Ubuntu's Jono Bacon: Managing an Open Source Community: Page 3


You Can't Detect What You Can't See: Illuminating the Entire Kill Chain

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Posted December 15, 2009

Bruce Byfield

Bruce Byfield

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Lack of context

Something else that I would like to see in The Art of Community is a greater historical perspective. In person, Bacon talks about how collaborative communities began with small groups of developers then spread to include non-developers, but, in the book, the idea of communities is treated in isolation, as though it suddenly sprang into being with no antecedents.

This lack of history is especially noticeable in the discussion of leaders, which says little about how their role has evolved. As Bacon points out to me, he was one of the first community managers on the job, yet in The Art of Community, he only intermittently takes advantage of his unique perspective.

By contrast, in conversation Bacon remembers that, when he started, the job was "about cheerleading. It was about getting people excited, and about shouting from the rooftops. It was very much about motivating people. My job still includes a reasonable degree of that, but my job now is about building management and strategy around the community and helping parts of the community work."

Similarly, while Bacon tells dozens of personal stories, he could usefully talk more about how his understanding of the job has evolved. For instance, when first hired, he says, "I definitely went in with the naive notion that I could have a personal oversight on everything. And that's just completely impractical with Ubuntu. I mean, the community's so big. I have come down to the sober realization that I'm just not going to be aware of everything all the time.

"The other thing is, I was naive in the notion that I felt that most of my community had broadly the same perspective."

Now, Bacon adds, much of his work is understanding the differences in people -- "Learning about how people think, how people work together, and how people feel insecure and motivated about different things. How people work and how that can change -- all those sorts of things."

These changes are relevant to other community managers, because they show what is expected of the role, and, perhaps, how the role changes as a community grows from a small to a large one. Since Ubuntu is larger than most communities, such context might have helped the book become more relevant to small projects.

Starting a Conversation

These criticisms may sound like I see nothing of value in The Art of Community. But, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, I value Bacon's book partly because of its limitations and omissions.

The Art of Community is by no means the definitive treatment of its subject. But it is the first treatment of its subject, and that makes it valuable as a starting point for discussion. Even the book's faults are useful as conversational hooks to draw people into the discussion. They are starting points for thinking and dialogues. As Bacon himself says, the book is like the 1.0 release of software -- something that is not perfect but something to build on.

Whether a second edition is eventually released is still uncertain -- and will be for at least a year, according to Bacon -- but that does not change the importance of the conversations it is beginning to start. Those conversations alone make The Art of Community, faults and all, one of the more significant books about free software that has been released.

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Tags: open source, Linux, Ubuntu, free download

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