Response to "Getting Fedora Out of the If-Then Loop"

inode0 inode0 at
Wed Feb 17 18:24:58 UTC 2010

This morning I read John's blog and the thoughtful entry titled
"Getting Fedora Out of the If-Then Loop." I'd like to make some
comments but I don't think responding on the blog to all the
interesting points works well for me so I'm going to cheat and respond
here. The full blog can be read at

* An increase in the number of people downloading Fedora could also
increase the number of new potential contributors.

It could but does it and to what extent? Is it a good metric for the
number of contributors joining the project? What does it look like if
we overlay the recent stagnant download trend with the recent
statistics showing numbers of contributors over the same period? If we
see stagnant downloads but increasing participation in terms of growth
in the contributor numbers it might suggest to me that we are being
successful at marketing Fedora as a project to potential contributors
but that perhaps we are being less successful at marketing Fedora the
distribution to end users.

While I don't think there is a really strong correlation between
number of downloads and number of contributors part of the Fedora
mission is to spread free code and content and I do think download
statistics measure that in one of its aspects. The more people
download Fedora the distribution the more we are spreading free code
and content. When thinking about whether we are being successful in
this part of our mission I do think we need to consider more than
downloads though. We also spread code and content through its
inclusion in other distributions.

* My best understanding of the argument against setting a target
audience goes like this, “If we set a target audience for the Fedora
distribution, then we will marginalize or exclude the people who
aren’t targeted.”

I hope no one believes this is anyone's intention or a certain outcome
of setting the target audience. This is not my argument against
setting a target audience but it is something I think might result
from doing so. It also might not result from it, we are all guessing
in this hypothetical what if we do this world currently but we bring
different experiences and instincts to the table. The advocates of
setting a target audience are guessing using their best judgment that
this and that will happen as a result and those outcomes are good.
Others see different outcomes in the future. We won't ever know until
we try it and see what really happens. We can discuss it until we are
Fedora blue in the face but we won't know until we do it.

I do want to make my argument against it more clear. I think of the
Fedora Project structurally something like an inverted pyramid with
the contributors at the top and the steering committees and the board
at the little point at the bottom. This picture of our structure isn't
intended to marginalize the roles of those sitting at the bottom
point. They are critical to keeping the pyramid from tipping over. But
it is intended to convey the importance to the project of all those
other contributors above them in the pyramid.

What is the role of those at the top of the pyramid? Is it only to
scratch personal itches? I see it as much more than that. A large
group of people each with their own peculiar interests, having shared
core beliefs and values, as a whole provide direction in a way that
doesn't happen in other organizations. They might not write down a
mission statement for the organization, but they do *have* a mission.
I expressed the exact same concern I have now when the board was
writing the mission statement. I asked the board if they were writing
*their* mission statement for the project of if they were trying to
capture the actual mission that existed already and was told it was
the latter. So I think the board recognized then that the mission was
defined by those above them in the pyramid and the board did the work
of figuring out what that mission actually was and wrote it down.

In the same way there is already a target audience defined by the
project. In the same way it isn't written down and in the same way
that our mission may have been unclear to some our target audience is
unclear. The difference this time is that the board is *defining* it
as they want it to be rather than figuring out what it is and writing
that down. This is my perception at least of what is happening.

The board has reasons for doing this and has identified a wide variety
of positive benefits that can flow from doing it and I don't dispute
those although I don't know if this is the only way to accomplish
those ends. What I fear though is that this distorts the natural
growth and direction that the project would take in the future. And I
have more faith in the existing source of that direction than I do in
a small board that changes composition every 6 months.

* Does the Fedora board really have a demonstrated history of making
bad decisions and taking Fedora in the wrong direction?  Why so much
fear and worry that the board will do this now?  Part of the problem I
see is that we are still working through a paradigm change–some driven
by board members like me who believe the Fedora Board has a
responsibility to “lead into the future” while overseeing the present.

In my experience, which is shorter than a lot of yours, the board has
no such history. The reason there is some worry now is that the board
is doing something that I haven't seen it do before. The board is now
saying that something that for 12 releases hasn't been its
responsibility now is. What happens in 5 years when we should have a
different target audience? How will the board know it is time to
change it? Will the board's reaction to changing circumstances be more
timely and efficient than would otherwise happen? Will it take the
board 2 years to figure it all out again?

* For as long as I can remember, the Fedora Project has been all about
“enabling contributors to do whatever they want.”  How has that turned
out for us?  Can we objectively say how good or bad the results are
compared to what they might have been under a different approach? How
do we objectively determine if “enabling contributors to do whatever
they want” is a good strategy for long-term success?

Many of us think it has turned out great, others apparently disagree.
All these questions loaded with "objectively" make them impossible to
answer. We can't objectively determine which of two options is better
when we can only try one of them. While we avoid false dichotomies
let's also avoid asking questions like these unless we are going to
also ask for objective evidence that what you are proposing will have
better results than the alternatives too.

* If defining a target audience for our default distribution and
focusing our efforts increases the number of people actively
downloading and using the Fedora it could also increase the number of
potential new contributors.

Can we objectively say that defining a target audience and focusing
our efforts will increase the number of people actively downloading
and using Fedora to an extent greater than would happen with a
different approach?

So often I see change result in things that no one anticipated. The
simple truth is it isn't (a) do X as proposed by the board or (b) do Y
as proposed by inode0 with these nicely defined consequences. We can
all try our best to see into the future, but we will likely all be
wrong about what we see today when confronted with the actual future.
We don't have enough control of things to predict what will happen or
to objectively know if we made the right choice when we look back.

We select a board to make these hard decisions. The board has given
the community plenty of chances to share with the board both its
support and its concern. I thank the board for that and don't intend
to prolong the process by continuing to express my concern. We all
want the best for the Fedora Project. And whatever falls out when we
shake this tree we'll all go on working to improve the Fedora Project.
Leaders are brave and do what they believe is right. Be brave and do
it. :)


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