[Foundation] membership, money, and meritocracy

Peter Saint-Andre stpeter at jabber.org
Tue Apr 1 22:05:21 CST 2003


This email is intended to be controversial. You've been warned. :)
(And no, this is not an April Fool's message.)

I put forward the following for discussion. I'm not presenting these
ideas as a fait accompli, but I would like to discuss them seriously.
These things need to be said, and I suppose I'm the person to say them.

So...

In order to thrive, the JSF needs two things:

1. Active contributors to key projects and initiatives
2. Enough money to pursue important opportunities

We never seem to have enough of either, but that's the nature of
open source. JSF Chairman Michael Bauer and I have been working on
recruiting more sponsors for the JSF, but in these times of economic
uncertainty it's not easy. In addition, leaders of Jabber projects 
are always looking to recruit active developers, but it's hard to
find strong contributors -- even those who volunteer often become very
quiet when they realize that they need to commit some of their time.
(I'm not judging: making a contribution is not for everyone.)

Most open-source communities function as meritocracies: the degree of
your influence is directly related to the degree of your contributions
(usually in the form of code). In the Jabber community, there are
opportunities to contribte plenty of things besides code: people can
contribute documentation, advocacy, marketing advice, compliance test 
cases, and so on. Although everyone likes receiving things for free, 
the hard truth is that it's volunteer time (and hopefully a little 
money) that moves Jabber and the JSF forward.

I think there is a connection here to the meaning of JSF membership.
Right now, just about anyone can be a member of the JSF. This was 100%
true when the JSF accepted its first batch of members in 2001, and since
then the vast majority of applicants have been accepted. The result is 
that the JSF has a lot of members, especially compared to something 
like the Apache Software Foundation (ASF). The JSF has 88 members and 
is currently accepting applications for more. By contrast, the ASF, 
which leads a much larger and older community, has something like 45 
members. 

In order to become a member of the ASF, you basically need to be a
project leader on one of the Apache projects. In order to become a
member of the JSF, you basically need to say that you like Jabber and 
intend to do some cool Jabber stuff. There is a disconnect here that
I think will only become more pronounced over time.

So in contrast to the meritocracy at the ASF, the JSF is more of a
democracy. We can also draw a contrast to something like the GNOME
foundation, which is more capitalistic (companies can buy membership),
or to the W3C, which is nearly a plutocracy (only big companies can 
afford to buy membership).

I don't want the JSF to become a plutocracy, but I wouldn't mind earning
a little money from corporate members. I would also like the JSF to be
more of a meritocracy than it is now, because it's only fair to those
who contribute the most. I'm sure saying that will not be popular in 
some quarters, but I'm not here to win any popularity contests.

As for particulars, I suggest the following:

1. Charge representatives of commercial entities some modest yearly 
fee for JSF membership. $200 sounds about right to me. Because such
people don't lead open-source projects, we'd need to figure out some
other way to determine if they really deserve to be members. I'm not
yet sure what that method might be -- JEPs, mailing list posts, and
other contributions might help. Or if your company's products are
significant to the growth of Jabber (so far undefined) and you are 
a key contributor to those products (validated how? I don't know yet),
then we'd accept you (as long as you pay your $200). But we need to
institute a hurdle of merit here. (BTW, if companies are paying to
have their employees be members, they may want some proof that 
"membership has its privileges" -- I'm not sure how to address this
yet either.)

2. If a company is a sponsor of the JSF, waive the fee. Perhaps
institute a sliding scale: sponsors at the $1k level may have 1
membership fee waived, $5k sponsors may have 5 fees waived, $10k
sponsors may have 10 fees waived (or whatever, perhaps fewer than 
that for the larger sponsors). All companies would still be subject
to the limitations in the Bylaws regarding the percentage of members 
who may be accepted from any one company. No one is buying influence
here (it's that whole meritocracy thing again -- each member whose
fee is waived would still need to prove merit).

3. If a representative of a company meets any of the criteria in #4
below, their fee would be waived.

4. Membership is free for Jabber Council members, leaders of JSF work 
teams (e.g., Compliance and Marketing), and leaders of active Jabber 
open-source projects (how we define "leader" and "active project" is
open to debate, but CVS checkins and release schedules, and maybe 
protocol compliance / JEP support, should help us create objective 
measures).

5. All members must be actively affiliated with a company or an
open-source project. If you like Jabber but don't contribute, we
still love you but you can't be a member. If you once led a project
but dropped out, you can't be a member. If your project is dead,
you can't be a member. If you are a corporate member and your company 
goes out of business or fires you or whatever, you can't be a member 
(unless you meet the criteria in #4).

As I said, this is controversial. I'm not wedded to everything I 
suggest above, but I *am* committed to making JSF membership an 
honor and a privilege. And I wouldn't mind raising a little money 
from corporate members of the Jabber community in the process. 

After we discuss this thoroughly, I will put together a more formal 
proposal (I hate to think what the Bylaws changes will look like).

Let the flames begin!

Peter

-- 
Peter Saint-Andre
Jabber Software Foundation
http://www.jabber.org/people/stpeter.php



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