots of websites. And then it's extrapolated from there. But the set of websites is which ones are popularly loaded. And in the grand scheme of things, our websites are not destinations.

So it's when I thought about the title of this post: Webcompat Outreach, Mon Amour. Last time, I used that reference, it put me in hot waters, because the person, reading this in a comment, thought I was literal and actually calling her "Mon Amour", while I was making a reference to Hiroshima Mon Amour, a movie by Alain Resnais, and written by Marguerite Duras. Culture differences as mentioned earlier. This poetic movie is subtly revealing our tensions at a global and personal level.

Still from the movie where the main actress says: Sometimes we have to avoid thinking about the problems life presents. Otherwise we'd suffocate.

Hence webcompat outreach where the simple minimal code mistakes or choices affects a large number of people. Each decisions we make have consequences on the balance of the ecosystem. We pour love into our art craft and still be constrained by the machinery of the administration.

I have written about outreach multiple times. You do not need to work for a big company to be able to contact a website, and every invidual can help by communicating clearly to people handling the website presenting issues. This is not an impossible task. It just takes patience, courage and resilience.

In what do you need to do before doing outreach, my last section, mentioned all the reasons why the outreach might fail. There are techniques to try to find people online and to track down who to contact. On the website, I had written about different techniques to find a way to reach the right person and the attitudes you need to have:

  • Be tactful: People we are trying to reach have their own set of constraints, bosses, economic choices etc. "Your web site is bad" will not lead anywhere, except NOT getting the site fixed.
  • Be humble: We are no better, we also make mistakes in practice. Our own recommendations can become outdated as technical or economic circumstances change.
  • Let it go: Sometimes outreach just doesn't work. The person at the end of the other line may say "no" or worse, may not answer. It can be very frustrating. It's okay. Accept it and move on.
  • Be passionate: The passion is in being able to find the right contact in a company without harassing them. Every effort helps.
  • Share with consideration: Share any contact you attempted or made in the issue comments section. It helps everyone to know the status so they can pitch in or not repeat work. That said - be careful to not disclose private information such as names and emails. You may simply say: "I contacted someone at $COMPANY", "Someone from $COMPANY said this…"