Friday, March 19, 2010

Democratic, Meritocratic, or Dictatorship?

Photograph of Mark Shuttleworth by Martin Schm...Image via Wikipedia
Webupd8 has an article about Mark Shuttleworth's comment on the left-side button decision which quotes from the bug report:
This is a difference between Ubuntu and several other community distributions. It may feel less democratic, but it's more meritocratic, and most importantly it means (a) we should have the best people making any given decision, and (b) it's worth investing your time to become the best person to make certain decisions, because you should have that competence recognised and rewarded with the freedom to make hard decisions and not get second-guessed all the time. 
It's fair comment that this was a big change, and landed without warning. There aren't any good reasons for that, but it's also true that no amount of warning would produce consensus about a decision like this.

> If you want to tell us
> that we are all part of it, we want information, and we want our opinion
> to be decisive.

No. This is not a democracy. Good feedback, good data, are welcome. But we are not voting on design decisions.

 Martin Owens makes a comment that Ubuntu is not really a meritocracy. Is that true? Is Ubuntu really democratic? Really meritocratic? Actually a dictatorship (as Mark Shuttleworth's "SABDFL" title implies)? Does it matter? Which is better for Ubuntu in the long run.

I don't think that there's anything wrong with being a dictatorship, as long as the leader is good. The Linux kernel is a reasonable example. OS X might be, too, depending on your stance on Free Software.

Shortly after it was introduced, Ubuntu leapt past other, more entrenched distros primarily because of its ability to build a large, active community. The Ubuntu Forums were almost immediately filled with people giving their time to help. Ubuntu Brainstorm came about to help identify problem areas in the distro. Ubuntu's active community is almost certainly the largest of any distro.

The activity of the community leads to the impression that Ubuntu is a community-driven project. It's not, really. Mark seems to imply in his comment that the best and brightest who further go on to prove themselves are given a kind of voting privilege or influence on the decision to be made.

From the outside, it appears to be more of a dictatorship, with advisors being appointed by merit. I'm okay with that, actually. In fact, I think more direction would be good for the project. This is FLOSS: people who don't like that model (or the direction) can change projects or fork. (I'm serious, not trolling.)

1 comment:

  1. This has always been a "problem" with open-source software.

    The difference is that usually it's a programmer which has started the project, and as a programmer, has no design or usability experience.

    Then when the community come along and say, "you know, the usability would be way better if you did so and so", the programmer just turns around and says, "I know best, and I'm doing it my way, tough luck", see Pidgin.

    In all honesty, I much much much prefer having a designer turn around and say "I know best, and I'm doing it my way" than some self-righteous programmer with no design experience.


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