Community growth and development

Friday, November 4th, 2011

Martin’s chart showing the pattern of growth in Ubuntu project membership¬†supports a view of deepening and strengthening participation in Ubuntu, globally. A second data point for me is the number and caliber of nominations we’ve seen to community governance boards, not just at the most senior levels (community council and technical board) but also in the breadth of community activities.

In the past year we’ve had to refine our thinking about a number of issues. The question about whether contributions outside the project, with a specific emphasis on Ubuntu, should be considered on a par with contributions directly to the project was resolved inclusively. So we are delighted to welcome members who do work in Debian to ensure that Ubuntu and Debian stay on rails together, and we are delighted to welcome members who contribute to projects elsewhere with the aim of improving the experience for Ubuntu users.

It remains true that there is no aspect of Ubuntu that a community participant cannot influence. At UDS this week it was impossible to tell, across hundreds of sessions, which voices were from Canonical, or Dell, or ARM, or Linaro, or from folk who have no corporate affiliation but have a passion for getting things done, and getting them in front of millions of users, and getting them right. From the artwork we ship, to the way we evaluate contributions, and the versions of software we include by default, to the toolchain and kernel and infrastructure that makes it happen, the degree of diverse participation is something we can be proud of. So thank you to everyone, whether participating for personal or corporate interests, for your engagement with Ubuntu.

It was a pleasure to meet the (mostly) new Community Council, and to have a session in person. And it was wonderful to see the vibrancy of the Community Leadership Track at UDS, and the participation in those discussions by leaders of other communities like GNOME and Debian. We have a lot to learn, and a lot to teach.

As a community, we will flourish if two things remain true:

  • We continue to attract and empower motivated and energetic participants
  • We defend our core values and the tone of our discussions
Given that our mission is profound and meaningful, I have no concerns on the former front. Brilliant and energetic people continue to join the project. It’s up to us to clear the way for them to do what they do best, whether it’s translation, motivation, leadership, organisation, software development, quality assurance, art, or cooking for a loco event.
More challenging is the need to recognise that the success of Ubuntu will attract voices that are more interested in influence than participation; now that Ubuntu is a conduit to millions of users, it is an effective way to broadcast to all of them. When we started, the only people who showed up were those attracted to our values and our mission, now we will attract folk who are interested in our users. That’s why we should weigh the voices of those who have actually contributed much more heavily than those who seek to influence the project without doing any work. And it’s why we need to make sure that the tone of conversation stays true to the Ubuntu code of conduct, and the goals of the project – to serve the needs of others rather than ourselves – maintain primacy.
Growth brings challenges; it is no longer possible to show up and immediately define the rules, we are a large and complex and fast-moving institution. We will see many contributors come, and thrive, and move on. We will celebrate their successes and their highs, but also share their sadnesses and lows. We were all saddened to hear of the death of Andre Godim, a champion of Ubuntu and free software in Brazil, this week. We are a real and complex and human society.
In a big and established community like ours, it takes some patience to figure out how to get things done, how to exert influence, how to create change. It takes the sort of discipline and effort that separates doers from talkers, the constructive from the merely present, the energetic from the lethargic. And that’s a good thing: in order to make a big change, we need depth and quality as an institution. This is no longer a chaotic revolution, it is about balanced governance and effective, constructive change.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to Jono and his horsemen for the way they lead Canonical’s thinking on our relationship with Ubuntu and other participants in the project. It takes a huge amount of work, first and foremost, to bring together a community of such intensity, diversity and depth. And we similarly owe a debt of gratitude to those who take tough decisions; it’s their willingness to make commitments on behalf of parts of the project, and your willingness to stand by those commitments, that makes Ubuntu wonderful and impactful.

Welcoming the new Community Council

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

Congratulations to those elected to the 2011-2013 CC, and thanks both to those who were willing to serve and all of those who participated in the poll. We’ll use the results of the poll should we need to fill in for any members who cannot for any reason complete their two year term.

This is an important CC, as I think there is an opportunity to develop a response to the challenge thrown down recently, which is to give *purpose* to community leadership in the project.

Every role has purpose in its own context; those who set out to achieve a goal, like producing complete server documentation, or moderating a difficult mailing list (you know who you are ;-)) or translating a work into a new language, have no trouble identifying their purpose. And there are essentially no limits on the goals one can set for oneself in the project; we have community members engaged in pretty much everything we do.

Nevertheless, there has been a shift in the nature of the project, and that shift is not yet fully reflected in community leadership. Specifically, our mission has shifted from being defined by integration-and-delivery, to one that includes design and development as well as integration and delivery.

When we started, we said we would deliver the world’s free software, on a tightly integrated and free basis, on a cadence. We made some choices about defaults, but broadly left it up to others to define what ‘the software’ would do.

After doing that for several years, it became clear to me that limiting ourselves to that pattern meant we were leaving it to others to decide if we could really deliver an alternative to proprietary platforms for modern computing. We were doing a lot of work, which was not recognised by some of the projects we were supporting heavily, and still treading water when it came to the real fight for hearts and minds, against Windows, against MacOS, and against Android. So, even though it was clearly going to be a difficult choice, we set out to grow the contribution Canonical makes directly to the body of open source. We said we’d be design-led, and we’d focus on the areas that matter most to pioneer adopters; the free software desktop, mobile computing, and the cloud.

The result is work like Unity, uTouch, and Juju. I’m proud of all three, I think they are worthy bannermen in our effort to bring free software to a much wider audience, and I think without them we would have no chance of fixing bug #1.

At the same time, we’ve now created a whole new dimension to Ubuntu: the design and definition of products, essentially. And that begs the question: what’s the community role in defining and designing those products.

We haven’t taken a step backwards. It’s not as though there are responsibilities that have been taken away from anybody. It’s just that we’ve taken on some bolder, bigger challenges, and community folk rightly say “how can we be part of that?” And that’s an interesting question, which the new CC will be in a good position to discuss with me and Jono.

It’s not healthy to offer the ability to vote for money. Nobody should feel they have a right to decide how someone else spends their time or money. But I do think the relationship between Canonical and community is as important now as ever, and there is an opportunity to break new ground. Ubuntu represents the best chance GNU/Linux has to bring free software to the foreground of everyday computing. I have no doubt of that. After us, it’s Android, and that’s not quite the same. So our interests are all very aligned; there is a huge opportunity, and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to use what we know and love in a way that changes millions of lives for the better.

Technical Board 2011

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

After the recent poll of Ubuntu developers I’m delighted to introduce the Technical Board 2011-2013. I think it’s worth noting that three of the members of this generation of technical leaders are not Canonical employees, though admittedly they are all former members of that team. I think there’s cause for celebration on both fronts: broader institutional and independent representation in the senior governance structures of Ubuntu is valuable, and the fact that personal interest persists regardless of company affiliation is also indicative of the character of the whole community, both full-time and volunteer. We’re in this together, for mutual interests.

Without further ado, here they are, in an order you are welcome to guess ;-)

  • St√©phane Graber
  • Kees Cook
  • Martin Pitt
  • Matt Zimmerman
  • Colin Watson
  • Soren Hansen
Please join me in congratulating each of them, and thanking those who were willing to stand, who were nominated, and those who participated in the poll.
From my perspective, it was a very rich field of nominations. We had several candidates with no historic link to Canonical, which was very encouraging in terms of the diversity of engagement in the project. For the first time, I felt we had too many candidates and so I whittled down the final list of nominations – as it happens, all of the non-Canonical nominees made the shortlist, though that was not a criteria for my support.
Welcome aboard, all!

Regional Membership Board nominations

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

One of the most important things we do in Ubuntu is recognize the contributions of fantastic participants across the wide range of activities that make up something as broad as Ubuntu.

We have the guiding principle that we should be able to recognize the merits of any kind of contribution, coming from any part of the globe. Whether someone is spending time helping people on IRC, or answering questions in the Forums, or translating Ubuntu into Amharic, or leading local events to raise awareness of Ubuntu, or leading a team that deploy Ubuntu in schools, or building Ubuntu based virtual machines on EC2, or fixing bugs, or triaging bugs, or filing really good bug reports….. contributions of all forms make Ubuntu more useful to a broader audience, and so we set out to recognize them with Membership.

The actual decisions are taken by the Regional Membership Boards. We set up three of them to cover the America’s, EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa), and Asia-Pacific. People who are seeking membership present their work to the RMB’s, who confer membership on those who they believe have made a “substantial, and sustained” contribution, in any field. We also allow specialist leadership teams to confer membership for contributions in their fields, on the basis that they may have more insight into the dynamics of that particular work.

The RMB’s play a big role in sustaining the culture of Ubuntu, in who and what they recognize and in the advice that they offer applicants.

In order to keep the RMB’s fresh, we renew the membership of the RMB’s on a regular basis. Folks stand for a term, and we seek nominations regularly. Like now :-)

We’re seeking nominations to all three Regional Membership Boards. Ideal candidates have a track record good judgment – and a willingness to support positive contributions matched only by their willingness NOT to be drawn into supporting factions, personalities and cabals. In any community of scale (and Ubuntu is at a larger scale than most) there will always be people making fascinating and unexpected (and hard to evaluate) contributions, as well as people who want to further their own ambitions at the expense of others. Being able to tell the difference, and recognizing those who are going to continue to raise the bar for Ubuntu, is a skill.

If you know someone who does, please seek their assent to nominate them for their Regional Membership Board. You can chat with dholbach on IRC, or mail the RMB’s for further information.

The mails from RMB’s announcing new members are one of the most interesting kinds “pulse” for the project – who’s doing what, where. So I’d like to thank the folks who have lead the RMB’s over the past cycle, and say again how much I appreciate their work!