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Calling out for a thinktank

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A couple of weeks ago, the founder(s) of the #php.thinktank channel on FreeNode decided that there was not enough use for the channel to maintain it’s existence. Soon after that, everybody got booted from the channel, and the channel ‘merged’ with #phpc, the PHP Community channel. With a few commands to chanserv, the utopia of PHP knowledge was gone… But gone forever?

Almost at the exact same time, the #phpc channel was (and still is) advertised in the ON JOIN notice in ##php, the worlds largest PHP support channel. This attracted a lot of new visitors, with the current average of ~100, instead of the usual ~30. The purpose of #phpc, giving the community a place to meet, hang-out and ‘fart around’, is well served with this advertisement. There is now activity almost 24/7, and people meet, and chat about the most various topics, which, as usual, tend to change almost instantaneously. But the purpose of #php.thinktank isn’t really served with this. Allthough all the great names in the PHP community hang out here, there isn’t much chatter about PHP at all.

All the good stuff of the Thinktank is gone. No more lectures about complex design patterns, no more discussions about the future of web development, no more stories about genius solutions to unsolvable problems, nothing… Of course, most of the people that did hang out in the Thinktank were also in #phpc. And indeed, during the night hours (USA time) there were mostly join- and quit-messages. But there was good stuff too, and that’s gone now. For a fact, I know that I am not the only one that misses the Thinktank. There has been some occasional complaining about it’s disappearance in various channels. But there are other signs that the PHP community need a thinktank.

Lectures

With the upcoming Zendcon, a lot of people submitted their proposition papers to give a lecture at the conference. A lot of them got rejected. These people obviously know a lot about their subject, and are willing to share their knowledge with the world. Why not give them a stage in the Thinktank? Create an online schedule, and have people submit their papers to it. Invite them for a lecture, and schedule it on the website.

One of the reasons the channel went down was because the weekly scheduled talk became abandoned. Although it would be nice to have a lecture on a weekly basis, it doesn’t necessarily have to be weekly. Why not schedule the best lectures for the first week of a month, and any other lectures in the other weeks of the month, or a next month? That way, time slots can stay open, and get filled when there is actually a speaker available. By the amount of ‘complaints’ I’ve seen in the #phpc channel, there should be enough material out there to schedule up for more then a year. A bot, or a human, could easily extract the talk from any irc log, polish it up a bit, and publish it on-line for later reference. Optionally, the same (artificial) person could also moderate the talk, so questions are automaticly asked at the end of a certain topic, or at the end of the whole lecture.

Idlers

Another reason was the amount of people who ‘idled’ in the channel. This one is not easy to solve, or might not even be solvable at all. The great minds stick around to give their view on complicated situations that are brought up by another user, and the other users hang around to make sure they learn as much as possible. The only way to solve this, would be to make the channel invite only, which would rule anybody out that wasn’t invited by the regulars. This might not be the best way of eliminating the issue, but read my article titled ‘Free, as in: Free’(almost finished) for a little more detail about consequences and advantages. Another way might be to open the channel for certain timeslots only. For example, 60 minutes before a lecture would start, till 60 minutes after the last question has been answered, or the last line has been said. You can’t ile in a channel that is locked down, as you would need to manually join the channel during a set period. After that period, everybody is kicked out again, and the channel locked down, till the next scheduled event.

Events don’t necessarily have to be a scheduled lecture. There could also be certain timeslots where the pro’s would be available to answer questions, or give their views on certain situations. To my best knowledge, there is currently no good way to get an opinion on a new design pattern. Either the resource is overcrowded with people who didn’t got to the design pattern chapters yet, or there would be no experienced developer around to actually see your proposal, rant, or whatever you did create.

Purpose

With the 2 most mentioned reasons addressed, what would be the real purpose to have a thinktank? The sharing of knowledge of course! There are great minds in the PHP community, and, when given a place, a time, and an opportunity, we could all learn from them. The lectures will be pure knowledge, and in the rest of the time, visitors could bring up challenging design issues, or start a discussion on a new technique that could rock the PHP development world. People are (thinking about) leaving #phpc, because it doesn’t serve their purpose, and will have no longer have a place to share their invaluable knowledge. I’m definitely not saying that #phpc has no purpose, it sure does, but it gives no room for a thinktank. Even if the thinktank would only be opened for certain timeslots, it would still be a huge addition to the community. Besides the IRC channel, there could be a mailing list or forum/BB to fill in the time that the channel would be closed. People could arrange an appointment in a certain timeslot, so they know that the person(s) they wanted to speak would be actually online and available.

Summary

Well, it’s pretty obvious by now: I’m one of those that want the thinktank back. Even if it might need some changes, I think the community can’t live without this great resource of knowledge. Do you share my opinion? Or know a dozen reasons why it shouldn’t come back? (one would be fine too ;)) Or have something else to say? Please use the comment form below, and share your view on this.

~RW

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Released: on Jul 26, 2007 under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs (CC-BY-ND) licenseCC-BY-ND

Comments (1)

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  1. While the thinktank wasn’t used as often as it could have been, there is a distinct difference between the two channels, which was brought up before the change occured.

    I personally think that the Thinktank provided an important resource for people above ##php help and that it should still be provided to users.