Ubuntu and governance
Posted Oct 5, 2007 22:39 UTC (Fri) by mjg59
In reply to: Ubuntu and governance
Parent article: Yet another male perspective on women in free software
The IRC sessions are not logged and made available in the general case
Members of both committees reserve the right to retreat to a private channel if in their judgement "an open meeting becomes too noisy"
I'm not aware of this ever happening - it certainly hasn't for the technical board. In the event of an open meeting becoming too noisy, it'd be far more likely for us to moderate the channel and continue in public, before unmoderating the channel to allow for general feedback (I have a vague recollection of this happening at some stage)
It is likely that most of both groups' business occurs on their respective strictly private and confidential mailing lists.
It doesn't. The only issues generally discussed on the mailing list are either procedural (approving decisions made by other bodies) or private at external request (in the technical board case mostly upstream authors asking for decisions about their software).
They are appointed by Mark Shuttleworth, confirmed by majority vote of the maintainers, and serve for one and two years respectively.
It's true - Ubuntu isn't a democracy. I don't think we've ever tried to hide that. Nor do I think anyone could ever accuse Mark of always making good decisions. But that's not really the point. The structure of Ubuntu was designed precisely to avoid the issues that keep on arising in more democratic organisations like Debian, such as protracted arguments about what sort of social standards are acceptable or the precise meaning of the wording of a document written by someone who's left the project years ago or what if I were a lesbian amputee from Mars or whatever. We have bodies of people who are chosen on the basis of competence and agreement with the existing social and technological standards, with the explicit aim of ensuring that those same standards are perpetuated.
This sort of arrangement certainly isn't for everybody, and I'm certainly not going to try to convince you that you're wrong about Ubuntu. I'm just interested in clarifying why we have this set of arrangements.
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.
While that's certainly theoretically true, I suspect that it would never happen. If we're unable to explain precisely why someone was excluded, the community would be asking serious questions. On the one hand, the large scale community involvement with Ubuntu aids the distribution by producing huge quantities of free advertising - on the other hand, they also provide a very public counterreaction if we fuck up.
So really, we're left with the case where someone gets thrown out, there's an inadequate explanation and the community doesn't care. That kind of suggests it was the right decision, though the lack of explanation would be justifiably criticised.
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?
But to answer your original question - if someone's long-term failure to be collaborative or ask for help results in them adversely affecting other people's attempts to contribute, even after requests for them to modify their behaviour, then yes, they'll probably be expelled from the project. The slightly handwavy attitude of the code of conduct is deliberate. We don't want to attempt to strictly codify behaviour, because doing so just encourages people to try to find loopholes - see the constant gamesmanship applied to the OSD, for instace ("Oh, but this clearly actually means this, so it's fine if we require you to urinate on your chair every time you want to run the software!")
In an ideal world, the code of conduct would be something along the lines of "Behave sensibly". It ended up containing some broad guidelines to give people a better idea of what we think "sensible" is.
However, the process is not (per above) particularly honest. Me, I prefer honest.
While I know that I said I wasn't trying to convince you that Ubuntu isn't evil or anything, I think it's worth me mentioning this. I know most of the people involved in the Ubuntu governance structure fairly well, both at a professional and personal level. I trust them to make correct decisions. However, if anyone sees anything that could be construed as misappropriate happening in the decision making process, feel free to get in touch with me. If I'm not able to provide a decent answer about what's happened, then I'll happily resign - at that point, it'll be fairly clear that my standards don't match those of the rest of the distribution.
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