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Community Interaction in Open Source

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I noticed this morning, through the built-in update mechanism, that Firefox 3.6 was available for consumption (this was on my windows box). So I quickly stopped what I was doing, clicked on the button that was already staring me in the face, and about 15 seconds later (after restarting the browser) I was up and running with the latest and greatest.

I twisted my chair around to my F12 box, switched to my running Firefox instance, and opened the Help menu to force the update immediately…only to be reminded that the Fedora distribution has explicitly disabled the built-in update feature. Duh, of course — I’m supposed to be getting my updates from yum. OK, no biggie. I whip open a terminal and type ‘yum update firefox’ only to realize that my currently installed 3.5.8 is the latest and greatest available. After a few moments, my disappointment wore off and I realized this made perfect sense. If FF 3.6 was just recently made available through the built-in mechanism, I gotta give the channels a few days (at the very least) to catch up.

Out of curiosity, though, I wanted to see if someone from the community could give me a ballpark estimate on when FF 3.6 might arrive. I hopped on freenode and joined #fedora. Here’s what happened:

me: anyone know when the firefox 3.6 update will be available through yum?
guy1: when it is built

I paused for a few moments, wondering if he was being gruff (on purpose) or just trying to correct how I phrased my question to more closely match the proper vernacular I should have used. So I tried again…

me: ok, anyone know when the firefox 3.6 update will be built?
guy2: me: enough. No.

Well, I guess I knew how the first answer was supposed to be interpreted. Nonetheless, I felt inclined to finish on a somewhat positive note…

me: great, appreciate the pleasant community responses.  have a great day!

Looking back over that short interchange, I wonder whether it was really too hard just to say “sorry, we’re not sure when that will be prioritized into official channels.” Even something along the lines of “no one is working on that currently” would have been more descriptive and helpful. If they absolutely felt the need to save on keystrokes then “unsure” would have been sufficient.

I discussed what transpired with a friend of mine, and we agreed how strange it is that open source people (not all of them, but certainly too many of them IMO) feel they have a license to be jerks. The fact that I was tersely dismissed, however, was not the most frustrating part of this interaction. I wasn’t even all that disappointed to learn that Firefox 3.6 wasn’t available on F12 (yet). No – the most disheartening part of this interchange is that I…am…Red Hat.

Despite the fact that I’ll soon by entering my 5th year here working alongside Shadowman, my community experiences have largely been constrained to the Red Hat-sponsored project I work on — RHQ. Despite the daily stresses that I or any of my teammates have had to deal with internally (in our quest to put out a great release each and every time) we always try to be pleasant, helpful, and encouraging to our community through the public forums / IRC / mailing lists. As a result, I blindly assumed that others under the same umbrella would be acting similarly.

If this kind of interchange had happened with some other company, I could have easily written it off as “<those guys> are jerks.” But it stung when I realized that this is how some individuals in a Red Hat-sponsored community were acting. Whether or not guy1 or guy2 are actually employed by Red Hat is irrelevant here. If someone on my community forums, or in my community IRC, or on my community mailing list gave a response like that to a community member…actions would be taken to correct that behavior. Open source is supposed to be about the free exchange of ideas…the theory that we can compete with the big corporations because our collaboration model is superior. But if people see simple questions like “is anyone working on <foo> yet?” being dismissed, then I can’t imagine they would feel all that comfortable about asking their own questions. And that’s just shameful.

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Written by josephmarques

March 15, 2010 at 11:32 am

Posted in opensource

Tagged with