কেন কথা কহিল না, চলিয়া গেল ধীরে ।।
নিকুঞ্জে দখিনাবায় করিছে হায়-হায়,
লতাপাতা দুলে দুলে ডাকিছে ফিরে ফিরে ।।
দুজনের আঁখিবারি গোপনে গেল বয়ে,
দুজনের প্রাণের কথা প্রাণেতে গেল রয়ে ।।
আর তো হল না দেখা, জগতে দোঁহে একা –
চিরদিন ছাড়াছাড়ি যমুনাতীরে ।।
Given that nothing does get done, the other aspect that is annoying is when I hear folks state that they have been “driving the community” for xy number of years. I get this urge to ask – “so you drive things ehh ? what have you been driving recently ?”
This entire exercise of slapping the label of ‘community’ to anything that has more than 3 people doing it was one of the aspects which prompted me to submit that “Community is an oft
misused word” talk at this year’s freed.in. On hindsight, I managed to make a hash of the talk, but off-the-talk discussions were a good jump off point to discuss the issue.
A community is a collective of people who work, learn and share together. And even though it is tempting to term a group of people doing something together to be a “community” it isn’t really judicious to do so. Of late, every project or company doing “open source” attempts to get in place something that can be pointed to as a community. However, what gets missed in the whole mess is the overuse of the word itself.
“Community” is a word that is pre-loaded with multiple meanings, morphs into various forms and has different types. And it is this variety or difference that provides unique perspectives to the group of people. This group think and learn together, share knowledge and believe in the power of consensus. They collaborate to make things happen because they believe that working together allows them to have more strength than the sum of individual efforts. A community is built up by those who are involved, those who are at the margins and those who are initially out of the periphery of this nascent group of like-thinkers. The growth of this group is however dependent on the level of participation from the (s)elected representatives. The inherent paradox here is that the formation of an organizational body does not necessarily guarantee participation. The inclusive nature of this group is thus based on the basic objective, the degree of involvement that it allows and the systemic changes associated with the evolution of the process.
The important aspect of all this is that the group builds up a collective intelligence. The means to generate such informal intelligence can be via various modes like use / consumption, contribution, attendance, consultation, delivery of service and participation in decision making. Such activities imply re-distribution of power and thus an opportunity for empowerment.
So, if the meme for a community is generated from within the community through collaborative processes, why do folks insist on being called “drivers” ? Is there some sort of unmet need to be recognized for far beyond their worth that leads them to this delusion ?
The moment I hear someone call [him | her] self a ‘driver of the community’, my perception generally changes to “uh oh !! there has to be a self serving clique working here somewhere” 🙂 There is a big difference between those who “get it” and ensure that they work in the community to build leadership and foster the collaboration and those who land up from someplace and just demand to get recognition and acceptance just because they are in positions of some authority or have “national” affiliation. It requires more than just writing about it when one sees folks from the latter group talking about being drivers, champions and patrons of Open Source. It requires reaching out and being the change one desires to see.
For a while I was using F9 in en_US locale and added a few locations to the applet. Then I switched over to bn_IN and landed up with the applet as above.
Is this a bug ? If so, what do I file it for ?
An easy trap to fall into is believing in the fable that one is a “community expert“. Such a person is mostly self attested and hence that title is easily obtained. Underlying this idea is of course the arrogance that one knows what the community is all about. If community is an oft (mis)used word, “expanding the community” would perhaps vie for the position of the second most used phrase in recent times. With the proliferation of FOSS projects and the opening up of various kinds of “resource centers” and “centers of excellence”, expanding the community is becoming the mantra which gets chanted at every moment.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
I wrote a bit earlier about why the focus should be on working within the community and not just trying over-the-wall contributions and claiming expansion of community. This time I’d like to talk about “resource centers”.
The primary focus of a resource center for Free and Open Source Software would be to invest in people. Thus, not working on expanding the community or increasing the quantum of contributions. Those are end results of a structured and disciplined process that should be putting people first. The keyword here is “resource”. To that effect, it has to plan, provide and play host to people and allow itself to be used as an infrastructure bedrock. So, the next immediate focus area becomes infrastructure. Putting up the required infrastructure that allows potential contributors and existing community members to collect together and share knowledge. The eventual outcome of this would be presence. The resource center should have a presence across various existing collectives where like minded people gather and promote itself as a gracious host. In short, the resource center has to figure out it’s own 3 circles.
The unsaid assumption here is that the person leading and directing the resource center has to limit the role to that of a facilitator (or, even a project janitor) and use the familiarity with upstream FOSS activities to drive contributions upstream alongside creating new projects that are locally relevant. Not allowing one’s own dogmas and beliefs to overshadow the focus of the center is a really good quality to have along with putting in place a project management and process framework that ensures that the quality of code that gets produced is of the highest one.
But what usually happens is best called general bedlam and mayhem. Instead of a focus on people, an undue amount of emphasis is put on presence. An excitement about development areas that are unrelated to the central objective takes over the idea of investing in infrastructure. In place of a clear, transparent means of community communication what comes out is a muddled messaging that aims for “world domination” before putting house in order. Over and above all this is the presence of a clique or cabal who keep on deluding themselves and others that all is right and things are going according to plan. Well of course they are, point is that given that there wasn’t a plan to begin with, any direction the path takes is according to plan.
The sad outcome is that a potential is lost and nothing ever gets done. Frankly, it isn’t right for a body that has the words national prefixed to resource center for free and open source software to lose its way this badly. It isn’t right that the oversight committee lets it happen. And it is a crying shame that all those who care for FOSS in India can’t come up with an alternative arrangement or body that doesn’t have the problems the current body is riddled with.
Spent a good part of yesterday’s lunch re-reading the various posts around “corporate control of community projects” and especially the excellent post from Quim. The checklist that he puts out is a nice way of wrapping one’s head around as to what an “open organization” means and thusly, what it should be doing diligently. This article about “Sun and corporate open source” is also worth a read in the same context.
However, having heard (second-hand) about the recent Android and OpenSource related faux pass from Google, it may well be that the tension between how much to control and what to give away will remain for a while. In fact, doing over-the-wall type of Open Source-ing and attempting to “expand the community” is a trap that any company can fall into due to complacency. The bottom-line perhaps is to do away with the glorified notion of expanding the community and focus more on working “in” the community so as to get more valuable insights into projects, processes and products.
Working in the community of consumers, contributors and critics has the benefit of making it impossible to get away with infrastructure that is available to a select few or, perhaps unavailable to anyone outside the company. What is far more interesting for me is that the over-the-wall or “gated community” kind of development is prevalent more for products and infrastructure related Open Source projects than projects which deal with services. And, the reason for that might be a lack of stringent rules being applied on part of the company / teams from the company involved in this aspect.
The preliminary indicators of such a problem is forking upstream tools for enhancements and not making incremental public releases that would benefit from the experience of others. This of course soon degenerates into having closed meetings and closed mailing lists that are available to the select few. And the final outcome of such a process is the inevitable code push over-the-wall in a take it or leave it approach.
This is however, completely different from pushing in too many contributors (in a torrent) into an upstream project with the well-intended but uncontrolled urge to make things stable and predictable. That happens as well.
Yet, nearly all the sad cases of overuse of the ‘Ctrl’ key is more to do with the lack of institutional knowledge about how to produce Open Source software than an attempt to terminate with extreme prejudice.
Next up – a small note about why it is not right for bodies entrusted to be resource centers to be dipping their fingers into everything under the sun in the pretext of expanding the community.
Yesterday a few of us decided to visit Sinhagad to catch the sunrise. The last time I had climbed / walked / hiked to anything that remotely resembled steep ground was around 2 years back at Yeur Hills and even then the road up was nicely paved. Without having any idea of what to expect I tagged along for the fun of it. And it was awesome. The sun came up when we were around 25% of the way up, but the breeze blowing off the tops was worth the climb.
The climb is supposed to be the “easy” one, but it did not look that way for the first 20 minutes to me. I did the big mistake of letting others decide my pace and try to wriggle out of the “traffic jam” on the trails. Once I ran out of breath I realized that it was not a good thing to do and settled into a steady pace of walking up the slope. Thankfully enough, the knees and the calf muscles did not buckle under the hammering they took. Stopped for the occasional glass of nimbu-paani and then chugged along merrily, all the while giving way to excited youngsters competing to reach the top in the shortest possible time. That’s for them … not for me 🙂
We roamed around the bit at the top of the fort, indulged in some oily snacks and managed to crack all sorts of poor, lame jokes at various folks who did not come with us.
Climbing is one thing, coming down is fun of another sort. It took me a bit to get adjusted to the momentum and from then on it was a nice, slow and steady pace downhill. It was nearly mid-day when we came down, so the sun did its bit to burn up my bald patch 😉 but that was fun too.
There are days when one takes a step back and thanks whosoever is watching above us for being generous, kind and making magic happen. Magic has been happening for a decade now 🙂