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How could you force volunteer to do what they don’t want to?

Seems like a lot of people don’t grasp the easy (to me) concept that you can’t really force volunteers to do something they don’t want to do.

Gentoo is currently maintained by volunteers. I think this works quite fine for the technical part, we improved our quality over the years, there are improvements to the tree every day, since last night you can also find KDE 4 in the tree to be used (if you’re really daring).

What most of us have a problem with is public relations, and I admitted this before too. Donnie already wrote about this, and he’s an expert in the field so I’ll add nothing to what he wrote. I also think we should get more documentation in place, especially for the development parts; I tried to do my best with my maintainer’s guides, but I admit it’s a big time commitment, even more than the actual development.

People complaints about Gentoo Foundation trouble causing GWN to disappear and the 2007.1 release to be skipped are totally out of sanity’s area. Those two failures are technical failures, there’s no way that the presence of Gentoo Foundation would have changed anything in the way GWN and releases are handled.

As I said before, I care very little about Gentoo Foundation, I don’t care if it exists or not because it doesn’t change the way I’m going to continue my work as a developer, being just a bureaucratic entity used to handle donations, copyrights and other menial tasks which little or nothing have to do with the technical side of Gentoo, which is what I have at heart.

So, as long as the Gentoo Foundation is only there to provide a mean to handle copyrights, trademarks, and to take care of the donations Gentoo receives as a whole, I have nothing against a single person taking care of it. I have no problem with Daniel taking it over. To me, it’s just the same if it exists or not. I think this is true for the majority of developers too, otherwise we wouldn’t have ended up not having enough candidates for the new trustees, and the whole problem with the Foundation lapsing wouldn’t have found its way in the first place. Another option is to get the project handled by SFC or SPI, I don’t care which one of those, as long as they take away the legal details from the developers not caring about the legal details, I’m fine.

Again, as I said, what I don’t want to see is Gentoo Foundation taking a technical role. It’s not there for that, it’s there to get the legal details away from the techs; keep the technical details being the only thing the developers need to be aware of.

I’m not saying there’s no space for improvement. I think the perfect setup would have three main “departments” in Gentoo: Foundation handling the legal side, Developers doing what they do best: developing (being ebuilds, documentation, or infrastructure), and Public Relations which takes care of keeping users informed. Tech people aren’t the best people you can find to take care of public relations, this is sure. Even a comparatively smaller project like Amarok has techs and pr separated: the Amarok team takes care of writing the software, the Rokymotion team takes care of public relations, fundraising and so on.

I do think that the homepage would need a bit of overhaul. We had to give up once last year with the site restyle, as Curtis disappeared, we might as well try to get a new restyle for it. It would probably be a good idea to put at least the headlines from Planet Gentoo on the site, as Planet Gentoo is for most developers the main way to reach users, and we should focus a lot more on that in my opinion.

I’m not saying that Daniel should stay away from Gentoo as a whole. For what I’m concerned, he’s just not the kind of guy I’d like to take any order from, as in my opinion he’s not the best manager of people I’ve seen. And mind you, I’m not a good manager of people myself, I know what I’m doing wrong on that – and I don’t care enough to change it as I don’t need to be a manager of people – so I can see what he’d been doing wrong when he returned for a day last year.

I don’t care he started the project, as to me, he’s just a person like any other once he left the project. I don’t expect his personal technical views to be taken any differently than mine, Mike’s or Ferdy’s, as I expect technical views to be judged only on their technical basis.

I don’t judge Daniel for what he did when he left the project the first time, as one of the users pointed out in the comments to my last blog, I wasn’t around at the time. I can judge what people says about him, especially people I trust the opinion of. But even ignoring what I’ve been told, I don’t need to have any information about that to judge if I want him as tech lead or not. I said already what I think on that and I won’t repeat it.

As about judging on someone else’s opinion, I think it’s not a bad thing. We all tend to do that to some extent, as we delegate representative to take action on things, at least in a good part of the world, by electing them. When I’m voting, say, for Antonio Di Pietro (Italian politician for Italia dei Valori party, which I voted at the last political elections of April 2006 – yeah I’m a commie :P), I’m accepting his opinions on matters I won’t have my direct say on. The same happens when I accept the opinions of an older (in term of development time) colleague on Daniel. I have no trouble with that, when I have faith on the capacity of that colleague to judge stuff, on a given plane (technical or otherwise).

It’s more or less the same reason why, at the last council meeting, I was able to quit before the end, trusting Donnie to say and do the right thing about the CoC. I know he’s way better than me about that stuff, and I trust him to do the right choice. And I won’t be pissed off if I don’t personally like the outcome (up to now I have no problem, by the way), for two reasons: he probably has good reasons for what he does, and I decided by myself to leave every detail on that up to him, I can’t complain.

As for what concerns developers ignoring users’ wishes about Daniel’s return… I think those users has no idea of what goes to be a developer, plain and simple, and most times would wish for something that would actually not work. _[Edit: I was made notice that this phrase sounds a bit harsh and overgeneralised. so I added the those part on it.]

For instance, I’m sure that a lot of users would like that we did 247 maintenance of the tree, taking at maximum a couple of hours to get a new version of a package in portage. Sure it would be nice, but there’s the obstacle that most of the developers have a job, and Gentoo is barely part of it, if at all. Even I, being mostly a part-time worker at contract, and being at home in front of my box most of the day almost all days, tend to have something else to take care of sometimes.

Users don’t likely know what will happen if Daniel is back – Heck, most of us devs don’t know either! – but they are willing to push for it just because it would be the change, and they feel a change is needed; if the outcome is not what they wanted, they’ll probably scream to get rid of him again, or simply decide Gentoo is not what they want anymore and get to use something else, who cares if developers who committed a lot of time into the project feel the failure on their shoulder.

I don’t think a radical change is really needed, I think we need to change a little bit the way we interact with users though: developers aren’t good at volunteering information, it’s not a stereotype or a cliché, it’s as real as this blog. The problem is that the technical-minded people tend to not get into details of what they find obvious. This is probably why there is little documentation around in a lot of projects (xine, HAL, …), even when the users would need it. I’m afraid I also suffer from that issue, even if I’m trying to focus myself to get rid of that for a couple of years at least. As the developers can’t volunteer information, we need some staffers to hang around developers, and ask them what they are doing, how’s stuff proceeding and so on. I for one wouldn’t mind if somebody asked me “Hey how’s it going on with PulseAudio maintenance? Did you add the glib USE flag yet? Any change ready to be done in the next weeks? Need help with anything?”, to then publish an article on the GMN.

As Steve said already: my email is there for you to use to write to me, feel free to enquiry me about what I’m going to do for something you care about. I tend to write a lot in my blog about what I’m doing though, so the only thing I’d ask you is to first make sure you read my last two blog entries on the topic you’re going to ask about, before asking.

Comments 12
  1. Hello Diego,i’m keeping a look on your blog for really long time, even when you resigned for some time, so i know what you have offered and i’m really really grateful. I also hope you are ok now from that health problem :)But imo in this occasion i think you are simple wrong.You said that users don’t know a thing about developing which is wrong.As u said in the last post you switched from debian to gentoo simple cause you wanted to have freedom to change things and compile stuff. Now i think you devs have forget exactly that; Users tend to write ebuilds and fix things cause gentoo offered that “opportunity to change things out of the box”. At least the guys i know and use gentoo all of them know to write from simple to complex ebuilds and change things. What the hell! Thats why i use gentoo anyway!You know it’s not just a tool for developers. So we are not a bunch of ubuntu users.Most of the users have a technical background.You guys also forget that devs are also coming from user base so plz reconsider to hear users demands more serious.About Robbins. There is a spread misconception for Daniel among devs (yes, it’s a lie, he is not eating little kids 🙂 as much as users think Gentoo is dying.Gentoo is not dying, but also not going anywhere. Growing is not only bumps and fixes and new ebuilds but also to introduce new ideas and innovate.Anyway you are mature people. I believe (hope), as u overcome technical differences, also overcome differences with Robbins and make everyone happy =)

  2. I always appreciate your blog posts. Thanks for posting.”I think users has no idea of what goes to be a developer, plain and simple, and most times would wish for something that would actually not work.”This is an over-generalization, to speak of “users” in general like this. I know there are a lot of users (sometimes very vocal users) who have unreasonable expectations, make silly demands, have bad ideas based on ignorance of the situation, and don’t understand how much work there is in keeping Gentoo up and running. Maybe you’re directing your post at them.But there are a LOT of users who ARE developers, just not Gentoo developers. Isn’t that the kind of user Gentoo is made for anyways? Tech-savvy users? Developers?We’re not all idiots. And we do understand how much work you guys do, and we really appreciate it. Many of us don’t understand the inner-workings of Gentoo and Portage to the degree that the devs do, but that doesn’t mean we know NOTHING about it, or about software development in general.I very much liked rich0’s (a Gentoo dev) comment on the forums recently:“I was a user for many years before I started getting involved – and for all I know the non-contributing gentoo user might have written half of firefox or whatever that many of us gentoo devs take for granted.”If the users are asking for something, and it’s a bad idea (many / most ideas likely ARE bad ideas), then ignore it. But ignore it because it’s a bad idea, NOT because it happens to be said by mere “users”.”As the developers can’t volunteer information, we need some staffers to hang around developers, and ask them what they are doing, how’s stuff proceeding and so on.”I really think that’s a good idea. A lot of the “OMG Gentoo is dying!” comments are made because people are ignorant of what’s really going on behind the scenes. If users are better informed, everyone wins.

  3. I didn’t want to intend that _every_ user ignores what it is to be a developer. If you read my phrase, it started with “As for what concerns developers ignoring users’ wishes about Daniel’s return…”, I was referring to those users, sorry if it wasn’t clear enough, reading it again now, it actually might seem a bit more harsh than I intended it in the first place, I suppose I should be fixing up that, thanks both of you for the input on this 🙂

  4. I was just wondering if you knew of a list somewhere that listed information to the effect of who is responsible for which package? It would be nice to have a file in /usr/portage/ like, package.maintainers, That would make it easier for a user like me to contact the correct dev in regards to a particular package.

  5. you can check the ebuild header or the Changelog.It says who committed the ebuild

  6. “Seems like a lot of people don’t grasp the easy (to me) concept that you can’t really force volunteers to do something they don’t want to do.”This is an oversimplification.There is a spectrum that ranges from “I will do only the things that I want to do, regardless of how necessary or beneficial they are” to “I will do whatever is most beneficial to the project or most needed, regardless of what I personally want to do.”It is perfectly possible to have developers who care about Gentoo as a whole and are willing to do certain things that they otherwise might not want to do because they wish the project to succeed.All organizations have these concerns. There are team players, who are willing to subordinate their personal desire to that of the project as a whole, and there are people who will never subordinate their personal desire to anything else.This last group of people is toxic to a project, since you end up with really important things being left undone, and the things that get done are often important to the dev alone and not to anybody else.

  7. “How could you force volunteer to do what they don’t want to?”You dont need to. Otherwise open source wouldnt be fun anymore. But making commitments and fullfilling them is essential. The commitment is the voluntary part, the fullfillment is not – its obligatory (however, it is only enforced by honor/reputation).Of cause, devs have a life beyond gentoo and there are always unknown factors (esp. with software), so sometimes it might not be possible to keep what was promised. However, in that case its to duty of the one making the commitment to cancel it, because people confide in you.Originally plans said gentoo will make four releases a year. Originally a GWN arrived weekly. Originally the foundation should take care of the legal stuff. Without a clear warning that things changed everytime a commitment is not met results in a loss of trust. And for a community project like gentoo trust is essential.Personally I think gentoo is a still a great project technically, and I thank every dev for their work. But Im sorry I wouldnt use gentoo for new installs on my job. Dependability is to much of an issue currently.Fortunatly that can change. Dependability is possible even for a volunteer project and you dont need to “force volunteers do do things they dont want to do” for it.Have Fun,Björn

  8. I agree that dependability is possible even for a volunteer project. And that’s why I don’t think there’s need to force one and just one mindset on the whole thing.And I didn’t mean to say that one should only do what he cares about and just that. I just think that if someone thinks that doing something is wrong, and wants _not_ to do that, there’s no way to force him to do that.Easy example, if there was a dictator, whoever he were, who told me “get rid of support for ARM on all your ebuild, and don’t even think about adding a patch for that”, then I’d just tell him to shut up, and either continue my way or resign from Gentoo first thing.There is one big difference between “you have to do this, that you want it or not” and “if you want to contribute you have to respect this”. The latter is usually acceptable, the first is not.Cynyr, acella, please don’t look at the ChangeLog for those things, you most likely will end up mailing the wrong person, this happened to me quite a few times, as I used to touch ebuilds I don’t take care of to fix minor details or to add keywords. The proper way to find out who takes care of the ebuild is usually to check the metadata.xml file that is in the same directory as the ebuild. That’s exactly what we developers do too.

  9. ‘There is one big difference between “you have to do this, that you want it or not” and “if you want to contribute you have to respect this”. The latter is usually acceptable, the first is not.’I dont think devs should be ordered to do/not do stuff. But I think gentoo should have two heads controlling and supervising each other. One is the the Concil – it heads the technical aspects of gentoo (portage, ebuilds, releases …). The other – lets call it a “strategic council” – does what management does in company – in a volunteer compatible way: set priorities and supervise progess. It should of cause not have unlimited power. It cannot order anything, but it might force decisions, and should have a view on the healthiness of the project as a whole. It might ask “Hey, RelEng what are the chances of a 2007.1 release?”, “Hey council, please decide if GLEP XXX should be implemented. If not, this GLEP shouldnt be discussed on offical channels for XX weeks to allow updates to the GLEP and prevent flamewars.”Also some subprojects are much better gouvered by this “strategic council” than by the (current) council: PR, legal, DevRel, UserRel, Forums for example. Members of the “strategic council” should be recruited from these projects and should lead them, just as the council does for technical issues.the original idea is here:… (please mind it is just a random rambling, so its pretty rough)I might write this idea down in a clearer form as a proposal, if there is any hope this might get considered seriously. What do you think?Have Fun, Björn

  10. Diego the reason for the last resign i saw on gentoo planet was exactly cause the dev (Roy) didn’t have (or he thought he didn’t have) enough freedom to continue his project in gentoo…I mean something that makes you feel free there is a chance to be a jail for another guy.So who is defining what is freedom in the project? Not everyone can be satisfied because all want to keep their freedom, which you simple can’t. And then flames start.Probably you will ask me to check your first post about how you overcome differences and that, probably, Roy was just an exception. I believe just pulling the string it’s time consuming, reeeally bad for your mental health (and not just your mentality right?) and, mainly, that aproach almost remove the element of innovation from both poles.Diego, except gentoo mailing lists i’m also subscribed to fedora one , mainly for selinux development.All that time i have never seen a single guy to whine that fedora leader forced him to work on something he didn’t want to.Also, a leader can also make a fair use of project man power.You know what i’d love to see some time?I’d like to see someone to say “ok guys both suggestions for improvements are really cool, STFU now, stop flaming and both teams start working NOW and when you will have prepare a fairly nice amount of work we will review your work”You guys flamming for months trying to prove each other that i’m right and you are wrong in theory and some of the things you flame are just BS >.<Hell, why you started a flame in the damn council reminder and meeting items too, anyway? whatever xDps: Thnks for the tip =D

  11. “We can’t force volunteers to do XY” is consequence of Gentoo’s multipart nature and of interaction of its parts.It has been conceived without much thought put into organisation, politics etc and so naturally it works best with near term technical questions but fails with mid and long term policy and stategy ones.Yes, I suppose Gentoo Foundation can’t stop the technical prtocesses that are souldf of Gentoo, but it surely can make whole thing less attractive on the long run.Things that I miss most with Gentoo is that it has no commercial option ( both for a customer that needs support as well as for some support provider )and its non modular structure- I can’t just fork off at some point if I feel too many assholes are poluting my space…That lack of commercial option and defined coexistencce of commercial/noncommercial bogs everything down.Maybe it wouldn’t be such bad idea to have also Gentoo Inc. for commercial customers…

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