For those who don't know him, Aaron Seigo is one of the leading KDE developers and community leaders. (KDE doesn't have a "lead developer" position, just as Drupal does not, but my understanding is if you merge Earl Miles and Angie Byon you sort of have Aaron's role within the KDE community.) He also blogs far more than is probably healthy, but his posts, while long, tend to be very spot-on.
His latest article is one that is of particular interest to the Drupal community, I believe, because as a large, minimally-structured, Open Source development community we face many of the same challenges that other such projects do, such as KDE. In particular, the challenge of who to listen to.
How many issues on Drupal.org have been derailed or lengthened unnecessarily by one voice? How many times have we striven for agreement of everyone who cares to be involved rather than consensus of those who understand the subject matter? More often than we care to admit to ourselves, I'm sure.
Part of this issue is, as Aaron notes, that we do a poor job of separating expertise from opinion. As the saying goes, opinions are like assholes: Everyone's got one. That doesn't make those opinions of equal value, however.
Yep, I went there: Not all opinions are created equal. And the more ill- or un-informed they are, the less value they hold. (In general; if a vast sum of uninformed people interpret something the same way, that could be a sign that the message is being poorly presented in the first place.)
Unfortunately, we don't always admit that to ourselves. An expert analysis, with the scientific or experiential rigor that it entails, is worth easily ten times as much as casual opinions. So why do we, as the Drupal community, try so hard to value all casual opinions equally?
Or do we? Do we just pretend to and not admit to ourselves or each other that "some opinions are more equal than others"?
I'll give a personal example: To be perfectly honest, I am not a fan of the new D7 menu structure and organization. I find it cumbersome for the work I do, it's too hard to get to the areas that I actually do need to get to in my day to day work, in many cases it is not self-evident to me, etc. And yeah, I gripe about it at times. But honestly, I don't expect it to change because of me.
I have a bachelor's degree in Human-Computer Interaction, from 2002. However, Mark Boulton and Leisa Reichelt have been working in the usability and IA field for the past several years while my experience has been in software engineering, site architecture, and software architecture. Quite simply, their substantiated expert analysis of what Drupal 7's IA should be is worth more than my personal opinion of it. Sure, my opinion matters somewhat, but when you get right down to it if it comes down to my opinion vs. their analysis of our IA, they should win. That's one of the reasons they were hired, first by the Drupal Association (to redesign Drupal.org) and then by Acquia (to redesign Drupal 7): They had that expertise that we, honestly, did not.
But it took their status as being paid to give them that added clout, and even then both were quite frustrated at the number of opinions that were thrown against their expert analysis.
Conversely, I've been developing software large and small for various platforms for over a decade, and have both a bachelor's and masters degree in software development. To me, input on how to architect a piece of software internally from other highly-experienced developers or people with software engineering training and experience is more valuable than input from a UX designer like Leisa or a casual weekend-PHP-jockey hacker who learned PHP from an online tutorial about how to hack up a Wordpress template. If I have a question about extensible code structure, I pay attention to Earl Miles' input more than I do Leisa Reichelt's or someone who just joined Drupal last week. That's neither a slight against Leisa nor against new people; it's a recognition that different people have different backgrounds that make their input more or less valuable in different circumstances, and the balance there will change for different people over time.
Do we, Drupal, do that? Do we do it enough? Could we do it too much?
Personally I believe we do it but then lie to ourselves and say we don't. And that's a problem.
That doesn't mean opinions are invalid or irrelevant, to be sure. It means the message must be critically examined to separate opinions from expert analysis, and the messenger, and his delivery, does influence the message.
So what shall we do about it?