December 19, 2012

Lack Of Trust

Open source communities are built on people volunteering time and knowledge to something they want to support. This isn’t always without friction. Sometimes users of contributed code react poorly to bugs, to delayed launches, to answers they didn’t like, and so on. As someone who has given my fair share of time to open source projects over the years, I know how hard it can be not getting any appreciation for your work.

Time spent doing something so that others can enjoy it, is fragile.

Yes, the word is fragile. Because if people keep thinking the worst of you, thinking that you’re not doing the best you can given the circumstances, then you get fed up. Actually, you get angry, annoyed, sad, and then you get fed up.

Why spend your free time giving something to others when they don’t appreciate you?

Let’s put it this way, how many of you have ever said thanks to an open source contributor?

I hope that’s quite a few hands raised there, good for you. Now, how often do you express this gratitude? How often does the figurehead, the big name behind the open source project you use, how often does the figurehead get the thanks, and everybody else gets nothing?

Far too often, I’d wager. In part because it is hard to say thanks to people who aren’t as public as said figurehead, but also because most of us doesn’t think to do it. It’s not out of spite, it just doesn’t pop up there, in our heads. Saying thanks.

It’s easy enough to complain though.

Take any comment area, any forum, any social networks, and you’ll have people complaining. They’re complaining about their cellular providers, about public transportation being late, about all the chores they’ve got to do, and they’re complaining about that open source project who isn’t out just yet.

“Because, you know, they said that it would launch two days ago. Come on, they said it, now I’m pissed off!”

I hate that kind of complaints. They are destructive, not a good combination when time spent by contributors is fragile.

Add money to the mix and it gets even worse. Someone does something for the open source community that requires money, and suddenly it is ten times worse.

“It’s open source, everything should be free!”

I’m sorry, but everything isn’t free. Do you think the stuff you get when you attend that event is free just because it is about open source? Do you think web hosting is free? Do you think all that time taken from work to prepare for whatever it is you’re getting for free is actually free? And do you think that people outside of the open source community you love so much even remotely cares that you think it should be free?

In the end it is a matter of trust.

The members of an open source community need to trust each other. It takes all kinds to make a community, not just a small core group of brilliant minds. No question is too stupid, no problem is too small, no suggestion is too trivial, et cetera.

It really is a matter of trust, because the next time someone isn’t meeting the launch date, everyone need to trust that there’s a good reason for the delay.

The reason is probably that the people involved have to do other things as well. Such as make money, take care of their families, sleep even. Few people get to work with open source projects 24/7, you know. They take it from their free time.

Trust in the fact that the people within the community wants to do good, and say thank you to the ones that do. Don’t whine, don’t complain, and don’t be a pain in the ass. Be constructive, be positive, and if you can’t be that, be quiet.

Otherwise people get angry, annoyed, sad, and fed up.

Thoughts? Let @tdh know on Twitter, or find me elsewhere. There is also a newsletter.