I’ve been a member of the ASF for a while now. During my time as a member the foundation has changed and I find myself wondering where it’s going and how much the ride will cost. No organisation can afford to remain the same over such a period, so change was inevitable – it’s the direction of the changes that concerns me.
Gaining membership of the foundation used to mean that you had contributed for a period in ways that had value and your interactions showed that you “got” what the foundation was about. The last part has always been nebulous at best, with everyone having their own views on it. This approach to voting meant that stating the ASF was a “meritocracy” had some weight, but given the way that member elections have gone in recent years that statement is starting to feel less and less valid. We now have members who have been voted in following contributions that seem to be very far below what was required a few years ago. When becoming a member is so easy, does it still mean anything?
When I first became a member it was a very pleasant surprise just how friendly the members were. There was a level of respect of different viewpoints and opinions that is rarely found in such a diverse group. Sadly, I don’t think this is any longer the case. The open environment has been replaced by one in which differing opinions are unwelcome and every word written in emails is scrutinized for meanings. The upshot is that contributing to the foundation is no longer fun. Constructive debates do still happen, but the amount of noise generated is at such a high level that most (myself included) normally tend to tune out very early on, leaving those with stronger constitutions to continue in earnest. In short it feels like a nasty corporate environment, with different groups within the foundation fighting and pushing their own agendas.
When discussing this with other members a large number of recurring themes have been raised to explain the change. The changing nature of people contributing to the foundation and it’s projects is the one most often quoted and the one that holds truest for me. Until this year I’d rarely heard “the ASF is owned by XXX” (where XXX is some large company) spoken as blatantly or directly. My initial reaction to this assertion (like many other members) is that the person knows nothing about the foundation, but after some more thought it becomes harder to dismiss so quickly as the very nature of open source has changed and the foundation has changed in turn.
I should point out that I still have a lot of respect for the majority of the ASF members. They are a great bunch and the ASF has a large number of amazing projects.
Writing this hasn’t been easy as I dislike publicly criticising the foundation and indeed a few weeks ago I wouldn’t have posted this! What has changed? The membership voted in a new member who has stated they should be a member and publicly criticized the foundation in far more public forums than this on multiple occasions, I guess public criticism is now not only permissible but acceptable.