Contributions are More Than Code

Last week at the GNOME User and Developer European Conference (GUADEC), a GNOME Foundation member by the name of Dave Neary presented the results of the GNOME Census. While the data and conclusions are interesting and inflamatory to some*, the motivations of the GNOME Census were quite simple:

What is the GNOME Census?

We’re aiming to answer three questions as completely as we can:

  • Who develops GNOME, and what do they work on? What does the GNOME developer community look like? How many GNOME developers are there?And how many contributors doing things other than development?
  • What companies are investing in GNOME, and how? Are there modules where companies are co-operating, or have contributing companies been concentrating on disjoint parts of the project?
  • Finally, if you’re a company looking for expert developers for custom GNOME development, where should you go? What does the commercial ecosystem around the GNOME project look like?

As developers, we like code. Commits and lines of code can be counted. Architectures can be reviewed. Design Patterns can be implemented. More than anything, through our version control, we can watch code change, improve, and evolve over time. Unfortunately, while I think the study is interesting and useful in one
regard, it has the potentially to be incredibly misleading for a simple

Open Source is about more than code.

I talked about this in my closing comments at php|tek last year. Open Source includes testing, submitting good bug reports, mentorship, promotion, user support, sharing ideas, documentation, architecture, system operations, user interface design, and probably dozens of other areas that I'm not considering. Some of those things can easily be managed, counted, ranked, or even gamed but some are more “karmic” where good things happen to good people putting forth good efforts. Regardless, they all matter and they're all needed in an Open Source project.. though their mix changes over time. Not surprisingly, I've said this before.

To be clear, I don't think there's a good way this current Ubuntu vs Red Hat debate can end. More than anything, I hope that the Open Source communities start evaluating contributions on something beyond simple lines of code or commit count and realize that it is just one facet of participation.

For more information: Dave Neary's full results and analysis of the GNOME Census are here. Overall, it showed that Canonical has contributed 1/16th of the commits to GNOME that Red Hat has. Not surprisingly, a firestorm started, angst was had by all, and lines have been drawn. Mark Shuttleworth – founder of Canonical, distributor of Ubuntu – offers a admittedly-biased overview of the situation in “Tribalism is the enemy within.”