Forum OpenACS Q&A: Re: Drafting the Core Team Governance Document

Posted by Talli Somekh on
In an effort to rinvigorate this discussion, here are some of my thoughts...

While I think that having a core geek team is important, I don't think that it's the most critical governance issue facing the community. The reason is that I no longer think that we are "just" a geek community, as the OACS has been up until very recently. Indulge me a moment to make a very generalized explanation.

While aD existed, the OACS community generally consisted of a bunch of volunteers and then small companies who wanted to serve clients that were not necessarily "enterprise class" or "fortune 1000". This was great since we could generally feed off 38M dollars of VC investment and harangue aD for not paying attention to us.

The sites and clients that were using the OACS at that time were relatively small organizations who could be insulated from the geek community by the consultants that they had hired. They had made a commitment to the platform, but not explicitly. That is, they didn't have the bandwidth to participate in the growth and improvement of the community themselves. They left that to their consultant.

Once aD left, those clients who were still committed to ACS Tcl and were considerable institutions joined the OpenACS and have taken a far greater interest in the flourishing of the OpenACS community so that their investment doesn't go the way of aD.

The prime example is, of course, the involvement of Al Essa from Sloan and Carl Blesius and Michael Hebgen of Uni-HD. Neither of these guys are coders, but they are very important decision makers who have joined the community because of their investment. They may be geeks, but not hacker geeks.

There are many other examples of course. Greenpeace, the World Bank, Siemens, Bertelsmann, Delphi Capital, Praesagus are just some of the multi-million dollar organizations that are following the community intently because of deep investments in the OpenACS platform. (I'll try to organize types of constituents and examples of community members below.)

This is not to say that such orgs are not involved in the Tcl community as well, but these orgs are far closer to the end-user. In order to be a Tcl community member, you pretty much have to be a hacker. No end-user who doesn't at least know HTML will care how to fix a threading bug.

An end-user in the OpenACS community, however, can easily participate by pushing for improvements in the way that business logic is developed or the flexibility in adding content to a system. Michael Feldstein has historically been this voice, and Danielle Hickie is getting involved now in the CMS discussions.

As a result, I would like to advocate that we take a further step back and discuss how we can build a governance model that addresses the following issues:

  • Real community leadership Communities naturally consist of many different kinds of people with different talents and perspectives. We need to figure out a way to get all sorts of constituencies involved and take leadership roles.
  • Total (or as much as humanly possible) transparency I loathe the idea of non-transparent governance (private lists, private chats, etc) I think we would be begging for a fork someday. So far we've been lucky, but we have had our famous problems in the past. One need only look as far as the Gentoo project to see how scaleable a nontransparent community is.
  • Promoting participation and new leadership Providing fairly simple and straightforward paths for new people (hacker geeks, non-hacker geeks and losers like talli) to take leadership roles in the community (although we might want to ban losers like talli)
  • More beer!

I really think that these issues need to be addressed before defining a technical governance structure that could become the de facto decision governance organization.

This may be a bit hyperbolic, but I sort of feel that a technical governance structure would sort of be like setting up a provisional military government during a transition to civilian rule of law. Sounds like a great idea, but those provisional organizations have a nasty habit of sticking around for a long time.

I should not, of course, that I am not a hacker so I naturally have a different perspective.

This note is already too long, so I'll stop here and post some more thoughts later.