Ubuntu is growing, there is no doubt about that. As the number of users grow, so does the number of potential community members. Not all Ubuntu users choose to spend time in the community, but a part does. This group is expanding with the number of users, and we are noticing this not only from the UDSes becoming busier and busier. The Ubuntu Beginners Team and Ubuntu Bug Control have both set up mentoring programmes to guide the flow of new contributors.
As we’re welcoming these new people to the Ubuntu community and introducing them to the various tasks there are, we can see a set of problems arise. There is the problem of increasing scale—community manager Jono Bacon has written about handling this on his blog several times—and the issues introduced by the increasing diversity of the community. I’ve written before about the effects of language differences, but there is something else we should realise, which shows itself more and more now the composition community diversifies.
Not everyone is equally intelligent. When considering other people, it is very hard not to assume they think like us, and judge from that viewpoint. Especially when you are intelligent it may be very hard to realise there are also a lot of people who have more trouble thinking. Life is not like Sims, where everyone has an equal amount of character points, only distributed across different character traits. With the knowledge of the human we have nowadays we can only conclude that ‘life’ is not fair, because not everyone gets the same amount of character points. Some people are smart and beautiful and nice and happy, and other people are stupid, ugly, unpleasant, depressed. Both situations are rare, but both can occur.
This is an important thing to consider in a community that seems to assume intelligence. Every contributor is welcome, which is a good thing, because we don’t want to shut someone out. Every contribution helps us. We can see this in the mentor programmes too. If you create a page at the Ubuntu Wiki and sign the Code of Conduct, you’ll be assigned a mentor. You do not have to sit an exam. At the Ubuntu Developer Summit we are discussing the future of Ubuntu almost as equals, and there are a lot of people that have something interesting to say.
However, what we are doing is not easy work. Building an operating system, writing applications to run on it, running a community, these are all tasks that require skills. Skills that not everyone has. We do, apparently. That makes us more intelligent than the average person, because that is how hard it is to do what we do.
Not all prospective bug triagers, MOTU applicants or passionate artists have got what it takes to build something like Ubuntu. A bad bug triager only causes more work, an unskilled MOTU ruins our credibility, ugly artwork scares users away. Even when the triager, packager, artist is a very kind person, we should say that.
I do not doubt that the community members are honest enough to tell people when they are not delivering good work. But that isn’t the only side to this. Say you are telling someone (s)he’s triaging bugs badly, you’ll first have to have seen badly triaged bugs. That means someone will have to correct those bugs, if the reporter hasn’t already stopped responding. It could also mean that someone has spent some time trying to mentor the bad triager. Valuable time of a volunteer has gone to waste. That is also bad for the motivation of the volunteer.
We should not make intelligence a requirement for joining the community, we should not look down on people because they happen to be less intelligent, we should not become an elitist club. We should, though, make sure we watch out that we do get the right people at the right place. We should realise that not everyone has something to say that is worth listening to, though you cannot make that judgement until you’ve heard what the person said. We should prevent frustration for volunteers and prospective volunteers by being clear about what it takes to join the community.
We should not assume intelligence.
Do I want to say something is wrong with the Ubuntu community? No. I do not think that there are things we need to change to fix the issue I just described. Yet. We should be watchful, considerate and aware that not everyone is equal. The sentence “Every man was created equal.” is wrong, because men where not created, just like women, and they are not equal as well. Everyone is unique, in a positive or negative sense.