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.

6 Responses to “Community growth and development”

  1. Tom Says:

    IMO this was missing:
    We upset parts of our existing community with unity and everybody who doesn’t like it will marked a talker and told to leave.

  2. Leonid Says:


    I don’t sure it is the right place to post it, but I think it’s the best way to reach you, Mark.
    I’ve got a suggestion for a feature that might make Ubuntu much more popular than it is today.
    I’m talking about something like the Time Slider in OpenSolaris, that is a very comfortable GUI for taking advantage of the advanced features of the ZFS file system. Much better than Apple’s Time Machine, because it is part of the file system itself. OpenSolaris is dead now, but something similar (or even nicer) can be done in Btrfs, on Ubuntu. This is the coolest feature I saw on any operating system, ever! I bet that it will draw much more users to Ubuntu, and be a very useful tool for existing users.

    Just think about it: how will someone who’s new to it react to a slider on top of any folder view that allows him to slide back and see all the changes in the folder. It will be love at first sight.

    Best Regards,

  3. Jef Spaleta Says:

    The graph, does not actually track participation at all. Membership in Ubuntu is simply recognition by peers. I very much doubt Martin would agree that such strong conclusions can be draw from his membership trending.

    Whether or not people tapped for membership are actively participating more deeply than non-members is entirely out of scope for that graph. Moreover, the productivity of the membership itself is not captured in that graph. Without capturing these concepts quantitatively you can’t support the conclusions you are trying to draw. You are putting the cart before the horse. You do that a lot.

    I’ve given some very constructive forward looking suggestions to Martin in his blog post about how one could actually capture membership productivity. It’s really important not to overreach in drawing conclusions not supported by the data in hand. In this case, it is possible to ask questions about membership activity and whether it really is strengthening and as I’ve told Martin in his blog comment track, I’m willing to help write the analysis scripts to get a clearly picture as to whether or not that is true.


  4. Martin de Boer Says:

    I have learned a lot from the transition to Gnome 3 and Unity. That is that people don’t like change. Even power users.

    I am not a power user. But I do tweak my desktop environments a lot. KDE is pretty configurable, Gnome 3 too with the gnome tweak tool and Unity too with Compiz Config Settings Manager. I like graphical fidelity, so I like both Unity and Gnome 3 a lot.

    For people who don’t like Unity or Gnome 3, there are plenty of Ubuntu based distro’s to fill their needs. You can switch to Xubuntu, Lubuntu, Kubuntu. Or even to Linux Mint with the Gnome 2 desktop.

    This is why I don’t understand the problems that a vocal minority of people have with Canonical.

    Every Open Source project is free to choose which way they want to develop their project. If the Banshee team want’s to make changes to their UI they can do so, because it’s their project. If a vocal minority of people would not like these changes, they can (in the spirit of Open Source) develop their own plugin or even make changes to the source code and release their own version of Banshee. People who can’t program (myself included) also have plenty of options. They can switch to Rhythmbox, Amarok or one of the other music players available.

    What I don’t understand is, that a vocal minority of people have all these choices, and still complain about Unity.

    Canonical has made their own choice. They choose to develop Unity and to perfect it in the upcoming years towards their vision. The Canonical vision might differ from the vision of this vocal minority of people, but Canonical has (and should have) the freedom to pursue their own ideas.

    So if you are part of this vocal minority, I want you to know. You live in an Open Source world. You have plenty of choice. Please respect the choices of others. Including the choices that Canonical makes.

  5. msx Says:

    Because Ubuntu have reached this growth point you must ensure to keep the project healthy, should you have the right people in right places then it can be done.

  6. Jo-Erlend Schinstad Says:

    Tom: there’s a right way and a wrong way to do anything, and the wrong way is always to make everybody else do it the right way. If you provide patches, then you deserve an explanation when it’s not accepted. This also serves the upstream, because 1) you’re increasing the chance of a fork and 2) if contributors get frustrated, they may stop contributing patches. On the other hand, if all you do is to provide a bug report like “I want bzr to be installed by default because I use it all the time”, then that’s something else. What do you think would happen if one were to call in a meeting for every feature request? There would be no time for actual development. If you’re talking about configurability, then some people seem to think it’s only a matter of adding a checkbox to a GUI. It is not. It requires actual code to be added, which means more software to maintain and more things to go wrong. As an added bonus, it also makes it far more difficult to provide technical support. I don’t think anyone is against configurability for the sake of being against it, but since it’s much easier to add a config option than it is to remove one, new options should be added wisely and when proven to be necessary.

    I think it’s a compliment that so many people get angry when their feature requests aren’t immediately accepted. It means they’re so enthusiastic about Unity that they can’t contain themselves. About a month from now, a lot of children will feel that way, and everybody knows it’s a good thing. 🙂