The silent drum-beat

Posted by Jim Jagielski on Monday, November 28. 2011 in ASF

There are some topics which are just too expansive for a simple tweet. This is one of them.

Lately, there have been quite a few posts extolling the assumed decrease in the viability and "reason" for the Apache Software Foundation. It's always fashionable to lump all FOSS foundations, and related entities (such as Github), into one combined group and pick out the "winners" and "losers" and those whose stars are rising and those whose glory days are fading away. With the hubbub around DVCS and git/Github, people look at the ASF, and our measured approach to incorporating git into our workflow policies, and declare that since we have not drank the Kool-Aid, the ASF's days are done.

But all this misses the point about what the ASF is, and who we are, and why we are. I hope this blog post will clarify some things.

First and foremost, however, please note that I'm not speaking "for" the ASF here; these are my views and opinions.

And, I guess, that's a great place to start. Because, you see, the ASF takes great pains in avoiding the idea and concept of a "central leader" of the ASF. There is no single face or voice of the ASF; It is a true group. The ASF shows itself to the world as a multifaceted crystal. It is the one, made up of many. Just as it is important for all developers within a project to be peers, with no single leader, the ASF as an entity abides by that condition as well.

The ASF is also quite unique (some would say strange or even warped) in that we don't stand on soapboxes, beating the drums loud and long, about how great we are, and how many projects we have and all that other kind of clap-trap. We don't market ourselves, or spend time and resources doing self-promotion, even though our Marketing and PR people (sorry Sally!) wish we would. We don't actively seek out new projects, with the goal of building or "growing" the foundation itself. We don't have strategic goals that say we have to get "that kind" of a project, or a project that "does this". That forces a foundation to worry more about itself, than the projects that it serves. The best foundation is, at least in our opinion, a lean foundation, one that exists just enough to support our projects, but no more so. As I put it one day, we don't want to turn the foundation into a foundation, with all the overhead and politics normally associated with that. To much emphasis on the foundation comes as the expense of the projects, and that's just screwy.

So when we do do marketing and PR, we instead want to spend that kind of effort promoting the projects within the ASF, and not the foundation itself. It's the projects which are important. And when we worry about growth, it's not growth of the foundation but rather growth of the projects and the communities around them.

Of course, many of us are frequently asked to speak about the ASF and the so-called "Apache Way", but even then, it's not to promote the ASF per-se, but rather to share with interested people the guidelines and principles we've come up with that seem to work so well. We don't say it's the only way. We don't say that other ways are bad. We don't claim to be experts in doing what we do. We just claim that we've come up with a system that seems to work for us, and maybe it'll work for you.

We also don't do it for self-promotion either. If we speak about the ASF it's because it is something we are passionate about, and we want to share it with others who are so inclined. It's not to increase the number of followers we have, or circles we're in, or to make sure that when people think about FOSS leaders, we're in their top 10.

The ASF doesn't exist to be a "leader"; it doesn't exist to be a "voice of Open Source"; it doesn't exist to be cool, or hip, or the "place to be" or any of that. It's not important that the ASF remains "relevant" simply so that it continues to exist and for no other reason. Ask some foundations/entities what their 6/12/18 month plan is, and you'll hear stuff like attract X new projects, grow the number of developers by Y% and increase staff by Z new full-time employees. Not the ASF.

The ASF exists so developers can scratch their itch and develop open source code, and that code can be released to anyone and everyone who desires to use it with as few strings attached as possible. It exists to help build communities around those codebases, based on collaboration and consensus-based development, that are self-sustaining; communities that are a "success" measured by health and activity, not just mere numbers.

The ASF is driven by the developers... not the desires, whims, and provocations of the marketing and media world.

And so we are happy by the success of all the foundations out there, and the Githubs and Sourceforges and GoogleCodes of the world. Despite people wanting to paint us as competitors, I truly feel we are all complementary. The world is big enough for all.

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