Ubuntu and governance
Posted Oct 5, 2007 18:19 UTC (Fri) by rickmoen
In reply to: Yet another male perspective on women in free software
Parent article: Yet another male perspective on women in free software
The reason I like Ubuntu is not just the sleekness and polishness (Fedora and openSUSE do better in some/many ways, not least with the system configuration tools), but the fact that it's not just "hey whee source code to the latest kernel", but "we're building a more equal world where people help each other and do stuff for the common good". Plus the Code of Conduct that may come to rescue whenever someone is being an idiot on the forums / mailing lists.
There are actually two Codes of Conduct, the regular one and the leadership one. Both are vague feel-good suggestion lists, rather than the functional code of conduct that they purport to be. Is Ubuntu going to enforce the "Be collaborative" and "When you are unsure, ask for help" items from the regular code against members, e.g., lock someone out of an IRC channel for failing to be collaborative? As an actual code of conduct, i.e., a set of governing documents for participants, it's a joke.
The relevant Web pages do allow one to discover the actual governing structure, if one disregards the fluff: Technical decisions are vouchsafed to a Technical Board, and member-conduct discipline to a Community Council. Both meet on IRC; neither is particularly transparent to the public (i.e., the public cannot readily track what their history of decision-making is, or their real process and criteria for doing so), for three reasons: 1. The IRC sessions are not logged and made available in the general case. 2. Members of both committees reserve the right to retreat to a private channel if in their judgement "an open meeting becomes too noisy". 3. It is likely that most of both groups' business occurs on their respective strictly private and confidential mailing lists.
And who are the members of those groups? They are appointed by Mark Shuttleworth, confirmed by majority vote of the maintainers, and serve for one and two years respectively. To whom are they accountable? Nobody in particular. (I'm sure they're good people, and are not criticising them. I'm just pointing out the process.)
The end-result is that Ubuntu has two private committees under the founder's proximate control that have roughly zero public transparency, one of which is fully empowered to restrict or ban Ubuntu participants without needing to explain themselves to anyone but each other. Anyone trying to find a reliable record of what they've done and why will be stymied by the surrounding information void. To the extent there's anything, there are just vague and, frankly, deceptive-in-context handwaves about the Ubuntu Code(s) of Conduct.
Now, it's entirely possible if not likely that the end-results are mostly desirable, e.g., incorrigible personal flamers and posters of large amounts of offtopic drivel being exiled temporarily or permanently. However, the process is not (per above) particularly honest. Me, I prefer honest.
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