Jun
29
2011

What price Community?

KDE prides itself as being a community.  Is that justified?  I have seen good, hard-working people driven away from projects because they were receiving behaviour from other members of our community that they would not accept from general users.  The Code of Conduct, it seems, is for others, not for ourselves.  We have a number of people in our community that regularly use aggressive behaviour, attacking the work of others without even bothering to ask why their particular dislike was implemented.  What’s worse, they are often very respected members of the community, for the work they do – but why are they allowed to behave like this?  The CWG (and I include myself here, as I was part of it for quite a long time) have done nothing about it – because generally they don’t interfere unless there are complaints from the victim.  “We can’t offend such a valuable contributor!”  So we allow things to continue.  When a victim simply disappears from the scene, so does the problem – until next time.

It’s time for some serious questions.  What should we be doing when one respected member of the community attacks others?  I’m not talking about words spoken in the heat of the moment, then retracted, but of repeated attacks, apparently designed to make the victims feel worthless.  Often the perpetrator has treated several people in the same way.  We are, or can be, better than this.

Written by annew in: KDE | Tags:

29 Comments

  • simathur

    > What should we be doing when one respected member of the community attacks others?

    We should do nothing. The developers do all the work and hence the talking. If they want to treat others without respect, they should be free to. After all, it’s their work. KDE is about developers and not the users. If you think otherwise; well, I feel sorry that you have been ignoring reality for so long. In Free Software, developers call the shots. That the projects have any users is merely accidental.

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • Having noticed this here and there (but I never dug too deep, so I might be wrokg), I think that the CoC should apply to contributors as well.

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • Ben Cooksley

    I’ve seen this happen as well. The code of conduct should definitely apply equally to all regardless of whom you are.

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • Petr Svoboda

    This is UNACCEPTABLE. If someone i doing this regularly, then we are better of without him. There should be a team of proven, good behaving moral members who should be able to punish the offenders in some way. It is very sad that some offending contributors are behaving like this. Immature bad manners do not belong to the KDE community. If a person is not able to comprehend that saying crap to other contributing people HARMS FLOSS AS A WHOLE, then he DOES NOT belong into KDE community. OFF WITH THOSE! They will not be missed.

    Behaviour must be priority over code contribution!!!

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • BajK

    I am normally not a guy who automatically dislikes and hates changes because 95% of the changes are actually improvements.

    But when features that are definitly an entire Usability FAIL which you would even know after 5 seconds of looking at it and they do that for no apparent reason (or don’t even bother telling why they did) THEN I start ranting. Just look at the mess they did in Kickoff for KDE 4.7, that is definitly something that is worth ranting about.

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • Bart Cerneels

    If the CWG starts interfering with internal discussions on their own initiative, how can they know it’s not a genuine and useful conflict rather then purely personal attacks? The “attacker” would get stigmatized and can be countered by bringing up CoC and CWG, while there might have been valid cause to those “attacks”. In short: conflict within teams will have good outcomes if the arguments can remain healthy.

    Rather then stepping on on own initiative, raise the awareness of the CoC and CWG so victims will report if they feel attacked.
    And beware of the slippery slope.

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • Mike

    As a first step, I think you (we) should start to use proper names for things. Who are those unrespectful respected members?

    Let the community know so that we’ll decide who deserve our support and who doesn’t.

    As an added benefit, the unrespectful member will be ashamed by the collective blame and, eventually, he/she’ll understand how to behave properly.

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • annew

    @Mike: I have no intention of naming names. It would not be in the least productive. The principle, however, is important and should be discussed.

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • annew

    @Bart: In an ideal world that sounds fine. In truth I’ve not seen a single example of such attacks bringing a good result. In any case, there is never an excuse for attacking people. If you are unhappy with something you can ask for reasons and suggest alternatives. In a number of cases this simply does not happen. As for the CWG stepping in – would you rather see good people driven away? Because that is what has happened on more than one occasion.

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • annew

    @BajK: Why rant? A logical discussion of why it fails for you might actually bring some improvement.

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • annew

    @Petr Svoboda: Much harm is being done, but I would much prefer to see a strategy for problem resolution rather than a list of punishments.

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • annew

    @simathur Under no circumstances can I accept that they should be free to insult others. One contributor’s work is not more important than any other contributor’s. You seem to imply that the badly-behaving developers are the only ones doing the work, when this is patently untrue. We are talking about a small number of people that are doing a great deal of damage, and some strategy for dealing with this is seriously needed.

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • Petr Svoboda

    >”We are talking about a small number of people”

    I dont know the details. But if it’s a small number of people, bring attention of others to them. Community will recognize them as evil doers. As I say, I dont know the concrete details, but it is likely possible that the “small number of people” may be peons of a corporation who has them on paycheck with the objective of destroying the FLOSS communitties.(M$ to name the one)

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • annew

    @Petr: I don’t think it is anything like that. The cases that I’m aware of all concern genuine contributors who are far from respectful of other contributors.

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • Bernhard

    KDE should not tolerate anti-social behavior, even from core contributors. I perfer to see fresh blood with fresh ideas contributing to KDE instead of individuals taking control of a project and keep people away from it.

    I don’t know what happened, but I think that other core contributors should raise concerns about the individual’s behavior and support the victim. If there are no core contributors left, then a fork of the project should be openly discussed.

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • annew

    @Bernhard: Part of the problem is that our community is so large that we tend to fragment. I’m not talking about conflict within a project, so much as contributors from one project making vicious verbal attacks on contributors from another project. Often it would help if others from the attacker’s project attempted to calm him down, but very often the people that could do that won’t even be aware of the attack, since it is often on an IRC channel other than the attacker’s own.

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • Mike

    @simathur

    > KDE is about developers and not the users.

    I think you are completely wrong here. Imagine KDE without all the people who are just using it and then tell me if it is the same thing we have now. As a comparison, take any FLOSS software used only by its own developers and then tell me if it the same as KDE as we know it.

    A developer only (except for project intended for developers only in the first place) project is not healty at all and will have a short life.

    If you are still not convinced, take a look at this message by Ettrich and then tell me again what KDE is about: http://groups.google.com/group/de.comp.os.linux.misc/msg/cb4b2d67ffc3ffce

    @annew: go on being hypocritical if you wish, this is exactly the kind of behavior that led us where we are now. And I bet we’ll still be exactly here in 2012. Wanna bet?

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • slangkamp

    From my experience it’s really hard exclude misbehaving people in KDE. Especially when the are maintainers of some component. Changing a maintainer is only possible by forking that component.

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • I’d like to note that I absolutely disagree on the part that the CWG has done nothing.
    We can do a lot more with the help of the community of course.

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • Bernhard

    > but very often the people that could do that won’t even be aware of the attack

    If some project notices verbal attacks on their irc channel from a (well-known) community member, then it should be obvious which project to contact. It therefore looks like the attacked project does not take action for some reason. Whatever reason that is, it should be identified and dissolved.

    Still, I wonder why a member from a project would vanish just because somebody from another project attacks.

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • annew

    If the attacked project responds it probably will lead to all-out war – not what any of us wants. Ideally the group that the attacker belongs to would be the ones to calm him down, but there are no easy answers. That’s exactly why I think we need this discussion.
    I don’t think anyone leaves a project after a single attack, but persistent attacks can make it feel not “worth the candle”.

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • backtrack

    @simathur; That is one of the worst arguments covering this type of concern that I’ve ever read!! Just because “users” get something out of it, it does NOT mean devs can walk all over them, and they most definitely shouldn’t be allowed to bully and disrespect their fellow devs simply because they have a loftier position within KDE.

    Would you let it go on in any other walk of life? I doubt it thus it shouldn’t be allowed to continue.

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • Bernhard

    > If the attacked project responds it probably will lead to all-out war – not what any of us wants.

    Right. And exactly that should be the premise when contacting the other project: They’re probably not intrested in war, too. I’d be surprised if being quiet and hoping for the best would help in this case.

    Perhaps some ideas on how to react to an attacker next time would help a victim to deal with future attacks and keep it in the project.

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • Robten

    @annew If you’re asking about some general advice on how to deal with ethical ‘questionable’ behaviour inside of the KDE community: I would recommend letting some arbitrator or mediator talk to both, ‘perpetrator’ and ‘victim’. Try to bring them to solve their problem in a positive way.
    In general I also think it can’t be a question IF such behaviour should be tolerated when the ‘perpetrator’ is an important dev. KDE should not be a kind of Guru club. The same applies to @simathur’s elitism.
    KDE needs both its devs and users. So please encourage and demand compliance of the code of conduct on ALL interactions (inside the community and in representation of it). If there are transgressions, mediate them. Should that not solve the conflict, bring the problem to the community and let them decide (that means giving names). Sometimes moral shame alone is helpful, sometimes you need sanctions like banning – it depends on the particular case.

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • g

    I totally agree with Robten. KDE prides itself that it is an open community with very little hierarchy. IIRC the name changes in which KDE now stands for the community were introduced because the community was considered important. If you allow “very respected” developers to not follow the Code of Conduct, then you effectively create a dual society in which an elite is allowed to do everything and break any rule, and the others are forced to follow the rules and are forced to suffer the actions of the elite. This is fascism, stalinism, iranian revolutionism (the one of the ayatollahs), …, certainly not something that leads to a healthy community. If KDE turns into such a society, then I don’t want to be part of it and I guess many others neither! So we will go away and what will remain is the elite who makes a lot of software which will have no users and then simathur’s vision will be reality.

    If the “very respected” developer criticizes another project, he should realize that w.r.t. that project he is someone from outside, so the typical rule “he who codes, decides” applies, which means that the maintainer of the project decides and not the “very respected” developer unless the latter produces patches and the maintainer decides that the patch is good enough to be accepted. If the “very respected” developer cannot accept this way of working, then it is too bad for him, and the only thing he can do is fork the project. If I were a victim of bad behavior of a “very respected” developer and I see that the rest of the community is not going to support me, then I would not hesitate to move my project out of KDE’s git to googlecode or gitorious and I would not fail to say on the front page of my project why that move happened, and I would say that the propaganda that KDE is a very welcoming community is a lie.

    Saying that KDE is the community is politics, saying that KDE is very welcoming is politics, having a code of conduct is politics. Politics is an activity in which policymakers take risks hoping that their actions improve the situation of the whole community (well in ideal situations it is, in my country it isn’t). Enforcing the code of conduct on “very respected” developers is such a risk (the risk is of course that the “very respected” developer goes away and improves Gnome instead), but I think that the benefit of having a healthy community outweighs the lack of development that the disappearance of a developer may induce because one day a new developer will arrive who will continue the work. On the other hand, if you do not take the risk, then the lesser developers will go away and tell everyone that KDE is not welcoming and then no new developers will arrive anymore. So the strategy I propose is: treat the “very respected” developers in the same way as the rest. Otherwise the propaganda that KDE is the community and anyone involved somehow in KDE (developers, translators, users, …) is the community is nothing more than blabla.

    Comment | June 29, 2011
  • I’m a member of CWG, and I joined it because I wanted to contribute to KDE. The health of our community is important to ALL of us, users and developers alike. Because if it isn’t fun, if it isn’t enjoyable, why work for free?

    We need to create healthy teams to have a healthy, fun project. Each of us who cares can be a leader in creating that environment. If you notice someone being rude, please speak to them privately, and find out why they are lashing out. Perhaps they don’t know they are being rude, perhaps they have had a horrible day and just need someone to listen. We can all step up and create the culture we want.

    Please write to the CWG if you need our help: community-wg@kde.org. All posts are confidential.

    Comment | June 30, 2011
  • Bugsbane

    If a developer wants to create code without caring about either money, or having any users, then they don’t need to contribute to an open source project. They can just write, test and admire the code on their own computer and never publish. If someone is writing code for an open source project, and not just themselves, then by definition it is being written to be shared with other people. It is being written to be used. Coders like the idea of having people use their stuff and being acknowledged for it. If you have few users, you tend to have few developers (give or take).If you want contributing coders… users matter, too.

    Comment | June 30, 2011
  • Inge Wallin

    The Code of Conduct is of course for everybody, whoever he or she is. It is therefore the responsibility of all to point out when somebody breaks it. The reason for the CoC is to ensure that a civil polite discussion can be had, and no matter what the discussion is about there is no reason to abuse anybody else.

    The CWG shouldn’t have to be called in for simple cases like that. But of course *members of* the CWG can (and should) point out when the CoC is not followed. The CWG is for when things are excalated from this simple level, e.g. when the pointers to the CoC are ignored.

    But this example is actually quite simple. A much more difficult case is when somebody is abusive in more subtle ways. This could be e.g. always questioning the design choices of a particular person, reverting the other person’s commits with vague reasons, questioning the other person’s competence, etc, etc. You cannot point to a particular case where there is abuse, but the long pattern of subtle disrespect will drive away the other member just as surely. I have seen this. *That* is when the CWG will have a difficult case and have to make the tough decisions.

    Comment | June 30, 2011
  • I strongly believe that CoC applies to developers, as much as it applies to any member of the community. Echoing what Valorie said, this FOSS business, at least for me, depends upon how much fun I have when I do whatever I do. Even if someone has a bad day, that is no excuse for venting out on a fellow contributor. Everyone has their share of problems, and those should not be dragged to the community. Even if one is complaining, there is a polite way of doing that.

    @simathur:
    I find your comment funny somehow. If you really believe in your ideals, don’t expect anyone to use your piece of code happily. Happiness does not go well with arrogance. It never did.

    Comment | July 3, 2011

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