Maemo Community Counsel:Something new in OS

August 15, 2008 Jack Repenning

The Maemo community has come up with something new in open-source process: a community council to represent the community needs back to the company behind the community (in this case, Nokia). There has always been a need for this two-way communication, of course, and it’s been handled in several ways, but this seems to be the first use of a community council.

In the classic Open Source model, the primary representative of the community is the original author of the code; the historically seminal example is probably Richard Stallman’s handling of the GNU and Emacs communities and code. In commercially sponsored open source work, the most common model has been for the company to staff a community "manager" or "leader" (or some such title), on the payroll of the company in an ordinary sense, but with the job to ensure a healthy community.

But there have been other models as well. The Apache foundation, for example, is built around councils of contributors — who may, indeed, be on formal staff with some company for just this sort of task, but who gain membership in the community council only by the value of their contributions. When CollabNet initiated the Subversion project, we essentially combined these two models: the leadership of the Subversion community has always been simply the list of "full committers," whatever their day job might be, but CollabNet has always staffed a few people to focus full-time on contributing. They’ve always been recognized as full committers, because they do the work and contribute the value (not because we pay them), but they certainly also represent us into the community. Looking at Subversion’s success, I gotta think this system worked pretty well!  Even today, the Subversion Corporation forms a legally constituted entity, but it’s actually nothing more than a formalization of the "full committers" list.

Some other communities, such as Eclipse, have formalized foundations and user groups and membership-driven councils, but so far as I know these have all been initiated by the sponsoring company (and all kudos to sponsors like IBM, for putting this much work into ensuring the community has a voice!).

This Maemo thing, though, is different. The sponsoring company, Nokia, seems to be doing a fine job, no one’s complaining too much, but there’s still a need to coalesce the needs of the community, and to represent them coherently and consistently to the company. Nokia has people in the community, and their contributions show that they’re watching, and on-board with the general community direction. But the community wants more clarity and focus.

The Maemo community have chosen to elect a council. Nominations come from the community, nominees are recognized based on their contributions to the community (in discussions and specifications and many other things, not just in code). The council will represent the community to the company. It’s a pretty slick idea, actually: Maemo is a bit larger and more diverse than Subversion, and probably can’t depend on a single voice to emerge from the discussions.

I’ll be watching this one, to see how it goes. You should, too!

(Thanks, as always, to Stormy Peters of OpenLogic and the GNOME Foundation for alerting me to this!)

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