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[fab] Building communities.... what *are* we doing?



Warning: rambling.

So, I sit here in the ivory tower of Red Hat, and I wonder... how are we
building the community? *ARE* we building the community?

I look at the owners.list for extras packages - there are 201 unique
owners. Off the top of my head at a glance, 101 of them are recognizable
to me. At this stage, I don't venture *that* much off the fedora development
lists, or #fedora-devel, or bugzilla for my stuff. And yet, I can easily
identify about half of extras contributors? What does that say about how
we're growing the community? What does that say about how we enable others
to contribute, if most of the contributors are either Red Hat employees,
or long-time enough Fedora & Red Hat users that my foggy brain recognizes
them?

Perhaps it's better in other projects. But I would be skeptical.

Which brings up another point - the fact that I don't *know* whether or
not it's better in other projects is part of the problem. Here I sit - I'm
a member of the board! I've been at Red Hat for umpteen years! And the
projects I know about the contribution status of are... Core & Extras.

What message does this send? It doesn't matter if it's completely
subcionscious - if I, as a board member, only know these things, it implies
that Core and Extras are the flagship projects. That they're the only ones
with prestige. That if you're contributing to other projects, or you don't
feel you have the skills to contribute to Core and Extras, that you're not
as important - you may as well not even contribute to Fedora!

And that is wrong.

It's unfortunately one of the problems we face. The wonders of the open source
community (and on-line communities, in general) is that they are theoretically,
at least, open to anyone. However, what happens is that communities, when they
are open in this way, become self-selecting. I'm not a sociologist, but it's
easy to see. The BSG fans congregate together... the soccer players form a club...
the people who hack on evolution grab an IRC channel. People congregate with
other people of similar interests, where they can post links to the latest whizbang
gadgets, discuss their relevant (shared) politics, or kibitz about the movie
they all saw last weekend. Micro communities form, and for those who are coming
new to the community, without necessarily the full context of knowledge, skills,
or interaction... where is there for them? 

Hence, we end up selecting from the smallest groups of people - those who already
are part of the community, but just haven't had the time in the past; those who
are parts of similar communities (such as OpenSUSE, Ubuntu, heck, Slackware)
who are migrating into our similar community, or those outside the community
who are stubborn enough to fight through our ingrained knowledge to contribute.

Heck, even this list is pretty damn self-selecting.

Let's look at some of our example projects. Don't take this the wrong way,
but I'm going to use Extras as an example. After all, we're touting it
as one of our most succesful projects.

First, on the Help Wanted page. It lists as required skills (emphasis mine):

- RPM packaging
- General Linux OS knowledge
- Familiarity with Fedora Core as a user, sysadmin, and *developer*
...
- Programming skills are helpful but *not required*

Contradictions are fun. :)

If you go to see 'How to become an Extras contributor', you find an 18-step
process. Apparently it's 50% more complicated than controlling addictions.
Included in this process are:
- 7 *other* documents that are described as should-read,
- 2 other things that are listed as useful to review
- 2 accounts that are required to be created
  - One account that's required that isn't listed at all (wiki account)
- 3 mailing lists that are required
- 1 mailing list that's listed as optional

Now, if you're coming in, and want to contribute to Extras, is this an inviting
environment? Is it welcoming to those who may feel unsure of themselves, or
come from cultures where asking lots of questions is not the norm?

Compare it to something like the Ambassadors project, which reads:

The Fedora Project is always looking for representatives and participants for
upcoming Events. Fedora Ambassadors are are people like you and me, who go to
places where other Linux users and potential converts gather and tell them
about Fedora — the project and the distribution. You can be one too.

Which one of these is more likely to garner contributors?

Moreover, every time someone has a bad experience trying the first steps
to contribute, that consists of a lost opportunity. How many potential
contributors have gone away because they were intimidated by our process?
Because they were flamed, or told to go RTFM? How many potential contributors
are out there that we don't even know how to reach?

I'd argue that, realistically, this is our most important task.

If we do not develop the community, it does not matter how fast we integrate
GNOME.

If we do not develop the community, it does not matter if we have booths at
Linux shows.

If we do not develop the community, it does not matter how detailed our
packaging is.

Because, if we do not continue to grow the community, others will. And we'll
lose developer mindshare. We'll lose user mindshare. We'll lose marketing
mindshare. (Heck, some would say we've already lost.) For without a vibrant
community, we become Yet Another open source distribution, whether it be
Stampede, or OpenSolaris.

Right now our community-building seems to be one of waiting. We all go about
our daily Fedora business, whether it be documentation, coding, admining,
or testing. We wait for people to show up and say "I'd like to help! Here's
all this stuff I've done."  I don't see how this can possibly scale. And if
we continue down this path I don't see how we can possibly succeed.

I don't have the answers. I don't know how we're going to solve this problem,
(although I wonder if firefighters will be involved). But I know we need to.

Bill

[For some background reading, check out
http://flosspols.org/deliverables/FLOSSPOLS-D16-Gender_Integrated_Report_of_Findings.pdf
It points to one specific segment that isn't represented in our community
(only about half the population...)]


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