Speaking of Linux and communities, my talk for Cloud Open was accepted. I’ll be talking about “Scaling your community from tens to hundreds of contributors”
The OpenStack project has broken many records for open source projects: it’s currently one of the largest and fastest growing ones out there. In just three years OpenStack has attracted over 1,000 developers with over 300 active committers per month, hundreds of patches reviewed per week and hundreds of companies involved with dozens of them strongly committed to OpenStack. What makes OpenStack different from other projects? What fuels the extraordinary growth of OpenStack’s community of developers and users around the world and sets it apart from other open source projects? In this talk I’ll walk through examples of other communities that I’ve been deeply involved with, from the Free Software Foundation to the Funambol sync server to identify the keys to OpenStack’s success. Participants will take away ideas to replicate with their own projects.
See you in New Orleans on September 18th.
Linux kernel community has long been considered the greatest of all the open source communities. Linus Torvalds and his team has set the ground for open source development, defined processes and tools adopted and shared by other successful projects. The Linux kernel mailing list with its public review of patches and git, the tool to manage the incredible flow of code among thousands of people in tens of different branches laid the ground for many other open source projects. Even OpenStack doesn’t get close to those number (although OpenStack is only a three years old toddler and the kernel is old enough to vote and drink.) Linus has built an incredible community and an impressive culture around it. A culture where technology rules everything and also profanity and insults are common. And the results are clear: it worked for Linux kernel.
This doesn’t mean that any community can live and prosper like the Linux kernel with the same culture of harsh criticisms, middle fingers or what Linus calls management by perkele. In fact, I think nobody else can afford managing open source communities the way Linus does. Torvalds can get away saying things like “trying to come up with some ‘code of conduct’ that says that people should be ‘respectful’ and ‘polite’ is just so much crap and bullshit”. I certainly can’t and chances are you can’t either.
Now if you ask me if Torvalds should change his attitude my answer is: no, he is what he is and he’s made what he’s made because (or despite, who cares: results matter) of what he is. Should his lieutenants be assholes too? Of course not, and that’s why the kernel is still one of the most successful open source projects out there.
I’ve discussed recently with a friend of mine photographer, illustrator and animator about the status of GIMP, Inkscape and Blender. The good news is that professionals increasingly know about these free software tools, which is already a great step forward compared to the past years. Pierpaolo acknowledged how powerful all of them are but also noticed how different they are all from other similar software in the same field. It occurred to me that while other desktop tools like Open/LibreOffice have ways to raise money to finance the development of new features, improve the user experience and interface, etc Gimp and Inkscape are primarily developed by volunteers (Blender’s development is financed by the non profit Blender Foundation through grants and donations). This whole led me to think again about how hard it is for free software projects to invest time and energy in refactoring the GUI when there are so many cooler things to add to the core functions of the software (think of the eternal complaint about quadricromy support in GIMP). Would these be interested in improving their UI if they had more money available or if they had actual ‘customers’ instead of users?
When I was thinking about all this I learned that Sourceforge released a new program to fund development of free/open source software with a revenue sharing program called DevShare. Reading the press release, DevShare offers free software developers the option to bundle extra software with their downloads and share revenues with SourceForge. When a user downloads FileZilla for example, she’s offered the option to install also another piece of software with FileZilla. SourceForge is not the first site to offer bundled downloads but it does it with a better approach, avoiding traps. They looked at best practice policies to avoid confusing end-users with misleading installation flows and promises to provide clear documentation and procedures to uninstall undesired applications.
The revenue sharing with the developers is what is most interesting to me: developers who voluntarily decided to join similar programs are often required to spend time integrating their applications with third party installers, and have limited control over what and how that’s offered to their end-users. SourceForge’s program on the other hand seems to be very open and transparent towards the developers. I’ll be following the evolution of the program, hoping that free lance open source developers find motivation.