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community catalysts [Oct. 30th, 2008|11:45 pm]
[Location |amsterdam, the netherlands]

Three things happened simultaneously when I stepped back from the Fedora Project Leader role in February.

(1) Paul Frields took over as the FPL.

(2) Tom Callaway moved into his current role as the Fedora Engineering Manager.

(3) Greg and I created the Community Architecture team, which lives outside of Red Hat's engineering and engineering-services organization (as opposed to Paul, Tom, and the rest of the Fedora team). Other full-time Red Hatters on the team are Karsten Wade and Jack Aboutboul, with Michael Tiemann serving as Yoda.

We have a bunch of goals and responsibilities. In the last month or so, we were moved under a new manager, and bringing him up to speed on the larger mission of our team has been a good excuse for us to do some strategic thinking and writing about our role within Red Hat (and Fedora).

The remainder of this blog post is something I wrote up as part of a still-in-progress idea called the Community Dashboard. Please leave any suggestions, critiques, improvements, or flames in the comments.



Community serves as a catalyst in everything that Red Hat, Fedora, and JBoss does.

Reaction: The progress of any task from idea to reality. The task can be as simple as a one-page summary of Fedora 10 for the press, or as complicated as the feature planning process for Fedora 11. The task can be code, leadership, process documentation, testing, writing, artwork, etc.

For any reaction to complete requires some amount of energy. From a business point of view, energy, time, and money are all synonymous.

The blue curve represents a reaction that does not operate with a community-building mindset. Perhaps this is a proprietary software project, and community isn't even an option. Perhaps it is an open source upstream that is so focused on coding, it doesn't have the time to properly build a community. Either way, the amount of energy required to reach a successful end state is high.

The red curve represents a reaction that does operate with a strong community. Whether it is a Fedora sub-project, Fedora as a whole, the RPM upstream, OLPC, or an emerging technology like Cobbler or Func is irrelevant.

Note that both reactions ultimately reach the same end state. The difference is the energy required to get there. Microsoft and Red Hat can both produce an operating system. Our job is to ensure that Red Hat does so more efficiently, and community is the mechanism by which we achieve that.


We still need to define the end state of a successful community-catalyzed reaction. The end state has two characteristics:

* The community has a clearly identified critical path and roadmap for the future.
* The community has a clearly defined leadership structure that does not depend on any of the catalysts.

In short, the reaction will have reached critical mass. The Community Architecture team can disengage from day-to-day operations in the community, but the community will continue to grow and thrive. Perhaps certain members of the team still participate in the community because they choose to, but the community is self-sustaining. We have made ourselves redundant, and therefore free to choose a new community to catalyze.

If we have done our job correctly, the activation energy needed to reach critical mass will be lower than in an equivalent reaction that did not focus on community building.


It is critical to recognize that the end state of every community is not the same, and therefore the engagement model is not necessarily the same for each community. It is also worth noting that some communities will neither need nor want to work with the Community Architecture team.

[User Picture]From: jspaleta
2008-10-31 01:04 am (UTC)
I didn't quite understand that.
Can you use a physics analogy instead.

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From: ext_114082
2008-10-31 03:07 am (UTC)

Thermodynamics of the system

I think you could look at it as the efficiency of the reaction ('useful' energy versus useless energy.) I haven't looked at thermodynamics since 1992 so my terms are rusty. From a quick refresher at wikipedia (hoping its somewhat valid), the rules would be using statistical thermodynamics versus classical as neither system is ever at equilibrium ( a project at equilibrium is probably off.)

Max's hypothesis is that the total energy required to complete a 'cycle' for a closed source product is higher for the same amount of work done. Thus the reaction must overcome more resistance and have a higher amount of 'heat'. The efficiency of the open-source project even though still in-efficient (flame wars, rants, etc) is less than that of the closed system.
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[User Picture]From: spevack
2008-10-31 12:20 pm (UTC)

Re: Whoa?!

No, just trying to come up with new ways to explain what community building is. Did you like it, or is it too much of a stretch?
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[User Picture]From: spevack
2008-10-31 01:17 pm (UTC)

Re: Whoa?!

Even though I posted it to Planet Fedora, the target audience of the post isn't people who are experienced FOSS contributors, but rather managers and CxO types who need to understand why communities can help make their business more efficient. It's also just a small piece of what is going to be a much larger project.

Edited at 2008-10-31 01:18 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: jspaleta
2008-10-31 05:06 pm (UTC)

Re: Whoa?!

If you are going to stick with the biology analogy...work in the word "vitamin." In general layperson culture, vitamin is probably the best recognized example of a catalyst.

Community Architecture Team: Fedora's Vitamin B

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From: ext_114082
2008-10-31 06:14 pm (UTC)

Re: Whoa?!

I think that is probably a little too abstract for the CxO community... the vitamin analogy or something to do with the car analogy is better. Basically why does a community based project use less fuel to do the equivalent work as a closed project. [Open source can use a lighter engine block for the equivalent work because it does not require as much coolant which lowers the fuel needed, etc etc.]

And then show an actual example of this. Where are the useless energy building up in the closed system that the open system does not have. The research part of me versus the partisan would want to break it down i

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