18 Nov 2009 badger   » (Journeyer)

Doing what we do Best

By chance, I happened to see a conversation on #fedora-latam today about whether changes are needed in how Fedora is presented in Latin America. It was interesting (even if google translate couldn't do it justice) and left me thinking that there will be some contentious discussions in the near future but the latam ambassadors are doing good work to break some new areas for reaching new contributors.

Some of the issues raised:

  • What contributions make someone a valuable contributor?
  • What activities can grow the contributor base
  • How to measure and grow the active contributors?
  • How to work together as a latam group instead of individual communities in each country?

Bearing in mind that I'm not a Fedora Ambassador and not a member of the Latin American community, I'd like to contribute some thoughts to this.

What contributions are valuable

All constructive contributions are valuable.

Coders, packagers, and release engineers have always been valued in Fedora. However, a good number of us in Fedora are aware that there are other forms of contribution and those forms are just as important to cultivate. Documentation writers, designers, artists, translators, planners, end user support, teachers, etc. The trick is figuring out how to fit the special talents that someone has with a role that they can fill in Fedora.

Are some contributions more valuable than others? Yes. But it's not necessarily the contributions that we normally think of. It's important to any Linux distribution to have packagers, for instance, but most Linux distributions already have attracted a large number of those. Teachers and UI designers (in my Fedora experience) have been in short supply. That means that even though a Linux distribution could not survive without any packagers but it could survive without any UI designers, attracting one additional UI designer may more valuable than attracting another packager.

How to grow the contributor base?

With the understanding that we do need a varied contributor base, the ways that we grow and nurture those contributors changes. I think it's fairly common for free software developers to think of the process of contributing purely through their own experience. First, they were a computer user. Then they were a free software user. Then they became a free software coder. Or from computer user to system admin to Linux packager to software coder. The danger in this unspoken assumption is that not everyone has the desire to become a software coder in the end even if they have the desire to contribute to the free software community.

I think that one of the challenges that the Fedora Latin American community needs to address is to identify the steps designers, teacher, and other non-coders take as they become more and more involved in the project. Step by step:

  1. What prompted them to try Fedora?
  2. What kept them using it after the initial use?
  3. What got them involved in the Fedora Community as opposed to just being a Fedora user?
  4. What roles have they stepped into since they first became involved in Fedora?
  5. What roles do they want to fill eventually?

Answering these questions helps us to understand what motivates other new contributors and therefore become better at nurturing them as they grow as a Fedora contributor. For instance, let's say we had these answers (note, I'm making this story up; find some real stories for some real answers):

My teacher showed me Fedora in school. I discovered that inkscape was better for drawing than photoshop (which I didn't own a legal copy of anyway) and the gimp was just as good for photo manipulation after I got used to the slight differences. After that, I heard about the call for a Fedora 9 theme and submitted a mockup. Once I did that and started getting involved in critiquing the other submissions, I started hanging out on IRC and talking to the other Fedora contributors regularly. Now I'm on the design team and work on artwork for Fedora proper and localized versions of art for fedora-latam. I'm hoping to get more into UI Design in the future.

What are some things that we can draw from a story like this?

  • School is one venue for recruiting new people. Having events at schools and training teachers could both lead to more users.
  • Tools they needed to do work was more important early on than it being free as in speech. They were using photoshop for a job better served by a vector drawing program -- perhaps because they couldn't get a free (as in beer) copy of the latter. Showing people tools that are better for what they do than what they have now is one way to make an impression.
  • Fedora made a request for the particular type of assistance that the person could provide. The person didn't hang around asking how they could contribute. Having "contest"-like events can be an entry point for new contributors. Note that they stuck around to critique other people's work -- so design was the entrypoint but there was a smooth transition into contributing in other ways. This could also mean that equiping ambassadors with an understanding of how to get people who want to contribute in touch with someone that can give them a task and mentor them right away will lead to better contribution than to expect people to ask on email days after meeting the ambassador.
  • Real time communication played a role in forming a bond to the Fedora community.
  • The contributor feels like they belong to a group now (I'm on the design team).
  • They want to advance by learning how to do UI design. We should get some of our current UI designers to give a class on that.

If we have real stories to think about, we can be better at deciding what types of events we need to organize to get people interested in Fedora and what we need to do after the events to get those interested people involved as contributors, not just users.

Growing active contributors

The Fedora Account System has about 38,000 accounts. Roughly 17,000 of those have signed the cla. Roughly 2,500 belong to another group in addition to the cla_signed group. As the commitment to working on Fedora increases, the number of people who are working on those things decreases -- not just in Latin America but in the project as a whole. I don't have any valuable insight on how to tell that contributors will be active in Fedora but I do know that if the latam group figures out something that works very well, it won't be by copying what the project as a whole has already done. They might take pieces of what we do and adapt it but they will also need to experiment and try out new ideas. Not only because they have a different audience than other regions but also that what is being done in other regions has definite room for improvement.

Working Together for A Better Tomorrow

One thing that was brought up was that Latin America only has two commonly used languages. It should be much easier for latam to communicate and share resources (like documentation and posters) than Europe where there's a multitude of languages. And yet it seems like much of the work in fedora-latam is being done on a country by country level. Listening to the people doing the work, it seems like the main problem with working together is that collaboration takes time. When you have a small group of people that you can meet or talk to regularly, it is easy to arrange to do things together. When you expand to try to talk to other people that you only see once a year, have time zone differences, and see the needs of the people around you differently, you have a harder time getting anything done.

I think that we see this in all of the Fedora project, not just in fedora-latam. There are very definitely people who talk about things, people who make decisions, and people who get work done. There is overlap among the sets of people but there are other people who want to talk forever. I think that working together is definitely something to work towards but those who do things should not be slowed down by those who talk. If someone is willing to work on tools to help collaborate more, create it. If someone is off doing great things, report back what worked and what didn't so others can benefit from your experiences. Try to be open to other ideas but don't wait on other ideas being finalized to implement them if talking about them is dragging on and you think you can do a good job with the idea now.

Well, that's enough of my uninformed opinions for now :-) I'm just excited to hear what fedora-latam starts doing as they're pushing into new territory figuring out how to bring in contributors that are under represented in Fedora at this time.

espaƱol (google translate)

Latest blog entries     Older blog entries

New Advogato Features

New HTML Parser: The long-awaited libxml2 based HTML parser code is live. It needs further work but already handles most markup better than the original parser.

Keep up with the latest Advogato features by reading the Advogato status blog.

If you're a C programmer with some spare time, take a look at the mod_virgule project page and help us with one of the tasks on the ToDo list!