Inclusive membership

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

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?

14 Responses to “Inclusive membership”

  1. Jonathan Carter Says:

    I agree that getting it perfect in practice would be hard (not that it needs to be perfect), and I also think that taking baby steps and working towards making membership universally more inclusive on a case by case bases until a guideline for this can be established will go a long way in making membership more inclusive for a lot of people.

    IMHO having more inclusive membership will effectively solve the issue I’ve passed on to the CC, since those kind of contributors will be able to gain membership much more easily.

    So if I understand correctly, membership would become a little more about how much an applicant’s contributions benefit Ubuntu, rather than where they have made the contributions. It sounds like a very reasonable way of dealing with the problem.

  2. Iain Lane Says:

    I think this is a good idea, but don’t see why it would require a separate team. Someone just needs to collect some evidence showing their contributions are ‘significant and sustained’ (usually interpreted as 6 months), explain how they are motivated by improving Ubuntu and get some testimonials from their colleagues to this fact.

    There’s a related question about how far you might want these people to be involved directly in the Ubuntu community, rather than in this other project, which might be quite separate.

  3. Omer Akram Says:

    Its LXDE not LXCE ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. Dilton McGowan II Says:

    “That means a project like Unity becomes an โ€œobviousโ€ 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.”

    Obvious? Put your head to the ground and listen, that roar you hear is not the sound of thunderous applause.

  5. mark Says:

    Thanks Omer ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. mark Says:


    Good point, if the RMB’s are comfortable handling such applications right away that’s probably the best way to do it. As Jonathan says, we can take them one at a time and formulate a set of precedents and policies once patterns emerge.


  7. mark Says:


    Yes, I think you’ve summarised it neatly there.

    It’s always been the case that we look for “substantial and sustained” contributions in as diverse a range of forms as possible. I think we just need to be open to recognising that people might well express their contribution by doing some lifting upstream or downstream.


  8. Interesting Linux News for the Day โ€“ August 11, 2011 « Linux Rants Says:

    […] Inclusive membership […]

  9. Links 11/8/2011: Desktop Summit, More Linux Tablets | Techrights Says:

    […] Inclusive membership 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. […]

  10. Benjamin Kerensa Says:

    I think broadening the scope of whats considered a contribution to Ubuntu would be a wise move.

    There are so many people who have contributed to Ubuntu indirectly like through non-profits that give away computers with Ubuntu yet provide direct support (FreeGeek) and those people cannot count on that being an accepted contribution.

    I guess the question is if the standard of contributing is broadened will it create a burden for reviewing applications?

  11. srinivas v Says:

    Hey, Mark,

    I believe that your meditation cycle would be “CLA, Unity, Investement, Time, ROI” in an infinite loop until u come to peace/balance with yourself. Then U just sit down and write a blog entry. You are now bothered how to find the best man in the list of “contributors”. I see that u are finding difficulties in searching for the topper. Just remember, a class has just one topper and all “others” in the second. If you concentrate on the topper u are going to to lose all the “others”. In summary, I believe, Mark, that u may not make as much money from ubuntu GNU/Linux as u did with your first project, Unless you come out with some magical situation where the entire freedom software community/users are with you. Otherwise it would be better to have a go at corporate customers wherein, the entire support responsibility falls on canonical(which might be a bit hard for you considering your present strength). That was free advice and what I thought. I (hope) may not be flamed. Just with unity, nothings changed.

  12. Chauncellor Says:

    @srinivas v: I can honestly say that I have no idea what you’re trying to splutter out.

  13. srinivas Says:

    @chauncellor hmmmm…….., good sense of humor.

  14. ScottK Says:

    I think this still begs the question a bit about what is a contribution to Ubuntu. If one is working on upstream code whether it’s Unity, KDE, Gnome, LXDE, etc, does it count towards that significant and sustained contribution? The mention of ‘someone that uses Ubuntu’ in the requirements piece makes me wonder if Debian work by Debian developers who don’t run Ubuntu, but look at Ubuntu bugs and try to deal with them in their Debian work (which will naturally flow into Ubuntu) count?

    I didn’t comment earlier because I thought this was going to be discussed at the next CC meeting. I didn’t realize this was meant to be the answer.