Charles Profitt, in his recent post Ubuntu: Time to Take the Shot, talks about a meeting that the Community Council had with Mark on Tuesday. This followed a weekend of me doing everything in my power to step back from the recent announcements and discussions from Canonical that made my Thursday and Friday very difficult.
As a leader in the community I have been bombarded by comments from fellow community members these past few days. On Monday several members of the Community Council jumped on a hangout to talk about how we were handling all the news coming out, where we felt the community was going and what our role in this was. Immediately following this discussion we reached out to Mark to have a chat ASAP and I wrote an email to the internal Community Council list saying, among other things:
“What is most painful about all these decisions is how so much work in the community has been tossed to the side due to announcements which Canonical has clearly been talking about for months. We spent a week in Copenhagen and 4 months since planning a release we’re not sure will happen. In my own work I’ve been coordinating a writing team 13.04 articles for a magazine which may never be published, I have work items around documentation and testing that are completely up in
the air because all of a sudden we’re so uncertain about timelines. Since last week I’ve stopped working on anything that depended upon the release cycle because I feel like I’m completely wasting my time. I use myself as an example here, but there are many folks in the community who are feeling this. Regardless of what’s happening behind the scenes at Canonical to cause this, it’s currently a very painful time to be a community member.
Ultimately, what does this mean to me? It seems like we’re becoming (have become?) a community that can have LoCo events, do support, have a news team and focus on LTS. It’s no longer one where individuals can get deeply involved in development of many of the pieces of the OS in a regular cadence – if you do you risk the carpet being pulled out from under you in the form of some new announcement that causes all your plans and work to be less valuable (or useless), to pour salt in the wound you also get this happening with the knowledge that people at Canonical have been talking about this for months and you feel like you’ve been duped.”
Now, perhaps my words were a bit harsh, but as a community member watching these discussions and talking with others all weekend, that is how it feels. A rolling release proposal throws into question all the release-dependent work I have on my plate and whether I should be continuing that, like helping the docs team with their onboarding process and working with translations teams to continue their work. I’m not aware of discussions with either of these teams about how the rolling release proposal will impact them (though with Mark’s encouragement, I have asked).
As for that talk with Mark the Community Council did finally have, I didn’t walk away from it with the same feeling of inspiration that Charles had. In fact, Scott Lavender summed up my impression precisely in a comment on Martin Owen’s blog this week:
“It would appear that Canonical has a chance to create or provide an amazing ecosystem of digital devices that are integrated as well, if not better, than Apple. I feel they are making the right decisions to support that goal. Frankly, I support this.
I believe that this is a transitional phase. The community as it has existed is changing, going through a metamorphosis, and a new community, one perhaps more potent and powerful, will develop and break out of its cocoon, ready to dominate the world.
I do not believe I am part of that new community.”
Posts by Thierry Carrez, Andrea Grandi and Pasi Lallinaho this week have echoed what Scott says about the changing of the platform. And it seems the writing has been on the wall for quite some time, Jono’s own team has shifted from supporting community efforts within the core development framework (from MOTU to translations) to focusing on application developers.
This is not the Ubuntu community that I became a recognized member of in 2007.
Ultimately what I believe every community member has to do at this time is pause and reflect upon the Ubuntu community as it stands now and start asking themselves a few questions, here are the ones I’m asking myself:
- Is the vision of success defined by Mark (Ubuntu on all the things! Desktops! Phones! Tablets!) the same thing I believe in and want to continue moving forward with in my open source endeavors?
- If so, where can I continue to contribute where the impact of surprising announcements won’t render my work less valuable (or useless)?
But the first step is communicating to the community that this shift has occurred and not pretending that we’re still the same community we always were. We need to know to ask ourselves these questions so we can be prepared for what the future brings and advise new contributors accordingly.
So tonight I had dinner with fellow Community Council member Scott Ritchie. The conversation over tacos was not for the faint of heart, and I was still feeling quite demotivated over these recent developments. We then took a walk and ended up at a smoothie shop, which is where we got to brainstorming how we make this better.
What we came up with was a need to get a clear picture of what Canonical brings to Ubuntu and what Ubuntu depends on the community for. No more pretending that everyone can work on everything on equal footing, or that we all have the same values and goals.
Off the top of our heads we came up with the following contributions to Ubuntu that community is still essential for, but for which the kinds of development and core changes proposed by Canonical would have less significant impact upon in the grander scheme of things:
- Quality Assurance/Testing
- Bug triage and patch review
Obviously changes like moving to a rolling release will impact the schedule with which these are done on, but I believe a discussion will take place because of how important these things are. And most importantly, strong community members in all of these areas still have the opportunity to make an impact, make a name for themselves in the community and get very serious, important work done.
We decided over our respective tea and raspberry smoothie that the Community Council should work to draft a document that helps direct community members to these areas where their work is most valuable. We should also engage Canonical in a discussion about where they are putting their effort and I hope through these discussions we can also find solid core development tasks that community members can reliably participate in without risk and where they will find value, whatever their open source motivations are.
As a Community Council member I do feel like I’ve let the community down for not realizing what was happening to the community sooner. The duo of optimism and trust is not always a strength, it blinded me to some serious truths about how things have changed and our responsibility in this new community dynamic. I am, however, committed to fulfilling my duties within the Community Council to help shepherd community members through this. I hope you will join me, but this is a change of direction and I absolutely understand the decision to move on, this week I certainly was leaning in that direction myself for the first time since joining the Ubuntu community.