We have a strong preference for inclusivity in the way we structure the Ubuntu community. We recognise a very diverse range of contributions, and we go to some lengths to recognise leaders in many areas so that we can delegate the evaluation process to those who know best.
For example, we have governance structures for different social forums (IRC, the Forums) and for various technical fields (development, translation). We quite pointedly see development and packaging as one facet of a multi-faceted project, and I think Ubuntu is much stronger for that approach.
Jonathan Carter raised a very interesting question recently, which was how we recognise those who’s best contribution to Ubuntu (and it may well be intended very much as a contribution to Ubuntu) is by working in other projects. His specific question was “upstream” but as we discussed it amongst members of the CC it threw up all sorts of gaps in our membership process, such as recognising those who make collaboration between Debian and Ubuntu easier, and those who work in derivatives like Mint, and do so in a way that makes it easy for Ubuntu to benefit from their work.
The issue was brought to the fore because several contributors to Unity and Launchpad had applied for membership. We had previously seen scattered upstream-based applications for membership, but the fact that there were a few of these and that they were Canonical employees turned it into something which needed wider consideration.
For obvious reasons, I don’t think a Canonical project should be special cased. Ubuntu is a shared effort between Canonical and community contributors, and Canonical already has effective representation. But I think the question is much more interesting when it’s asked as a general proposition: if someone feels they want to help other Ubuntu users by doing work in a *different* project, why should we not recognise that? And if we’re going to try to do so, how do we do it well? Specifically, how do we
avoid diluting the cohesive nature of the membership of Ubuntu, who are polled for confidence in appointments to the Community Council, if we say we will consider membership applications from any of the thousands of projects that feed into the platform? How on earth do we even start to evaluate “substantial and sustained” contributions? It’s a very interesting problem.
Matthew East blogged to say that there are some codebases that are closer to Ubuntu than others. That’s probably true, but it’s also been a point of pride that we encourage groups like the LXDE community to express their experience as official remixes, from Kubuntu to Xubuntu and Lubuntu and beyond. I agree with Matthew that, in order to be an unambiguous target for developers, we need to be firm about a narrow set of API’s and installation requirements. That means a project like Unity becomes an “obvious” way to contribute to Ubuntu, though of course other distributions are likely to use Unity and there may be people who contribute there specifically for them.
But more importantly, I think we should start to find ways in which someone could participate in ANY project upstream (or downstream) and still gain membership in Ubuntu if that is valuable to them, or aligned with their values.
For example: someone who correlates upstream bugs with Ubuntu bugs in Launchpad, is doing work that improves Ubuntu for everyone. Someone who fixes issues in an upstream stable release in order to facilitate an SRU, is doing the same. Ensuring that an upstream is going to work with the next kernel/toolchain/X/GL version set has a similar benefit. There are any number of ways in which someone who uses Ubuntu, shares the values of the project and wants to help but is closer to an upstream can express
themselves. And we should recognise them all.
I’m not at all certain how we would do so perfectly in practice, because the diversity of projects out there is so great, and the diversity of ways they track their contributors is so great. But I think we should try. We could create a team that reviews such applications and makes a best effort to assess them, erring on the side of caution. Who’s up for the challenge?