With A Little Help From My Friends

I’ll take Dave Neary’s comments about private conversations to heart. To provide a little historical illumination, five years ago Dave and I founded a group, FLOSS Foundations, as a collaborative mailing list and face-to-face meetings for leaders in free/libre/open source software projects, focused on the community governance and legal structures of the projects rather than code. At the time, there was some ill will between various foundations, but as we talked we found that most of the roots of that ill will were in a lack of understanding. As a world-wide multi-project FLOSS community, we are a diverse collection of cultures, customs, and governance structures, and some things that seem strange to an outsider or a member of a different subgroup make perfect sense when you look more deeply. Dave and I have watched the Foundations group grow from a handful of people to a couple hundred, covering 50+ different projects. The most impressive thing about it has been watching the community grow to the point that we can discuss controversial issues with sharply divided perspectives among the group, but always in an attitude of open discussion and mutual respect. It’s such a healthy, mature forum for discussion, that when an occasional new-comer launches into the list in flames, the universal attitude is “let’s help them understand the group”. I haven’t seen anyone flameout twice.

With that half-decade of experience in how multi-project collaboration can work, I agree with Dave that we can do so much better, not just with GNOME, KDE, and Ubuntu, but with the whole sky full of constellations that make up the Linux desktop and beyond. To go public, I’ve been talking with various people for a month or so now (in email/IRC/etc) about starting up a series of face-to-face meetings and mailing list(s), very similar to what we did with FLOSS Foundations, but focused on code, and specifically around the ecosystem of the Linux desktop. So far the response has been positive. It’s just the barest seed of an idea, and needs a great deal more conversation on what form the collaboration might take, what the goals might be, who might participate and how. Dave’s post has some good ideas on structuring conversations around focused collaboration tasks. I’d love to talk about any thoughts you have, in any channel of communication you feel comfortable with.

Along the way I found that there’s already a list on FreeDesktop.org created for the express purpose of collaborating across desktop tookits (ctd@lists.freedesktop.org). It hasn’t seen much traffic lately, but I talked to the list admin and he’s totally happy to have it revived. I’m not particularly tied to that list (actually, I’m really tempted by watercooler@lists.freedesktop.org), or FreeDesktop.org, or any one method or path of collaboration. What’s important to me is that we take the ongoing conversation, and the increased level of openness in that conversation that we’ve seen over the past week, and carry it on into a longer-term effort of healing and strengthening. Dave mentioned the upcoming Desktop Summit, and I hope we can plan some face-to-face meetings around this conversation there. And like Dave, I hope we can continue the conversation in other forums between now and then.

I know it’s tense right now, but I’m absolutely certain we can work through this, and collaborate more effectively in the future. This collaboration is not only good for the projects directly involved, it’s also good for the ongoing progress of Linux and software freedom, and absolutely essential for the future of technology as a whole.