Okay. I have a bit of skin in this game, because I work for some highly GNOME-invested people here at the corp. Furthermore, I think I qualify (in Eugenia's books, at least) as an Evil Conspirator - I spent a great deal of time a year or so ago convincing Dave Camp that spatial navigation in a file manager was a really, really good thing (Red Hat unilaterally decided to implement spatial nautilus? It wasn't the Nautilus maintainer? Hm, well, okay) so I may up for some of this venom.
But I gotta take exception to a whole bunch of stuff said here. Let me be frank; I just think it's sort of stupid, and although I can be this blunt because this is my own blog, I just see no point in sugarcoating. The writer seems to feel that OSS developers and projects have a responsibility to the world to behave like large corporations and perform user-centric market research for feature implementation, else be punished by users (like the writer) deciding not to use their software. The problem seems to stem from the fact that these developers and projects appear to not care if these users use their software.
Big fat logical flaw, right there. But let's ignore that, for the moment. How, precisely, are these uncompensated OSS dev/projects supposed to do this? Eugenia, at the beginning of the article, notes that Novell/Sun/Redhat brushed off the problem as only applicable to their own market research and their own customers, and stated that that was fair enough because 'they had a business to run.' Well, OSS folk (sometimes) have lives - and time spent writing that software you're using has to come out of those. Coders are in fact usually the easiest to find to commit time to projects, because usually they are utilizing skills and resources they either use to support themselves anyway, or skills that they utilize for fun in their spare time and hence would be doing anyway.
Market research, though? Organized feedback and project planning? Those require a vastly different set of skills and organizational roles and resources, which are much harder to come by - and cost, either in coin or otherwise. Many fewer people (I would think) perform market surveys as a hobby. Fewer people (than code) solicit feedback on other people's work for fun. Fewer people than code on something that interests them are willing to organize groups of other people who are working for fun and try to coerce them into doing something else, without resources to offer them or means of coercion. That's called management, and precious few people can do that effectively even when given all the tools a corporate position and an orgchart make available; how many do we think have the ability to nerdherd for fun in the wild?
Some can. I've seen it. But it's not nearly as directed as some seem to imagine. It's a reality distortion game of motivation and imagination, a crowd manipulation game. It's not a project management task. That's the part that's best left to paid company employees to handle, and is one of the reasons that it's so exciting that companies like ours have actually been willing to jump into this scary arena.
In the end, what the writer of that article seems to me to be saying is that 'gee, GNOME is nice, but you people who write it aren't listening to us people who have decided to use it, and there isn't a mechanism in place whereby I can make you listen to me, and I'm going to threaten to stop using it, and hope that the threat makes you worried that you're losing 'traction' and hence pay more attention to my demands.' It's a sometimes effective tactic, I guess. But it's really whiny. Hence the title of this entry.
As others commenting on that article have noted, there are vastly more efficient and less needy ways to motivate people. Have you considered the bounty system? Money works, and if enough users want something, well, gee, put your money where your mouth is. As the article points out, 'vast numbers of users...' wanted something and it didn't get done, or hasn't gotten done, and people are willing to pony up money for it. Okay, then harness the hobby coder and put up a bounty site. Organize those rogue developers with cold hard cash. Compete with Novell/Sun/Red Hat for those coders' time and attention not with threats of firing but with the lure of lucre. Play the game. If you don't mind that those companies are in the marketplace (and you don't seem to, from your comment) then you shouldn't mind playing on their playing field, and you seem to think there are enough of you with demands to match their resources...especially if your demands aren't in conflict with theirs.
Or are your demands really all that widespread?
Posted by jbz at March 11, 2005 4:57 PM