13

I caught wind of a new insight (credit: @leanne), that enables some foreshight into aspects of the possible future.

The following quote is to be found as the update section at the bottom of this post:

After doing some research on Prosus and checking out the StackOverflow blog entry from April 2023, Is this the AI renaissance? (Ep. 564): I can say that

  • Prosus has known about AI and its workings for years.

  • They have their own AI team.

  • They have purchased StackExchange, Udemy, CodeAcademy, and other learning sites.

Based on this information, I posit that "the writing's on the wall": Prosus is going to be using these sites' data for its own search/learning system that they can possibly hugely monetize. Soon, no more "volunteers" needed...

And, if international corporations, like US corporations, are beholden to their shareholders... well, that's why they seem to not care about their volunteers.

We, the AskUbuntu community are on this platform with a specific mission.

The above speculated developments however do not seem to be aligned with our goals.

Specifically, they seem to impose a risk on the healty support of the Ubuntu project through human contributions.

Please, anyone well-connected and insightful among you, start studying the challenge, and maybe implement some precautionary measures in support of a possible migration away from the StackExchange infrastructure, so that if / when it proves necessary, you can tackle it well-prepared.

Thank you, and bless Linux and Ubuntu.


Update:

Considering that the strike did not yet get resolved, and I see sentiment that may project another exodus of existing users, I wonder if that exodus would be enough to impact SE's normal operation even before they could pivot to their AI-oriented business model.

In other words, the strike sentiment may trigger complications sooner than otherwise expected.


Update 2:

I forgot that SE also made the strike-triggering, limiting policy about moderating AI content that may already be compromising the accuracy of our information.

If SE doesn't sufficiently revert that policy, then we can reckon with our information having started to decay from the beginning of June 2023.

A decay that

  1. keeps proliferating further every day
  2. we won't be able to repair

as long as we are on this platform.

9
  • 2
    I wonder who the "community" representative from Canonical is, who should be in on such a decision? I mean, in the end Ask Ubuntu is (afaik) a "Canonical project", so in the end isn't it Canonical that has final say in an eventual migration? Or I might be very wrong, in which case I'd like to be enlightened. Thanks. 👍 Jun 14, 2023 at 10:11
  • 1
    @ArturMeinild I am also very much aware of Canonical, and was more direct about their possible involvement in other posts of mine, e.g. here: "It would also worth asking Canonical if they would be interested in hosting us somewhere else." And when, in this post, I wrote: "Please, anyone well-connected and insightful among you ..." that's partly what I meant: those, who are familiar with, and may be in regular contact with Canonical.
    – Levente
    Jun 14, 2023 at 12:09
  • 1
    Agreed. Also, minor note: Codidact came to my attention recently, and it seems the format is mostly like SE. But I don't remember if somebody saw a downside to this? Jun 14, 2023 at 12:10
  • @ArturMeinild to my limited knowledge, Codidact was mainly inspired, or at least, did gather its critical momentum to become a viable project, by SE's incomprehensible betrayal of the community in 2019. As I understand, Codidact was very much inspired by SE, and is now on a mission to provide the world the same value that SE promised originally, but without the downsides (the dehumanizing aspects of capitalism) that plague SE itself.
    – Levente
    Jun 14, 2023 at 12:16
  • Yes. And I envision that the migration of Ask Ubuntu from SE to Codidact could be the move that added the needed momentum to this. But I also agree with Oli that we shouldn't tear up the carpet before we know the outcome of the strike - but then again, it's a really good idea to gather up some thoughts about possible future scenarios. Jun 14, 2023 at 12:28
  • @ArturMeinild why do you say this site is a "Canonical Project"? It most certainly is not! It is a community project, hosted by Stack Overflow Inc. and that company has some sort of commercial arrangement with Canonical for the use of the Ubuntu logo. However, neither Canonical nor Stack Overflow Inc. own the content. We own the content and have given an irrevocable license to Stack Overflow Inc. (and everyone else) to use the content with attribution. Jun 20, 2023 at 12:53
  • @terdononstrike I said AFAIK, because it's my impression that Canonical officially endorses this site. So it was more a question about the degree of autonomy. If you say Ask Ubuntu has 100% autonomy, and don't even need to inform Canonical if the platform changes, then I believe you. I explicitly stated I didn't know for certain.. Jun 20, 2023 at 13:47
  • 1
    Oh yes, I was asking in case you knew something I didn't. Canonical used to be much more involved, with employees actively posting here, but that was years ago. I think they might be paying some money to SE, but I have no idea about the details. In any case, the main thing is that we own our content and have every right to take it anywhere we want. Having Canonical's backing would be welcome, but not necessary. Jun 20, 2023 at 16:43
  • @terdononstrike agreed. 👍 Jun 23, 2023 at 11:22

4 Answers 4

7

There was plenty of support before AskUbuntu, and those venues are still active.

Nobody "decided" that AskUbuntu should be a major source for technical support. A few intrepid, hopeful folks liked the StackExchange experience and decided to try it, and it worked out well.

ALL platforms wax and wane, and both users and gurus move around to whatever platforms they prefer. Healthy communities are dynamic.

Other official support platforms are still out there and active:

  • UbuntuForums and IRC were both much busier before AskUbuntu, and both can reasonably be expected to handle increased load again, if needed. Recall that the Ubuntu IRC Council migrated from Freenode to Libera back around 2019.

  • The Ubuntu Wiki hollowed out and became a ghost town after AskUbuntu grew popular. But it's still there, and still available. There has been low-level buzz for years about shutting it down due to lack of use...but it's still there anyway. Ubuntu Members still have edit permission --yet another good reason for Ubuntu membership-- and it can spin back up rapidly if folks find a need to use it.

  • Ubuntu Discourse is specifically NOT for technical support, but it's the home for pages that we should be linking to: Team-produced documentation (replacing their Wiki docs), Ubuntu Tutorials (tutorials.ubuntu.com), updates and news and announcements, discussion and collaboration threads, etc.

All those venues are currently in existence and running right now. No planning or preparation needed beyond new login/passwords for some folks. Plenty of alternatives with plenty of capacity.

That's before we get to the unofficial venues that already exist: Reddit, Codidact Linux, Discord, etc.

7
  • 1
    If half those people on strike moved to Ubuntu Forums It would probably become a fun place again. SE might even take notice. Jun 13, 2023 at 7:06
  • 1
    Thank you for introducing these alternatives. My first remark would be that Reddit has just also embarked on the massive alienation of its userbase, and is experiencing an unprecedented strike right now. We have now a list of formerly trusted, and suddenly deteriorating mass online platforms: Twitter, Reddit, and StackExchange. Heavily capitalist platforms prove that they are ready to put money first, instead of fulfilling their user bases' expectations. I mention this only to help us select a new candidate platform that's hopefully less likely to go down a similar route.
    – Levente
    Jun 13, 2023 at 12:29
  • 1
    @Levente new introductory paragraphs to address your comments. Instead of "help us select a new candidate platform," consider "help ME select a new platform for my contributions."
    – user535733
    Jun 13, 2023 at 13:50
  • I seem to find a takeaway here: tendencies for centralization, and the entities behind them, carry an inherent risk, for the people they impact, and for themselves too.
    – Levente
    Jun 13, 2023 at 14:03
  • Well, there are risks of betrayed trust when participating in any sort of human community or relationship. There are different risks when working alone and NOT participating. Each of us can only do our best.
    – user535733
    Jun 13, 2023 at 20:16
  • I have found a problem that you haven't seem to address yet: AskUbuntu's strength is that there is a lot of experts posting here. I was right bringing my questions here, because I could hope that they will be answered well, thanks to the concentrated expertise. But if we scatter, like you seem to suggest in the ME comment, then we lose this concentration and, apparently, will be left with scattered expertise: possibly diminished chance to get as good answers, as quickly. From this aspect, it could be beneficial if we reached a shared vision about a destination, to keep us together. No?
    – Levente
    Jun 13, 2023 at 20:55
  • It's addressed in the first two paragraphs. Before AskUbuntu, lots of the same experts used UbuntuForums and IRC. Some still do -- if you try a different venue, you will likely find familiar voices already there (and plenty of experts). For discussion of shared support vision, I would recommend opening a Discourse topic or UbuntuForums thread. You are completely welcome to try and organize some kind of mass migration if you feel that it will help the community.
    – user535733
    Jun 13, 2023 at 21:09
6

Can we see how it plays out a bit first before we start tearing up the carpet?

I think some people are too fast to read the worst possible outcomes as soon as they see "AI", and the change you're recommending is massive, so let's deal with some of what's actually, materially happening here.

  • The battle over AI will play out and ultimately AI content will be allowed. That's honestly the only eventual outcome. I can see the problems with that, but I think a lot of people are ignoring how hard it'll be to stop. The genie is out, the horses are gone. Our mission is to help Ubuntu users, not chase out AI posts.

  • The way SE Inc treats its community is a factor but it's not completely unlike the way Canonical treats its members and users. Sometimes companies rule their communities by decree and in their interest. I hold this in balance with what we get back.

  • This system isn't just what you see, there's a network of spam control infrastructure and moderation tools that benefit hugely from the scale of the whole.

  • Prosus didn't need to buy SE to train "their AI" on SE content. It's been available to anyone for a long time. And given their portfolio, I'd fully expect them to offer more products based on SE content, because why wouldn't you? Others are.

  • Lessening the demand on volunteers isn't automatically a bad thing. Even if that gets down to the point where we're just reviewers for AI answers. Our mission here is to help Ubuntu users. Good answers —whatever their origin— are paramount.

I think there's plenty to be malcontented with, but on balance not enough to build and host an alternative elsewhere. Maybe I don't appreciate something as much as others do though, but I do have quite a good idea about the costs and resources needed to run something like Ask Ubuntu.

I realise you're only asking us to plan, and it's always wise to have an idea in the back of your head, but I think we are still several steps, several of these "what if they make it worse"-events away from that balance tilting to the point where we'd be better off elsewhere.

19
  • 3
    I am not phased by "AI" per se. I couldn't care less about the specifics of that technology. I am concerned only by two things: 1.) the spread of hard-to-detect misinformation, that I expect might decay people's trust and momentum to invest their time into Ubuntu 2.) a busines model that is neglecting aspects of participation of human volunteers. What happens when SE suddenly deprioritizes budget to, say, the development and maintenance of the "Post an answer" webform? (As they might develop an AI integration that posts automatically, excluding the possiblity for human contribution?)
    – Levente
    Jun 10, 2023 at 10:42
  • 1
    1) Real people get things wrong; that's why we have votes and why anyone can edit things. 2) What happens? What if? Why can't we wait a minute and see? You are worrying about things that have not happened.
    – Oli Mod
    Jun 10, 2023 at 10:50
  • 2
    I'm in a mindset of being prepared. I did not say, migrate now. I said start assessing the challenges, come up with strategies, because if / when it becomes crystal clear that it's necessary, it will be too late to start only then. I did write: "when it proves necessary, you can tackle it well-prepared".
    – Levente
    Jun 10, 2023 at 10:52
  • 1
    "Why can't we wait a minute and see?" — sure, no wonder we will do that, also supported by the circumstance that noone has the time budget for such a feat to mobilise at ease. So, yes, we are going to be just observing for a while. But, at the same time I remind that posts appearing from Juni 2023 will need extra scrutiny — perhaps carried out even retroactively — if we wish to uphold the standards we held ourselves to until now.
    – Levente
    Jun 10, 2023 at 10:57
  • Based on your feedback, I did some meaningful edits.
    – Levente
    Jun 10, 2023 at 11:10
  • @Oli What do you mean by "Lessening the demand on volunteers isn't automatically a bad thing."? Jun 10, 2023 at 12:53
  • 3
    @RandomPerson I mean that if an AI can help users with their Ubuntu problems, or help us with moderation tasks with the same or better success rate as real people, what are we worrying about? Per my second paragraph, a lot of people are jumping to the worst assumptions.
    – Oli Mod
    Jun 10, 2023 at 14:32
  • "where we're just review." You mean reviewers or review? And, your answer doesn't address the plagiarism issue of AI answers. Jun 10, 2023 at 14:39
  • "a lot of people are jumping to the worst assumptions" I can admit to this tendency myself. On the other hand, a burglar alarm, however inconvenient and loud, serves a justified function, doesn't it? I advocate threat awareness in order to give us better chances at positive outcomes. Also thanks to your contribution, I recognize that alternative findings and outcomes may also come into play.
    – Levente
    Jun 10, 2023 at 14:55
  • 2
    @RandomPerson What is the issue of plagiarism? I'm not trying to be flippant but you're talking about problems and solutions in terms of people writing answers, getting credit, etc. People getting answers is the aim here. I reserve the right to change my mind if I see things getting worse, but AI has a lot of opportunity to make many aspects better. It's coming, one way or another, here or on another version of this site.
    – Oli Mod
    Jun 10, 2023 at 14:57
  • 2
    The issue of plagiarism w/r/t/ AI answers occurs at two levels. Firstly, users posting AI-generated content have generally been attempting to pass it off as their own work. Secondly, the material generated is derived from the AI's training material, which is unattributed. This second point is interesting, because humans also learn things and forget where they learned it from - it's our own knowledge, at some point. But many people currently view the output of, say, ChatGPT as a form of plagiarism.
    – Zanna Mod
    Jun 10, 2023 at 15:06
  • 2
    @Zanna Thanks. I think that's it. Our individual knowledge is vastly unoriginal. Every creation of ours is a derivation of our experience. It is inevitable that these models become —if they're not already— at least as complex as the way we mesh knowledge together. This is rather a broader topic than just Q&A sites but I think humanity is going to have to get used to pooling its knowledge.
    – Oli Mod
    Jun 10, 2023 at 18:00
  • 7
    I for one have no interest in spending my time "reviewing AI answers"!
    – Zanna Mod
    Jun 11, 2023 at 2:25
  • 4
    @Oli Thanks for the measured voice of calm and reason...
    – andrew.46 Mod
    Jun 11, 2023 at 5:32
  • 1
    Note that the specifics of the AI policy are the tip of the iceberg re the strike. For me, at least, the main issue is that SE blatantly broke its own rules and the solemn, written promises it had made to us. That is a real problem and means that trust is possibly irrevocably broken. Combined with the temporary(?) block of the data dumps, and ex-staff open admissions that at least in '19, the company wanted to close down the network, we have good reason to fear there is no solution. Jun 20, 2023 at 12:57
4

Ubuntu Forums vs Ask Ubuntu

If migrating away from Ask Ubuntu, Ubuntu Forums might be a good destination.

  • Larger community, providing more answers and perspectives.
  • Friendlier community, no nasty downvotes.
  • No ego-based reputation system. Less competition between users.
  • Fewer unanswered questions.
  • Longer and more in-depth discussions.
  • Categories for easier navigation.
  • Broader range of topics.
  • No spam, (at least very little).
  • Nonprofit, does not make money off of your free labor.
2
  • 3
    And of course there is Codidact which offers a generic platform for Linux: linux.codidact.com
    – andrew.46 Mod
    Jun 14, 2023 at 2:58
  • @ andrew.46 - On Strike : And I see it is nonprofit :-) Jun 14, 2023 at 5:22
0

Based on this information, I posit that "the writing's on the wall": Prosus is going to be using these sites' data for its own search/learning system that they can possibly hugely monetize. Soon, no more "volunteers" needed...

No, human volunteers will still be needed for the foreseeable future (>3 years). AI systems are nowhere near good enough to replace a large group of humans for open-domain QA (or a domain as large as Ubuntu). They still need human supervision. They can, however, help humans be more efficient at QA in some cases.

8
  • Question is, whether I want to volunteer my time towards proofreading cheaply produced voluminous text that is potentially rich in extremely well-concealed un-truths. The answer: No. One could counter: "but it's for the sake of the success of the Ubuntu project". From Wikipedia: Ubuntu is a Nguni Bantu term meaning "humanity". It is sometimes translated as "I am because we are" (also "I am because you are"), or "humanity towards others". [...] is often meant [...] to mean "the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity".
    – Levente
    Jul 25, 2023 at 15:22
  • It was easy to bring sacrifices to this website because beyond facilitating the well-being of my most appreciated operating system, I also had learned a lot from others, also in terms of being a human. These people here, through our interactions, had helped me to become a better, more insightful, more sophisticated, more refined human being, and I was aware that this was happening and I valued it, and keep valuing it a lot. This exchange, of not only information about the Linux operating system, but exchange of humanity, was what fueled my willingness to invest my time and to participate.
    – Levente
    Jul 25, 2023 at 15:23
  • Answer is ban people who submit bad content too often, regarding of how the text was written/generated Jul 25, 2023 at 15:24
  • This kind of exchange, this kind of growth facilitated through the selflessly offered contributions of other humans, will not be replaced by the contributions of a however sophisticated "mechanical parrot". Instead of becoming the assistant of an ureliable information-gambling machine, I would be oriented to seek the human quality elsewhere.
    – Levente
    Jul 25, 2023 at 15:25
  • The suggestion of simply banning people who consistently post bad content does not acknowledge the logistic hurdle that bad content needs to be identified first, which, in case of AI-produced content pitted against volunteered time of humans, does not appear to be sustainable. Bad content, when produced by AI, is too well concealed.
    – Levente
    Jul 25, 2023 at 15:29
  • @Levente same pb when trying the ban people who use AI. Jul 25, 2023 at 15:34
  • If SE would allow us to have a policy excluding AI contributions, that we would also be allowed to announce with good visibility, that could/would already drive down problematic content, increasing our chances (logistics, capacity), to deal with it. Until the end of May 2023, the community coped with it, under such conditions. But since June, SE insists on other ideas, dismissing our concerns.
    – Levente
    Jul 25, 2023 at 15:45
  • @Levente same solution by having policy excluding crap contributions. Jul 25, 2023 at 15:48

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