Give Jono a Break, Grow the Community

From today’s Q&A with Jono Bacon. I need to use Jono to make a point, so apologies in advance. At 53:00 in the video Jono says is spending 14 hours a day working on Ubuntu. This despite having a brand new baby boy and a awesome meat smoker to contend with.

I say this isn’t fair on Jono. There is no reason why someone should be giving 175%. 14 hours a day is 70 hours a week; That’s more than the 40 hour week enshrined in the European working time directive for office workers; more than the 48 hour maximum safe working week for junior doctors; even more than the 60 hours a week that the Tory government want to change that to.

To put this into perspective, a balanced week would typically or ideally include 56 hours sleep, 40 hours work, 72 hours recreation, responsibility and relationships. But Jono does 70 hours, how can anyone be a good positive cheerleader with that sort of workload?

Responsible Indigestion

I think there is some blockage with the vast array of responsibilities that the Canonical Community Team have to do. A great deal of these responsibilities are likely only held by members of the team because we are unable to find volunteer or non-canonical business people to take them over.

Thinking about the people in the community team (who I love with all my heart), I see a ton of projects, lots of talk and quite a bit of regret at not being able to do everything. And I don’t think it’s right that they should be asked to do everything. Outside of the team, lots of aspects of the community are quiet indeed.

Not the Center

I’ve had some really good chats in the past with Jono about the nature of the community team and how it’s often perceived as being the center of the universe for quite a lot of the Ubuntu community’s activities. There is a misconception that the “Canonical” community team is the authoritative organiser and sanctifier of activities. It’s not.

The Canonical community team are employed to look after Canonical’s interests in the community. So of _course_ they’re going to spend all their time focused on their business objectives, that’s what the team is for. Of course Canonical’s objectives might be over-stretching too, but I think the team also helps out in places for the good of the community which is leading to stress.

Our true centre, if we have one at all, is the Community Council. But it has never really taken on the responsibility of being a co-ordinating power. It deals with problems and that’s what it was made for. So I guess one waits for the project to explode before taking the charred remains to the Community Council for autopsy. This isn’t good enough.

What to do

What we need is a new centre of the Ubuntu Community universe. It’s no good having a company act as the sol centre of activity; volunteers hate working for free for mega-corp big bucks and move away over time as co-ordination is often innocuously prescribed along business objectives. A community needs a strong central point, or central set of core ideas that we can all dance to without fear we’re being abused by a large player using cheat codes.

“Ubuntu for everyone” used to be enough. A rallying cry from a thousand frustrated Linux users to come together, creating a gravity1 all of their own, pulling more people in until we had such a strong and healthy community.

That isn’t enough any more. We’ve been too successful. We have an awesome Linux desktop which we can install on anyone’s computer without very many problems. You can get it for free if you ignore the skull, download an iso good for a million installs of the same fully working operating system.

What we need is a new centre of the Ubuntu Community universe. A new point of gravity. A new co-ordination body who can sanction every hair brained scheme2, listen endlessly to every kid on irc who has an exciting new idea, comment on things, and act as a great mixing bowl for people and ideas. Such a body would need a reason and a goal, something resonant that goes beyond just technical aims, or marketing PR.

I seriously propose that we found an identity for Ubuntu which lies outside of Canonical. A gravitational body of such stability and neutral authority that the massive Jovian mass of Canonical will happily find it’s lagrange point while smaller congregations will find more comfortable points in their own orbits.

I hate to say it, but Catch 22, Canonical MUST be committed to such an idea. There is NO point in a bunch of community folk wandering off into the brush to build this. We would need everyone to recognise the problem we have here and help fix it with some radical rethinking about the community. And that includes helping Jono3.

Are you onboard? What do you think? Let me know below in the comments.

1 Gravity, the reason we all come together. Each Canonical PR blunder acting like stellar wind pushing more people away.
2 Every hair-brained scheme in Ubuntu is already sanctioned, but most of the time someone with a fancy hat and an official looking title just has to listen to it and say that it’s a good idea to give the kids confidence.
3 Save the Cheerleader, save the world.

12 thoughts on “Give Jono a Break, Grow the Community

  1. Fantastic post, and I totally agree. The community team is made of people who can only do so much, and whose job description is (probably) a lot more limited in scope than it appears from the outside. So there is too much pressure on them to take on extra curricular Ubuntu work. Yet there are needs that aren’t being met, because in the Ubuntu-verse the community team still seems like the center for many things it’s not officially tasked with, and can’t realistically fulfill (and that the team shouldn’t have to try and fulfill, so they can, ya know, sleep sometimes).

  2. Well,

    70 hours per week are not uncommon in the IT world.
    And we are getting paid for it, so is Jono.

    That’s why many companies are starting a new model of work shifiting..which gives the people to i.e. work from home and spending time with their loved ones.

    And last but not least, most people from C. are working from home anyways.

  3. Starting back in ~2007 when The Ubuntu Foundation was created, it looked like it would become the independent body you describe, but isn’t really part of the picture now – why?

  4. Herding cats is hard. While the idea of having a forceful “gravitational body of such stability and neutral authority” appeals, I think having 24/7/365 coverage of nearly all possible ideas is pretty tough, probably intractable. It seems we’ll need people with, e.g., commit privileges, continually monitoring all those surfaces.

    Personally, having devoted only unpaid man-hours to free software, decoupling volunteer efforts from the release cycle may be more effective in recruiting^Wgaining the aforementioned gravitational body. It’ll be interesting to see how rolling Ubuntu releases affect (and hopefully effect) changes.

  5. @Martin,
    Thanks for raising the visibility on this. Well-written and thoughtful post.
    I see the current situation as a symptom of a failure of local (in the truest local sense of the word) community to organize and take on some of the workload. I’m committed to helping fix that situation.

    Unfortunately, the comments that lead Jono to disclose his heavy workload were mean-spirited and demotivating. We not only need to give Jono and team some help, but also we need to call people (“Ikons” in this case) out when they are behaving badly. That’s easy for us to do. I commend Jono for his tact while under attack.

    “70 hours per week are not uncommon in the IT world. And we are getting paid for it, so is Jono.”
    That is not an excuse or justification on any level. Having worked and managed in IT myself for 20 years, I’ve seen people implode, fall apart, get ill, and all kinds of other nasty things as a result of this mindset. People are people and need reasonable work hours. Working from home does not change the balance. Reducing work hours does.


  6. In defense of the Community Council a bit here, we did begin doing check ins with teams at our bi-monthly meetings and this cycle have expanded that beyond primary councils, you can visit our meeting schedule here:

    So there is now much less waiting “for the project to explode” – we’ve been able to work with several teams at this point to get issues handled before they get out of control.

    That said, you’re right on about the rest of your post 🙂 Even the CC is only made up of 8 individuals who volunteer their time (even the Canonical folks on the CC do this on their own time) and we can’t do it all, most of us are just as busy as Jono with our 70 hour “work” weeks 🙂

  7. Hi Martin,

    Thanks for the concerns, but you don’t need to worry about me. Technically, I am contracted for normal hours during the week, but my passion is Ubuntu, and therefore I spent most evenings and some time at the weekend on Ubuntu too. I see this time as my hobby time, just spent on my work-related things too, and I often use this time for things less related to my specific work responsibilities, such as Ubuntu Accomplishments.

    As we have discussed in the past, I have always been supportive of the community fulfilling its own destiny. I never want to see me or my team be a blocker, and no-one should ever seek “permission” from us to contribute in the community – we are primarily here to help empower, motivate, and help people to do great work.

    So in a nutshell, I agree that we should expand our community leadership, and we try to move this along at UDSs with our Leadership Summit, but if anyone wants to help us further this work, that would be great.

  8. While I fully agree this would be a good change, I can see only 2 cases where it could happen. Either the main sponsor is dying ( example Mageia vs Mandriva ), and the community is having a electroshock, or the main sponsor is so wealthy that creating a separate group doesn’t impact the survival of the company ( example, eclipse and IBM ). We have been for years trying to make Mandriva change , following the same steps as you are about to do without much success until 3 years ago. But when your only asset is a trademark and you are not being profitable, this is hard to give it.

    The various business model around Ubuntu are either based on the trademark ( ubuntu certified ), based on the control of the plateform ( support among others ), or based on the copyright assignment ( ubuntu TV ). If Canonical start to relinquish some of the various competitive advantage, this may impact their business, and in the end, weaken Ubuntu as a whole.

    As a main corporate sponsor, it is always hard to avoid fighting against your community partner who happens to also be your commercial foes, and who will have a easier time since you take care of the development.

    So based on my experience, the best you could do is to 1) try to open infrastructure as much as you can. Having sysadmins from the community is a must have. And on every part of the system.
    2) prepare to fork. Because once everything else fail, that’s the only remaining option. In fact, if this work fine, you also have to fork ( at least from a infrastructure point of view ) except you will keep good relationship with Canonical. See that as a exercise.
    3) prepare and discuss the idea. Make plans. Work on governance, laws,, try to recruit people. The more you talk, the more people will get accustomed to the idea. You will not get it right for the first time. Not even the 2 or 3, maybe the fourth. So go for it, think about it.
    4) fight for openness on everything. Marketing should be doable by community. Graphical design too, etc, etc. Again, once there is a foundation, you will have to do it in the open, so aim or that, one step at a time
    5) try to make sure communicty take what the company is not doing right, and do it better. Everybody win.

  9. @Jono – Some extra leadership would be great. For a second there I got this awful feeling that we were trying to replace Mark in the community sphere. He’s a little busy to be that kind of presidential figure, so what kind of leadership would be an effective way to bring people together?

    @Lyz – That sounds great, catching things and then putting them on the right track. Anything here would be interesting for the CC to deliberate on.

  10. Hi Martin
    Can’t find a direct email address to contact you with. I think this is a great idea. As a non programmer guy who loves Ubuntu the freedom it allows and the awesome community I would love to play a more active role in such a community. Perhaps we could take this idea further than just a once of blog comment.
    Let me (shall I say us )know what your ideas are to take this forward.

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