[Foundation] membership, money, and meritocracy

Martin Rogard martin at vibes.net
Thu Apr 3 11:01:01 CST 2003


So as everyone seems to agree that a meritocracy is better than a
democracy let me disagree.

Apache, GNOME, KDE are technical projects droved by developers. Indeed,
the only political system that huge technical projects can handle is
meritocracy because they primarily need code and skills. Therefore the
only way for those projects to *survive* is to give power to those who
code. But it has never been a fact that this is good for users, in fact
I think it's not. Especially when your project is not a technical
reimplementation of something already existing but a new platform.

When project is only technical and users aren't directly involved this
seems to work (ie the Linux Kernel) but it fails shorts on user wishes.
Gnome, Mozilla, and very lately the XFree86 project are examples where
the meritocracy fails because developers aren't always "lightened
dictators"; coders have no reason to know better the wish of the users
than the users themselves. This statement often makes open-source
developers crazy, and says "Projects belong to those who
code"...yeah...right.., but this is precisely where closed-source
projects have an edge: they have a vision and the leadership is given to
the man or group that maintains this vision. Don't just say Gnome,
Mozilla, XFree86 are great projects, yes they now work, but study
carefully their last 4 years and you'll see that their focus on
technology vs. users whishes made them loose a lot of time, and they are
now precisely refocusing their efforts toward users and a clear vision.

This is exactly why you'll never see a good open source game, you need
vision and leadership not just technical skills to make a product and
not a technology. 

I completely agree that a meritocracy is needed to drive the development
of the Jabber protocol and servers but not to drive the Jabber Software
Foundation. I think that democracy is better because it allow us to have
a large group of individuals, with different views versus a small group
of highly skilled jabber developers. Now let me be very controversial,
why should a core developer of the Jabber server make a better decision
on what is the future of Jabber than a user who started using Jabber six
months ago. No offense here, but I have more confidence on the hundreds
of jabbers users than on the core Jabber Team to shape Jabber future.

The JSF has to decide is goal, if it's only a technical one, go on. If
you see, like me, the JSF as the way to guide Jabber as a platform for
different services, applications, and as a vision of a new kind of
Internet I think a democracy is better.

- martin

-----Original Message-----
From: members-admin at jabber.org [mailto:members-admin at jabber.org] On
Behalf Of Peter Saint-Andre
Sent: mercredi 2 avril 2003 06:05
To: members at jabber.org
Subject: [Foundation] membership, money, and meritocracy


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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