Before I go on, a few clarifications. Firstly, this blog post represents the views of me, myself, and I, and not the views of Canonical or the Ubuntu project. Secondly, throughout this blog entry when I say “community” I am referring to the wider Open Source and Free Software community, and not the Ubuntu community specifically.
The last week has been pretty intense. Many of you will have seen the discussion surrounding OpenRespect and the different write-ups, comments, and views expressed about it. While I expected OpenRespect to get some attention, I never expected the sheer level of attention it has received, and today I have been reflecting on it all and wanted to share some conclusions.
While I feel OpenRespect has raised some important points and people have shared some constructive feedback, I have made some mistakes, and I have always believed that mistakes deserve sincere apologies. I started OpenRespect with the best intentions and out of a love for our community and maintaining pleasant and healthy discourse, but honesty goes both ways, both in intent, and in putting your hands up when you screw the pooch and get something wrong. Let me re-cap the story so far.
The Back Story
Over the last few years I have been picking up on increasing levels of snarky, unconstructively critical, bickering and name-calling in our community; this is not just people having different views — differences in opinion and views are how we grow and learn — I am instead referring to the conduct in which these views are expressed. In addition to this, many community members would talk to me about this conduct and how it makes their Open Source and Free Software experience less enjoyable. Over the years I have also been privy to people who have left our community because they were tired of this conduct; good hackers and good contributors who just didn’t want to put up with back-biting any more.
Over the years I have taken a pretty calm approach to all of this, and I have always tried to be a calming voice to others who have experienced this disrespectful conduct and felt exasperated by it. I have tried to reassure these folks that when this snarky, unconstructively critical bickering is in full swing, just try and remember the bigger mission and importance of bringing freedom to people. My response has often been “there are good and bad days in the revolution” to help them focus on the bigger picture that we are all working towards. We are all doing great work here, in whichever way we choose to contribute to our wider Open Source and Free Software community.
But as time went on I had become more and more conflicted over all of this. I love this community. I have seen some of the most wonderful acts of human decency and sharing happen in our in community. I have seen countless people volunteer time away from their families and friends to help participate in something they care about. As far as I am concerned where people contribute doesnt matter, be it Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSuSE, GNOME, KDE, Linux…wherever…the point is that they feel a personal sense of empowerment that ultimately benefits the project they choose to join. I would then find it heartbreaking that these good people with the best intentions would get riled in disrespectful conduct from others, some of whom would offer little other than commentary from the peanut gallery.
I have always felt a personal sense that I need to do something about this. I appreciate and understand that I am seen as a leader in some parts of the community, and I believe that leaders have a responsibility and often have an increased chance at bringing change in dealing with risks to the health of our community. The challenge is that this is not a tractable problem: it is not something we can make a blueprint for, agree on some work items, and fix. It is a cultural problem, so how do we resolve it?
An Idea Of What To Do
A little while back I shared some of these concerns about these issues and that I was conflicted about what I could do to help. My initial idea was inspired by the Ubuntu Code Of Conduct to write a statement that reminds us all of some of the common elements in polite discourse and discussion. The Ubuntu Code Of Conduct has been a surprisingly effective tool in setting expectations around conduct in Ubuntu, and the majority of discussions in the Ubuntu community do indeed respect the attributes of the Code Of Conduct.
I shared this idea of a statement with two friends of mine who are also leaders in other projects, Stefano Zacchiroli the current Debian Project Leader and Jared K. Smith the current Fedora Project Leader, and I mentioned this in my original blog entry:
“Over the last two or three weeks I have been kicking around the idea of putting together some kind of statement, inspired by the Ubuntu Code Of Conduct, that many of us could put our names behind. In fact, I registered openrespect.org and started putting together a draft. I shared this idea with Stefano Zacchiroli the current Debian Project Leader and Jared K. Smith the current Fedora Project Leader, two guys who I have unending levels of respect in their viewpoints. They thought it was a pretty good idea to have a statement, and were happy to participate”.
Later in that blog entry I mentioned that I felt less and less comfortable putting the statement I had prepared online and in an official capacity as a specific project, and so shared the statement in the blog entry instead. Shortly after there was a series of public and private comments in support of the idea, as well as some feedback and criticisms.
In a fit of inspiration, and feeling that this positive feedback may suggest that I may be able to help with this non-tractable problem, and knowing full well that I didn’t have much time to go through a more lengthy back and forth process with Stefano and Jared to get a text that represents the full community (which would likely result in ire from others who were not involved who disagree with the statement anyway), I put the statement (with a few suggestions from others from original blog entry) up on openrespect.org and announced it. I made it clear that the the statement was my take on respect.
Since then there has been multiple articles in the press, blog entries, and lots of comments, and a really divided mix of opinion on OpenRespect. Many have expressed that they feel OpenRespect is an important and worthwhile effort, and many have criticized it for various reasons.
Some of the criticisms I think have been reasonable, and some less so, and while I have sought to clarify areas of concern, some of these clarifications have been either missed or some cases ignored. Before I go on, I want to tend to these criticisms and set the record straight:
- “you said Stefano and Jared supported the idea, but you didn’t consult their input” – I screwed up here, and I certainly could have handled this much better. While I specified that Stefano and Jared were supportive of the idea of a statement, which they were, my mentioning this in the blog entry (as quoted above) inferred their support for a statement that they were not involved in the production of. I have apologized to both Stefano and Jared about this, and I want to offer my sincerest public apologies too. I didn’t mean to infer they supported the statement, but instead the idea, but I appreciate that it didn’t come across that way. I am an idiot sometimes, and this is a good example.
- “you are doing this because Canonical wants to shield Ubuntu of criticism” – let me be 100% clear about this: neither Canonical, the Ubuntu Community Council, the Ubuntu Technical Board, Mark Shuttleworth, Jane Silber, my manager, nor any other entity inside Canonical or Ubuntu asked me to work on OpenRespect, and I have not sought to suggest that it is a product of either Canonical or Ubuntu. I don’t deny that some of the disrespectful criticism that I have seen leveled at Canonical and Ubuntu will have partially inspired OpenRespect, but it is not designed for Ubuntu and Canonical; the real inspiration is the disrespectful discourse I have seen throughout the wider Open Source and Free Software community.
- “you hypocrite! LugRadio was disrespectful!” – I can understand how some may say this, but there are few thoughts here. Firstly, when we did LugRadio, we were all younger, stupider, and we bathed all of our content in LugRadio in satirical and entertainment value. At the time we ruffled some feathers, and that was part of the appeal of the show, but sometimes we did inadvertently take it too to far. Sometimes we were disrespectful, and frankly, sometimes we were also inadvertently assholes. We never set out to be assholes, but we did set out to be edgy in a satirical way, but we sometimes went too far and I apologize for that. But you know what, we all grow and mature in different parts of our lives. The Jono Bacon in LugRadio and the Jono Bacon today are two different people. My growth in my career, getting older, getting married, and just understanding the world and reflecting on my previous experiences, have all helped to mature me, and I know this has happened to the other LugRadio presenters too.
I hope this tends to main criticisms applied to OpenRespect. I am sure others will find further faults and disagreements in the project, and I am happy to deal with them where I can.
So where do we stand today after all the articles, the blogs, the comments, and the opinion? I still believe this is an important problem for us to solve. In my 12 years in Open Source and Free Software I have found it the most rewarding and invigorating time of my life, and I get so pumped up when I see people join our community and feel that incredible sense of empowerment and excitement. I remember when I first got involved feeling this intoxicating sense of opportunity that I could contribute to almost any part of our community, and even if I didn’t possess the skills to do, there were always people who were kind enough to help me learn. When I started I knew nothing about Linux or Operating Systems, all I knew was that this community thing was cool and maybe, just maybe, I could help make a difference too.
I love this community and I love this sense of empowerment, and it really pains me when I see the snarky, unconstructively critical, bickering and name-calling. I want everyone, irrespective of which project they join, to have the best possible experience with our community. This is why I have taken an interest in sharing my experiences in my writings and book, and encouraging community leaders to get together at an event I and some friends organize each year. No-one gets a monopoly on community, and we can all share and learn together to make it better for everyone.
OpenRespect was an effort forged with the best intentions in the world of encouraging us all to have polite, constructive and respectful discussions. As I have said before, I never want to dissuade the act of sharing disagreements and sharing different opinions and approaches, but I do believe that all discussion and debate should be on a firm footing of respect and polite discussion.
Now, maybe OpenRespect is not the best solution to the problem, some would argue it isn’t, and some would argue that just a statement is ineffective anyway. I am not suggesting OpenRespect is the only solution to the problem, and I would love to hear other tractable suggestions for how we can improve and avoid disrespectful conduct. A good example came from Jef Spaleta who suggested maybe we need a set of suggestions or guide for how people express concerns or criticism of decisions or policies in a project in a way that is respectful and constructive. I think this is a wonderful idea.
As I wrap this War And Peace sized collection of personal blatherings I do believe that this is still an important problem for us to solve, and we all have the ability to contribute to making our community a cordial and pleasant place by just being cordial and pleasant ourselves. Sure, there will always be trolls, but those people often get bored and move on eventually. Some of us will also get things wrong sometimes and accidentally take things too far, I am as guilty as anyone for doing this, but those experiences are always a good opportunity to apologize and move on. Unfortunately I am back in the position I was at the start of this story: I feel a need and a responsibility to do something to help out, but I am not sure what to do.
Finally, I want to again apologize to Stefano and Jared for idiocy on my part, and to also thank everyone who did participate with respect and constructive feedback in the discussions surrounding this topic.