April 24, 2017
It was a Wednesday morning. I just connected to email, to realise that something was wrong with the developer web site. People had been having issues accessing content, and they were upset. What started with “what’s wrong with Trac?” quickly escalated to “this is just one more symptom of how The Company doesn’t care about us community members”.
As I investigated the problem, I realised something horrible. It was all my fault.
I had made a settings change in the Trac instance the night before – attempting to impose some reason and structure in ACLs that had grown organically over time – and had accidentally removed a group, containing a number of community members not working for The Company, from having the access they had.
After the panic and cold sweats died down, I felt myself getting angry. These were people who knew me, who I had worked alongside for months, and yet the first reaction for at least a few of them was not to assume this was an honest mistake. It was to go straight to conspiracy theory. This was conscious, deliberate, and nefarious. We may not understand why it was done, but it’s obviously bad, and reflects the disdain of The Company.
Had I not done enough to earn people’s trust?
So I fixed the problem, and walked away. “Don’t respond in anger”, I told myself. I got a cup of coffee, talked about it with someone else, and came back 5 minutes later.
“Look at it from their side”, I said – before I started working with The Company, there had been a strained relationship with the community. Yes, they knew Dave Neary wouldn’t screw them over, but they had no way of knowing that it was Dave Neary’s mistake. I stopped taking it personally. There is deep-seated mistrust, and that takes time to heal, I said to myself.
Yet, how to respond on the mailing list thread? “We apologise for the oversight, blah blah blah” would be interpreted as “of course they fixed it, after they were caught”. But did I really want to put myself out there and admit I had made what was a pretty rookie mistake? Wouldn’t that undermine my credibility?
In the end, I bit the bullet. “I did some long-overdue maintenance on our Trac ACLs yesterday, they’re much cleaner and easier to maintain now that we’ve moved to more clearly defined roles. Unfortunately, I did not test the changes well enough before pushing them live, and I temporarily removed access from all non-The Company employees. It’s fixed now. I messed up, and I am sorry. I will be more careful in the future.” All first person – no hiding behind the corporate identity, no “we stand together”, no sugar-coating.
What happened next surprised me. The most vocal critic in the thread responded immediately to apologise, and to thank me for the transparency and honesty. Within half an hour, a number of people were praising me and The Company for our handling of the incident. The air went out of the outrage balloon, and a potential disaster became a growth opportunity – yes, the people running the community infrastructure are human too, and there is no conspiracy. The Man was not out to get us.
I no longer work for The Company, and the team has scattered to the winds. But I never forgot those cold sweats, that feeling of vulnerability, and the elation that followed the community reaction to a heartfelt mea culpa.
Part of the OSS Communities series – difficult conversations. Contribute your stories and tag them on Twitter with #osscommunities to be included.
October 19, 2016
community, freesoftware, openstack
Comments Off on FOSDEM SDN & NFV DevRoom Call for Content
We are pleased to announce the Call for Participation in the FOSDEM 2017 Software Defined Networking and Network Functions Virtualization DevRoom!
- (Extended!) Nov 28: Deadline for submissions
- Dec 1: Speakers notified of acceptance
- Dec 5: Schedule published
This year the DevRoom topics will cover two distinct fields:
- Software Defined Networking (SDN), covering virtual switching, open source SDN controllers, virtual routing
- Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), covering open source network functions, NFV management and orchestration tools, and topics related to the creation of an open source NFV platform
We are now inviting proposals for talks about Free/Libre/Open Source Software on the topics of SDN and NFV. This is an exciting and growing field, and FOSDEM gives an opportunity to reach a unique audience of very knowledgeable and highly technical free and open source software activists.
This year, the DevRoom will focus on low-level networking and high performance packet processing, network automation of containers and private cloud, and the management of telco applications to maintain very high availability and performance independent of whatever the world can throw at their infrastructure (datacenter outages, fires, broken servers, you name it).
A representative list of the projects and topics we would like to see on the schedule are:
- Low-level networking and switching: IOvisor, eBPF, XDP, fd.io, Open vSwitch, OpenDataplane, …
- SDN controllers and overlay networking: OpenStack Neutron, Canal, OpenDaylight, ONOS, Plumgrid, OVN, OpenContrail, Midonet, …
- NFV Management and Orchestration: Open-O, ManageIQ, Juju, OpenBaton, Tacker, OSM, network management, PNDA.io, …
- NFV related features: Service Function Chaining, fault management, dataplane acceleration, security, …
Talks should be aimed at a technical audience, but should not assume that attendees are already familiar with your project or how it solves a general problem. Talk proposals can be very specific solutions to a problem, or can be higher level project overviews for lesser known projects.
Please include the following information when submitting a proposal:
- Your name
- The title of your talk (please be descriptive, as titles will be listed with around 250 from other projects)
- Short abstract of one or two paragraphs
- Short bio (with photo)
The deadline for submissions is November 16th 2016. FOSDEM will be held on the weekend of February 4-5, 2017 and the SDN/NFV DevRoom will take place on Saturday, February 4, 2017 (Updated 2016-10-20: an earlier version incorrectly said the DevRoom was on Sunday). Please use the following website to submit your proposals: https://penta.fosdem.org/submission/FOSDEM17 (you do not need to create a new Pentabarf account if you already have one from past years).
You can also join the devroom’s mailing list, which is the official communication channel for the DevRoom: firstname.lastname@example.org (subscription page: https://lists.fosdem.org/listinfo/network-devroom)
– The Networking DevRoom 2016 Organization Team
September 17, 2014
Over on Google+, Aaron Seigo in his inimitable way launched a discussion about people who call themselves community managers.. In his words: “the “community manager” role that is increasingly common in the free software world is a fraud and a farce”. As you would expect when casting aspertions on people whose job is to talk to people in public, the post generated a great, and mostly constructive, discussion in the comments – I encourage you to go over there and read some of the highlights, including comments from Richard Esplin, my colleague Jan Wildeboer, Mark Shuttleworth, Michael Hall, Lenz Grimmer and other community luminaries. Well worth the read.
My humble observation here is that the community manager title is useful, but does not affect the person’s relationships with other community members.
First: what about alternative titles? Community liaison, evangelist, gardener, concierge, “cat herder”, ombudsman, Chief Community Officer, community engagement… all have been used as job titles to describe what is essentially the same role. And while I like the metaphors used for some of the titles like the gardener, I don’t think we do ourselves a service by using them. By using some terrible made-up titles, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to let people know what we can do.
Job titles serve a number of roles in the industry: communicating your authority on a subject to people who have not worked with you (for example, in a panel or a job interview), and letting people know what you did in your job in short-hand. Now, tell me, does a “community ombudsman” rank higher than a “chief cat-herder”? Should I trust the opinion of a “Chief Community Officer” more than a “community gardener”? I can’t tell.
For better or worse, “Community manager” is widely used, and more or less understood. A community manager is someone who tries to keep existing community members happy and engaged, and grows the community by recruiting new members. The second order consequences of that can be varied: we can make our community happy by having better products, so some community managers focus a lot on technology (roadmaps, bug tracking, QA, documentation). Or you can make them happier by better communicating technology which is there – so other community managers concentrate on communication, blogging, Twitter, putting a public face on the development process. You can grow your community by recruiting new users and developers through promotion and outreach, or through business development.
While the role of a community manager is pretty well understood, it is a broad enough title to cover evangelist, product manager, marketing director, developer, release engineer and more.
Second: The job title will not matter inside your community. People in your company will give respect and authority according to who your boss is, perhaps, but people in the community will very quickly pigeon-hole you – are you doing good work and removing roadblocks, or are you a corporate mouthpiece, there to explain why unpopular decisions over which you had no control are actually good for the community? Sometimes you need to be both, but whatever you are predominantly, your community will see through it and categorize you appropriately.
What matters to me is that I am working with and in a community, working toward a vision I believe in, and enabling that community to be a nice place to work in where great things happen. Once I’m checking all those boxes, I really don’t care what my job title is, and I don’t think fellow community members and colleagues do either. My vision of community managers is that they are people who make the lives of community members (regardless of employers) a little better every day, often in ways that are invisible, and as long as you’re doing that, I don’t care what’s on your business card.
April 18, 2014
Number two in an occasional series of “time I wish I could have back” topics related to releasing proprietary software projects as free software.
What’s in a name?
It was famously said that there are 2 hard problems in computer programming: Cache invalidation, naming things, and off by one errors.
Naming a project is a pain. Everyone has their favourite, everyone’s an expert, and there are a dozen different creative processes that people will suggest. Also, project names are subject to approval by legal and brand departments often, which are 2 departments most engineers don’t want anything to do with. So how do you come up with an acceptable name without spending weeks talking about it? Here are some guidelines.
Avoid anything related to the company name or products
You don’t want to have corporate trademark guidelines, certification programmes, etc impacting the way your community can use the project name, and avoiding names related to company assets will make it easier to transfer trademark ownership to an independent non-profit, should you decide to do that in the future. In terms of maintaining a clear separation in people’s minds between the community project and your company’s products, it’s also a good idea to avoid “line extension” by reusing a product name
Outside of that, the number one thing to remember is:
Projects names are not the most important thing about your project
What’s important is what problems you solve, and how well you solve them. The name will grow on people if they’re using the project regularly. You can even end up with interesting discussions like “is it pronounced Lee-nooks or Lie-nucks?” which can galvanise a nascent community. Also, remember that:
Project names can be changed
How many projects fall foul of existing trademarks, end up rebranding soon after launch, or are forced to change names because of a change of corporate sponsor or a fork? Firefox, Jitsi, WildFly, Jenkins, LibreOffice, Joomla, Inkscape all started life under different names, and a rename has not prevented them from going on to be very successful projects. The important thing, in an open source project, is to start small so that you don’t have a huge amount invested in the old name, if circumstances require you to change it.
Avoid a few pitfalls
Avoid using anything which is related to the trademarks of competing companies or projects, unless it is pretty abstract (Avid to Diva, Mozilla to Mosaic Killer, Eclipse to Sun).
That said, don’t worry too much about trademarks. Yes, do a quick search for related projects when you have a shortlist, and check out USPTO. But just because there is a Gnome Chestnut Farms in Bend, Oregon doesn’t mean you can’t call your free software desktop environment GNOME. Domain of use is a powerful constraint, take advantage of it.
Avoid potentially politically incorrect or “bad language” words. Also, avoid artificially smart acronyms. The Flexible Add-on Release Tracker might seem like a good idea, but… don’t. GIMP is a notable exception here to both rules, and countless days have been spent defending the choice of name over the years.
Do worry about the domain name. This will be the primary promotion mechanism. People shouldn’t spend time trying to figure out if your project is hosted at “sandbla.st” or “sandblast.org” or “ProjectSandblast.org”. Make sure you get a good domain name.
Empower a small group to choose
The decision on a name should belong to 1, 2 or 3 people. No more. Once you realise that names are not the most important thing, and that the name can be changed if you mess up badly, that frees you from getting buy-in from everyone on the development team. The “committee” should include the project leaders (the person or people who will be identified as the maintainers afterwards), and one person who is good at facilitating naming discussions (perhaps someone from your Brand department to ensure their buy-in for the result). Beyond that, do not consider surveys, general calls for names, or any other process which gives a sense of ownership of the process to more than 2 or 3 people. This way lies many weeks and months of bikeshedding arguments.
Have a process
- Start with a concept and work from there. Break out the Thesaurus, make a list of related concepts.
- Names can be abstract or prosaic, it doesn’t really matter. Discourse is one of the most wonderfully prosaic project names I’ve seen, but StackOverflow has nothing to do with a questions & answers forum. Ansible is a made up word, Puppet and Chef both evoke wonderfully orchestration while being dictionary words.
- Keep the shortlist to names which are short and pronounceable in multiple languages.
- Cull ruthlessly – don’t keep “maybe” names. If you get to the end, go back to the concepts list and start again.
- If you get to a shortlist of 2 or 3 and can’t decide, use random() to pick the winner or go with the choice of the project leader.
In general, don’t spend too much time on it. You should be able to get a couple of candidate names in a few days of discussion, submit them to Legal for a trademark review, and spend your time on what really matters, understanding your users’ problems and solving them as well as you can.
Of course, this is easier said than done – good luck!
April 17, 2014
One in a series of indeterminate length I am calling “mostly unimportant questions which take an inordinate amount of time to resolve when releasing a project as free software”. For the next topic, I’m hesitating between “naming”, “logo/icon/mascot design” and “mailing lists or forums”.
Choosing a license
Free software projects need licenses. But choosing a license is such a pain that most github projects don’t even bother (resulting in an initiative by Github to rectify this). And when taking a closed source project and making it free software, the topic of license choice will take a huge amount of time and effort.
I have found the following questions accelerate things nicely.
- Does the project exist as part of a greater ecosystem (eg. Apache, Eclipse, GNOME, Perl, Ruby)?
- If so, is there a predominant license in that ecosystem (eg EPL for Eclipse, MPL for Mozilla, MIT for Ruby gems, BSD for *BSD)? Then use that license.
- Does your business model depend on you having total control of the project for the foreseeable future? (Aside: If so, consider changing your business model) Consider GPL v3+/proprietary dual license
- Do you want to grow a vibrant developer community around your project? If not, why not? Avoid dual license, copyright assignment
- Do you want to grow a vibrant service partner/extensions ecosystem, including proprietary extensions, around your project? Avoid GPL v2+ or v3+ – prefer MPL v2 or Apache v2
- Do you have any dependencies whose licenses you must comply with (eg. GPL v2 hard dependency)? Ensure you can distribute result under a compliant license
- Do you have concerns about the patent portfolios of potential project contributors? Choose from GPL v3, MPL v2, Apache v2 for stronger patent protection for contributors – avoid MIT or BSD
- Do you believe that all contributors to the project, including extensions, should be subject to the same rules? Choose GPL v3
- Do you believe that the source code is free, and people should do whatever they want with it as long as they give you credit? Choose MIT or Apache v2
- After answering these questions, are you considering a license outside of (L)GPL v3, MPL v2, Apache v2 or MIT/BSD? Don’t.
After all of this, there are still situations which can lead to different outcomes – perhaps you want to join a specific non-profit later, and your license choice will be influenced by that. Perhaps you have a dependency currently which you plan to work around later, and you might dual license source code contributions under multiple free software licenses to allow relicensing easily (as OpenOffice.org and Mozilla have done). But the answers to the 10 questions above will at least reduce the scope of your search to one or two licenses.
Any considerations I have missed? Comments welcome!
June 8, 2013
freesoftware, General, openstack, red hat, work
Over at community.redhat.com, the Red Hat community blog, I have posted an article detailing some of the value I see to customers of companies who support and build on free software. The article is basically notes from a presentation I will be giving next Wednesday at the Red Hat Summit, “Community Catalysts: The Value of Open Source Community Development”. The problem statement?
It’s not always obvious, however, what the value of that is to our customers. The four freedoms of the free software definition which personify open source software – the freedom to use, study, modify and share modified copies of the software – at first glance appear to benefit only participants in open source communities. If you are a customer of a company like Red Hat, does it really matter that you have access to the source code, or that you can share the software with others? Aren’t customers, in some sense, paying us to “just take care of all of that stuff?”
This line of thought is not original, but it’s one I’ve had for a long time – and others such as Simon Phipps have given voice to similar insights in the past. Hopefully I can give it a fresh treatment for Red Hat Summit attendees next week!
December 21, 2012
The OSCON 2013 Call for Participation just opened and the list of tracks this year is mostly the same as last year. I am a touch disappointed, because I suggested to some of the conference chairs that a track I’d love to see, and which I think would get lots of attention, would be on how we grown-up hackers ensure that we’re growing the next generation of open source hackers. In other words, as a parent, tips on sharing our passion for technology and the open source, free software, hacker ethos with our kids.
This generally fits into the “Geek lifestyle” theme, which is the most marginal of the tracks, but I bet that if there’s a critical mass of quality proposals on the topic, that we could have a separate open source parenting track at OSCON – and it would be standing room only all week.
Some things I would love to talk about or hear people talk about:
- Hackable living space – teaching kids they can control their environments
- Preschool engineering – toys and games that teach your child to hack before they can walk
- My First Electronics Kit – How my son and I learned how to make a solar powered car from scavenged parts
- Teaching kids to hack – coding literacy in K12
And anything else which gives me ideas for projects I can do with the kids and their friends, or that I can bring to the local school.
Wouldn’t that be the coolest track *ever*? All it needs to happen is to totally blind-side the conference chairs with a dozen high quality proposals that no-one could possibly refuse! Who’s with me? Won’t somebody please think of the children?!?
November 14, 2012
I was re-reading one of my favourite blog posts on running an Open Source community today, and thought I would share it.
Max Kanat-Alexander is the Bugzilla Release Manager, and put a variety of thoughts on leading an Open Source community together – Open Source Community, Simplified.
The TL;DR version, for those too lazy to click through, is:
- Don’t freeze your trunk for long periods
- Turnover is inevitable, so recruitment is vital
- Respond to contributions immediately
- Be extremely kind and appreciative
- Encourage a total absence of personal negativity
His own tl;dr version of this is: “be really, abnormally, really, really kind, and don’t be mean”.
He then talks about removing barriers to contribution, promoting your project and getting new contributors interested.
All in all, an excellent contribution, and well worth the read.
November 14, 2012
I spoke to Kevin Carillo about what makes a good community citizen a few months ago – he had already been working for some time on his research at that point, and I thought that his approach and ideas were interesting.
Recently, he blogged about his work, and released a survey targeting recent contributors to a variety of projects, including Debian, GNOME and Mozilla.
As a long-time participant in various open source projects, I regularly see sociologists posting announcements for surveys to lists asking for developers time without first trying to get a feel for the communities involved, and figuring out how their work can benefit the community. They are zoologists, studying the behaviour of strange and wondrous beasts they don’t understand.
Kevin, like Evangelia Berdou and Malgorzata Ciesielska in the past, has adopted another approach – talking to people one-on-one and crafting a survey after building an understanding of community dynamics. I have high hopes that his resulting research will be as valuable to us as Evangelia and Gosia’s work was in the past.
I encourage anyone who fits the target profile to participate in his survey.
October 16, 2012
Comments Off on Humanitarian Free & Open Source Software meeting place
This year, we hosted a Humanitarian Free and Open source software track at the Open World Forum for the third time. The track has been of great value to participants as a way of communicating with other practitioners in the space, and exchanging best practices and experiences around funding, community, and working with NGOs.
Once again, we had great participation from representatives of a wide range of projects, in crisis management, healthcare, social enterprise and microfinance. And the quality of the presentations was excellent – when discussing after the conference with Leslie Hawthorn what our favourite presentations were, the short answer was “all of them”. My personal favourites were Mark Prutsalis’s description of the EUROSHA project, Heather Blanchard’s experiences from working closely with aid agencies, and Leslie’s presentation with Julius Awakame of the great work that OpenMRS is doing in electronic medical record management targeting the poorest communities in the world.
The number one request I have had for the track is to turn it into more of a conversation – part presentations to establish a baseline for discussion, but mostly workshops or discussion forums on issues common to projects in HFOSS. Some organisations have funding, but have not succeeded in developing a commercial ecosystem of partners to support the deployment of the software. Other organisations have a partner ecosystem, but have not succeeded in growing an active community or identifying a sustainable funding model. Others have vibrant communities, but do not have either the funding or the organisational infrastructure to have a full time staff, or to bid for projects with aid agencies.
How would you feel about making next year’s Humanitarian track at the Open World Forum a worldwide meeting place of leaders of HFOSS projects, over two days, with a more traditional conference component including presentations, round-tables and workshops, and a Humanitarian BarCamp the day afterwards in Paris? I bet that if we can get critical mass for the idea that we could make this a regular meeting place for these projects. If there is somewhere else more appropriate as a meeting of minds, I’m happy to point people there instead, but I do not have the impression that there is. It has become obvious to me that there is a need for such a meeting place, and Paris in the Autumn seems like the ideal place to have it – central location, easy accessibility internationally from Europe, America, Asia and Africa.
Is there interest in making a real Humanitarian FOSS conference in Paris next year?
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