Community Discussion - Part1

I thought it would be a good idea to try and engage you – the fine openSUSE community – in discussion about “Us” the Community.  We seemed to have been spoiled by having a Community Manager, people kind of seemed to let him do the work or worse expected him to do so.  Now that we don’t have that position any more we need to go back to basics and start rolling our sleeves up.  We’ve started but we have much to do.  As such this is the first in I’m not sure how many posts on the subject.

To save me having to repeat myself constantly I’ll do a small disclaimer now: THESE ARE MY OPINIONS AND THOUGHTS AND NOT GOSPEL! I AM NOT EMPLOYED BY NOVELL! I WANT TO GET A DISCUSSION GOING NOT A FLAME WAR!

In my opinion this topic is linked to my previous post about the “Planning For The Future“.  The key here is to remain agile, able to flex, roll, bounce, jump and basically move with the times.  If we impose strict rigid requirements then things will start to crack and crumble.

So what do I see as key items needed to enable more community contributions, and get more non-Novellians involved in taking a more (pro)active role in the Project?

  • Tools - we need an enabler of sorts that lets people start off small and get to grips with how things move, from there they can grow out and up.
  • Transparency - ensuring that the decisions that are made are clear concise and understandable.  I’m ure not everyone will like the decisions but if they can see the reasons behind it then they can work with it and maybe come up with a better alternative.
  • Communicate - this is something that has improved a lot over time but still has some ways to go.  There are certain parties that still don’t understand how to communicate with the wider community but they can and are an integral part of the ecosystem, we need to educate and help them get better.
  • Coach - no-one can get to a suitable proficiency in any subject whether it be academic/sporting/whatever without some form of tutelage.  To help lighten the work load on the employees that are trying to juggle between their enterprise workload and community workload we need to have them spend some time away from their corporate duties to help with some knowledge and skill sharing.
  • Teamwork - stop depending on individuals, whether they are Novellian or non-Novellian one person can’t do it all in their supposed subject matter of expertise.
  • Educate - self market, not just to the outside world but internally too.  The openSUSE community is too modest for it’s own good at times, we need to be more vocal about all the fantastic stuff we do.  We have to be clear and concise in the message we send out across the community.
  • Learn - look at our peers and take a leaf out of their book sometimes.  Believe it or not they do do things right sometimes ;-) I’m not saying copy, but try and take the bits that are needed and roll it into what you want.
  • Collaborate - work with our peers on universal matters.  This doesn’t just mean cross-desktop, but also cross-project and cross-distro.
  • Listen - take a moment to hear what is being said.  Just taking that little bit of extra time can help isolate the noise from the message and help you understand what is being said/asked.  Remember that not everyone is a native speaker of your language so things might get lost/confused in translation, which is where that little bit of time will help.
  • Lead - you don’t have to do things by committee.  If you see something that needs/can be done just do it!  We dither around far too much waiting for someone else to do it.  Do what you can and then communicate what you’ve done and what if anything is outstanding.

All the above link into one another almost inextricably, so not doing one will most likely have an detrimental effect on the rest.

We already have several items that are great examples of how the community can get on and do something great, a sample of those are:

  • openSUSE Education - this team started from very little and have created one of the best educational derivatives of any distro.  There is a good mix of people involved, and no-one is paid to do it, even on the Novell side.  They’re a well knit team of contributors that are more than happy to help people wanting to help them. They saw a gap and filled it, by taking a leaf out of one of our peers’ book and enhanced it.
  • Packman - the great resource for the common user.  They are one of the oldest community based projects relating to openSUSE or its earlier iterations that I remember.  They’re approachable friendly and have a heck of a lot of knowledge.  They saw a need and did it.
  • LXDE - a new desktop environment that is only a couple of years old.  It has effectively been packaged from scratch by one person and is now included in Factory and the upcoming 11.3 release.  There was no committee discusion about doe we want it in or should we have it in, there was an opportunity and it was capitalised on.

Now I’d love to hear from people on what they think is missing or blocking them from doing any/all of the above, I’d also like to know what it is that people find awkward or difficult in joining in and being more active.  Don’t get me wrong I appreciate one of the most precious and costly commodities is pretty much standard across the board – that of time.  I suffer from that problem as much as anyone, but it doesn’t stop me from contributing, sometimes I just ave to slow down and trickle the contributions rather than pour them.  So let’s start the conversation and get ideas and complaints out in the open.  If you don’t say it how are people going to know about it?

Remember that this is an open dialogue.  Pot shots, defamation of character, flaming, and anything non-constructive will NOT be tolerated.  Let’s keep it clean and helpful.  Listing things that our peers do better than us and also what they do worse than us would most likely open eyes.

How one gets to the future greatly depends on how one deals with the present and learns from the past.