The ongoing GNOME website changes produced some unpleasantly unconstructive reactions. This finally got to me when I saw someone insisting that nobody should try to help. Although this was just a lot of bizarrely vicious nonsense from a small group of unusually bitter people, it does give me an excuse to make a couple of useful points.
Like most open source projects there is nobody in GNOME who has any real power or who is able to make decisions just because of their position. Some names are more familiar than others and some peoples' opinions are more valued than others, because they are active or known for their good sense. They are still just opinions without force. And one characterisic of the best contributors is that they are ready to be persuaded by better arugments.
We have some official groups such as the GNOME foundation and the GNOME release team, but both are clearly subservient to the GNOME community. Anything else would be foolish because there is no way for them to force anybody to do anything. It turns out that you can get a lot more done when you accept that fact and work with it. I wrote some documentation for the release team recently that stresses that point.
So nobody should be blaming an imagined leadership instead of fixing what they care about. Apathy is so 80s.
Because nobody has any real power, stuff only gets done when somebody decides to do it. Anybody is free to do stuff as long as they aren't complete muppets.
Some random examples:
- jdub has been reworking the GNOME web sites. He happens to be on the foundation board and release team but he was the one who did this work because he was the one who did this work. It could have been organised a little better, but nobody made any great effort to do do that.
- I write a lot of emails and poke at bugzilla, trying to encourage decisions and activity when it looks like nobody else is going to do it. (For instance, The 2.4 new modules threads on desktop-devel-list, the ui-review status, trying to get agreement on GTK+ 2.4 changes for the HIG). I don't pretend to be an expert but I don't need to be. Being on the release-team makes me feel pressure to do this kind of thing, but you don't need to be on the release-team to do it. Now that I'm in the swing of it, I'll probably continue to do this kind of thing even when I'm not on the release team.
- People keep complaining about developer documentation. They do neither the easy things (submit bugzilla bugs when they find
undocumented or badly-documented functions) or the difficult things (submit patches, or try to organise the whole API documentation effort). They should do something. If you have time to whine on gnomedesktop.org then you have time to help yourself by using bugzilla. If you think the problem is bigger then you should find out how you can improve it by posting on mailing lists.
- There is a hell of a lot of activity in bugzilla – people are analysing problems and finding solutions. Lots of these intermediate contributions don't even show up in ChangeLogs. Recently I noticed that lots of people are making lots of simple but significant usability changes, making applications more HIG-compliant. (Hopefully this bugzilla query shows the HIG and usability bugs closed in the last month.) They are just getting on with it, because they care.
It can take a little while to get acclimatised but it's just a question of being polite and constructive. one of my first emails to a GNOME list shows that I took a while to learn. Get involved. Don't rant. Be concise.
Take a look at the How To Help page if you want to make a difference.