Something that is really counterproductive in many Open Source communities are people who are so rabidly fanatical about one line of thinking that they try to pressure everyone into their line of thinking. One long standing example of this is the whole FLOSS vs. FOSS concept. Some outspoken individuals try to lash out at all people who don’t take their view on Free and Libre Open Source Software…that is, software that is Open Source, Free, and Libre (aka without proprietary parts included). It’s really sad because this shouldn’t be an issue in Open Source and Linux communities but it often is.
There are two labels that can be applied to these stances…promotion or activism. A majority of the people who love and support Open Source software are promoters. They’re the ones that always put in a plug for their distro during tech conversations or tell their co-workers excitedly why they don’t have viruses. The others are activists who lobby congress (like lobby4linux.com), sue for GPL violations, and take an active role in the proliferation of Open Source. Both of these stances and labels are needed in Open Source and to proliferate Open Source. But just like the old saying, “too much of a good thing can kill you” so can too much activism or promotion inside Open Source.
It’s my experience that there are more of the promotionists than the activists. Of course, activists are needed with Open Source as well. They’re the informed individuals that debate the GPLv2 and v3 until they’re blue in the face…they’re the ones that force GPL compliance on those not observing that license. They ARE needed. It’s the extreme fringes of both promotionists and activists that we don’t need. When someone goes over the top and over-promotes something…their promotion becomes counterproductive because of over saturation. The same is true for activism…no one wants to hear about how wrong they are for using X or not installing X.
So which group would be worse? It’s really up in the air. Over saturation means that (when people hear about Linux after a promotionist has filled their ears to the brim with how great it is) a person will more than likely ignore something with Linux or not consider it when it would be worthwhile to them. On the contrary, activists may distract new advocates and new users by focusing them not on promotion of using Open Source but rather, debating on Libre vs. Non-Libre or whatever their argument might be (as Libre vs. Non-Libre is not the only area that has activists vs. promotionists). Remember, we’re speaking of the rabidly fanatical end aka fringes of the spectrum…not generalizing here. People can be rabid on the promotion side of things too…it’s important to note that when you’re on the extreme side of either, you’re counterproductive to the proliferation of open source software.
We can see this debate beginning in Ubuntu. Many people are not happy with the direction Ubuntu is going with the inclusion of proprietary drivers. Of course, instead of respecting the stance that opposing opinions have…some in the community are VERY vocal and very inflamatory about it…which is sad because Ubuntu is a fantastic distro with a fantastic community. Seeing things like this happen inside a community isn’t fun and it isn’t entertaining. In fact, it can be quite scary to see rifts building in a community…for any reason.
It’s imperative that when you hear extreme activists or promotionists shouting at the top of their lungs about all things this or that, that you remember where they are coming from. They’re members of the same community you are. They’re also people that make Open Source software tick. They’re programmers and coders, users and designers just like you. So instead of slamming them and verbally slapping them, take the time to remember that we’re all using Open Source and we all like it…and we all wouldn’t mind seeing Open Source push to the farthest corners of the earth…in other words, just remember that we have more in common with each other than we have not in common.
Likewise, those of you that are on the fringes of the activists and promotionists…remember that people are reacting to what you say and do…not who you are. Don’t let it get personal 🙂 Hopefully, we can all even things out for each other and fill the holes that are needed in the community.