One of the best pieces of advice I got was “Find out if they are an email person or a phone person and communicate with them that way.” These days you have to add text messages, hangouts, whatsapp, irc, etc to the list, but the same principle holds true.
I’ll give you an example of how this can go wrong if you don’t “speak the right language.” Someone recently called the GNOME Foundation Board and identified themselves as press and asked to speak to me. Note that the board doesn’t have a phone. It’s just a virtual mailbox because organizations are supposed to have phone numbers.
If he had emailed the list, I’m confident he would have been forwarded on and gotten an answer (or been told no) within 24-48 hours. Instead he called.
I read about it in the board meeting minutes.
Here’s an overview of the proposed agenda/topics for this meeting:
* Adboard meeting at FOSDEM 2015
* Next steps for the Outreach Program
* Responding to a phone press inquiry asking to reach S. Peters
I replied back that if he was looking for me, he should be able to find my contact information easily on the web but that they were welcome to forward him to me or to the press list. Now note that they can’t forward it. It’s a voice mail in a virtual voice mail box.
So the next week I read in the minutes:
* Responding to a phone press inquiry asking to reach Stormy Peters
* Comment from Stormy: “There is a press mailing list to deal with press inquiries. And if they are looking for me, they should be able to find me but you are welcome to point them my way.”
* ACTION: maybe Rosanna can check with the caller to see what he wants and see if we need to get back to him by press contact, or if he really wanted to reach Stormy in particular?
Now, before you say how absurd, why didn’t they call him back, I want you to think back on all your communications over the past week. If you are like most people, I bet there’s at least one email, text message or voice mail you haven’t answered yet. And one of those unanswered messages is probably in a medium you don’t like to use much. People that know you well, know whether to send you a text message or an irc ping if they need a quick answer from you.
I think this is especially important when it comes to team communications.
If your team usually communicates over mailing lists and irc, and you set up a video meeting, does that fit their culture? If you set up an irc meeting, does that fit their culture? And if not, are you purposely trying to drive cultural change? Did you tell them that?
I tried holding all my extended team meetings as irc meetings instead of video meetings last year in order to involve more volunteers. It didn’t work. I’m guessing it’s either the meetings themselves that are either not in the culture or the meetings were not useful or our internal structure of teams didn’t match what volunteers thought of as projects.
Project communication goes beyond meetings and includes things like announcements, discussions and decisions. Should announcements be emails from a single person or newsletters or blog posts in your project’s culture? Should discussions happen on irc or mailing lists? Should they be logged? Should decisions be made on mailing lists, in meetings or in bug tracking tools?
How does your team communicate? How do you change those channels when you need to? Or can you?
Traditionally, open source software has relied primarily on asynchronous communication. While there are probably quite a few synchronous conversations on irc, most project discussions and decisions will happen on asynchronous channels like mailing lists, bug tracking tools and blogs.
I think there’s another reason for this. Synchronous communication is difficult for an open source project. For any project where people are distributed. Synchronous conversations are:
- Inconvenient. It’s hard to schedule synchronous meetings across time zones. Just try to pick a good time for Australia, Europe and California.
- Logistically difficult. It’s hard to schedule a meeting for people that are working on a project at odd hours that might vary every day depending on when they can fit in their hobby or volunteer job.
- Slower. If you have more than 2-3 people you need to get together every time you make a decision, things will move slower. I currently have a project right now that we are kicking off and the team wants to do everything in meetings. We had a meeting last week and one this week. Asynchronously we could have had several rounds of discussion by now.
- Expensive for many people. When I first started at GNOME, it was hard to get some of our board members on a phone call. They couldn’t call international numbers, or couldn’t afford an international call and they didn’t have enough bandwidth for an internet voice call. We ended up using a conference call line from one of our sponsor companies. Now it’s video.
- Logistically difficult. Mozilla does most of our meetings as video meetings. Video is still really hard for many people. Even with my pretty expensive, supposedly high end internet in a developed country, I often have bandwidth problems when participating in video calls. Now imagine I’m a volunteer from Nigeria. My electricity might not work all the time, much less my high speed internet.
- Language. Open source software projects work primarily in English and most of the world does not speak English as their first language. Asynchronous communication gives them a chance to compose their messages, look up words and communicate more effectively.
- Confusing. Discussions and decisions are often made by a subset of the project and unless the team members are very diligent the decisions and rationale are often not communicated out broadly or effectively. You lose the history behind decisions that way too.
There are some major benefits to synchronous conversation:
- Relationships. You build relationships faster. It’s much easier to get to know the person.
- Understanding. Questions and answers happen much faster, especially if the question is hard to formulate or understand. You can quickly go back and forth and get clarity on both sides. They are also really good for difficult topics that might be easily misinterpreted or misunderstood over email where you don’t have tone and body language to help convey the message.
- Quicker. If you only have 2-3 people, it’s faster to talk to them then to type it all out. Once you have more than 2-3, you lose that advantage.
I think as new technologies, both synchronous and asynchronous become main stream, open source software projects will have to figure out how to incorporate them. For example, at Mozilla, we’ve been working on how video can be a part of our projects. Unfortunately, they usually just add more synchronous conversations that are hard to share widely but we work on taking notes, sending notes to mailing lists and recording meetings to try to get the relationship and communication benefits of video meetings while maintaining good open source software project practices. I personally would like to see us use more asynchronous tools as I think video and synchronous tools benefit full time employees at the expense of volunteer involvement.
How does your open source software project use asynchronous and synchronous communication tools? How’s the balance working for you?
I recently listened to a talk by Michael Lopp about how to be a great manager.
During his talk, he stressed the importance of hallway conversations. Hallway conversations are informal conversations about projects, goals and status. As Shez says, they are great for bouncing ideas off people you might not normally interact with and just letting them know what you are up to.
Here’s how I do “hallway conversations” while working thousands of miles from my colleagues:
- Chat informally. While most people will tell you it’s important to have an agenda for every meeting and to stick to it, I think that if you never see your colleagues at the water cooler, you need to build in some time for rambling. Maybe you’ll gripe about the latest project, maybe you’ll share the cool project you’ve been working on with your kids, maybe you’ll just talk about what you had for lunch. Or maybe you’ll have a great shared idea that inspires you to write that blog post that changes the whole project. It’s those relationships that enable you to informally share how you feel about the projects you are working on.
- Send that trivial piece of feedback. Often I’ll send an irc message or an email that just says “I liked how you did this” or “here’s a piece of feedback I heard about your project”. Sometimes they seem too trivial for an email message. But if I don’t send the email, and I store them all up for the next time we talk in person, I might not send them at all. (I also keep a file where I keep track of things I want to talk to people about next time I interact with them. Things I think are easier to explain via interactive chats.)
- Keep open channels. If at all possible, have some sort of real time channel where you can reach your colleagues. Best is a something like IRC where you can hang out and have informal chats. But if not a standing room, at least know how to find them via IM or txt messaging.
- Be available. Be available in as many channels as possible. I’m regularly on irc, Skype, IM, email, txt messaging, Twitter and Yammer. And I try to respond in a timely fashion. Why? Because when someone thinks of something they want to tell you, you don’t want them to have to remember what they had to say until they get back to their desk. Right then, while they are standing in the hallway, you want them to be able to ask you “what do you think about …?” (You also need to make sure you aren’t letting your life be completely interrupt driven, but that’s for a different post.)
- Get help. Ask others for help. I’ll regularly ask people I talk to what it feels like in the office or what they think about a paritcular project. What the mood is like, what people are talking about. Or I’ll say, “the next time you chat with so-and-so, can you ask him what he thinks about xyz?” I’ll also tell them I’m worried about a particular person or project and ask them to check in for me. After a meeting, I’ll check in with other folks that were at the meeting to share perceptions on how it went.
- Meet regularly. If there are projects you care about, make sure you meet with the principal people on those projects regularly.
- Meet in person. GNOME folks go out of their way to attend GUADEC – often taking vacation and time away from their families. It’s an important event because it’s the one time a year when much of the GNOME community gets together. Meeting people you work with in person is invaluable for community building. I love how humor in email makes much more sense after you’ve met someone in person.
- Ask them. Ask how others are doing, how they are feeling, what’s top of mind, what keeps them up at night, what makes them feel so passionately that they are working at 3am, ask them … you never know what you’ll learn or what you’ll be able to do together.
- Communicate effectively. I used to say “over communicate” but I now believe you have to communicate effectively. If you publish everything in the world on your blog and nobody reads it, or the important pieces get lost in the noise, you haven’t communicated. But it’s key to make sure people hear what you are worried about and the ideas you have for solving problems.
How do you effectively have hallway conversations when you don’t share a hallway with your colleagues?
When I told the GNOME Foundation Board of Directors that I was leaving my job as executive director, I told them my number one priority was to hire my replacement. Before I was hired, the GNOME Foundation went through a long period without an executive director and I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again. At the Boston Summit, there was actually some discussion about whether they wanted another executive director or whether they could hire more specialized individuals for particular tasks. For numerous reasons, they opted to hire another executive director. (I was relieved – speaking as a current GNOME Foundation board member, it would be a lot of work for a volunteer board to manage more staff without an executive director.)
The most amazing thing about this process was that an all volunteer hiring committee was formed and made a recommendation to the board in just two months. We received a number of high quality candidates and we were committed to moving quickly through the interview and decision process.
Executive Director Hiring Process
Here’s the process we used to hire an executive director:
- We put together a great hiring committee.
- We created a mailing list and set of private wiki pages for the hiring committee.
- We drafted and posted the job description.
- We collected resumes; conducting phone screening as we went. We were quite excited at the number of quality candidates that we got.
- On the wiki we tracked candidates, who was phone screened, who was set up for follow up interviews, etc.
- The phone screener for each candidate was responsible for managing that candidate for the rest of the process.
- All communication that involved decisions went through a GNOME board member who was also part of the hiring committee.
- We recommended three candidates to the board.
- The board interviewed the top candidate and negotiated an offer.
- She accepted! To carry on the tradition, we made her write her own press release. (Actually, Luis Villa helped me with mine.)
The GNOME Executive Director Hiring Committee
The group that agreed to help out and did an awesome job is:
- Bradley Kuhn, Executive Director at Software Freedom Conservancy. Member of the Advisory Board representing FSF, former Executive Director of FSF. Bradley offered a lot of free software and nonprofit expertise to the hiring process. Bradley has a personal friendship with Karen, which he disclosed to the committee as soon as her application arrived. Other committee members carried out the initial interviews with Karen, and Bradley recused himself on 14 March 2011 when Karen became the top candidate.
- Dave Neary, Neary Consulting. GNOME contributor, former Director of GNOME Foundation. Dave brought us a lot of GNOME experience and understanding. He was involved in recruiting me for the job several years earlier.
- Germán Póo-Caamaño, Director of GNOME Foundation. Germán was our board member contact. He pulled us all together and was our communication point with the board of directors. Og Maciel and Brian Cameron, two other board members, joined him midways through the process. We had board members communicate all official decisions to candidates and that turned out to be quite a bit of work. Og did great sending out a lot of emails – some fun and some hard.
- Jonathan Blandford, Manager of the Desktop team at Red Hat. Member of the Advisory Board representing Red Hat, former Director of GNOME Foundation. Jonathan brought us not only GNOME experience but hiring experience in the open source world.
- Kim Weins, OpenLogic. Senior VP of Marketing at OpenLogic. I invited Kim to the committee because Kim makes things happen! She brought a wealth of team building and hiring experience as well as strength in execution that kept us moving along whenever we started to stall.
- Luis Villa, Greenberg-Traurig. Attorney at Greenberg-Traurig, formally attorney at Mozilla, former member of the Advisory Board representing Mozilla, former Director of GNOME Foundation. Luis joined to help us part time. He did not interview candidates but leant his GNOME experience – and he’s the one that hired the former GNOME Executive Director (me!).
- Robert Sutor, IBM. Vice President of Open System and Linux at IBM. Bob brought a history of GNOME but also ties to the greater industry and a lot of hiring experience. He also drove us to keep moving at times when volunteer orgs tend to slow down.
- Stormy Peters, Head of Developer Engagement at Mozilla. Former Executive Director of GNOME Foundation, former member of the Advisory Board representing HP, now Director of GNOME the GNOME Foundation (but not at the time of the hiring committee).
Here’s the actual time line of how it worked:
- I gave notice on October 20, 2010 and said we should work on hiring a replacement right away.
- At the Boston Summit, the board decided to hire an executive director to replace me.
- The board appointed Germán as the board member in charge.
- Germán posted the job description on November 7, 2010.
- On November 29th, Germán involved me in the hiring committee formation.
- On December 27th, we introduced the hiring committee.
- We started screening resumes and doing phone interviews.
- On February 2, 2011, the hiring committee made a recommendation to the board.
- On March 11, 2011, the board told the hiring committee they were ready to make an offer to the top candidate.
- Discussions, clarifications, negotiations and communications.
- On June 21, 2011, we announced that Karen Sandler would be joining the GNOME Foundation!
The process went well and I’d recommend it to others trying to hire in a virtual, global, nonprofit environment. There are parts that could have been more efficient but we learned and adjusted as we went. We talked to a large number of high quality candidates and hired a new executive director in an a very efficient manner – all done by a volunteer board of directors and a volunteer hiring committee!
Transparent voting is an idea that is ideally really useful but also completely useless in GNOME.
Some people in GNOME have been asking for transparent votes. When the board votes, they would like to know who voted which way. I totally agree with them – it’s important to know how different board members think so that you can make educated choices. However, I also agree with the people that say that it would be totally useless.
For example …
Yesterday and today the board discussed where GUADEC 2012 will be. It’s a big decision and not one we took lightly. We discussed it, we invited the potential hosts to come and talk to us, we debated it and we debated it some more. Many hours in total.
And yet when the vote happened, it was unanimous.
So what happened? If the vote was unanimous, why all the discussion? Because it wasn’t really unanimous. We all liked different points of different bids. And some of us weren’t sure which way we wanted to vote to start with. Then we discussed and some people changed their positions, others remained firm. We discussed some more. And although it was a unanimous vote in the end, I believe several board members still might have preferred a different bid. (They were all awesome.) The unanimous vote was the way for everyone to say “I’m behind the group decision.” More than half of us were 100% behind one bid and the few of us that weren’t were signalling that they agreed. They were willing to go with the group decision. They signaled that by the way the voted. You’d have to see their body language to understand.
So while it would be interesting for people to know how individual board members feel about issues (like maybe copyright assignment), seeing the results of votes is unlikely to be informative. We need to figure out how to convey the conversation, not the vote results.
At the Rensselaer Center for Open Source Software students develop open source software solutions to solve societal problems.
For example, at the HFOSS Symposium today I talked to Graylin Kim who is working on the New York Senate Open Legislation Service where people can look up any bill that is being discussed in the New York Senate, get a permanent url to share and discuss on their own websites or grab all the data via REST. The idea is to encourage more citizens to get involved in legislature. Developers can get involved at http://nysenate.gov/developers or #nyss_openlegislation @ Freenode.net for OpenLegislation
I also discovered that Ease, a slide share program for GNOME, that is currently being developed by Nate Stedman. (An earlier version, Glide, was created by an RPI student, Rob Carr.)
You can check out the RPI Center for Open Source and the other projects students are working on. The program was started by a grant from an RPI alum, Sean O’ Sullivan. He started MapInfo (now PBInsight) and JumpStart International (article).
They were at the HFOSS Symposium sharing how their program worked with other educators.
[Post edited for accuracy on March 9, 2011.]
This is for my work done as a volunteer.
Reviewed the 9 slidesets that InitMarketing is putting together probono for GNOME. These are slidesets that anyone speaking about GNOME will be able to use and they cover things like applications, history, accessibility, etc. They are starting to look pretty good.
Forwarded emails to the right people. Talked to a few people about the status of projects and gave my opinion and ideas on things I’d been working on (and some that I am still working on.) Among other things this included reviewing the budget, making some introductions with LWN, forwarding the mail about a new Friends of GNOME subscriber, an a11y conversation, etc.
Gave some feedback on Dave Neary’s slides. He’ll be representing GNOME at an event in Korea in a few days.
Missed being on the board list. Now I will have to wait for the board meeting minutes to hear about the stuff that is going on.
Followed all the great posts about all that happened at the Boston Summit!
This is my update for work done for the GNOME Foundation. For a higher level overview for what I do as the Executive Director, see What do I do as Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation?
F123.org and Mozilla both gave us grants for GNOME accessibility! We are opening contracts for good work with the funding. Thanks to Joanie Diggs for putting together the proposals and plans for the money. Joanie has been posting the opportunities.
Made a list of all the things I work on. I categorized them into things that could wait a while for a new executive director, things that need a board contact and things I thought the board should try to continue to work on in the short term. The board really stepped up to the plate to cover things. I am impressed by the work they are doing and willing to do.
Followed the Desktop Summit mailing list, had several chats with people about different topics, especially Dave Neary who has been following the progress closely and helping out. Reviewed the website and the press release. Helped Claudia Rauch with the text for the sponsorship brochure and proof reading it. Andreas Nilsson made it into a beautiful looking brochure. Claudia and I divvied up the companies we want to contact and I sent out the first request for Desktop Summit 2011 sponsorships to the companies on my list. Germán Póo-Caamaño and Claudia will continue the work.
Along with Paul Cutler met with Litl about the things they are working on related to GNOME. Litl is sponsoring the Boston Summit this weekend.
Worked on a standard document for terms and conditions for GNOME event sponsorship. It’s often a step that’s skipped as it’s work to put it together for each event. My hope is to make it easy. That said, we’ve had very few misunderstandings over the years.
Worked with James Vasile to write some standard letters for logo infringement. Actually, he wrote it, and then with feedback from the board I turned it into a couple of version to be used depending on the situation.
Wrote up a job description for the new executive director. Discussed the hiring process with the board.
Made a quick inquiry about health insurance in case that’s important to the new executive director. The way it works in the United States, it would be expensive. If we have a candidate from another country, we’ll have to research their employment laws.
Was very excited that we announced the interns for the GNOME Outreach Program for Women. We had a couple of marketing applicants – which was exciting to me – but they faced tough competition from the other projects. They did submit, as part of their applications, a very nicely and uniquely designed brochure and a website of screenshots among other things. Marina Zhurakhinskaya did an awesome job putting the whole Outreach Program together from encouraging applicants to working with all of the potential mentors to putting out the press release. Thanks to to Google and Collabora for enabling us to accept so many awesome candidates!
Published a wiki page of the advisory board member responsibilities. It’s something every new advisory board member asks but something I had always done verbally so it was good to get it in writing.
Followed up with some of the advisory board members that have missed a few meetings. Most of them have just been very busy – some with great GNOME work!
Worked with Egencia, an online travel reservation system, to see if they could help the travel committee and the GNOME community with travel. We believe they can but we are working out the costs now.
Reviewed the annual report. It is ready to be published!
Gave my feedback about the Grace Hopper Conference Open Source track. I hope they do it again!
Wrote my rough draft of CiviCRM requirements. Passed the task off to Rosanna. She will work with the sys admin team and a consultant to get them implemented.
Attended the GNOME Foundation IRC meetings. Two this month! Was impressed by the attendance and the discussion.
Talked to Canonical about Unity. They plan to continue to work with and support GNOME.
Got the LWN agreement officially signed. They gave us an awesome offer and all Friends of GNOME subscribers will get an LWN subscription.
Attended the Boston Summit. Great job by John Palmieri on organizing it again! Got to meet a see a lot of people in person. Had a lot of conversations about potential candidates for the executive director job. Attended the board meeting which was very productive. Led the Friends of GNOME planning session. Lots of great plans with a great team working on it! Jason Clinton, Joey Ferwerda, Og Maciel, Vincent Untz and Jeff Fortin. Many others participated and gave feedback like Heidi Ellis and Brian Cameron and Vinny. And obviously there are others on the team that weren’t here who will help out as well!
GNOME was invited to a Samsung open source conference in Korea. Dave Neary will be representing us and speaking. Others are welcome to attend.
Pinged teams about the quarterly report. Set up a new process where people submit their reports to the wiki.
Made some substantial edits to the hackfest wiki pages to include other events and to clarify the parts of the process where we’ve gotten the most questions.
Floated the idea that the Foundation hire a part time event manager to help with hackfests and other events. Had several discussions about what that person might do and be funded and most importantly how the position might interact with the travel committee. No decision made.
Excited that the GNOME Event Box has a new home for a while while Christer Edwards gives it some tender loving care. He’s used it a few times and has some ideas for improving it.
Worked with InitMarketing on some slide presentations they are making for GNOME advocates to be able to use. They are looking good.
Followed up with Friends of GNOME “adopt a hacker” hackers and the post cards they’ve been sending out. Everyone wants to continue even if the numbers are going to ramp up soon!
Had some conversations about the GNOME Ambassadors. Plan to invite mentors to join as well.
Talked to Jim Herbsleb from Carnegie Mellon about work they are doing to research how communities work and how we can learn from them and make them more effective. One idea was to do a joint survey to help set Foundation goals. Germán Póo-Caamaño will be following up.
Held the GNOME Advisory Board Meeting. We discussed moduleset reorgnization, GNOME Asia and the Boston Summit.
Attended board meetings, met with Rosanna, met with Brian.
Took some vacation to visit my parents.
I have really enjoyed working with GNOME over the past 2+ years. Working with the GNOME community on creating a free desktop accessible to everyone has been fun and exciting – as well as challenging – which is part of the fun. It is the community that makes GNOME, and it’s working with that community, in particular the board, that has made my job so much fun.
Over the past two years I think we’ve made great progress with the GNOME Foundation. We’ve more than doubled our income both from corporate investors and individuals. We’ve made great technical progress especially with all of the hackfests. And we’re well on our way to GNOME 3.0 which is looking like a solid release at this time. In addition we’ve grown teams and processes like the marketing team, the sys admin team and the travel committee. And you know all this because we’ve also improved our communication processes with things like the quarterly report and more active use of the GNOME Foundation blog.
And I can’t take credit for all this. Obviously this is way more than one person can do! It’s been a team effort and again and again I’ve felt extreme gratitude for all the hard working people on GNOME.
So I am really sad to say that I am leaving my paid position as Executive Director. It’s been really hard to write this blog post because I really don’t want to leave. (And I won’t be leaving – more on that later.) However, I’ve been offered a great opportunity to work on the open web at Mozilla. As you all know, I think we need to be pushing for freedom on the web as much as we’ve pushed for it on the desktop. So I see this next step as continuing in my contributions to making sure users have a completely free and open experience when using technology.
So what about GNOME?
The timing of my move comes at a time when GNOME is getting a lot of press. I’d like to give my thoughts on how GNOME will move forward over the next couple of months.
In particular I’d like to highlight one that’s at the top of everyone’s mind, GNOME 3.0. I am confident the GNOME community will continue to work hard on GNOME 3.0 and they will release it next spring when it is ready for end users. My leaving will not affect the development of GNOME 3.0. My job was to run the GNOME Foundation to support the GNOME community. I did not set technical direction nor contribute to the code base – the GNOME community, led by the release team, individual contributors and partners, sets the technical direction and does the work. While I will not have as much time to help with things like marketing and partner coordination, because of the GNOME Foundation, GNOME has the resources and funding we need to move forward with GNOME 3 whether it’s hackfests or resources for marketing. Not to mention that we have many partners hard at work on GNOME technologies like
Red Hat on Nautilus and Evolution … Igalia and Collabora on WebKitGTK+ … Novell on Sabayon and Banshee … Collabora on Empathy and Telepathy … Intel on Clutter … Litl on GObjectInstrospection … Openismus on gtkmm and anjuta … Oracle, Mozilla, Igalia and F123.org on accessibility … Nokia with a GNOME Mobile grant … Google on Outreach … Openismus and Canonical on the Bug Squad … Igalia, Lanedo, Codethink, Red Hat, Openismus and others on GTK+ … and many, many more
Where I can continue to help by supporting the marketing team or helping introduce companies, I will.
Another area where I’ve invested significant effort is fundraising. People have expressed concern that it won’t be easy to duplicate the work I’ve done. I’m proud to say that the GNOME Foundation is looking good financially. We recently hired a system administrator, sponsored numerous hackfests and we will now be increasing our administrative assistant’s hours. Our financial status is very solid and will continue, given the generous support of our advisory board members. I’m confident that with our current board, our finances will be well managed and we will be in a great situation for the new Executive Director to take over.
There are numerous other things I’ve been working on that might be affected. I’ve worked a lot on the marketing team and I hope to work with the dedicated team that’s grown there to make sure all the projects I’m working on move forward. The GNOME Advisory Board has been benefiting from regular monthly meetings. One of the board members will take over that and we have numerous topics lined up. For everything I’ve been working on, I’ve been working with the board on how best to transition them and make sure items that need attention are addressed in the next couple of months.
If you are working on a GNOME project and regularly checking in with me, please know that someone on the board will be available to help you and you can always continue to bounce ideas off me in IRC or IM or email. If you don’t hear from me about who your contact is, feel free to ping me or the board (board -at- gnome org)
Where am I going?
I’m going to Mozilla to head up their developer engagement program, focused on the open web! As many of you know, I think we have a complete free and open source solution for the desktop but we still have a lot of work to do on the web. Many of us now depend on web applications that are not only not free but don’t even let us download and protect our own data in reasonable ways. Working on developer engagement at Mozilla will let me dedicate more of my resources to making sure developers have the tools and knowledge they need to create applications on the open web.
(And I should point out that GNOME is hard at work solving the problem of how web applications integrate with the desktop with efforts like libsocialweb in GNOME 3 which will integrate instant messaging and social web sites into your desktop. In addition, applications like Tomboy, Banshee and Rythmbox are all integrating with the web. I hope my work at Mozilla will compliment what GNOME is doing and that we will work together.)
I’ve really enjoyed all my conversations with the Mozilla folks I’ve met and I am excited to be joining them. They are aiming to create an open standards-based platform for innovation without restriction. Something that fits very well into what I’ve been thinking and talking about for the past six months.
When I started at the GNOME Foundation, everybody asked me what I was going to work on. So I spent the first couple of weeks asking everybody else what they thought I should be working on. I feel a bit like that again. I’ll be working with the people and team at Mozilla to enhance and define their developer engagement program. I’ll be blogging more about Mozilla and my work there in the future.
What’s next for me and GNOME?
While my last day as a paid employee will be this weekend at the GNOME Boston Summit, I don’t plan to leave the GNOME community. I will continue to be active in the marketing team and I am always available to chat or help. My focus for the short term will be helping the board hire my replacement.
When elections open up for the GNOME Board of Directors next spring, I plan to run. I’ve really enjoyed and appreciated all the work the GNOME Directors do (it’s the most active board I know!) and I hope to be able to continue that trend and contribute my share. I believe the skills and interest I have can continue to strengthen the GNOME Foundation in its efforts to create a free and open source desktop for everyone.
And to echo a cry I’ve heard:
“Rock on, GNOME!”
The thoughts and ideas in this post are mine and not necessarily representative of what the GNOME Foundation thinks or plans to do.
Canonical will be shipping Unity as the default desktop for Ubuntu 11.04. It’ll still be GNOME technologies underneath, GNOME applications will run on it and it’s still optimized for GNOME, but it won’t be the GNOME shell. Not the traditional GNOME shell that we all know and love nor the new GNOME Shell coming out in GNOME 3.0.
Many developers were really disappointed to hear that Unity will be the default shell on Ubuntu. Some are disappointed because they don’t like Unity. Others are disappointed because they feel like Canonical is doing its own thing instead of working with the greater GNOME community to reach a compromise that works for all.
I understand. We’ve put a lot of work into GNOME Shell, our next big thing, and Canonical is saying that it’s not the best thing for their users. It’s disappointing because we are excited about our new plans and expect lots of users to enjoy them. And we rely on our distribution partners to get GNOME into the hands of users, so we were expecting Canonical to help us in that. We also expected Canonical to push for any different user interfaces they wanted within our community, not to design them and announce them independently. In a sense it feels like a child who’s decided to move out of the house. We thought they were going to stay with us forever and listen to our wisdom and instead they’ve told us they’ve learned from us, they like some of what we are doing and they have grand plans for the future. They plan to use some of what we work on (like kids come home for some holidays) but they plan to do their own thing too. Perhaps they’ll make mistakes that have been made before or perhaps they’ll do something grand.
Trying New Alternatives
The beauty of open source software is that they can decide to try something new, without convincing all of us to do it too. And they aren’t forking the project. They’ll still be using a lot of GNOME technologies – the same ones we are using – with just a different shell on top.
In a way, it’s not all that different from what Moblin and Maemo did. They used GNOME technologies with a different shell. We were ok with that because they were expanding into new markets – netbooks and tablets – and because it didn’t seem like a step away from GNOME but a step forward with GNOME. Canonical’s move with Unity is similar. Except that they aren’t starting from scratch, they are moving from a traditional GNOME desktop to Unity. So we feel the change more.
Changing Open Source Ecosystem
I’d also say we are seeing a change in the open source ecosystem here.
On one hand, we are getting more companies joining us that know very little about open source or who have interacted very little with open source communities – device manufacturers for example. We have been actively working on how best to get them involved in the our community in order to improve our project and in order to ensure that they have a good experience with open source software. We want to be sure that they use it in a way that doesn’t require them to do lots of rework every time we update our product.
On the other hand, we have companies that have been using open source for a long time and are developing their own ideas for what works. We aren’t always going to agree with them. For example, Canonical believes copyright assignments will benefit open source software. The GNOME community feels copyright assignments are potentially detrimental to free software projects. But while we don’t agree, we need to find a way to best work together.
Canonical has a lot of work to do, but I assume they know that and I won’t presume to tell them how to do it other than to encourage them to continue to work with us on the GNOME technologies they use. I do wish them the best of luck. As one of GNOME’s partners and as a company that gets open source software into the hands of users, I hope they succeed.
In GNOME’s case, I think we need to understand what companies are looking for from us and how we want to position and brand ourselves.
What do we call projects that use GNOME technologies but aren’t a GNOME desktop? What if it’s a device that has no screen? Or a small device like a smartphone? Or a full desktop distribution? Do we want them to be GNOME branded? If so, how do we want them to be GNOME branded?
What do we want to focus on? Awesome technologies that can be used and pieced together independently? Or an awesome desktop that solves a particular problem? Or a set of user interfaces that solves a set of problems? Right now I think we are working on one awesome desktop that we hope solves lots of problems. But it’s unlikely that one desktop is going to work for a huge set of diverse people. For example you might have a developer with two 24″ screens or a student with an 8″ netbook or a mom with her smartphone. Either GNOME needs to develop solutions for all of those or they need to enable others to do so. And we need to figure out what that means for the project and how we want to brand ourselves.
We also need to continue to work on better integration between the desktop and the web. While both GNOME Shell and Unity say they are addressing the way people work today with the web, there’s still a huge gap between the applications I run on the web and the ones I run on my desktop. They don’t seemlessly integrate. Email is the best example of how things could work. Most web email services and most desktop email clients integrate very well these days. But calendars, contacts, banking systems, recipe management systems, etc. all have a ways to go.
We are doing the groundwork to enable that integration between the desktop and the web in projects like GNOME Shell and WebKitGTK+ and many other projects. There’s still work to be done to maximize the entire user flow including the 7 applications they have open on their desktop and the 15 tabs the currently have open in their browser. Fortunately we have many smart people working on it.
Over 106 companies have contributed to GNOME and over 3500 individuals have made contributions. While we may have lost a distribution channel for GNOME Shell, Canonical will still be using and building with many GNOME technologies and working with the GNOME Foundation. And we still have all of our substantial technical resources working on GNOME Shell and other GNOME technologies.
Time, and our strategy, will determine what the free and open source software user interfaces of the future look like.