The difference between local communities and local teams

The official directory of Ubuntu’s Locos goes under the name ‘Ubuntu Local Community Team Directory‘. This neatly covers both names that are frequently used to denote the different types of groups that are locally active for Ubuntu: local communities and local teams. Although no one is currently actually making that distinction, I would like to suggest otherwise. I believe there are two sorts of local groups, between which there are clear differences. It is important to be aware of this fundamental disparity if we want to accommodate both types as good as possible.

Let us first take a look at the defined purpose of the ‘local community teams’. The ‘About Local Community Teams‘ page at the Loco Directory has the following to say about it:

With the incredible success of Ubuntu around the world, the LoCo project is here to help groups of Ubuntu fans and enthusiasts work together in regional teams to help advocate, promote, translate, develop and otherwise improve Ubuntu.

Local community teams are supposed to cater a definite geographic area. In the United States and the Russian Federation they ought to cover a state, in the rest of the world a complete country. This geographic constraint is important to notice, since we will see later that it doesn’t always fit well in the case of ‘local communities’.

Within their geographic area, local community teams are expected to advocate Ubuntu, organise local activities and informal meetings. This is all ‘in real life’, the internet presence is often very limited. Teams that behave according to this description, are what I would like to call ‘local teams’. Basically all local community teams from the English-speaking countries are of this type.

Since the international Ubuntu community is English-speaking and provides excellent support via the Ubuntu Forums, Ask Ubuntu and the #ubuntu IRC channel, the internet communities of the English-speaking local community teams don’t have to have a broad own community online. They are limited to small forums that are mostly used to discuss the activities that take place ‘in real life’ and to complement social contact. For the most part they are integrated into the international community.

Virtually all other local community teams, however, can be classified as ‘local communities’. Because many, if not most, of its members do not speak English, they cannot use the online support from the international community. The main focus of these ‘local communities’ is not so much activities ‘in real life’, but instead the management of a language-specific Ubuntu community. Running a community is not easy, so it takes a lot of resources.

The local teams have much more time and energy to spend on organising local activities and meetings, because there already is an online community for them, the international one. You can call the local teams a team because they often consist of equals, working together to spread Ubuntu and enjoying each others presence.

A local community, in contrast with a local team, does not consist of equals working together on the same things. There are many more different functions within a community: there is support to be given, documentation to be translated and written, interface text to translate and all of this needs to be organised. Furthermore, those who come to ask for support are a fundamentally different kind of community member than new computer enthusiasts who joins a local team to help out. Many of the people who come to ask for support are regular users who don’t have the desire to become an active contributor, they only want help. The spirit of a local community is therefore very different from that of a local team.

What makes this even more complicated is that language boundaries and geographical boundaries often don’t match. For example, Spanish is spoken in a lot of different countries by many people across the whole world. Therefore, having one Spanish support channel and forum makes sense. Add to that the Spanish translators of Ubuntu’s interface and documentation and what you get is a very large community, separate from the international one, transcending geographic borders. The difference between this conglomeration of several ‘local community teams’ and, say, the local team of the US state Massachusetts, is one of day and night. Countries like Belgium, where they speak Dutch, French and German, are even more complicated, because you have multiple language communities within the same borders.

Local communities and local teams both do very valuable work. I think it is a shame that many local communities are not locally as active as local teams often are. But this does have a reason: founding, building and running an full-blown online community puts a hefty toll on your volunteers. If you are small, like Ubuntu Nederland, you don’t have a lot of spare persons left to organise social activities ‘in real life’.

Duplicating the international Ubuntu community in your own language is hard, it requires skill to do it successfully. Good documentation can help with that. Unfortunately, most of the documentation—written in the English-speaking international community—focuses on local teams instead of local communities. Also, the requirements of the LoCo Council put a lot of emphasis on local activities, whereas it can be a tremendous achievement already to ‘only’ have a solid online presence.

I should add some nuance to this. Of course there are local community teams that under my classification would be local communities, but which do have a strong local presence; there are probably also local teams that have a large own online community. I acknowledge this and think that the definition of a local team and a local community should be stretched enough to suit this. However, the general observation still applies.

What to do with this analysis? Firstly, I think that the international community should be more conscious of the fact that non-English local community teams are distinctively different from English-speaking local community teams, because of the boundary created by language. We should be aware that there are several parallel Ubuntu communities in other languages that over time may have grown own identities. They may see themselves not as a localised annexe of the international Ubuntu community, but instead as the equivalent for their own language of what is often perceived to be the English Ubuntu community, but is in fact the international one.

Secondly, there also is a task for the leaders of the local communities, who could make their people more aware of the way things work in the Ubuntu project and explain what more there is to do if you learn English. They can help to bridge the gap between the different language communities.

Thirdly and finally, the LoCo Council should take into account when judging the performance of local community teams that not all of them have the extra burden of having to build a complete new community from the ground up.

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