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Ubuntu and the importance of community

by Dave Walker

Canonical developer Dave Walker investigates the importance of governance in a community as rich and diverse as Ubuntu’s…

This article originally appeared in issue 90 of Linux User & Developer magazine.Ubuntu and the importance of community Subscribe and save more than 30% and receive our exclusive money back guarantee – click here to find out more.

Ubuntu and the importance of communityUbuntu and community have largely become two words that are known to work well together. The Ubuntu community comprises a large group of individuals from many backgrounds, not just the stereotypical bearded geek. With such a vast and diverse group of people, there has to be some form of governance. While this largely meritocracy-based control, where individuals are empowered based on their proven contributions, isn’t there to dictate what community members should be doing, it is there to try to organise what individuals would like to offer and how best they can go about that. It is also a support mechanism and network for all Ubuntu enthusiasts.

With Ubuntu’s inception, organisation and governance was a concern, and a ‘Community Council’ was formed to try to help guide the community. The Community Council is currently made up of eight people, six of whom do not work for Canonical and the eighth member is Mark Shuttleworth. This is interesting for community
empowerment, but is also a reflection on how crucial
Mark sees the community for Ubuntu’s success.

Another aspect that the Community Council dealt with was ‘Ubuntu Membership’. In meetings of the board, Ubuntu contributors are recognised for their ‘significant and sustained’ contributions to Ubuntu. The benefits include a ubuntu.com email address, the privilege of having your blog posts aggregated to the Ubuntu Planet, free subscription to a popular internet-based Linux news source and some other features. To me, this was a very daunting task and being questioned to prove this to the board was somewhat stressful. Now, the Ubuntu community has grown vastly across the world and spanning many different time zones which can cause difficulties. It was not sustainable for them to continue, so they decided to delegate to ‘Ubuntu Regional Membership Boards’.

The Regional Membership Boards are actually three separate ones – Americas, Asia/Oceania and EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) – as an attempt to get best time-zone overlap. The Community Council still guides these boards, and also deals with refreshing the boards by requesting new nominations from the community when people’s terms expire. The traditional term that each member is elected for is two years; however, the voluntary members may choose to step down sooner if time commitments are an issue.

The Regional boards apply the ‘significant and sustained’ mantra for efforts made within the Ubuntu community; however, they are often not well positioned to be able to review developer-based contributions. For this reason, there is also the ‘Developer Membership Board’. Their term of reference is to essentially provide various upload privileges to potential Ubuntu developers. When a candidate has proved they are technically competent, trustworthy and they are requesting a suitable level of privileges, they automatically get ‘Ubuntu Member’ status by virtue of holding a position titled ‘Ubuntu Developer’.

This seems quite a fair way of performing the task as developers, translators and generic community work can always be considered via the various routes; which essentially means that people that help make Ubuntu what it is, get the recognition they deserve. It is worth mentioning that everyone is subject to this process and even Canonical employees paid to work on a particular aspect do not receive escalated privileges – they still need to present themselves to the (mostly community-based) councils for scrutiny to obtain these extra statuses.

As is the case with all boards of this nature; those that sit on these are not trained paid professionals, but respected members of the community that hold the position. The normal reason that these members are chosen for their position is due to the knowledge and familiarity with the Ubuntu community. However, it does raise a concern of standardisation, with multiple boards essentially performing the same task. I’m aware that some work has been done internally to try to improve this, but I do feel that standards between the Regional boards can vary. They are working towards better collaboration, and methods to share best practices. However, how this is being achieved hasn’t been made public. It would be nice for their standardisation process to be more transparent, while also maintaining confidentiality of individuals.

Another council that exists, and is overseen by the Community Council (CC) is the LoCo Council. While their main term of reference is working with Local Communities (LoCos) to deal with issues and conflict, they also deal with reviewing (or blessing) LoCos to be officially recognised. This is all tasks that the Community Council used to conduct themselves, but due to the massive growth in LoCos it became a state where they had to delegate. Something new that the LoCo Council has introduced is a renewing procedure. Previously, when a LoCo was approved they were not required to renew their status. The LoCo Council now performs the renewing task, which is currently semi-optional, thus ensuring sustained excellence. This also has the benefit of ensuring LoCos document what they do, therefore making it easier to collaborate.

One of the main reasons LoCos seem to go for approval is to get the recognition that they are well organised and productive; however, they also get the benefit of being able to receive Ubuntu CDs in bulk, and are additionally more likely to receive support from Canonical when an event is organised.

Canonical does have a dedicated team to focus on community-related matters. This team is managed by Jono Bacon, who fondly refers to the people who report to him as the ‘horsemen’; they include:
Daniel Holbach who has the task of focusing on the developer community. Jorge Castro liaises our community with that of ‘upstreams’ or external projects. The translations are handled by David Panella who tries to help the community to ensure that Ubuntu is always in people’s native language. The newest horseman is Ahmed Kamal who is tasked with stimulating a cloud community.

This dedicated team further clarifies Canonical’s position on community focus. While their position isn’t to try to run the Ubuntu community, they are certainly a guiding resource and are often an interface between the community and other parts of
the ecosphere.

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Click here for more opinion pieces from Linux User & Developer, or see what else featured in issue 90.

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      I love your mobile theme on phones. You might consider making the main article text left-justified instead of fully-justified. I think that it would be easier to read that way.

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