GitHub is continuing to make good on its promise to improve the platform for open source maintainers and communities with its new temporary interaction limits. The feature was introduced this week as a way for project maintainers to manage participation in heated discussions.
Public repositories, especially those for projects with millions of users, can occasionally have issues or pull requests that become overrun with comments from anyone who has an opinion. Repository owners can now set a 24-hour “cool down period” to limit interaction (commenting, creating pull requests, and opening issues) to existing users, prior contributors, and/or repository collaborators.
Temporary Interaction Limits can help mitigate the effects of “brigading,” as one Hacker News commenter called it – when someone directs a large number of people to an issue from Twitter, Reddit, or other social channels in an attempt to influence the outcome of a discussion. Limiting the discussion to prior contributors or collaborators can help keep input focused around the ideas of those who are already invested in the project.
Reactions to the new feature have been mostly positive, although some users don’t anticipate using it much since GitHub added emoji reactions to conversations last year. In addition to keeping threads from becoming unreadable with numerous +1’s, emoji reactions as an option for expression should help limit interactions from those prone to “drive-by” commenting.
A curated repository of “GitHub Drama,” which includes projects like Bower, Docker, Django, and NodeJS, lists many instances wherein temporarily limiting interaction may have changed the overall tone of the discourse. However, some users questioned the feature’s usefulness in responses on Twitter and some see it as a way of purposely cutting outside voices out of the conversation.
So many of us are curious: when would we use this? Locking down an entire repo to calm a single conversation is drastic overkill…
— Nick Craver (@Nick_Craver) May 30, 2017
Nothing settles a technical discussion faster than the in-group forcibly silencing the out-group
— Lee Clemens (@LeeClemens) May 30, 2017
I don’t know about the value of this feature regarding open source collaboration, but I’d love to have this capability in my email system
— Brian Mitchell (@DrBrianMitchell) May 31, 2017
In order for temporary interaction limiting to be useful to projects where locking down the whole repository would be too drastic of a measure, GitHub would need to extend it to include the ability to lock down individual issues and pull requests. Some users have also requested a convenient way for repository members to warn an individual without spamming the entire thread or to put specific users in a cool down period.
“If it’s a legit heated discussion and you limit it, then you’re just [going] to come back in 24 hours to very long, impossible-to-follow responses,” Kris Siegel, Senior Engineer at PlayStation, commented on the related Hacker News thread. “At least this has been my experience when people have left things to cool down them come back and need to respond to everything.”
GitHub is aiming to promote healthier discussions with the new interaction limiting feature, but every project’s community is unique and maintainers may not be able to predict user reactions to locking down an entire repository. If the feature is turned on when a new user is attempting to create their first pull request, it may hinder future contribution. Open source project maintainers should carefully consider the effects of silencing non-contributors when using the feature.