Growing Our Community

For the last month since attending Ohio Linux Fest and the Boston Summit, I have been stewing over two questions which came up at both conferences, in myriad ways. The first relates to our current FOSS communities and the diversity (or lack thereof) within them. The second focuses on promoting our software to a wider audience and the best way to do so. While in some ways these are separate problems, I think that the answers to them are connected in ways that aren’t always obvious.

Communities in the FOSS world have long been rather homogeneous, consisting largely of young, white men. In many cases individuals have been (and still are) focused on ‘scratching their own itch’, without fully grasping how their actions can be beneficial or harmful to the larger community. The result in many cases is to push those from dissimilar backgrounds away, while pulling in more of the same. The inevitable result is an increasingly insular and homogeneous group that is often unappealing and sometimes hostile to outsiders.

But diversity in communities that wish to continue growing is essential – without it they are apt to stagnate and slowly wither away. As a result, fostering and encouraging diversity should be a goal of any organization that wants to continue to grow. The question then becomes how to best foster diversity, and where to look for new members. People who are likely to be interested in and receptive to our message. Luckily for free software, I think such a group already exists and is continuing to grow at a rapid pace.

That group consists of people concerned with living sustainably and in harmony with our world. As a result of their devotion and belief in the benefits of doing so, they likely participate in and actively support a variety of other groups and projects with similar values to our own. Many of them are focused on local and organic foods, as well as clothing and alternative lifestyles that promote health, the environment, freedom and privacy. They have accepted some inconvenience and, in many cases considerable expense in order to do so. I suspect many of them would be receptive to arguments in favor of free software as well, largely because of the basic premise that is at the heart of free software – the freedom to use, alter, and share knowledge with everyone.

I know of many people who fit this description, who currently support and encourage the use of Apple products. Why Apple? I’m not entirely sure, but at some point Apple became the preferred alternative to Microsoft, HP, Dell, Google, etc. The problem from our perspective of course is that Apple is one of the worst industry players in relation to freedom. As a result, I suspect that many of them could be swayed to try and eventually promote free software, if they were educated about it. The question then becomes, how do we find, reach out to and educate them?

Many communities focusing on these common sets of beliefs and values already exist and could, I think, be tapped into. Perhaps our first course of action should be to become involved in them, and whenever an opening is given to do so, explain free software, what it is, and why they should care. Then, when their interest has been piqued, gently explain how they can start using it. Moose Finklestein at Ohio Linux Fest pointed out that using free software does not automatically mean using Linux. That by starting with the free software that they already know and possibly use – Firefox, LibreOffice, etc, we can show them that it´s not just for geeks, but for everyone – including them! Explain that by choosing to use free software, they are choosing to support freedom and the right to use their computers however they see fit, without the restrictions imposed on them by Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, etc. By showing them just how functional free software is, we can bring them into the fold, and show them all the amazing choices available. As they grow more comfortable with free software, they will be more likely to want to give back to the community and become contributors themselves.

Certainly not all of them will want to give back, but many of them will. Many of them are actively involved with other causes and groups which they support, from CSA’s and co-ops, to community gardens, youth groups, small businesses, and many others. Supporting and contributing to free software is less of a leap for them – in many ways its just another way to promote the values that they already hold. Encouraging them to give back however they can, through graphics, design, writing, testing or coding, depending on their skills is paramount. A common misconception outside of the FOSS community is the ways in which you can contribute. Many people (including myself until recently) are under the impression that in order to contribute you must know how to program. This is not the case, but it remains a misconception and hurdle to many potential contributors. Making it clear that contributions outside of code are valued should be a high priority. However in order to become involved, they must first feel welcome, which brings us to the last, and perhaps most difficult problem: making outsiders feel welcome.

Its something that many communities find difficult, both online and off. How do you make people, who are from varied backgrounds and stages in life, feel welcome? What is it that makes one community seem open and welcoming to those outside it, while another feels closed and cliquish? And how do you make the latter feel more like the former? Today, unfortunately, much of the FOSS world looks and feels like a giant, sprawling mess of connected but insular factions, most of whom are uninterested in anyone else. Whether this is the case or not is certainly up for debate – but that is how our communities are often perceived. Changing this perception is essential to our communities continued growth, and with it the use of free software by everyone.

One barrier to becoming involved in many FOSS communities today is the way in which they are operated. Currently most FOSS communities are based around mailing lists and IRC, both of which can be intimidating and, particularly in the case of IRC a technological challenge. By setting up other access points to the community, like forums, Facebook, Pinterest and Google+ groups we can can make ourselves more accessible and user friendly. I’m not advocating disbanding mailing lists and IRC completely, but simply expanding our online presence outside of the rather technically minded one we have now. Expanding into other media forms can also help us become a more dynamic community by sharing ideas and interests outside of free software with each other. In the process we show that we share other values, interests and concerns as well, which in turn makes us appear less aloof and therefore more open and welcoming to outsiders.

The FOSS community now stands at a crossroads, and our choices in the immediate future will likely shape our communities and influence our ability to succeed for years to come. If our goal is to convince more people to join us in using and contributing to free software, we must make ourselves more appealing as a community. Doing so will require changes, perhaps some of the above, and likely others I have not thought of as well. Regardless though, the choice to do, or not to do is ours.

Ohio LinuxFest 2012 – Afterthoughts

For the first time this year I attended Ohio LinuxFest in Columbus Ohio at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. I arrived in Columbus late on Thursday night and stayed at a friends’ house in order to arrive early on Friday morning. This plan failed as we woke up and talked for a couple of hours and went out to eat for breakfast before I got around to leaving. As a result I didn’t get to OLF until ~11:30am – at which point I got signed in, looked around briefly and then went in search of food and wifi. As a result, I hung out at the North Market for an hour or so before returning to OLF after lunch and attending the rest of the Early Penguins track leading up to Jon “maddog” Hall’s “The Perfect Storm” keynote at 5pm.

Of the talks I attended I think my favorites were Beth Lynn Eicher’s talk about Computer Reach and the one immediately following it on Software Patents by Deb Nicholson. Computer Reach has an upcoming trip to Ghana where they are planning to deliver refurbished desktop computers to various villages in Ghana, running Linux with GNOME 2.x. On Sunday I had the chance to sit next to her and talk a bit more about their work during the Diversity in Open Source Workshop and gave her a stack of GNOME stickers for the desktops they’re delivering.

Deb Nicholson’s talk on Software Patents was interesting and slightly disturbing. The sheer number of software patents out there is staggering and does not bode well for the future unless something changes dramatically. What the courts do in the next couple years, both in the USA and around the world will likely have a dramatic impact on software and innovation in both the proprietary and FOSS sphere’s.

Friday closed up with Jon “maddog” Hall’s keynote on “The Perfect Storm” about linux, the desktop and freedom. It was a great speech – interesting, funny, and informative all at the same time. Hopefully he’s right and we are on the verge of a new ‘perfect storm’ as we have seen in the past with the innovations of the personal computer, the internet, etc.

Saturday started early for me, arriving at the convention center ~8am to get the booth setup. I was hoping to attend Wendy Seltzer’s morning keynote about SOPA and free expression on-line, but unfortunately didn’t make it. Instead I hung out at the booth all morning and for most of the afternoon. After many trials and failed attempts with the netbook and monitor I resorted to my old (broken) laptop. Several people tried to help me get something up and running for a long time without much success, before we finally resorted to removing the screen from the laptop and making it an ‘ultra portable desktop’. By that point I had my laptop upgraded to the beta of Ubuntu 12.10 GNOME Remix with GNOME 3.6, which meant that I had Ubuntu 11.10 with GNOME 3.2 on the monitor and Ubuntu 12.10 with GNOME 3.6 on my laptop – which was actually interesting as you could compare and really see how far GNOME has come in the last year.

While all this was going on I talked to dozens, probably hundreds of people about GNOME, linux, FOSS, etc, passed out the GNOME Cheat Sheet, GNOME stickers and pamphlets on accessibility in GNOME. John Boyd stopped by and hung out for a long time talking about C programming and hacking on the kernel. I think I have him convinced to start contributing to GNOME – he even sounded interested in helping to teach C through GNOME University!

In any case sometime ~5pm I packed up the booth – aside from a few more cheat sheets, stickers & pamphlets which I left out for late comers and headed to C113 for Elizabeth Garbee’s “Growing Up with Linux” talk which was fantastic. She is an amazing speaker and has had some amazing opportunities thanks to luck, smiling and saying please & thank you. 

Immediately following Elizabeth’s talk was Angela Byron’s keynote “How to Create Ravenously Passionate Contributors”. Her experience of gradually rising from a quiet, shy user to become one of Drupal’s core contributors as well as a major open source speaker at conferences around the world is inspiring. 

Following the keynotes I dropped my backpack back off in my car and walked to the Three Legged Mare for the OLF After Party with MC Frontalot. It was a great party and my only regret is that I couldn’t stay for longer – I talked up a slew of people, some of whom I’d met at the booth during the day and many others I hadn’t. Amazingly I ran into several people from my area of Ohio, one of whom went to high school with the friend I was staying with in Columbus! It was definitely a ‘small world’ kind of night!

Sunday morning came far too soon, and I made it back to the convention center just a few minutes late to the start of the Diversity in Open Source Workshop. Essentially a round table discussion about diversity, it focused on diversity at OLF but also in the wider FOSS community. The diversity at OLF was quite impressive, thanks to OLF’s long-standing commitment to diversity, which is evident in their Conduct Policy which should be an inspiration to other conferences hoping to encourage diversity. They have been reaching out to minority communities for several years and it shows – I was welcomed warmly to OLF and everyone there was great. I am already looking forward to OLF 2013!

Do you like to swing?

We do! My youngest son, Keegan, turned 3 a couple weeks ago, and in his honor we put in a new, 16′ tall swing set:

My dad, swinging on our new 16′ tall swing set.

It’s conveniently situated on the edge of a small hill in our yard, which makes for a fantastic swing. Overkill for a 3 yr old? Perhaps. But such toys are meant for all of us, not just the little guys 🙂

Ohio LinuxFest 2012

Sometime in the last six months or so, I discovered Ohio LinuxFest – an apparently rather large FOSS conference held annually in Columbus, Ohio. I’d been planning to attend ever since I heard about it, and recently got in contact with Luke Tislow. As a result, I will be manning a GNOME booth there! I’m hoping that there are other GNOME users/contributors in the area who will also be attending and able/willing to help out. If your interested in doing so, please leave a comment or ping me on irc (gonyere in #gnome, #gnome-clocks, #gnome-love, #gnome-women, #marketing on gimpnet).

A short bit now about Ohio LinuxFest: OLF is an annual conference held in Columbus, Ohio since 2002. Now in its 10th year, Ohio LinuxFest focuses on Linux & other open source/free software projects. This year’s conference will have 4 keynote speakers – Elizabeth Garbee, Angela Byron and Wendy Seltzer and Jon ‘maddog’ Hall. Promoters have specifically called on women to submit talks and made a point of having 3 keynotes given by women. Hopefully this will result in more women attending than ever before!

For more information on Ohio LinuxFest 2012 checkout their website at: http://ohiolinux.org/ Hope to see some of you there!!

GSoC Final Report: GNOME Clocks

I am both excited and sad to see the end of Summer of Code rapidly approaching – in just two days we will have reached the ‘hard pencils down’ date set by Google by which time our projects must be finished. As such the last couple of weeks since GUADEC have been spent hunting down and fixing as many bugs as we can in GNOME Clocks. The progress made has been remarkable, thanks in large part to the contributions from new contributors like Paolo Borelli and Alex Anthony who have been an immense help recently both reporting & fixing numerous bugs.

GNOME Clocks has developed from its initial mockups and prototype to a fully functioning clock application for GNOME. At the same time I have learned much about both programming (Python & GTK+3) as well as working collaboratively as part of a larger team. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with and, thanks to GUADEC, meet dozens of amazing hackers from all over the world. Even as GSoC ends, I plan to continue contributing to GNOME, as a member of the Marketing Team, a contributor to GNOME Clocks and wherever else I can.

A few screenshots of GNOME Clocks as of today:

World Clock:

Alarms:

Stopwatch:

Timer:

Finally, I’d like to thank my mentors Seif Lotfy & Allan Day for all the time and effort they have spent helping me over the last several months. I’d also like to especially thank Eslam Mostafa who has done so much of the development related to the Timer & Alarms. Without all of their help GNOME Clocks would not be anywhere near ready for release, let alone inclusion in GNOME 3.6, nor would I have learned half of what I have over the summer. Thanks guys!! 🙂

Upgrading to Linux

I’m currently in the process of installing Linux w/ GNOME 3 on a distant relatives computer… who lives in Florida 🙂 A couple days ago, I did the same for one of Kevin’s friends who lives in California – both people who I will not see for months or possibly years, so it’ll be interesting to see how this works out in the long run (I’m installing Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, doing a recommended update & then switching them to only security updates).

As a result, I’m curious if anyone else does this routinely, and if so if you have recommendations for what to install (on a computer that you will not personally touch again, for people used to Windows). I typically install GNOME 3, Tor, Samba, Synaptic, Chromium, xChat, Evolution, Skype… probably a few others I’m forgetting atm. Anything important I’m missing?

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GUADEC 2012

Right, so I’ve been home for a couple days now, which probably makes this post a bit late. But oh well. GUADEC was fantastic – with around 300 attendees, dozens of fantastic talks, hackfests and BOFs. Not to mention the chance to meet so many people who have done so much for GNOME over the years, many of whom gave wonderful talks – like the final keynote by Federico Mena-Quintero, Dave Mason & Jonathan Blandford on the History of GNOME which closed GUADEC. Likewise the opening keynote by Jacob Appelbaum on the Tor Project was fascinating and inspiring.

The womens dinner at Casa Tito was fun, though I suspect I’m not alone in thinking the ordering process was nothing short of ridiculous. I had a good time chatting with everyone, but especially with Alex & Patricia. It was nice to meet so many of the other women involved in GNOME,

The overall job done organzing GUADEC was nothing short of fantastic. I honestly can’t think of a single thing to complain about, which is a testamount in itself of the wonderful job they did in organizing. All future GUADECs have a hell of an organizing job to live up to!!

Interviews on GNOME News

With GUADEC rapidly approaching, GNOME News has begun a series of interviews with members of both the local GUADEC organizing team and the new members of the incoming GNOME Foundation Board of Directors. The first two interviews were with Laura M Castro and Alejo Pacín, both members of the local team, and the latest interview posted today with Tobias Mueller one of the new board members. Expect to see more interviews from both the local team and board soon!

GNOME Clocks

Hi there, I know its been a while since I updated, and I’m sorry about that, but we’ve done a good bit of work on GNOME Clocks over the past couple weeks!

GNOME Clocks now has a working Timer thanks to Eslam Mostafa.  Alarms is coming along – we’ve run into some issues with Evolution’s API and figuring out how to tie into it, and hopefully we’ll have it figured out and up and running shortly. The GUI though is more-or less complete, and so we’ve spent the last week or two fixing a variety of bugs. It’s still a work in progress but is coming along nicely.

GUADEC is now just 2.5 weeks away and I am absolutely psyched to attend. It will be my second open source/free software conference and I can’t wait to see some of the folks I met at FOSDEM again and hopefully meet many more.

GNOME-Clocks Development Continues

The last couple of weeks have seen a major clean up of GNOME-Clocks code, and on-going development of Alarms by myself and Timer by Eslam Mostafa.

Below is a screenshot of the recently completed New Alarm dialog box in GNOME-Clocks:

Dialog box for a new alarm in GNOME-Clocks

The development of Timer has been headed by Eslam Mostafa (http://eslammostafa.blogspot.de/), and is looking quite good as can be seen below.

Timer running in GNOME-Clocks

With the near completion of both Alarms & Timer, much of the basic development of GNOME-Clocks is rapidly coming to an end. As a result, an important decision remains – how to implement and integrate GNOME-Clocks. Should we write an entirely new daemon in Python? Or tie into an existing framework such as Evolution?

Finally, we would like to invite anyone else interested in GNOME-Clocks development to join us in #gnome-clocks on GimpNet. The GNOME-Clocks repository is now available on gnome’s servers at: http://git.gnome.org/browse/clocks
Bug reports & suggestions are both welcomed and appreciated!! Thanks for reading!