Community Must Value All Open Source Contributions

Brendan Scott, September 2008

Mary Gardiner has written a blog post about how to get females involved in projects.  I want to emphasise one of the points she makes:

Don’t discount what women do [‘what women do’ here used as ‘community management, documentation and similar activities’, via Geek chicks: second thoughts]

I believe there is a blind spot here for everyone in the open source community.  It is nothing for an open source company to fund development effort, and hire x coders (for some non-trivial x) but to suggest that any other contribution to the community be made is to cross the line on acceptable suggestions.  But the community does not rely on coders alone.  The best code in the world is useless if no one knows of it, or if it is hidden behind a terrible user interface, or can’t be licensed because lawmakers have outlawed it (eg  encryption code).  I have hinted at this problem in my post on FLOSS best practices.  This is what I am referring to by the references to KPIs in that post.

Because numbers are relatively easy to come by, it is comparatively easy to criticise companies for not submitting enough code to one project or another but, there are other things that a contribution to the community should be measured against. Unfortunately, the word which has filtered back to me is that managers are not assessed against these soft contributions.  It should therefore come as no surprise that companies are not committing to them.

It would be nice to see the community demand that organisations support the whole breadth of the open source community.  In this way, a more rounded view of what makes a good open source corporate citizen could be created.  This would include things such as supporting marketing, documentation or communication efforts, the making of submissions to governments or courts (or supporting compliance initiatives) and the myriad of other things which are essential to a functional community associated with either a project or with open source generally.


4 Responses to “Community Must Value All Open Source Contributions”

  1. 1 Jan 23 September 2008 at 5:21 pm

    I am a guy, programmer, and technical writer.

    I have given up on trying to contribute source code or documentation changes to open source projects. The red tape and attitude to be faced with is incredible. I have seen it all. From “you absolutely must use this editor” to “we don’t accept spelling corrections”. Patches being ignored for three years and then dismissed with the comment they are outdated. Well, yes, guess how that could happen? And don’t get me started on companies requiring one to sign a 20 page legal document.

    The number of corporate or individual open source projects run by sociopaths is incredible. And I just don’t want to deal with these people any more.

  2. 2 David Bruce 23 September 2008 at 9:50 pm

    Hi Jan,

    If you want to help with educational software for kids, you can certainly contribute without any of the issues you mentioned. I am the maintainer for “Tux, Of Math Command” and “Tux Typing”. Our website is:

    I don’t know what projects you had bad experiences with, but don’t write off the whole open source world.

    David Bruce

  3. 3 Giselle 24 September 2008 at 12:01 am

    what is this open source community?

  4. 4 aronzak 4 October 2008 at 7:27 pm

    The page you refer to links to an FSM article on how to get women involved in the open source community. Some of the suggestions include:
    – Using forums, as it is a more personal form of communication and discourages macho egos
    – Using higher end languages like Python as women taking care of families may have less time.

    I think it’s worth noting that both of these are happening.More broadly, there are now more non-geeks using Linux distributions with the efforts of some groups to focus on the end user. See the demise of Debian in favour of Ubuntu. Personality differences are still a problem, but they are fading away.

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