23 Jun 2005 mbanck   » (Journeyer)

The Ubuntu Community Model

Following up on my earlier post about the Ubuntu development model, this one will shed some light on how the Ubuntu community works. This is also to prepare myself a bit for my talk on that subject at LinuxTag tomorrow.

It is clear that Ubuntu managed to create a very strong and vibrant community in a very small time. This is largely due to a clear focus on creating a friendly environment people would like to get involved in, rather than having some elite society. The key points of their community are:

  • The Ubuntu community is structured as follows: On the top, there is the `Self Appointed Benevolent Dictator For Life' (SABDFL), Mark Shuttleworth. Then there are the Technical Board (currently Matt Zimmerman Scott James Remnant and Mark Shuttleworth) and the Community Council (currently Benjamin 'mako' Hill, Mark Shuttleworth, Colin Watson, and James Troup). Huge parts of the community are further organized in specific teams, like the kernel team, the desktop team, the porting teams, the documentation team or the various localization teams.

  • As can be seen from above, Mark Shuttleworth is not just the guy throwing all the money at the developers and marketing people, he is actively involved in large parts of the development and directly interacts with the community. On the one hand, this means somebody with a great vision and charisma is leading the community and Ubuntu in general, on the other hand, there were some ex-cathedra decisions in the past the community did not support (most notably changing default Nautilus behaviour only days before the Hoary release)

  • While the Technical Board steers the development of the Ubuntu distribution, the Community Council governs the evolution of the community. Both have public IRC meetings (including public minutes) every two weeks with a detailed agenda anybody can contribute to in order to get their concerns discussed. The members of both are appointed for a period of two years.

  • There is the Code of Conduct which covers the behaviour from community members in any kind of communication, electronic or in real life. They are expected to be considerate, respectful and collaborative; flamewars, personal attacks and trolling are not tolerated. On the one hand, this makes it clear to everybody on what terms they are joining the community, on the other hand it also makes it easy to identify and possibly expulse people violating these principles.

  • There are several levels of commitment to the Ubuntu community. Everybody who did a substantial contribution to Ubuntu (contributing documentation to the wiki, triaging bugs, helping users in #ubuntu) can become a 'Member' of the Ubuntu community, if the Community Council approves them. Members who want to become Maintainers (i.e. upload package) are supposed to find a mentor who reviews their packages and helps them along when questions arise. Once the mentor is satisfied with the members' contribution they will recommend them to the Technical Board and the Community Council, which guarantee to process the request within one month. Upload rights are usually restricted to the `universe' section of the archive initially, and Maintainers need to revisit Technical Board approval to upload to other components as well.

  • They have a wiki. Besides mailing lists and IRC, this is their major way of communicating, and it seems to be working very well. As new content can be written very easy even by newcomers (no web admins need to check in things into CVS or change some static HTML pages), they have gotten a huge amount of contributions for end user documentation, HOWTOs and other practical things. Also, most members of the Ubuntu community have a wiki documenting their involvements.

  • A large focus of their community work is based on translations and localization. They have so-called LoCo Teams in various countries who help spread the word of Ubuntu, translate things into their language, form sub-communities in their language and represent Ubuntu at trade shows etc.

That's it, so far as I see, comments welcome. It is clear they are doing some things radically different to Debian, and it remains to be seen whether Ubuntu can serve as some kind of soap box for how the Debian community could evolve.

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