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On the Ubuntu Community (reprise)

A couple weeks ago I wrote my blog post On the Ubuntu Community. It was an unusual move for me, as I’ve tended to steer clear of making public comments in major community discussions like this in the past. This time felt different to me. I think it was the timing and speed of surprising announcements that was so hard for the community to absorb, and it caused such sweeping disruption across the whole project (not just the Ubuntu Desktop flavor). I watched as several community members, and friends of mine, threw their hands up and said “that’s it, I quit.” It was hard to watch, and speaking up was my method of showing solidarity. I’m aware of what’s going on, I’m feeling it too, we’re working on how to solve this.

Since writing I’ve had dozens of conversations with fellow community members and leaders to tease out precisely where things went wrong. Instead of repeating any of those conversations, a couple of public comments on Jono’s Recent Ubuntu Community Refinements blog post reflect the concerns. Sam Spilsbury very clearly writes of the frustration that occurred when the project he was working on (compiz) was abruptly dropped after he put a significant amount of time into it:

One of the things which caused me so much concern which has effectively put my Ubuntu involvement on-hold at this point is the fact that there seems to be very little stability within the Canonical-run projects which means that you don’t know if you’re going to get pushed back over some internal thing that you don’t know about.

If those working on these projects were told that they were soon to be deprecated, or that Ubuntu didn’t want any more changes to them, then I wouldn’t have spent all that time fruitlessly doing something which turned out to be a waste of my time.

Jef Spaleta echos these concerns in his comment:

Late breaking announcements, esp. “game changers”, makes community contributors feel like they are wasting their time working on things that no longer relevant to the direction Canonical is pushing. If the community can’t know 6 months out what technology Ubuntu is going to be using, then you can’t really expect community to plan their invaluable volunteer hours doing support tasks associated with that tech.

You have to find a way to deal with the tada announcements in a different way that how its been handled if you want people to continue to contribute in technical areas. Because as it stands its not balanced, its pretty one sided. If you can’t build technology roadmaps in a way that includes your volunteer contributors, then you aren’t making optimal use of that resource and it will whither.

This extends beyond just the core technical contributions to those that surround many aspects of contributing to Ubuntu. Translations, documentation, accessibility and more have to be equipped to handle changes so they can build their roadmaps accordingly and not waste time working on things that are later deprecated or make plans based on a schedule which is being changed.

So I absolutely recognize that these are the things that need to be fixed.

That said, I’m currently pleased with the plans outlined in Jono’s blog post that came out of some of these recent discussions, and with buy in from stakeholders on the points he outlined I feel if we can make progress in these areas we’ll be going a long way to satisfying many of the community concerns. I also want to make clear that I believe Canonical places a high value on the importance and value of the Ubuntu community.

Today we started the series of “Regular leadership problem solving meetings” which are Q&A style Google hangouts which we hope will further make the councils more accessible.

I really need to clean my office

The video is available on youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9b1ysB16pvU

Finally, while I had a lot of people approaching me personally to chat, this has shaken out a lot of long-term concerns the Community Council hasn’t been able to address because they weren’t really brought to our attention (contrary to popular belief, I’m not actually omnipresent). So here’s the reminder that the Community Council meets twice a month, the 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month in #ubuntu-meeting on freenode. Anyone is welcome to add items to our agenda. We’re also open to doing quick chats (IRC or verbal) with community members as needed if you reach out to us. And as always, you can also send us email at community-council@lists.ubuntu.com. We’re a friendly bunch :)


  • Arthur

    Happy to hear about these changes. I love the Ubuntu on Air videos. It makes me – just a regular user – feel connected to what is going on with the distro.

  • Martin Owens

    Thanks for the video link.

    Why is Jono labelled as the Ubuntu Community Manager? We’ve talked to him about this before, it’s a confusing an inappropriate title for his role in the community.

  • Jono Bacon

    Thanks for the great write-up, Elizabeth!

  • Michael Paoli

    Sounds like good arguments for developing for Debian. :-)

    Develop for Debian, get it into Debian, and then other downstream distributions, such as Ubuntu, can take it in – if they so choose to do so – or not. And generally nothing prevents a Debian developer from, e.g., also being an Ubuntu developer.

    Also, I, and certainly others – probably most, would also argue that Debian, including its development process – even how it’s organized and run, is much more open and democratic. So, with Debian, much less likely that there will be “surprises” to catch one off-guard – certainly at least decision type surprises, anyway.