[Foundation] membership, money, and meritocracy

Jeffrey Ricker ricker at trans-enterprise.com
Wed Apr 2 07:56:39 CST 2003


I can recommend that the group take a close look at how Eclipse.org has 
structured itself.

Eclipse has two distinct groups: the open-source community of developers 
and the board of directors. The directors are senior executives of 
corporations that are using the Eclipse platform in their products. They 
meet once a quarter to admit new members, review the progress of the 
projects, etc. The mission of the board is to manage the brand and 
assure that the interests of the companies are fulfilled or at least not 

The open-source community is a pure meritocracy. Individuals propose 
projects. If the projects are accepted, room is made for them on the 
website. The project leader(s) is responsible for the success or failure.

IBM began Eclipse by donating the source code. IBM waivered on how much 
leadership they should take in the organization. They feared that too 
much involvement on their part would scare others away. Just the 
opposite was true. Others joined because of IBM's strong leadership in 
Eclipse. I believe there may be a direct parallel here.

The organization of Eclipse is still evolving, but I appreciate its 
basis. By design or nature, or design of nature, it is taking the form 
of government. It is very much like the checks and balances between 
estates (as in the estates of the yoemanry, nobility and the church in 
15th century England).

You cannot transplant a form of government, but you can certainly take 
lessons. If you are serious about your constitutional convention, you 
should ask yourself: What are the "estates" in and around JSF that need 
to be checked and balanced? What authority needs to be delegated to 
individuals for practicality sake (executive) and what needs to remain 
democratic (legislative)?
What are the basic rules that never change (constitutional) so people 
know that the rug can't be pulled out from under them?

Finally, I would like to sternly warn against opening Pandora's box of 
corporate fees. Eclipse requires no money from its corporate members, 
and those members are mostly Fortune 500 companies. Fees are a barrier 
of entry. They are always a barrier of entry. W3C and others like WS-I 
use fees to keep people out. Open source is, above all, open.


PS. Sorry I missed you at IETF.

Peter Saint-Andre wrote:

>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.
>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 
>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 
>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!

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