MJR's slef-reflections

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Better Free Software Organisations?

Wed, 16 Apr 2008 10:11:38 +0100

Another zero-day announcement of a Software in the Public Interest online meeting has been posted. The announcement mentions "one motion has been raised" but the agenda doesn't include any motions, so I'm not sure what. Also, the agenda lists "Debian logo licence" as up for discussion but I thought last month's meeting resolved that. I watch SPI fairly closely and I'm confused. How about the rest of you?

SPI isn't alone in this: many software organisations seem to suffer from similar problems. For example, I ranted in passing about Free Software Manchester yesterday, who just posted the notes from their own zero-day meeting and I've suggested possible ways of reforming debian's currently-stalled New Maintainer process more than once.

Are free software users particularly bad at the basics of running an interest society (like welcoming and expiring members, calling meetings, publishing routine communications, and so on), have I been spoiled by cooperatives with their friendly Member Services departments or secretariats, or what? Is this why so many free software orgs seem to include self-perpetuating leadership groups? Is this a serious problem if, as reported, Software Development is a Team Sport [etbe]? Are there fully-working free software mass participation groups out there?

I feel a lot of these problems are caused by attempting to order our inherently entropy-filled world completely and insisting everything follows petty rules, such as refusing to answer a question because the "wrong" member asked it. The world will not become less random just because hackers try to impose arbitrary rules. Sometimes it's good to put down minimum standards (because calling zero-day meetings is a mostly-avoidable way of excluding some members) but it will always be a poor alternative to trying to do the best you can for others.

How do we get past this? My pro-cooperation-and-better-business platform for SPI board went pretty badly and I've had some anti-cooperative flames back from someone starting another free software group this month, so I don't think I can fix these existing organisations any time soon. About 1 in 6 people in the UK are members of a cooperative, so even if that is reflected among hackers (and I think it's lower), all of them would not be enough to reform much.

One of the most common memes in free software is "show us the code" and the few other free software cooperatives I've seen have mostly failed, with a few surviving but hitting a size limit. As a result, I'm currently negotiating the start of a new free software cooperative. So far, I'm really happy with how that's going. Many cooperators learn at the feet of large consumer cooperatives like the Cooperative Group who run training courses for new members about putting cooperative values and principles into practice, which we smaller groups couldn't run ourselves. As a result, most cooperators already know how to work well together. Should large software societies like SPI try commissioning similar courses?

Tags: charities, cooperatives, debian, spi.

Comments On This Entry

Submitted at 1523 on 16 Apr by Charles Stewart

This would be a good advogato story; it would surely attract good comment. Would you like to post it there?

Submitted at 1305 on 17 Apr by MJ Ray
Submitted at 1310 on 17 Apr by Dave Briggs

Interesting post from MJ Ray on the need for organisation - which perhaps busts the myth that open source software development is a perfect model to follow for other types of groups:...

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