- 1 Introduction
- 2 Enabling Healthy Open Source Communities: Case study – Thunderbird
- 3 Community Building and the Architecture of Participation
- 4 Comparision between two great Talks
- 5 Personal Views
- 6 Conclusion
FSOSS, Free Software and Open Source Symposium, a place where open source community members can meet each other, make new connections, refresh old connections and express their different thoughts on the community. FSOSS has started only seven years before but it has made a huge impression on the open source community. People from various corner of the world came to attend the symposium and to deliver a speech in the symposium. By creating a separate track for “teaching open source”, this year FSOSS has initiated another branch in the open world. This track was a big success in which people discussed how we can teach open source projects to the students. The talk that I enjoyed the most was Thunderbird community talk and Greg DeKoenigsberg’s community building talk. Thunderbird community talk was all about growing the community and making the community healthier. The talk also discussed about obstacles to the community and “Debian Effect”. The other talk, “Community Building and the Architecture of Participation”, was full of enthusiasm and energy. The speaker, Greg DeKoenigsberg, was so impressive that he convinced me to believe, “Contributors are God to for the open source Communities.”
Let me explain these two talks in detail...
Enabling Healthy Open Source Communities: Case study – Thunderbird
The title of this talk gives a good sense of what it was about. The title, “Enabling healthy Open Source Communities: Case Study- Thunderbird”, gives a hint that the talk was all about: how Thunderbird community works, how can somebody get into the community and what are the Thunderbird community members are doing to grow the community.
For discussing these ideas and thoughts, Seneca college invited Mr. Dan Mosedale. He is a lead developer in Mozilla and employed by Mozilla Corporation for many years. He is also involved in Mozilla community building and community development. In general, He is one of the spokespersons who have authority to talk about the topic of the talk. His discussion mainly focuses on the ideas mentioned below:
In the beginning, he addressed that a person who is willing to be a part of the open source community requires two types of skills: coding and communication - communication to spread the community. Of course, coding is the major skill required to get into the community. The person requires a background of coding to write the code required to complete certain tasks. The other skill is communication for spreading the open source community. Community members should communicate in a way that they invite people, care for newcomers and respect other community members. Inviting means a person should invite other developers to the community. Caring means the person should take care of newcomers in the community. A community members should try to help new comer as much as 'possible' in order to prevent them from a feeling of being left alone. Helping newcomers would boost up the confidence of a newcomer and will generate a positive feeling of being part of the family.
Another topic was focusing on obstacles to the community. Sometimes some people become noise for the community and decrease the efficiency of other community people. When someone discusses irrelevant topic in the community, most people get disturbed and loose their focus from the main goal. Eventually, it becomes counterproductive. To solve these kinds of problems few productive community members started private discussion where nobody can interfere. However, as they are part of an open community, they made private talks public. In short, they made some private spaces where they can have technical and productive talk and at the end they published their talk. Another obstacle to the Thunderbird community is less documentation on building and development. If somebody wanted to hack Firefox’s code, he can find enough documentation on https://developer.mozilla.org. But for Thunderbird, it is very hard to find such documentations which prevent contributors from contributing to the community. Fortunately, there are free compilers available for building and developing Thunderbird project. Having free compilers to build is better considering some other open source communities which do not provide compilers.
How many newcomers Thunderbird can afford?
I enjoyed the talk when somebody asked that how many newcomers Thunderbird community can handle at the moment? Answer to the question is 30-50 newcomers every month. I was wondering why it is so less? Then Mr. Dan convinced me through his arguments. He stated that Thunderbird is not big community as much as Firefox or Fedora. It is so small compare to them. Thunderbird does not have enough technical support people to guide newcomers and writing code at the same time. Technical support people have to write the code, fix the bugs, enhance features and ship the product. In addition, they have to provide technical help to newcomers. These require lots of efforts and tremendous amount of time. Hence, Thunderbird community cannot afford so many newcomers at the moment.
Suddenly, one person from audience raised the topic of Debian Effect. Debian is a free GNU/LINUX operating system distribution. The history says that Mr Ubuntu, a reach guy, employed expert members from Debian open source community and paid them to make another Linux distribution called “Ubuntu”. This event divided Debian community into two types of members: first, who are volunteering for the community and the others are getting paid to do the same thing. This situation created a number of conflicts. Few people who were volunteering did not want to go along with Debian community. Thus, some people left the community. In the talk, one man asked the question if Debian effect exists in Thunderbird community or not. However, Mr. Dan does not think that Debian effect exist in Thunderbird community at the moment. He thinks that everybody who is volunteering is not jealous of the people who are paid. Everyone in the community help each other and gives respect without considering others are paid or not. But, I think that is not the whole truth. There might be a few members who do not behaving properly if the person is below their level because utopia doesn't exist! Anyhow, We just need to take care that we do not become part of those so called bad guys. I don’t think there is something else that we can do about this situation.
Thunderbird community's future goal is to include art(User Interface and Design) people into the community. The major reason to include them is to make the product more compatible to closed source projects.
Community Building and the Architecture of Participation
The speaker for the talk, “Community Building and the Architecture of Participation,” was Greg De Koenigsberg. He is a community designer architect for Red Hat. Though he has been with the community since 2001, he is as enthusiastic as a newcomer in the community. Here is his website http://people.redhat.com/gdk/. This might interest you.
Which one is better: Open source product or copyright product?
Everybody in the open source world knows that open source products are better than other products. However, only a few of them knows the reason behind it. Greg provided some numbers, facts and solid arguments to show how open source products are better. In the graph, growth of an open source community is shown. The graph says that number of features increases as number of contributors increases. And inversely, number of bugs decreases as number of contributors increases. This scenario is the same scenario for copyright products. However, copyright products have some limitations. After some time copyright products cannot afford more contributors to the project. So, the product growth remains steady, not increasing. On the other side, nobody can limit the number of contributors in open source community. Hence, product growth is never going to stop. More and more features are going to be added by more and more contributors in open source world. Even the velocity of growth is increasing. In addition, more and more bugs are going to be fixed voluntarily. In short, limited amount of money will limit the number of contributors in the copyright product. In contrast, in the open source products, people don’t have to worry about money because so many people are just volunteering.
Key factors for the development of the open source community
Communication is the main tool to develop the open source community. There are so many communication tools are available such as IRC channels, blogs, emails, conferences like FSOSS and much more. By means of these communication tools, a community member can interact with another community member, discuss issues with each other and solve those issues quickly and effectively. Community building was never that much easy before the invention of these communication tools.
Open source communities which support add-ons and extensions grow faster compare to those communities which do not support add-ons and extensions. If the product supports extensions, a member can contribute a code without understanding the whole structure of the product. He just needs to know the code around which he wants to edit. In these manners number of contributors can increase drastically.
“Release early, release often” is another 'mantra' which helps growth of the community. It means that a product should be up-to-date. As an example; Microsoft takes around 3-4 years between each releases of Microsoft office. The differences between Office 2003 and Office 2007 are so many that they are sometimes hard to adopt. However, if they would have released often with little bit of changes, users might adopt it more easily. On the other hand, anyone can get the latest trunk version of Mozilla Firefox from the trunk and use it. In this case, it is much easier to adopt changes because small changes do not affect users that much.
“Contributors are God” and “Trust the community!!!”
He also discussed the importance of contributors in the community. He strongly believes that the community is nothing without contributors. That is the reason why he emphasised on making contributors happy and satisfied. If contributors are satisfied, community growth can be unbelievable. And if contributors are not satisfied, the community starts breaking. In short, “contributors are God” to him.
Another quote he emphasised on was, “trust the community.” Anyone who want to be a part of the community he/she should have faith in the community and community members. Newcomers should believe in the seniors and try to walk on seniors’ path to success. Similarly, seniors should not misguide newcomers in the community. In short, It is responsibility of newcomers and seniors to trust the community and make community running. If everybody trusts everybody in the community, the community will become a great place for everybody - contributors and users.
Comparision between two great Talks
It is very hard to conclude and compare two great talks in a paragraph. Still let me just give a try:
Both spokespersons were masters in their fields. Dan is master in Thunderbird community while Greg is master in Linux community. Now it seems obvious that Dan’s talk would be more focused on Thunderbird community. However, Greg’s talk was not specific to Linux community. It was in general for whole open source community. Dan’s talk was more about responsibilities for a member of the community; what a member should do and what he should not do to make community and the product better. But, Greg was more focusing on what a community can do and should do to make contributors happier and more satisfied. Though both were targeting different part of the open source world, they both were aiming to make the community utopia.
FSOSS and its talks somehow conflicted with some of my ideas that I was having for the open source community. First of all, I used to think that there is only one open source community exists. But, when I attended some talks, especially above mentioned two talks, I came to realise that the whole open source community is made of small open source communities. Everybody is totally different from each other just to accomplish the single goal- the goal of free software and open source development. Just an example: Mozilla corporation is providing free software and their source code to make the web faster, safer and reliable. Similarly, Fedora people are providing free operating systems. In short, both are making the software world free and open for all users.
Secondly, Dan’s talk introduced me to the topic of Debian effect. Dan was denying the existence of the Debian effect in the Thunderbird community. But, I am having a strange feeling that Thunderbird community is also affected by Debian effect because nothing is perfect in the world. The way some people argued in the room created a negative feeling for the effect. One thing I learned from the Debian effect is to do my part in the community ignoring what others are doing.
After attending Greg's talk, I became his fan. I think that he is having the most clear concept for the open source community. Until today, I was just assuming that free softwares are better. And the major reason why it is better is "it is FREE". Users do not need to pay for it. In addition, he showed features vs. contributors graph. The graph showed the growth in features for the open source products till infinity. However, there is no growth in the copyright products after certain amount of time due to financial limitations. In addition, Greg's talk give me an open minded vision looking into the community which focuses more on the contributors rather than community itself.
FSOSS was my first technical event I have ever attended in my life. I was a bit of nervous thinking that I am nothing compare to the people which are coming to the conference. I was also afraid to talk to anybody in the conference but still I started the conversation with Mr. Dan. Surprisingly, he gave me a very warm invitation to talk and he interestingly discussed my problems. He filled me with the confident to work in the open source community. Overall, the event opened a door for me to the open source community and I am looking forward to carry on with the open source world.