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.