Thunderbird mailing-list / NNTP decision rationale

Ben Bucksch ben.bucksch at
Thu Aug 12 11:28:58 UTC 2010

  On 12.08.2010 06:07, Andrew Sutherland wrote:
> I think everyone involved with Thunderbird understands that for every 
> feature Thunderbird has that there is a group of users who use that 
> feature and will be upset if the feature is changed or removed.  I 
> understand it to be a non-goal of this mailing list to provide a voice 
> to every one of those users to make their number and favorite features 
> known.

May I ask:
How *do* you determine which features are important to keep? If the 
decision is removing important existing functionality or 
characteristics, and/or known to upset big (>5%) user groups, I would 
hope that there is an objective method to arrive at the conclusion - 
more than "the maintainers feel that...".

5% may seem small, but that's still 1,5 million people. Before sending 
them away, you should be sure that it's absolutely necessary and no way 
around it. Note also that they will not like you when they leave, and 
tell their friends, so the damage is higher than just the 1,5 million 
users lost.

* Even if every single such decision is upsetting just 5% of the users, 
that's still a big chunk. If you do that several times, you may not have 
anybody left. There is no such thing as an "average human" in reality: 
nobody is in the 80% majority in *all* questions. As the MS Word team 
put it: "80% of our users only use 20% of the functionality. Problem is: 
They all use a different 20%.". I may not be a fringe user in general, 
but I am in one specific, small case. If the software doesn't cover 
that, I can't use it, even if I'm otherwise totally your target group 
user. In my opinion, the strength and success of open-source is in part 
that it also caters to the fringe cases. It gets a lot of people on 
board who are not served by Microsoft. So, the argument "most users 
don't use it / care anyway" by itself is not sufficient.
* While I wholeheartedly agree with making the software usable by the 
masses, in fact that's the very reason why I am in the project, techies 
are critical for viral marketing. They have a disproportionally high 
impact, even if they are not the target group. It's important not to 
alienate them. (That's particularly important when deciding what we 
*send*, in outgoing mails.)

So, what *would* you consider to be the right way to decide whether a 
feature gets removed or not?

(Note that due to human nature of clinging to what they are used to, 
removing existing functionality is far far worse than not adding certain 
new functionality, it really enrages people, as can be seen on some 
getsatisfaction comments.)

> We do care what features people use and how they use them, but that is 
> why we are trying to move forward with Test Pilot ( 
> ) for Thunderbird.

Unfortunately, Test Pilot will give screwed statistics by its very 
nature. Test Pilot from Mozilla got very negative press here in Germany. 
I would not install it, because privacy is very important to me, and I 
dislike any "phone home" features, even more so such intrusive ones.

I think more reliable would be a manual survey, announced from the 
homepage and the startpage inside Thunderbird (or maybe a small survey 
formular built right into Thunderbird), so that every user sees it and 
there's no privacy downside or other downside in participating.



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