2 May 2005 company   » (Master)

The fun debate

I think the real reasons why it's not fun to hack on Gnome have nothing to do with the usefulness of the API, libs, platform or whatever. After all, Linus sounds like it was fun to write a kernel from scratch. There's so much interesting stuff to hack on (at least for me), there's no technical reason why Gnome hacking shouldn't be fun for at least the next ten years. No, I guess the real reason - and this has been touched by Seth , Martin and James without really noticing it: It's the community. It's how you feel when you communicate with the people the make up the project you hack on. And let me tell you one thing: The Gnome and GStreamer communities were great fun to be in, but they're less and less so.

I always compare the Gnome community some years ago to a college community, while the current community to me looks more like a corporate community. The names are chosen to show what the primary values for this communities are. You'll probably come up with better definitions than I can, so I'll just give some examples:

  • Some time ago there wasSullivan. This was the last such big (typical college level) joke I'm aware of in Gnome. The file in that link was last modified one and a half years ago.
  • I'm sure D-Bus is a cool technology, it's just that noone seems to care about it. At least there's noone on IRC that I could ask when I have a question. Yes, there's a mailing list, but mailing lists are not a good idea when you just have a small question. They are very bad when you have followup questions and they outright suck if you want to have a discussion.
  • In fact IRC vs mailing lists is a good example of college vs community culture. IRC is a fast, informal and lossy (in the sense that you sometimes have to ask stuff twice) way to communicate with each other. Sounds a lot like talking at parties. Mailing lists instead are a slower, formal, archived and regulated way of communicating. Sounds a lot like filing taxes to me. Both are definitely necessary, but you decide what's more fun.
  • A lot of discussion about directions, design and whatnot happens out of reach of the broader community. I'm currently witnessing this in the GStreamer project, where the next version is practically designed behind "closed doors". These closed doors are more often than not the office space of a company (in the GStreamer case it's really nice offices btw). But when half of the community is part of a company and somehow locks me out, there's not a lot of fun in it.
  • If the most important thing about a patch is to be sure to not break ABI compatibility, it's certainly less fun than when the most important thing about a patch is what cool new features it adds. (I am fully aware that compatibility is important and I don't think that should change, but it definitely is less fun).
  • The conference that represets the community costs money. Nuff said.
  • The treatment of newcomers is interesting, too. College communites tend to welcome people with open arms. On IRC they are just integrated into the running discussion. Corporate communities tend to not have IRC channels and answer with one-liners on mailing lists. (See the D-Bus part above).
  • Fun communities have fans.
When I first joined Gnome, it was fun and I thought "Hey, I'd like to do that for a living." These days with people even quitting their jobs working on Gnome, I'm not so sure.

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