Greg DeKoenigsberg Speaks

Fedora’s Goals

Posted in fedora by Greg DeKoenigsberg on January 27, 2010

I’m glad to see a lot of thoughtful discussion around the topic of Fedora’s larger goals, and I’m particularly glad to see some new blood driving the discussion.  Fedora’s ability to attract outstanding new talent to the party is one of the things that makes it such a remarkable project. 

Here’s my take on Robyn’s excellent post.

To say that we have NO TARGET AUDIENCE and NO GOALS is not quite accurate, I don’t think.  We have both of those things, but they are implicit in the work we do, and in such an incredibly large community, everyone’s work is not always complementary.

First of all, I believe that every single individual who does work in the Fedora community has short-term goals.  If they didn’t, nothing would ever happen.  I also believe that every single individual has an extremely clear idea of their target audience: someone just like them, for whom they want a particular activity to be easier/better the next time.

Sometimes these individuals share common goals, and we have structures that allow individuals to band together and work in concert to achieve these goals.  The Fedora Fonts SIG has its goals, and the Fedora Education SIG has its goals, and the Fedora Medical SIG has its goals, and so on.

How does marketing fit into all of this?  It’s a fair question.  I’ve been taught by some very talented marketing minds that marketing, at its heart, is about SIMPLIFYING and AMPLIFYING.  Making a message simple enough for people to understand, and then amplifying that message so that everyone in the world hears it.  Ultimately, I would like to see Fedora Marketing provide this kind of service to each of these SIGs, but I recognize that with limited resources, it’s far easier to promote a handful of simple, powerful messages.

Ubuntu has had a lot of success by building an entire movement around one simple message, as articulated in Ubuntu’s Famous Bug #1: “Microsoft has a majority market share in the new desktop PC marketplace.
This is a bug, which Ubuntu is designed to fix.”  That’s a great big inspirational message, and their tenacity in pursuing the vision implicit in that message has won them many fans.  But it’s also led them into compromises that are, I believe, ultimately bad for free software.

I believe it will be tempting for marketing folks to frame this question in terms of the Linux Desktop, because that’s the sexiest thing to market.  “Look at the new wobbly screen stuff!  Look at how the workspaces fit together!”  And that’s fine, I suppose — if you want to pick one story to sell, I suppose you could do worse.  But please remember that Fedora is *way* more than a Desktop, and be wary of the urge to subordinate all of Fedora’s processes to the singular goal of Building the Perfect Desktop.  Beware, in particular, of compromising our Four Foundations in the pursuit of these goals.

I believe that The Starfish and The Spider should be required reading for everyone in the Fedora Marketing organization.  It’s subtitled “The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations”.  Now, Paul Frields is an excellent Fedora Project Leader — but leadership means different things in different organizations, and I believe that Fedora is designed to function largely as a “leaderless” organization.  Autonomy is absolutely, critically, vitally, supremely important. 

So how does a leaderless organization know what to do?  By recognizing this critical characteristic of starfish organizations: the values are the organization.  Everyone shares the same values, and in the absence of clear goals, everyone works passionately to move those values forward by doing what they do best.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t rally around particular goals — we should.  And that’s not to say that we can’t put some processes in place to guide us towards our goals — we can.  But the autonomy of the individual Fedora contributor has been, and should continue to be, the core driver of all that Fedora does.  If we want to choose a particularly lofty moonshot goal around which to rally the troops, that’s a great thing, and I applaud it.  Let’s do our best to find a middle ground that continues to guarantee sufficient autonomy to our contributors to innovate as they see fit.

Freedom, folks, features, first.  Those are our values for a reason.  We thought long and hard about them.  Let’s be sure to respect them.

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9 Responses

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  1. Max said, on January 27, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    Great post, Greg. Exactly the sort of post that an ex-FPL should be writing.

    Also, you just wrote my FOSDEM talk on “Fedora’s governance, why it exists, what it’s meant to do, etc.” for me. So thanks for that.

  2. jef spaleta said, on January 27, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    Greg,
    Can we draw some parallels between Fedora as an empowered contributor based project and how peer reviewed science research is organized and done in the US? There might be some good processes to steal from some scientific research communities on how they organize individual researchers into 3 yearish plans which help direct individual researchers based on collective interest and momentum. It’s a little different because Fedora doesn’t have a yearly pot of money that is handed out based on peer-review to fund work…yet. But its a pretty fun hypothetical to roll over in your head. What if Fedora acted like the NSF and individual contributors could get funded via a competitive peer review process. What would that taste like day-to-day?

  3. The Grand Fallacy » Goals and gold. said, on January 27, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    [...] thanks to Greg for an excellent, thoughtful post on Fedora’s goals. I remember well — and I’m sure Greg does too — the [...]

  4. Greg Dekoenigsberg said, on January 27, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    Jef, it may be that we can have that discussion in the context of “SIG versus Project”.

    Originally:

    “SIG” = completely self-directed, no organizational expectations
    “Project” = some Board oversight, clear organizational expectations

    Don’t know if that still holds, or if it’s useful in this context. SIGs = researchers finding each other to pursue their own interests, Project = researchers working together to pursue a set of more narrowly defined interests. Maybe?

  5. threethirty said, on January 28, 2010 at 12:05 am

    Greg:

    Great post, as a newcommer to the marketing team and fedora in general this was really insightful and exciting.

  6. Nicu said, on January 28, 2010 at 2:14 am

    The part about each Fedora contributor having his own goals and his own projected audience is *exactly* I would have worded myself a reply to Robyn’s post. And speaking strictly about myself, I know a good number of other community members with whom I share the goals and vision about the audience. However, some of the goals of various people in the project are opposed at times, generating conflicts and what is perceived as an identity crisis.

    And kudos to you for stating so clearly the part about Fedora being so much more than just a “Perfect Desktop”.

  7. Tet said, on January 28, 2010 at 9:58 am

    “But please remember that Fedora is *way* more than a Desktop”

    *Thank you*. My main goal for Fedora would be to place less emphasis on the desktop. Sure, we want to make the desktop experience as good as it can possibly be[1]. But more importantly, for some of us, at least, Fedora should be as good a general purpose OS as possible. I think that some of the focus on the desktop has led to Fedora become less useful than it should be in other areas.

    [1] For various reasons, I think Fedora is failing there. If it’s any consolation, I think all of the other desktop distributions are failing just as badly.

  8. Mel Chua said, on January 28, 2010 at 11:40 am

    Perhaps one of the things we should be working on is articulating our own goals, and making it clear that they’re personal ones, so that the “voluntary collaboration of self-motivated actors” (or whatever the proper sociological terms are there) is clear both to us and to outside observers (who’ll keep looking for this “overarching goal” thing as long as they assume a spider org by default).

    Poelstra did a great job of this recently – I’ll try to post sometime this weekend following his example.

  9. [...] on goals and target audience coming.  (And probably a part three, to respond a bit to what Greg and Paul wrote yesterday.)  In fact, I already have it written, I just need to edit it a little [...]


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