This is the abstract for a proposed talk for OSCON 2008, preferably in the "People" track, but possibly in "Linux." I am using my personal experience with Fedora not as a bragging ground, but as a way to frame the question of why we don't manage a comparable of engagement (not necessarily equivalent outcome, just similar stickiness) from all contributors. I am blatantly co-opting (some use the word "stealing") good ideas from Jeff Spaleta and a few other people who have emailed me in the past about "why don't we...". I'm also trying to tie in some of our upcoming achievements, some of which should reach fruition by the time this talk happens in July 2008.
Bridging the Gap
This talk presents the author's success in joining and rising to leadership of a successful open source project as a contrast with those who were not able to get past the join process. The talk covers the challenges of attracting and retaining contributors, drawn from the successes and failures of the Fedora Project.
The author started his Linux career in 1997, as an offshoot of his work in digital media forensics and teaching forensic and security professionals. After his Linux distribution of choice, Red Hat Linux, was merged into an open source community project called Fedora in 2003, he joined to give something back, or in today's parlance, return value using the framework of the gift economy.
He went on to participate in a number of areas of the Fedora Project, and learned many new technical skills along the way, perpetuating his motivation to stay involved. He was asked to join the newly formed Project Board, which provides assistance and guidance to the other Fedora subproject leaders as well as broad direction to the Project as a whole. Later he was recruited and selected for a position with Red Hat to serve as the new Fedora Project Leader starting in 2008.
During this same period, hundreds of potential volunteers and contributors attempted in vain to get involved, and either migrated to other projects or abandoned the free/libre and open source software (F/LOSS) community altogether.
The barriers that affect the stickiness of a F/LOSS community typically fall into several categories:
1. Lack of identifiable leadership or objectives 1. Faulty technical or contributor-focused documentation 1. Unresponsiveness or lack of mentoring 1. Failure to meet motivational challenges The Fedora Project confronts each of these challenges with a unified set of initiatives that encourage contributors rather than turn them away, give our project the stickiness it needs to grow and thrive, and help us identify and reward leaders in the community.
1. Clearly organize subproject tasks, with accompanying identification of necessary skills 1. Actively maintain contributor-focused content
1. Create training materials that capture institutional knowledge and make it available to new contributors instantly
1. Allow and encourage volunteers to shift their contributions over time as their interests change, by supporting topical groups that attract cross-spectrum skill sets
1. Reward leadership (with something other than more work) These goals are tied to technical milestones as well, including the rollout of a new account system and single sign-on architecture, engagement with new commercial partners to establish an enhanced project presence, the establishment of a best-of-breed unified portal for contributors, and userspace support for project entry at post-installation boot time. Many of these initiatives are well on their way, and this session includes a status report for all of the work in progress.