Fullish disclosure: I am and have always been a GNOME developer/user. I used KDE for about 30 seconds at V0.9a (Or there abouts, all I really remember was that it was some version just before 1.0 came out). I read about what they do because I’m interested in what they are up to, but really what they actually do doesn’t bother or concern me at all. They could make all the buttons pink with hello kitty icons and reverse the X axis when you move the mouse and I’d not lose any sleep over it. I’d find it funny and think it stupid, but its their project to do whatever they think is best, I don’t use it so really it doesn’t concern me in the slightest what direction they decide to take it.

With that said:

Two KDE developers, Kurt Granroth and Andreas Pour once wrote:

What do we do when “one of our own” turns their back on our community’s code of ethics? I remember a time when it was all about the code. We worked on free software projects (the term “Open Source” came later) in our spare time, caring little about “marketing” and even less about other business concerns.

Reading some KDE blogs recently disturbed me: Troy Unrau and Jos Poortvliet. They discuss, in varying amounts of detail, their visions on how to market KDE. I do have a low opinion on marketing in general as mainstream marketing is mainly just an exercise in manipulation to get people to buy shit they don’t need with money they don’t have, but open source marketing has generally stayed on the ok side of a fine line.

Troy outlined his 4 point plan and I don’t have a problem with 3 of the 4 points (although as a side note, I do find the irony of suggesting that KDE targets nonKDE distro users with google adwords amusing, but maybe Troy hasn’t been around long enough to remember this fiasco from where the opening quote comes from). The part I have issues with is the second half of point #2 – “Third Party Press” and this is the same idea that Jos picks up on in his blog.

In Point 2.1.1 Troy laments that isn’t picked up on things like Google News because it is seen to be rather partisan, so the solution he suggests in 2.2 is to have external writers on the payroll (as it were, I’d imagine there wouldn’t be payment in this arrangement) to make sure that the news KDE wants to get out gets out “so that we sound more impartial” (emphasis mine)…in other words, to turn every news site into a propaganda site for KDE, but one that is less obvious. Jos continues that he is creating a guide on How to write about KDE, which he didn’t link to, so I have no idea what the content may or may not be though I’d be interested to find out. [Update:]

The reason I don’t like this, is not because I am scared by these tactics (as someone suggested in an earlier comment) but because I dislike the media being used in this way as it destroys the idea of a free and independent press. If the press cannot be trusted to tell the truth no matter what, what use are they? When the press is no longer free, the people are being manipulated into believing things that do not serve the common good, but serve the organisation that planted the story, and when the people are being manipulated in this way, they are no longer Free. What good are the freedoms granted by the GPL and other Free software licenses if the people who use them have lost the freedom to find out the truth?

If another software vendor were to write a document to suggest tactics like these, I think we would be up in arms about it and rightly so, so how can we let it slide when it is “one of our own?” Come on guys, compete on code, compete on ideas. Do not stoop to strategies like this. You think you have a better product than the competitors, fine, then let the product speak for itself. Allow reviewers and writers to test what you’ve done and say what they think. Don’t fill the media with puff pieces shouting your praises, while ignoring the mistakes. What would come after that, sponsoring “independent” studies into desktop environments?

If you are so proud and confident of what you’ve done (Troy: 3.6) then stand up beside it and let the chips fall as they may. To do anything else seems like you are not proud or confident of it and are scared of possible criticism. Surrounding yourself with sycophantic yesmen is the start of a downfall. Take the criticism and let downs along with the praise and compliments and use them to create an even better thing.

[As another aside I have chosen trivial and amusing instances of media manipulation, but finding serious and inportant issues where media manipulation by governments and companies was not such a laughing matter is not difficult – try here for a start]

5 thoughts on “Vitriol”

  1. It’s interesting that you refer to the bit where Ximian used the KDE keyword to link to their product, and it’s a good sign of progress to have this come up once in a while in a context, where we don’t try to throw dirt at each other. And I think that’s why Troy stresses the very principle of using this kind of channels at all — Troy writes “- do not mention competing products directly (we don’t want to piss the gnome/xfce/rox/etc. people off” which is exactly the “let’s not start a pissing contest in the Free Software world.

    Another point that should be stressed is that KDE’s marketing people have always been very honest and are doing a great job in covering the community with what’s going on internally. There also happens to be a great deal of interest in the media as well, from journalists, we’ve learned that they very much appreciate those tips (refering to Jos here), and that it’s a good tool to make their lives easier.

    The bits about having KDE people writing for 3rd party media is by the way interesting in its own sense. We’ve seen that not only software developers have better chances of finding a job, but also, for example writers. In fact, it’s an excellent way for contributors to be able to earn some extra cents (remember, they’re often not paid to do this). This is a healthy Free Culture community at work. It’s not subversive (or anything like rocket-science to someone intimate with the concepts of promotion). If it weren’t meant to be information accessible to other projects but some confidential secret tactiques crap, it certainly wouldn’t end up on the PlanetKDE. I do think that the “sound impartial” bit is right on its own, but it certainly nothing illegal or inadequate to actively take care of good media coverage. It’s an essential part of communication within the wider Free Software community. We’re not an Island.

    Lastly, I’d like to address your concern that we’re pissing off our own people — we’re not. Core developers (and they’re not the only one involved when you create a user-oriented desktop) are closely involved with the whole process, it’s not like ‘all of a sudden some marketing peeps have taken over’, but much more a sign of a diverse community of Free Desktop people.

    So all in all, I do support your “call for honesty”, but I do not think it’s wise to limit ourselves to keep thinking inside the box.

  2. Great, another Gnome developer describing what KDE should and should not do. Maybe next Toyota should tell Honda how to design its engines. Dude just concentrate on your own DE which is hilariously faaaaaaaar from perfect.

  3. As long as people can throw away those rules and write whatever they want I don’t see any real problem with their “marketing strategies”.

    On the other hand I don’t see why FOSS would need any kind of self-promotion. We should concentrate on the product and let the market decide by word-by-mouth approach.

    If they don’t believe word-by-mouth is enough maybe it’s because they don’t believe in their product that much. I agree with that.

    Thanks for the post, I think it’s very important to point out these issues.

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