Articulating IRC Contributions Concisely

Today I had a call with Jussi from the Ubuntu IRC Council. We spent some time discussing a range of different topics, but then Jussi raised an important question which I think could benefit from some community discussion.

Today we have many methods of providing free support for our users – the Ubuntu Forums, Launchpad Answers, Ubuntu StackExchange and of course IRC. With each of the web resources there is a method of identifying those who are providing a significant and sustained contribution when providing support by checking their account profiles.

Unfortunately we don’t have this today for IRC. The simple reality is that there are many community members who use IRC every day and provide fantastically valuable support for our community, but there is no way of sufficiently articulating their contributions in a way that could, for example, be assessed for Ubuntu Membership.

The outcome I would like to achieve here is that someone in the IRC community who provides support could apply for Ubuntu Membership and the Ubuntu Membership Board could take a look at a profile that accurately and concisely summarizes their contributions, thus identifying that such contributions are significant and sustained, and therefore suitable for membership.

One option I was thinking could be something that I am thinking of as a ‘thankbot’. Imagine this context

<jono> hey, how do I do X, Y, and Z on Ubuntu?
<erica> hi jono, all you do is click on the frizometer and select babang.
<jono> ahh, that is it, thanks so much!
<erica> jono, it would be
<jono> thankbot erica
<thankbot> erica got thanked by jono - erica has been thanked: 28 times

We could then provide a means for others to check how many times a given person has been thanked, and it could be even cooler to have IRC client plug-ins that shows the number of thanks next to the persons nick.

Of course, the bot would want to be armed with the ability to not be gamed (such as limiting the number of thanks from the same person, to avoid spamming the bot), but these would all be details.

Could this work, and if not, is there a better idea out there to solve the problem of providing better visibility on our contributors who provide great support?

  • Lasse Havelund

    As much as I can see where you’re coming from, I don’t agree with your viewpoint as a whole. We have cases of people (like myself) who have been adopted as members, primarily for their IRC contributions.

    Chances are if you’re a regular contributor, you will be noticed in the support channels, and you can easily draw on the ops as references for your interview, should you feel inclined to do so.

    Furthermore, I think this easily creates a tier-based system; we’ve already had issues with people who seem to think they’re allowed to ‘bend’ the rules because they offer support a lot (e.g. by going offtopic, swearing every now and then, or simply veering from their usual kind, friendly path). I think a system like this would just make it worse.

    I’m not usually a fan of the if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it method; I’m always up for trying something new, but I see this as being a potential for creating a lo of unwanted situations.

  • Michael

    It’d also like to see it pickup “thanks $nick” or “thank you $nick”, as that’s how most people show appreciation, and the people who will be seeking help in #ubuntu aren’t likely to be familiar with thankbot’s use.

    I think limiting it to one thank per person per minute would be sufficient. This would also prevent an over-count if multiple people are thanking someone for the same help, or some other helper thanking somebody for providing assistance then couldn’t (“Thanks eric for helping jono”).

  • Michael

    Also, I don’t think the number of thanks for a person should be advertised, just silently counted and maybe available for lookup somewhere else.

  • Nathan Handler

    I have mentioned this before when we have discussed this topic. The thank system sounds a lot like what they previously had on the forums and the karma system on Launchpad. It focuses purely on numbers. Numbers are nice, but they really are less useful than some other aspects of a Membership application. I would much rather see a person with some IRC contributions ask for a few testimonials. Even in a big channel such as #ubuntu, if someone has been around for a few months providing support, I find it hard to believe that no users or operators would have noticed. Testimonials are more than just a “Joe has been doing good work”. They have a real person associated with the comment as well as an explanation from that person’s point of view as to why they are supporting (or not supporting) the application. Seeing a bunch of anonymous “thank yous” for a person do not provide that. Also, as has been already mentioned, it would be very difficult to prevent abuse with the bots. It is very easy to register new accounts, use proxies, and evade time limit restrictions in order to boost a thank count.

    So while I agree that we need to find a way to better recognize IRC contributions, I do not think this bot is the best solution. Instead, we should be encouraging these contributors to collect testimonials. The Regional Membership Boards realize that IRC is a form of contributing. When I see a person who mentions in their application that they are active in a certain channel providing support, I frequently will grep my IRC logs to get a feel for the amount and quality of the support that they are in fact providing. I will also occassionally ask other people active in those channels (especially for LoCo channels) for a comment about the person (if there are not testimonials on the wiki page). All of this takes only a few minutes (which is not a lot of time).

  • yonkeltron

    Whatever the interface, throw these records into CouchDB (I know y’alls are no strangers to one another) so that the data can be web accessible. Enable the community to do cool stuff with the data!

  • Marius Gedminas

    I believe Supybot’s Karma plugin does this. I’ve seen people on some IRC channels using


    to express their thanks; these are then accumulated and shown on request when you ask the bot:

    bot, karma someonesnick

  • Lorenzo J. Lucchini

    I have toyed with a few Ubuntu-related bot, as Ubuntu IRC people will known, and this possibility didn’t escape my bot-minded brain.

    However, I never implemented it because of, well, mostly the issues that have been explained by the posts above mine.

    A bot like this (or similar devices) could be useful as a private means for the IRC Council to double-check their perception of someone’s contribution against an objective criterion; however, I believe their personal judgement should remain paramount.

    Actually, when I was in the IRC Council, I did write a statistics script that would extract information from the logs, which I used to identify potentially promising helpers. It was, however, more general than counting the number of “thanks” (though that could also be done), and it also didn’t offer any public interface for people to explicitly give someone points – that’s another thing which I find would be too easily skewed in unwanted ways, and I disagree with your assessment that preventing misuse. would be “details”.

    It is not possible for security reasons to provide public access to this little statistics framework, but the IRC Council is aware of it, and I could also arrange a demonstration if you are interested.

  • Grant

    I think it’s a cool idea, but it would have to be very carefully planned to avoid abuse.

    If there was a way to automatically link a chosen IRC nick to a Launchpad account (eg having that IRC’s nickserv talking to Launchpad) so that it can feed through seamlessly, that’d be cool too. :)

  • Micheal Harker

    As much as I think this is a good idea than bad… I really don think numbers tell a true story or paints a picture of someones contribution and determination to Ubuntu.

    The reason why I say the is because once, a few days ago I had helped someone in the channel. That would be classed as “a thanks”. But this support was different in a way in which I think a special praise would be in order. I as I said was helping in the irc channel but as I sad was different: I had spent 4/5 HOURS helping someone with their Internet problem and in the end I was shattered but pleased that it was fixed. And that’s why I say numbers don’t paint a picture of someones contribution to Ubuntu. I’d say what my teachers always say, Quality and Not Quantity. And If someone has literately pushed theirselves to the limit just to help Ubuntu out then I think that should be overlooked in some sort of special way.

    Thanks for taking the time to read this comment,

    Micheal Harker (Better known as MichealH)

  • Seeker`

    If people feel the need to be karma whores, they can go and give support on the forums or launchpad. If they want to help people, they can stay on IRC.

    If someone wants to become an ubuntu member and only support people in IRC and they are supporting people to the standard required to become a member, it is unlikely they will have totally escaped the notice of ops active in the channel – people spend enough time in the channel to know who is helpful and who isn’t.

    Having a bot to auto count “thanks” will either a) be too open to gaming b) not be able to understand enough English to catch all thanks (OMG IT DIDN’T RECOGNISE MY THANKS) c) So only people helping in ubuntu? What about in loco teams, where people are directed for native language support? Do the people helping them not get karma? And who will do the language processing for those languages d)All of the above.

    In short, -1.

  • jml

    We used to have this on #linpeople (or was it #debian) back in the day. Never really seemed to replace having a good reputation.

  • Collin Pruitt

    It’s relatively hard to gauge contributions on IRC, due to the simple nature of the protocol. A bot might work, or perhaps having people actively monitor the channels in question for people that truly stand out when it comes to giving support. The last one might be a bit harder to achieve, but it’s possible.

  • Nicolai Hähnle

    This sounds like an interesting problem for automated IRC log analysis.

    Honestly, I don’t think adding this feature to a bot, much less with specific syntax like “nick++” or “thankbot nick” is a good idea, for the reasons previously mentioned, in particular (a) most people looking for help will not know such conventions, and (b) any kind of measuring should be as unintrusive to the natural flow of conversation as possible.

    However, trying to retrieve some kind of measure or help graph might be a nice exercise in data mining for somebody who is so inclined.

  • duanedesign

    I know the Beginners Team has struggled with just this question before. We provide support in #ubuntu-beginners and were looking for ways to recognise good efforts. Most the suggestions that were brought forward were a bot. I think this would be a great idea.

  • neuro

    Well done, Jono, you’ve described a Love Machine :) We used this at Linden Lab to translate thanks for helping people out with stuff into tangible bonuses at the end of the quarter.

    Here’s the commercial implementation:

  • Dahrann

    That saves me. Tnhkas for being so sensible!