There will be no explosion when forums reach [a] breaking point. There is just a quiet negative feedback effect: people unsubscribe from the lists, or leave the IRC channel, or at any rate stop bothering to ask questions, because they can see they won’t be heard in all the noise. As more and more people make this highly rational choice, the forum’s activity will seem to stay at a manageable level. But it is staying manageable precisely because the rational (or at least experienced) people have started looking elsewhere for information—while the inexperienced people stay behind and continue posting. In other words, one side effect of continuing to use unscalable communications models as the project grows is that the average quality of both questions and answers tends to go down, which makes it look like new users are dumber than they used to be, when in fact they’re probably not. It’s just that the benefit/cost ratio of using those high-population forums goes down, so naturally those with the experience to do so start to look elsewhere for answers first. Adjusting communications mechanisms to cope with project growth therefore involves two related strategies:
- Recognizing when particular parts of a forum are not suffering unbounded growth, even if the forum as a whole is, and separating those parts off into new, more specialized forums (i.e., don’t let the good be dragged down by the bad).
- Making sure there are many automated sources of information available, and that they are kept organized, up-to-date, and easy to find.
– Karl Fogel, Producing Open Source Software