Gentoo Archives: gentoo-dev

From: Donnie Berkholz <dberkholz@g.o>
To: gentoo-dev@l.g.o
Subject: [gentoo-dev] Democracy: No silver bullet
Date: Thu, 24 Aug 2006 00:20:42
1 I just posted this to my blog [1], but I know you don't all read it so I
2 wanted to post it here as well. Do read all the way through. I very
3 rarely write anything this long, and when I do, it's something I feel
4 very strongly about.
6 I started my fourth year as a Gentoo developer in June, and Gentoo's
7 changed a lot since I started back in 2003. We've become a drastically
8 more democratic organization. But the question remains — _Is this a good
9 thing?_
11 When I think about where Gentoo was when we turned into a democracy
12 years ago, and where Gentoo is now, I don't see much of a difference on
13 the large scale. We lack any global vision for where Gentoo is going, we
14 can't agree on who our audience is, and everyone's just working on
15 pretty much whatever they feel like.
17 When I joined, Daniel Robbins was in charge, period. Seemant Kulleen and
18 Jon Portnoy were basically his lieutenants. What Daniel said was what
19 happened, and woe to anyone who angered him. This generally worked out
20 pretty well, but _as Gentoo grew, it didn't scale_. Everything
21 significant still had to go through Daniel for personal approval.
23 Shortly after I finished training and became an "official" developer,
24 Gentoo gained its first real structure via Gentoo Linux Enhancement
25 Proposal (GLEP) 4 — "Gentoo top-level management structure proposal".
26 The GLEP process itself was quite new then; GLEP 4 was really only the
27 second proposed GLEP (the first two were details related to the GLEP
28 process) and the first one that was accepted. _Its goal was to improve
29 communication and coordination as well as increase accountability_.
31 GLEP 4 formalized a hierarchy of so-called "top-level" projects —
32 between 5 and 10 major areas into which everything in Gentoo could be
33 divided. Daniel appointed the original project managers, who served
34 under him.
36 Democratic elections entered Gentoo when we realized that we needed to
37 create a new top-level project for all the desktop work, because it
38 didn't fit into any existing project. Since managers already voted
39 amongst themselves on GLEPs, it seemed like a natural extension for them
40 to vote on a new manager. The call for nominations is archived online.
41 I'd been a developer for around six months at this point, and by then I
42 was the lead X maintainer. Brandon Hale was active in maintaining window
43 managers and other miscellaneous applets and such. Turns out that the
44 vote tied, so we became co-managers.
46 I didn't realize it at the time, but that was the beginning of a very
47 slippery slope.
49 Gentoo used to be a courteous, friendly development community where
50 nobody was afraid to speak his mind for fear of insult and injury. I see
51 a clear correlation between the growth in democracy and the departure of
52 courtesy. Once people are empowered to vote on every decision, rather
53 than just having their discussion taken as input in a decision, they get
54 a lot more vehement, argumentative and forceful about getting their way.
55 _Flamewars and loud arguments going on for hundreds of posts have become
56 commonplace, despite the occasional outcry_. Here's one such outcry, on
57 March 20, 2006, to the private developers' list:
59 What I've seen for the last 18 months or more is a general degeneration
60 in the attitudes of developers for their fellow developers. When I
61 joined, the attitude of people was friendly and welcoming. I screwed
62 up a couple of times. I didn't get my ass handed to me. I got picked
63 up, and comforted. And taught and tutored. ...
65 So, we split from the Gentoo Technologies company, to a community owned
66 Gentoo Foundation. And now everyone was empowered. Everyone has a
67 voice. Some louder than others. The unfortunate thing is that with
68 this empowerment came a bit of assholishness. With rare exception,
69 we're pretty much all guilty of that. Someone makes a spelling error in
70 a commit, and that leads to flamefests on irc and mailing lists and
71 blog entries. And so on, ad nauseum.
73 Frankly, I'm sick of it. It's burning people out. We're burning
74 ourselves out by being this way. It's time to stop this shit. To
75 everyone reading this, you've arrived at the important bit. From now,
76 please try this little thing. When you're on the mailing lists or the
77 fora or irc channels or in /query or somehow in the gentoo 'verse,
78 please try, just try, to be a little bit nicer to the people with whom
79 you're interacting. That's all. Have a little respect (even if not
80 deserved!). Listen a little. Hold back the snide comment, the
81 sarcastic remark. I don't mean to get all Oprah on you all, but I hope
82 you see my point -- just be nice for a change.
84 The vocal minority often gets its way, despite 99% of the other
85 developers being happy with any given situation.
87 The problem got so bad that our Developer Relations team wrote up an
88 etiquette guide. Unsurprisingly, the same vocal minority that generally
89 behaves like an ass and violates said etiquette guide erupted in flames
90 over it, and it ended up fading into an existing but largely irrelevant
91 piece of writing.
93 Around the same time, more cries of "Democracy!" and "Eliminate the
94 cabal!" forced developer relations (devrel) to come up with a huge,
95 bureaucratic, court-like system for disciplining pretty much the same
96 group of people again. Everyone treated it like a world of extremes of
97 good and evil, where democracy is absolutely good and purity, and
98 anything other than that is evil. This added bureaucracy has essentially
99 rendered this side of devrel powerless, meaningless and useless.
101 All in all, the vocal minority has done a splendid job of becoming more
102 influential, crippling Gentoo's ability to do anything at all about its
103 members, their flames, their outstanding work at ruining people's fun
104 and enjoyment of Gentoo, and their waste of everyone else's time.
106 How can we do anything about this? As people such as Mike Auty have
107 pointed out, the problem could be with the increasing barrage of rules,
108 regulations and policies to which we're expected to adhere. Take a look
109 at the FreeBSD committers' rules. Rule one is "Respect other
110 committers," and rule two is "Respect other contributors." Take a look
111 at the importance of courtesy and care to avoid creating long-term
112 disagreements in rule one:
114 Being able to work together long term is this project's greatest asset,
115 one far more important than any set of changes to the code, and turning
116 arguments about code into issues that affect our long-term ability to
117 work harmoniously together is just not worth the trade-off by any
118 conceivable stretch of the imagination. ...
120 First calm down, then think about how to communicate in the most
121 effective fashion for convincing the other person(s) that your side of
122 the argument is correct, do not just blow off some steam so you can
123 feel better in the short term at the cost of a long-term flame war. Not
124 only is this very bad “energy economics”, but repeated displays of
125 public aggression which impair our ability to work well together will
126 be dealt with severely by the project leadership and may result in
127 suspension or termination of your commit privileges.
129 Or how about the Ubuntu Code of Conduct? The first two rules are "Be
130 considerate" and "Be respectful." Again, note that these rules are
131 actually enforced. As has been pointed out on the Gentoo development
132 list, you can have respect without courtesy. But Gentoo needs both! One
133 just isn't good enough.
135 But what about Gentoo? We don't have any overriding principles like this
136 from which all of the standards for behavior derive. Instead, we have a
137 large document explaining specifically and in detail what's allowed and
138 what isn't, and even that is ignored. Because of the bureaucracy and the
139 lack of respect for devrel's role, we're effectively powerless to do
140 anything when people behave in a way for which the FreeBSD project's
141 leadership would kick them to the curb.
143 I'm not the only one to suggest that a democracy isn't the most
144 productive way to run Gentoo. When people wanted to change in how Gentoo
145 was run, democracy was the only option considered, rather than simply
146 changing the leaders. There's an ongoing assumption that if problems
147 exist, it must be somewhere in the structure rather than in the people.
149 If I could go back in time a couple of years and prevent this democracy
150 from ever happening, I would. If I could fix these problems myself, I
151 would. But it requires buy-in from the entire Gentoo community if we're
152 to do anything about it.
154 Thanks,
155 Donnie
157 P.S. -- if you want the links, you can get them from my blog post.
159 1.


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Subject Author
Re: [gentoo-dev] Democracy: No silver bullet Daniel Ostrow <dostrow@g.o>
Re: [gentoo-dev] Democracy: No silver bullet Sune Kloppenborg Jeppesen <jaervosz@g.o>
Re: [gentoo-dev] Democracy: No silver bullet Wernfried Haas <amne@g.o>
Re: [gentoo-dev] Democracy: No silver bullet Stuart Herbert <stuart.herbert@×××××.com>
Re: [gentoo-dev] Democracy: No silver bullet Dominique Michel <dominique.michel@×××××××××.ch>
Re: [gentoo-dev] Democracy: No silver bullet Lance Albertson <ramereth@g.o>
Re: [gentoo-dev] Democracy: No silver bullet Ciaran McCreesh <ciaran.mccreesh@×××××××××××××.uk>
Re: [gentoo-dev] Democracy: No silver bullet Paul de Vrieze <pauldv@g.o>
Re: [gentoo-dev] Democracy: No silver bullet Roy Bamford <neddyseagoon@g.o>
[gentoo-dev] Re: Democracy: No silver bullet Wiktor Wandachowicz <siryes@×××××.com>