Re: GNOME Foundation membership guidelines.

So, I've read this thing a couple of times now.  There are lots of
things to comment on.  For the moment, I'm going to ignore the issues
that I have with it's presentation, and focus exclusively on it's
content, since that really needs to be nailed down before presentation

On Tue, 2002-10-22 at 15:32, Nat Friedman wrote:
> Proposal
> --------
>     1. Definitions
>     A member of the GNOME Foundation is someone who can run for the
>     GNOME Foundation board, vote in board elections and issue or
>     endorse a popular referendum.

Is the definition of a GNOME Foundation member even in question?  If
not, I don't see why this is included in the proposal at all.

>     Membership in the GNOME Foundation is controlled by a Membership
>     Committee who process applications from individuals who wish to
>     become members.  This committee is responsible for accepting and
>     rejecting applications based on membership guidelines set by the
>     Foundation board.
>     2. Guidelines for Membership
>     Any person who has made non-trivial contributions to the GNOME
>     project and who submits a proper application to the Membership
>     Committee will be approved for membership.  A non-trivial
>     contribution is any activity which contributes to the development
>     of the project at a level significantly above that expected of a
>     normal user or fan of GNOME.

So, this is where my large objections begin.  Now, I certainly don't
want GNOME Foundation membership to be difficult to achieve, as that is
counter to the spirit of GNOME.  But these guidelines are much too lax
to ensure that the GNOME Foundation does a good job of "advancing the
GNOME Project"[G1].  The key to having a Foundation that does a good job
of that is having members who care enough about GNOME to be -active- in
it's leadership.  I don't think that approving somebody who wrote an
application manual for GNOME 1.0 and hasn't done anything since then,
not even participating on the mailing lists, will lead to a Foundation
that does such leadership.

>     Examples of non-trivial contributions include hacking, bugfixing,
>     extensive testing, design, documentation, translation,
>     administration or maintenance of project-wide resources, giving
>     GNOME talks at conferences and community coordination such as
>     bugzilla or release management.  Any activity, such as advocacy or

I don't really comprehend how some could be qualified to give talks on
GNOME if they weren't actively doing some other GNOME related thing,
such as hacking, documenting, i18n/l10n.

>     submitting bug reports, must substantially exceed the level of
>     contribution expected of an ordinary user or fan of the project to
>     qualify an individual for membership in the Foundation.

I don't "expect" an ordinary user of GNOME to do anything except use
GNOME.  I think that replacing expected of with commonly made by is a
much more rational statement.

>     3. Membership Duration and Renewal
>     Membership in the Foundation is lifetime.  However, in order for a

I don't think lifetime membership in the GNOME Foundation is a good
policy.  We need folks who are currently active in GNOME.  I'd like to
see a 2 year span on membership for the GNOME Foundation.  With a
shorter membership duration, it's not very hard to lose folks who have
had to stop working on GNOME for some outside reason, whatever that may
be.  I don't want to lose these voices of expeirence and wisdom, yet I
don't want to allow the Foundation membership to become clogged with
people who aren't working on GNOME.

>     membership to be valid, it must be renewed every year.  The intent
>     of this renewal process is to ensure that the membership roster is
>     not filled with people who no longer have any interest in the
>     project, and to verify and keep up-to-date membership contact
>     information.

I don't think we need to renew membership every year.  GNOME Foundation
board elections should be sufficient to ensure that folks have their
membership information up-to-date on a yearly basis.  I think renewal
every 2 years, with a 2 year eligibility window from a non-trivial
contribution to GNOME, will make for a stronger and more active
Foundation.  Their renewal or membership application will ensure that
they are still interested in participating in GNOME.

>     To renew his membership, an individual must submit a new
>     application for membership.  If the application is well-formed and
>     the individual has previously been a member of the Foundation, his
>     membership will be automatically approved.  All renewals will take
>     place at once, every year.

I think this proposal makes good sense, if we're dealing with a 2 year
window.  When they submit a renewal application, it needs to contain
information about their recent (within the 2 year window) contribution
to GNOME, and some contact information, in case verification of the
contribution is needed.  

> Rationale
> ---------
>     * Intent and Effect of Membership
>         - Intent: govern the Foundation.
>             The intent of the membership is to provide a governing
>             body for the GNOME Foundation that has ultimate
>             responsibility for directing the Foundation's resources.
>             The powers of this governing body are to elect the board,
>             run for the board, and to issue and endorse referenda.
>         - Effect: sense of inclusion in the GNOME project.
>             The membership intent, stated above, is the only explicit
>             reason for the membership's existence.  But membership in
>             the Foundation, and the candidacy and voting rights it
>             entails, has another effect which is important to this
>             discussion.
>             Specifically, non-membership in the Foundation, in the
>             form of a rejected application, can create a sense of
>             alienation or exclusion from GNOME.  People will always
>             approximately equate the rights of membership with
>             membership in the GNOME project, not just the foundation.

I agree that rejected foundation memberships can easily cause hurt
feelings.  However, this is hardly restricted to Foundation
memberships.  This can happen on any mailing list, or by marking bugs
INVALID, INCOMPLETE, or NOTGNOME, or in any number of ways.  I don't
think this means that we shouldn't mark bugs that aren't related to
GNOME NOTGNOME, or bugs that are INVALID as such.  It simply means that
we must be thorough enough to be sure that we're making the right
decision, and that we need to be careful about how we phrase our

>     * Guidelines for membership.
>         The membership guidelines outlined above are intended to be as
>         open as possible, to include everyone who has contributed in a
>         non-trivial way before and everyone who is contributing now.

I'd say something about not thinking that everyone who has ever
contributed to GNOME should be a Foundation member, but I'd feel like I
was repeating myself.

>         The general idea of inclusiveness is something I talked about
>         a lot (and in retrospect, in embarrassingly florid ways) in
>         the Foundation charter.  You should go back and read the
>         charter ( if you

I agree, though I'd think that reviewing the charter periodicly, even
when there aren't issues at hand, is helpful in remembering why we're
part of the GNOME Foundation, and to remind us of some of the ideals of

>         haven't read it recently, since I articulated a lot of the
>         ideas behind the openness of the foundation there.  Back then,
>         some of the motivation was figuring out how to deal with
>         corporate entities getting involved in GNOME, and I think
>         those arguments are still somewhat valid, but there are
>         broader reasons too.
>         I would also remind everyone, as a backdrop to listing the
>         Pros and Cons of the proposed policy, of the relative costs
>         and benefits of a "false positive" versus a "false negative"
>         in the application approval process.
>         A false positive means that we have people in the voting body
>         who have not contributed significantly to GNOME.  In the worst
>         case, these people will vote for the wrong board members, or
>         be annoying in other ways.  We should have a mechanism for
>         handling truly egregious members (though I can't think of
>         anything really awful an individual member can do right now),
>         but in general the ill effect of allowing someone into the
>         foundation who has not contributed is that they might vote in
>         an uninformed way.
>         We should do our best not to have members who have done
>         nothing for GNOME, but the relative ill effects of refusing
>         someone who has never been very involved in the project is
>         that they might vote spuriously in the lection.  On the other
>         hand, there is a positive effect of accepting "borderline"
>         applications, which is that the applicant will feel more
>         involved in the project overall, and might contribute more.

I'm sure this isn't the case, but I feel that you are arguing that
"false positive" memberships are beneficial to GNOME, instead of a
hindrance for it.

>         A false negative means that a person who is a substantial
>         present or past contributor to GNOME and who has expressed an
>         interest in being a member of the foundation through his
>         application was rejected by the membership committee.
>         Rejecting this person doesn't just mean that a contributor who
>         was eligible for membership will not be in the membership: it
>         means a contributor who was eligible for membership and who
>         *wanted to be a member* was rejected.
>         The cost of this is high: it creates bad feelings in the
>         project, it creates a sense of elitism, and it alienates a
>         contributor whose lack of voice in the foundation affairs will
>         frustrate him.

I agree, "false negatives" are much riskier than "false positives".  As
long as the Membership Committee continues to be vigilant in the way
that they handle applications for GNOME Foundation membership, we have
very little to worry about from "false" memberships.  Discussing them as
much as is done here doesn't serve anyone.  I don't think this section
belongs in the membership guidelines.

>     * Pros and Cons of being inclusive.
>         Below, I discuss the Pros and Cons of a policy which embraces
>         inclusiveness.  For the Pros, I outline various arguments for
>         this inclusiveness.  For the Cons, I articulate the arguments
>         (that I have heard) against inclusiveness and respond to them.

This entire section (and to a lesser extent, the previous section) sound
very much like personal opinions and arguments.  I'm uncomfortable that
they have been presented as part of the membership guidelines.  I'm also
uncomfortable that the GNOME Foundation Board has more or less put their
"stamp of approval" on them, in that there is enough dissention that a
consensus was not reached over these.

>         Pros of Inclusiveness
>         ---------------------
>             - Rejecting contributors is bad.
>               The current crisis of the membership committee began
>               because the current membership guidelines caused the
>               membership committee to reject people who had
>               contributed or who were contributing to the project.

I don't think the crisis of the membership committee began because of
the existing criteria.  I believe that the crisis was caused by folks
being rude, inconsiderate, and unkind in their critisms of the
Membership Committee, and by voicing these concerns in a completely
inappropraite forum.  I don't believe that it would have escalated to a
'crisis' if folks had simply asked for explanations of things, either
from the membership committee as a whole directly, or from the
membership committee by way of the Foundation mailing list.  This isn't
to say that the guidelines were (are) adequate, only that the crisis was

>               The cost of these rejections is that the rejected
>               contributors feel alienated from GNOME, they feel that
>               their contributions are not valued, and they are less
>               likely to contribute in the future.  This also creates
>               tension, a sense of elitism or cliquishness in GNOME,
>               and feelings of ill will and hostility.

I agree that this is a risk.  I outlined some steps that can be taken to
avoid these problems, and I will certainly volunteer more of my time
helping to write prose softening the blow, if there folks want my help
with that.

>             - Recognizing the contributions of contributors.    
>               Most people who get involved in GNOME start off with
>               small contributions of bugfixes, code, translations or
>               documentation.  Recognizing the contributions of these
>               people can give them a sense of inclusion in the project
>               and can encourage them to continue to work on GNOME, and
>               to grow into large contributors to the project.

I don't think that GNOME Foundation membership is necessarily a good way
to recognize these contributions.  I think that giving them recognition
by way of release announcements hailing their expoits is much better,
and probably more meaningful, for beginning contributors.  

>             - GNOME is a cumulative project, and the membership should
>               be cumulative too.
>               When a person puts a lot of time and energy into
>               contributing to the project, the project should
>               recognize this time and energy by giving that person the
>               rights of a Foundation member.
>               If a person is a past contributor, but not a present
>               one, and still wants to be active and involved in the
>               project and demonstrates this by applying for a renewal
>               of his membership, then he should continue to be a
>               member of the foundation.

I disagree here.  If they made a contribution at some point, but are no
longer participating in GNOME, then they don't belong as a GNOME
member.  At the bare minimum, they should still be following some of the
GNOME development related mailing lists.  With a 2 year membership
duration, I don't think it's unreasonable for people to make some
non-trivial contribution within that time in order to keep their
membership current.  If they want to be involved, and aren't even
following the main mailing list any more, then I don't think they'll
make a very good Foundation member.  They're not showing that they care
enough to stay current with the issues facing GNOME, and won't have the
background necessary to make educated choices when electing a new Board,
or voting on a Refferendum.

>               The GNOME contributor base is always changing, as new
>               people become active and involved and older long-time
>               contributors move on to do other things.  However,
>               having a membership which is just made up of the new,
>               fresh contributors and a few long-time hackers who
>               continue to be involved silences the voices of those
>               people who have accumulated experience, knowledge and
>               understanding through their involvement with the
>               project.

I think having a membership duration of 2 years addresses these
concerns, while still making sure that the people leading GNOME are the
ones who care enough about it to follow it reasonably closely.

                We should not ignore or exclude the voices of those
>               people who have helped us in the past.  The GNOME
>               project is continually building on past work to create
>               something better, and the membership should build
>               accordingly.
>             - Continued membership encourages people to stay involved.
>               Just because someone has dropped out of the project for
>               a little while does not mean that they will never come
>               back and help again.  And particularly, if someone has
>               dropped out for a while, but *still applies for a
>               renewal of his membership*, then he is clearly someone
>               who wants to stay involved and may begin to contribute
>               in the future.  People who don't want to be involved
>               again will not apply for renewal.

This sounds very good to me.  I agree that we should encourage folks to
come back if they've been out of the project for a bit.  But if they
haven't touched GNOME 2 years, they're clearly either not interested, or
too busy to be able to contribute.  I don't think maintaining them as
GNOME Foundation members helps GNOME.

>               Rejecting the renewal application of a past contributor
>               is an effective way of telling them that they are no
>               longer considered a part of the foundation and the
>               project, even though they want to be.

It's all about asking questions, and encouraging people.  I think that
we should make room in the Foundation for people who are actively
sharing their knowledge with the GNOME project, in non-trivial ways.  As
an example, Jim Gettys doesn't do a lot of direct coding on GNOME things
(at least not things that I see), but he does help out in big ways with
his knowledge of X.  He can tell us things about it that we'd never
figure out from looking at the documentation, or that would take eons to
find.  I argue that this is a non-trivial contribution to GNOME, and
plenty to qualify him, and other people like him, for GNOME Foundation
membership.  (I couldn't actually find Jim's Foundation application, so
this is based entirely on my perceptions, hopefully no one, most of all
Jim, is offended by the way that I see things.)

>         Cons of Inclusiveness
>         ---------------------

[Note! I'm about to be fairly rude in this paragraph.  Please take some
time and figure out exactly what you want to say before you reply to
this paragraph.  This one took me the longest to put my feelings into
words, partly because they're so strong about this section]
These seem to be written more as brief arguments that have been
presented, and reasons why the authors don't consider these arguments
very important.  The presentation of this section drives me completely
up the wall.  I don't feel that this is section is at all objectively
written, despite the title trying to claim it to be so.  I'm offended
that this section appears to be "putting down" the arguments that are
against inclusiveness, simply because they don't agree with the author's
point of view.

>             - Past contributors will outweigh present contributors in
>               the foundation elections and vote for the wrong people.
>               There are two misapprehensions in this argument.
>               Misapprehension #1: there will be more past contributors
>               than present contributors.
>               First, we already have two mechanisms for culling the
>               voting membership: (1) an annual renewal which a member
>               uses to express his interest in continuing to belong to
>               the foundation, and in demonstrating that he is keeping
>               up with the project on an ongoing basis; (2) a voting

I've expressed my opposition to the annual renewal and lifetime
membership elsewhere, I'll not repeat myself here.  I do think that we
ought to have one more way of culling members who don't belong in the
Foundation.  I think we ought to have a requirement for participation in
the GNOME Foundation.  One of the chief responsibilities of membership
is to vote in Foundation Board elections, and any refferendums that are
proposed.  Voting is open for quite a long time, and the voting process
is not terribly arduous.  I think we need some requirement that
Foundation members participate in votes.

>               process which does not require that 100% of the
>               membership vote.  
>               Many past contributors who are no longer interested and
>               involved, and who do not take the time to keep up with
>               the project, will either not renew their applications or
>               will not vote in the elections.  This will effectively
>               weed out the people who are not keeping up with the
>               project, and the effect of their membership on the
>               voting process will be minimalized.
>               Second, if GNOME is successful, it is growing fast
>               enough that new contributors will be significantly and
>               proportionally recognized in the membership.  As new
>               large projects like Galeon, GStreamer, Gaim and Anjuta
>               join the GNOME effort, the contributors to those
>               projects will be eligible for membership in GNOME and
>               will add substantially[1] to the membership.

If this is the case, then even with lifetime memberships, we still run
the risk of the "wise and experienced" foundation members being
completely swamped by the "new contributors".  I don't personally see
this as much of a problem, according to this growth idea, lifetime
membership wouldn't be very effective in balancing this.

>               Misapprehension #2: Past contributors will vote for the
>               wrong people, and upset current contributors.
>               Past contributors have the benefits of their experience,
>               and this experience will inform the election process,
>               lending acquired knowledge and wisdom, as well as
>               continuity, to the governance of the GNOME Foundation.
>               It is not at all clear that a group of past contributors
>               will vote for the wrong people, even if they had 100%
>               control over the voting process.
>             - The membership list will get too big to handle.
>               Not committing the time to process the applications of
>               people who want their voice heard in the GNOME
>               foundation, and who want to feel included in the
>               project, is a terrible reason to add further controls
>               and constraints to the membership criteria.  We should
>               be accepting or rejecting people based on whether or not
>               they should be members of the foundation, not based on
>               whether we have the time to deal with them and their
>               applications.
>               If the membership committee is overwhelmed, then we
>               should take steps to find the resources to help them.

I don't think that the membership list getting too big to handle is the
real worry.  I think this is just another way of phrasing the next
argument.  Certainly adminstrative problems shouldn't stop us from
accepting new Foundation members any more than they should stop us from
getting new contributors.

>             - A smaller percentage of the total membership will vote
>               in the foundation elections each year.
>               Remember that the only people eligible to vote each year
>               are the people who took the time to renew their
>               applications.  This may still lead to a less-than-80%
>               voting population (no doubt it will), but this is
>               actually useful, because it serves to cull from the
>               voting body the people who are not, at that particular
>               time, tracking the project and the foundation.

I don't think this is a good way of looking at this problem.  If they're
not voting, and they're not particating in any other way on the GNOME
lists, why should they be foundation members?  They're clearly not
interested in being part of GNOME.  They're simply bloating the
membership list, and causing more adminstrative work with no gain. 
Lifetime membership isn't in the benefits of GNOME in this instance.

>             - Inactive past contributors don't deserve to vote, since
>               they're not contributing anymore.
>               Think of a person's contribution to GNOME as an
>               investment in the project.  If GNOME is succesful, then
>               we will find ways to encourage and welcome many many
>               different investments into the project.  In recognition
>               of these investments, and to encourage them, we will
>               give people membership in the foundation.  As new
>               members come on board, the relative weight of each
>               member vote will be decreased.  That is, past
>               contributors will have their vote diluted by new
>               members.

GNOME Foundation membership isn't a "reward" for being good.  GNOME
Foundation membership is a privledge granted to people who are
interested enough in GNOME to contribute to it, and who care enough to
want to shape the direction it's going.

>               A group of old members will be able to represent their
>               opinions, based on their experiences and the things
>               they've learned working with the project, with a voting
>               power proportional to their overall contribution to
>               GNOME.  And the project will benefit from not making the
>               same mistakes again and again, because the older, wiser
>               voices will be there to guide us.
> Wrap-up
> -------
>     The proposede guidelines above probably could be tweaked a bit,
>     but the main thing I am trying to get across is the importance of
>     (a) inclusiveness in the application review process, and (b)
>     lifetime memberships.

Clearly I only agree partly with the first of these, and not at all with
the second.  

>     At least, I don't know of any compelling arguments against these
>     things, and we have seen firsthand negative effects when you try
>     to be too exclusive or to time-limit memberships.

I haven't seen any effects of being too exclusive, nor of time-limiting
memberships.  I see the problems that we had with membership rejections
as being caused by poor communication, and a lack of reluctance to
reject membership applications.

If the membership committee is loath to reject applications, and does
everything that they can to avoid this, (from making sure to contact the
references that people listed, to simply replying to the applicant that
their application doesn't contain enough information on their GNOME
contributions,) then we won't have problems like the ones that  we had
in the past few months.  

>     When you reply to this mail, please try to reply to the individual
>     issues separately.  For reference, these issues are:
>         1) Membership process and mechanism (application, renewal,
> ...)
>         2) Inclusiveness of membership guidelines vs exclusiveness of
>            membership guidelines.
>         3) Lifetime vs time-limited membership.
>     Hopefully everyone will just say "this is great, I agree." :-)
> [1] If we're lucky we'll grow exponentially, like the human
> population.  If so, then at a certain point there will be many more
> people contributing at any given time than ever contributed before.
> See for more information ;-).


[G1] from

Gregory Leblanc <gleblanc linuxweasel com>

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