[Linux-aus] Inflection Point - A Strategic Plan for Linux Australia

Anthony Towns aj at erisian.com.au
Wed Jan 6 02:41:25 AEDT 2016

On Sun, Jan 03, 2016 at 02:38:36PM +1100, Kathy Reid wrote:
> To this end, I've put together the below document to start a conversation -
> You may not agree with the analysis or actions outlined in the document -
> which is great - ...


> Everyone with the link is able to comment on the document.
> https://docs.google.com/document/d/1WFeIm-TWVJX-u3gIM9K-hy-91-WFRrs4VVeDDIXCIQo/edit?usp=sharing

So this irks me a bit -- how does it make sense to talk about rebranding
as "Open Source Australia" or being a community/volunteer organisation
while using closed-source, commercial, proprietary tools when free and
open solutions to the same problem exist?

I understand the counter-argument -- google docs is so easy compared to
using git or setting up an etherpad, and the LA admin team is already too
busy, and it doesn't really matter in the big scheme of things anyway,
etc, etc.

But... I got into Linux Australia back in the days when all the same
arguments applied to using Linux versus Windows, and just not using open
source at all. And I don't really think my views have changed much --
I still find it more fun and valuable to be struggling with leading
edge technology that's obscure but free, compared to just using the same
stuff pre-packaged stuff everyone else uses.

I mean isn't that kind-of the point? Do we build our own tools, and send
patches around to each other debating the merits of different ways of
doing things, and thereby building new and better things? Or do we just
use whatever's state of the art, without it mattering how it works or
how we might change it?

There's a good argument for the latter: it's a lot easier, and a
lot friendlier to people who aren't great programmers who still want
to contribute to the organisation. And no matter how good you are at
programming, it definitely gets tedious having to use second rate systems
for everything.

I guess it's whether you take "advocating for open source" to mean
"everyone should use open source" versus "everyone should be able to take
their software and tweak it until it works how they want". Granted, it's
totally unrealistic to expect everyone to be able or even interested in
hacking on every bit of software they use. But I guess when I was thinking
of an open source utopia, I imagined a lot more hacking, rather than
just sticking "Libre" in front of "Office" and not having to pay for it.

If LA isn't about building cool things to scratch your own itches and
writing cool software and passing around patches; I'm not sure what it's
really about anymore? Maybe it just becomes an industry advocacy group
like the Linux Foundation, except that the "industry" being represented
is made up of open source projects (like Python and Linux) rather than
actual companies? But is that really different to OSIA? It certainly
doesn't capture the spirit of linux.conf.au or what interests me.

But if LA *is* about building cool things to scratch your own itch,
and passing around patches, and whatnot, basing its processes around
closed, proprietary systems like Google Docs or Xero or whatever else
(Slack? Trello?) is effectively saying "well sure, open source and home
hackery is cool, but not for important stuff like managing your finances
or running an organisation".

If LA isn't willing to change how it runs a tiny organisation with a few
thousand members and a couple of moderate sized conferences to be in line
with open source principles, why should a huge company with thousands
of employees and millions in revenue listen to LA suggesting it change
its business model for the sake of open source principles?  Why should a
government listen to LA opposing laws to support those businesses models?

It just seems to be a very compromised position to try to take, and I
have a lot of trouble supporting it.

But hey, maybe I was just wrong all this time saying "free software"
and "open source" are different ways of talking about the same thing,
and this sort of compromise really is what "open source" is about,
and I should just wish y'all well and write an apology to RMS...

On Tue, Jan 05, 2016 at 11:52:57AM +1000, Craige McWhirter wrote:
> Is it possible to convert the document to ReStructured text and post it
> to a git repo, such as Github, Bitbucket or similar services, where
> patches can be suggested and discussed more collaboratively?

Anyway +1 to this.

On Sun, Jan 03, 2016 at 10:58:40PM -0800, Francois Marier wrote:
> My suggestion, and I realise this will likely be an area of considerable
> bikeshedding, would to consider a more inclusive name that reflects the
> diversity of our community. In the English-speaking world, it seems that
> most have settled on "FOSS" to include people of both Open Source and Free
> Software leanings.

There was a member vote on which name to use, with "Linux Australia"
winning by outright majority, iirc (37 1st preference no name change,
versus 35 votes with a different first preference [0]).

I don't really think anything's changed since that vote (Kathy's opinion
hasn't for instance!) so rehashing it doesn't really seem productive.
Co-branding still seems like a viable alternative approach to me though:
don't try to rename LA, just have a separate trademark to use where
that's appropriate. After a few years, if that trademark gets as much
(or more) mindshare as "Linux Australia", change the name then.

(As I said at the time, I think "opensource.org.au" would be a better
mark to use for this effort than "Open Source Australia" (and I'm still
miffed that it wasn't on the ballot). Of course, that's for the goals *I*
care about -- so "opensource.org.au" seeming a bit weird and hackery is
a positive, not a negative)

> Bringing paid contributors into a volunteer project is a
> challenging problem. Do you have any thoughts as to how LA can do this
> successfully? (i.e. without alienating its existing volunteer base)

A simple policy for this might be: quarantine all existing funds, and any
future funds from volunteer run events such that they're not used to pay
salaries (directly or by hiring a contractor or whatever). That at least
avoids the salaried folks profiting off the unpaid labours of volunteers.

Personally, my biggest concern isn't in having a paid executive officer
to do cool stuff, but rather having syadmins with enough time to keep
the old (and current) lca sites up available.

Some comments on things from the document:

> Moreover, Linux Australia’s original reasons for existence -
> supporting Linux User Groups, promoting Linux and free/open source
> software (FOSS) are less valid in an era of [...]

I don't understand why anyone would think "promoting Linux and free/open
source software" is "less valid" but still care about Linux Australia
at all.

> Australia’s technology policy is becoming ever more conservative, with
> mandatory metadata retention and facial recognition capabilities being
> deployed.

There is nothing "conservative" about metadata retention or facial
recognition capabilities. They're both fundamentally new policies only
possible because of recent technology breakthroughs, and they're supported
by both "progressive" and "conservative" governments.

(I note in the comments, Tennessee suggests "apolitical image" as a
strength of the organisation. If so, honestly I think it's a strength
that's pretty threatened...)

> The existing Membership management tool, MemberDB is end of life and a
> replacement is sorely needed. Some discussion has occurred towards this
> goal, but momentum toward an outcome has not been sustained.

I would say the momentum that was there was to set some criteria on what
the replacement should do, then evaluate alternatives. Proposing CiviCRM
as the right solution rather than doing that is exactly what killed the
momentum, from my perspective...

I think "end of life" is just standing in for a value judgement, not
that there's an actual time limit on how long it can kept being used;
ie it would be more accurate to just write "MemberDB is pretty crap in
the author's opinion". Evaluating it against actual criteria would be
better, of course...

> The behaviour of some Members exhibited on mailing lists is appalling,
> and unbecoming of an organisation of Linux Australia’s otherwise high
> professionalism.

I have no idea what this is even talking about. Apparently it's a
dog-whistle since from the comments on the document, it's clear to
others. I guess that means I'm on the opposing side of the debate and
should feel attacked.

(I also don't know why you'd go from telling Members that they're
appalling, unbecoming and unprofessional, then expect additional volunteer

> Several other organisations run profitable technical events, making
> for a very full Linux, open source and technical conference and event
> calendar nationally. This has the potential to limit attendance, and
> therefore profitability of Linux Australia events in the future.

I don't think this is even a threat [1] -- LA is a non-profit, so
not making a profit isn't a problem in and of itself; and if, eg,
linux.conf.au doesn't run anymore because there are just *too many*
Linux conferences in Australia, that's not a problem either -- it's a
MASSIVE success.

Now, LA's conferences being badly run, that would be a threat, sure. If
there were things LA was doing with the return from conferences that would
be hard to live without, then losing that return would be a threat too,
but I don't think there are any such things?

I don't really think "multiple open source organisations" is a threat
to LA's goals either; "lots of people caring about open source" is also
a success condition, not a failure. It could be a threat if the other
organisations had different goals that were actually inimical to open
source somehow, but I don't think that's the case either.

(I guess it's a threat to how impressive "Linux Australia council member"
sounds on a resume, or to KPIs like "how many people pay attention to us"
or "how much money do we have", but I don't think any of those are LA's
actual *goals*)

Actually, I don't really understand why LA's conferences like LCA,
PyCon.au etc aren't headlining the list of strengths, and worse are
kind-of referenced as a weakness in so far as "Some events in the Linux
Australia stable have questionable viability in the long term". Those
conferences are LA's foremost contribution towards its goals as an
organisation and its key strength as far as I'm concerned. Maybe the
author, as one of the volunteers making one of those conferences happen,
is just trying to be modest [2]?

I guess I'd say:

 - strengths:
    a) successful stable of conferences/events
    b) tradition of functional/good governance
    c) good financial handling (presuming that's still the case)
    d) good will of volunteers, members, and community

 - weaknesses:
    e) exploited/offline systems
    f) membership management
    g) communication with members
    h) administrative load on volunteers
    i) media participation/public awareness/publicity?
    j) "Linux" still turns some people off?

 - opportunities:
    * back/endorse/suport existing and new conferences/events
      (enhancing (a))
    * grass-roots influence of industry/government policy development
      related to open source (enabled by (d) but prevented by (f,g,i))
    * develop/deploy better membership management tools (resolving
    * pay for (hire/outsource) maintenance tasks (sysadmin? video?)
      (resolving (e,h))
    * co-brand as "opensource.org.au" (resolving (j), enhancing (a)
      but effect on (d) could be -ve)

 - threats:
    * good will may be lost quickly if decision making degrades
      (eg, lists full of flamewars, non-consultative decision making;
      (b) vs (d))
    * running conferences might be harder if good will is lost, or
      financial management becomes poor ((a) vs (c,d))
    * each conference adds more systems to maintain for the admin and
      mirror teams ((e,h) vs (a))

(strengths/weaknesses ordered most to least, at least IMO;
opportunities/threats just in the order I thought of them while going
down the strengths/weaknesses)


[0] http://lists.linux.org.au/pipermail/linux-aus/2013-January/020276.html

[1] Is "threats" rather than "challenges" old-fashioned or something?
    Internally focussed vs externally focussed seems odd too; "How things
    are at present (strengths/weaknesses)" versus "How things might change
    (opportunities/threats)" seems more useful to me.

[2] Wow, maybe the whole lca 2016 team is being modest? No names listed
    under https://linux.conf.au/about/team ?

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