Why community matters

Posted by Jim Jagielski on Monday, December 17. 2007 in Programming

As mentioned previously, one core fundamental of the ASF which is often misunderstood is the idea of "community over code". Some people take this to mean is that as long as the community is healthy, then it doesn't matter whether the code is good or not. This is, of course, total crud. The phrase does not mean that at all, nor is that the intent of the ASF as well. Instead, the slogan refers to a basic truth that has long been proven, time and time again within the ASF (and elsewhere); That a healthy community creates world-class code. It also implies the necessary corollary: That unhealthy communities do not create sustainable world-class code. The key word is "sustainable". There are, IMO, 2 main variants of unhealthy communities: one with poisonous people, and others which lack diversity and/or collaboration. My good friends Ben and Fitz explain the impacts of Poisonous People in Open Source, so I won't go into a lot of further detail about that. I will say that the impacts of poisonous people depends greatly on whether they are committers on a codebase or whether just nasty skunks on a list. The former is much more dangerous since the end result is driving away other developers within that codebase, as well as preventing other developers from even considering joining ("That project is a zoo... I can't stand that guy..."). So you devolve the project into the 2nd variant: no diversity and/or no real collaboration. The only people left in a project are either those who don't care or are simple "Yes men" to the poisonous person. But I can hear people asking "Well, except for the purist aspects, why is that bad? The guy is a coding machine! The code he's producing is really good! So what is the big deal?" The big deal is that there will come a time, sooner or later (and most of the time it is sooner) that the person burns out, is forced out or changes jobs or whatever that causes him to leave the project. It happens... it happens a lot. And when it does, you are left with a codebase which is basically now left fallow. There are no people left around to "fill in". The codebase suffers, the development community (what is left of it) suffers and the user community suffers. The ASF sees all that as an event to be avoided. The ASF wants to see code survive and even prosper with the changeover of developers, even super studly ones. The ASF wants to see code as a long-term resource, one that continues to attract users and developers. And by creating an environment where merit is rewarded, the expectation is that talented developers will be drawn to those projects that interest them, and will share their talents by helping that project along. And all this with the end result of a much better codebase. The code and the project are more important than the whims of a single developer... A healthy community is the antidote against poison and antagonism. A healthy community fosters and creates good, viable, sustainable code. Ergo: community over code.

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