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The Ferengi are bad examples for open-source community management

Jon Gold | Sept. 18, 2013
Puppet Labs community lead Dawn Foster says geeky literature is a treasure trove of management tips for open-source communities.

Many of the most important precepts for managing an open-source community, according to Puppet Labs community lead Dawn Foster, are contained within the pages of science-fiction and fantasy literature.

In a presentation given Tuesday at LinuxCon in New Orleans, Foster said that Dr. Who's TARDIS (a powerful time-travel device) works well as a metaphor for open-source communities, which may be more complicated than meets the eye.

"On the surface, the TARDIS looks like a simple blue Police box, right?" she said. "So what can you really tell about a community from the outside? ... On the surface, you might see a few mailing lists, an IRC channel, maybe a forum ... but until you actually dive in and start participating, it's really hard to understand what it's actually like."

Lessons about inclusivity of female contributors, younger contributors and those from different cultural backgrounds featured heavily in Foster's talk, as did the importance of honesty, patience and general good nature.

I, Robot and more specifically, author Isaac Asimov's creation of the laws of robotics help highlight the importance of universal community standards.

"Isaac Asimov created the three laws of robotics so that he could write stories that went against the robot stereotype of his time ... robots turning against their creators and destroying them," said Foster. "Many of us find communities full of people who are acting like jerks like the [older stereotype] robots - to be tedious and annoying."

Other highlights included:

  • Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and empathy "Don't act like an android. I talked about community guidelines, and to be honest, where most people get in trouble ... is when they don't take the time to think about how their actions are going to impact other people."
  • The revamped Battlestar Galactica and gender equality - "Starbuck could kick the ass of anybody in this room. Battlestar Galactica was filled with very strong, capable, talented women ... we can start by encouraging young women to get involved in these communities."
  • And, of course, the Star Trek universe's Ferengi "Look at the Rules of Acquisition [a set of cutthroat, dishonest precepts for the mercantile race] and pretty much do the opposite. ... You cannot buy back a lost reputation."

Foster a former system administrator who's been active in various open-source communities for 12 years tells Network World that the most important issue facing open-source communities stems from their own diverse natures.

"As a result, how you manage each community is different. This makes it hard for people to understand exactly what it means when you say you are a community manager, because each community is different and what the community manager does is different across communities," she says.


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