While contemplating the tensions between Canonical/Ubuntu and GNOME that a lot of people have been blogging about I just thought had an insight. I have thought of what we are observing here as a clash of cultures before, but merely as a clash of company cultures. However, aren’t we observing something that has deeper cultural roots?
GNOME was founded by two Mexicans and currently seems to be predominantly dominated by people from the United States, with the foundation itself being based in the States. The most important companies behind it, RedHat and Novell, are both from the United States too.
Ubuntu was started and Canonical was founded by a South African based in London, where the company has its headquarters. Although there is again a very high American presence within the community and company, the leadership is much more eclectic than GNOME’s. Furthermore, the Canonical Design Team seems to be predominantly British.
Why would this matter? Our differences aren’t very large after all, the open source community is dominated (unfortunately) by white, Caucasian males and they have a lot in common. I think it may play a more important role than we have thought so far. Communication is very culture-bound and it seems that it is communication that has been causing most of the problems.
If we look at the rejection of ‘libappindicator’ as an external dependency, we may be able to see this more clearly. Canonical, say some people in the GNOME project, failed to push its inclusion thoroughly enough. They may have done what was formally required, but didn’t show the initiative that could have resolved the issues that were raised. They say that you need to find the right people to talk to, not expect a machinery to process your request once you’ve delivered an appropriately tagged package.
Canonical reiterates that it did what was required to propose a module as an external dependency. They say that they want to have someone to talk to, to have someone in charge who makes the decisions and can be phoned up if necessary.
Both parties expected different things from the other. This may be what caused the unease. Each party feels that it did enough and the other too little, so no one is to blame.
Strikingly, it seems that the cooperation concerning the application indicators/status notifiers with KDE—founded in Germany, its foundation still being based there—was very productive. Was this because of the persons involved, or because of the cultures? The communication ways I described above do seem to reflect the stereotypes of the two continents.
What should be said that the above is a gross generalisation. Generalisations can usually only be used, with great care, when you talk about large groups. In this case it might be better to talk about individuals instead.
I don’t think that what I said above is the whole explanation. I do think, though, that it is something we should keep in our minds. It may not only have played a role in worsening the unease and misunderstanding here, but it affects all communities that are truly diverse. Traditionally, FOSS seems to have been dominated predominantly by people from the US. Now that is changing, more people learn English—as an example, my father’s generation learned German, not English, as the most important foreign language at Dutch secondary school, for me it is English—and ‘developing’ countries are catching up.
Cultural differences will be more visible in communities, we need to be aware of the different ways different cultures communicate if we want to make sure no contributions go to waste.