Recently there was yet another storm in a teacup that distracted us from creating and sharing Ubuntu and our flavors with others. I am not going to dive into the details of this particular incident…it has been exhaustively documented elsewhere…but at the heart of this case was a concern around the conduct in which some folks engaged around something they disagreed with. This is not the first time we have seen disappointing conduct in a debate, and I wanted to share some thoughts on this too.

In every community I have worked in I have tried to build an environment in which all view points that challenge decisions or decision makers are welcome with the requirement that they are built on a platform of respectful discourse; this is the essence of our Code Of Conduct. Within the context of an Open Source community we also encourage this engagement around differences to be expressed as solutions with a focus on solving problems; this helps us to be productive and move the project forward. This is why we have such a strong emphasis on blueprints, specs, bugs, and other ways of expressing issues and exploring solutions.

Within the context of this most recent issue I saw three problems (problems I have seen present in other similar arguments too):

  1. Irrespective of the voracity or content of an opinion we must never forget to be respectful and polite in the way we express and engage with others, irrespective of whether you are a volunteer, Canonical employee, or otherwise. Respect must always be present in our discourse, irrespective of the content of our opinions; without it we become a barbaric people and lose the magic that brought this wonderful set of minds together in the first place. There is simply no excuse for rudeness, and inflammatory FUD that has no evidence to back it up other than presumed ill-intent serves nothing but to demotive folks and ratchet up the flames, as opposed to resolve the issue and make things better.
  2. Trust needs to be earned, but trust should always be built within the wider context of a set of contributions and conduct. Unfortunately some folks consider decisions they disagree with to be a basis for (a) entering into a paranoid debate about the “real reason” the individual or company made that decision (and typically not believing the rationale provided by said decision-maker) and (b) seemingly forgetting about all the other positive contributions that the person or company has contributed. I can assure you there is no nefarious scheme at place at Canonical; our goals are well known in the community. If I felt Canonical was fundamentally trying to demote and shut the community out, I wouldn’t work here; I have no interest in working for a company that doesn’t understand the value of community, and I am not worried about finding suitable employment elsewhere. I work at Canonical because I believe our goals with Ubuntu are just and the company’s commitment to our community is sincere.
  3. Ubuntu is not a consensus-based community. Consensus communities rarely work, and I am not aware of any Open Source project that bases their work on wider consensus in the community. It would be impossible and impractical to notify our community of every decision we make, let alone try to base a decision on a majority view, but we do try to ensure that major changes are communicated to our leaders first (this is something we have been driving improvements in recently). We always need to find the right balance between transparency and JFDI, and sometimes the balance isnt’t quite there, but that does not mean there is some kind of illuminati-ish scheme going on behind the scenes.

Ubuntu is a community filled with passionate people, and I love that we have folks who are critical of our direction and decisions. If everyone agreed with what we are doing, we would not always make the right decisions, and our diversity is what makes Ubuntu and our flavors such a great place to participate.

As I said at the beginning of this post, it is important that all viewpoints are welcome, but we have to get the tone and conduct of some of these debates under control. The sheer level of sensationalist and confrontational language that is often in place in these disagreements doesn’t serve anyone but hungry journalists looking for page hits.

Now, I am not suggesting here that anyone should change any of their viewpoints. If you vehemently disagree with an aspect of what we are doing in Ubuntu or at Canonical, that is fine and of course, welcome. What I am appealing to everyone though is to treat others like you wish to be treated, with respect and dignity, and lets keep the sensationalism out of our community and focus on what we do best…building a world-class Free Software platform and its rich ecosystem of flavors.

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