Canonical and the Ubuntu Community Make Peace: Page 2

The latest Canonical vs. community uproar has been defused, but for how long?
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On his blog, Bacon described the incident as "yet another storm in a teacup," and suggested three problems that the Ubuntu community needed to address.

To begin with, Bacon expanded on the need to act in keeping with the Ubuntu Code of Conduct, and treat other opinions respectfully:

Respect must always be present in our discourse, irrespective of the content of our opinions; without it we become a barbaric people and lose the magic that brought this wonderful set of minds together in the first place. There is simply no excuse for rudeness, and inflammatory FUD that has no evidence to back it up other than presumed ill-intent serves nothing but to demotivate folks and ratchet up the flames, as opposed to resolve the issue and make things better.

Bacon continued by emphasizing the need for trust based on meritocracy—or, more precisely, the recognition of everyone's previous contributions and an avoidance of "paranoid debate" that questions people's motives.

In particular, he tried to address distrust of Canonical. "I can assure you there is no nefarious scheme at place at Canonical," he wrote. "If I felt Canonical was fundamentally trying to demote and shut the community out, I wouldn't work here."

Finally, while Bacon agreed that communication could be improved, he emphasized that "Ubuntu is not a consensus-based community. It would be impossible and impractical to notify our community of every decision we make, let alone try to base a decision on a majority view."

However, he suggested that more information could be provided to team leaders and talked of the need to find the right degree of transparency in decision-making.

Some might argue that Bacon is guilty of a tone argument—that is, that he is focusing on how things are said, rather than what is said, in order to deflect criticism.

However, Bacon described such a response to me as "absolute nonsense," suggesting that accusations of a tone argument were, in fact, a deflection in themselves. To Bacon, the idea that people are more likely to listen when you are polite is so basic that he says, "I find it annoying that we even need to have this conversation."

In fact, Bacon's calls for respect are so consistent and so obviously sincere that they are probably a major reason that such incidents have been defused over the years. Volunteers might feel dubious about Shuttleworth or Canonical executives they only see occasionally, but Bacon's example is more frequently seen and harder to doubt. Another community manager might make the same efforts at transparency and be less effective.

Temporary and Permanent Solutions

That's not to say that community divisions within Ubuntu are solved—just that the immediate issue has been handled. Many potential divisions in the community, such as the one between the community and the Canonical design team, go back several years, and are not likely to be defused by one person's example or a single online meeting.

As andrewsomething commented on Bacon's blog, "While I think the Ubuntu.com community link issue was a bit overblown, it does point to some real fault lines in the community." Possibly, the Ubuntu community is simply too large for many members to feel part of its whole.

In addition, as community volunteer Valorie Zimmerman blogs, the approaches used by Bacon seem to ignore the class differences within the community. Apparently alluding to the differences in status between Canonical staff and Ubuntu volunteers, Zimmerman writes:

There are always power imbalances and privileges. . . . The fact of class must be acknowledged, and those with privilege and power must realize what they have, and use them on behalf of the project. . . . Recently there has been a breakdown—or an apparent breakdown—in that hierarchy of function in Ubuntu. And I think that both those inside Canonical and those outside, perceive that the other is the one causing that break. So, some repair is needed.

For now, Ubuntu seems quiet, thanks to the traditional free software tools of transparency and open discussion, as well as Bacon's personal example. However, considering that the link issue was the second in three months to create dissent in the community, you might wonder whether these advantages are enough to prevent a third or fourth. But whether Ubuntu can break the apparent cycle in the long term remains uncertain—and the fact of that uncertainty could matter as much as any additional outbreak of discontent.

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Tags: open source, Linux, Ubuntu, Canonical, community

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