Inertia

While washing dishes this evening I started thinking again about the Ubuntu Community (don’t ask why; the mind tends to wander amid the soap and water). I was thinking about my role as contact for the Ubuntu Michigan Loco, and our previous few events. Our previous release parties have been well attended, but the Global Jams have been less than stellar affairs. There are plenty of reasons for the Global Jam stagnation (this year it was opposite Ohio Linuxfest, and I was busy for most of the weekend) but even so there was very little participation. Granted, it’s a little harder to get people to be motivated about participating online (there are a myriad of other things you could be doing online) but even across all of the locos there were 15 events in total throughout the world. 15 events? Usually we can muster up at least 30 events throughout the world, but this time around there were only 15, and ours was especially poorly represented. Last year’s Global Jam had 16 events. At this rate in two years we’ll be lucky to break into the teens.

We’re also coming up on a release party in October. Usually those are pretty well attended, but I wonder how much of that is celebrating Ubuntu and how much is just finding an excuse to get out of the house and hang out with people you don’t generally see too often. I can honestly say that each release I’m more firmly in the latter camp than the former.

I’m sure it also doesn’t help that I know more former Ubuntu contributors than current contributors. And of the current contributors I don’t think there’s one that wasn’t hired in by Canonical.

We’re in a strange period in the lifecycle of our community. Our strongest advocates have moved on, and those who remain are either here by choice or because of inertia. I’ve made many great friends through Ubuntu, and the only reason I keep logging in to the Ubuntu Michigan IRC channel is to talk with those folks. If we made a new non-Ubuntu-related channel I’m not sure all of them would follow.

What’s lead to these feelings of malaise toward the community? Several things have lead us tho this point. Ubuntu’s focus on phone and tablet OSes don’t excite me that much. The only reason I stick with Ubuntu 12.04 LTS is because it works and I have several Humble-Bundles worth of software tied to my machine via the Ubuntu Software Center. I would have said Ubuntu One, but Canonical has all but abandoned Ubuntu One in favor of other more profitable ventures (I had a billing issue for Ubuntu One that never even received a response). Juju looks interesting but I don’t have big deployments to manage so I have a hard time getting really excited about it. And it seems the focus on the desktop is only to see how much it can converge into the tablet / phone market. Exciting? Perhaps, but I’m wondering what will happen once the phone market sails by and Ubuntu Touch becomes the next Ubuntu One; relegated to the dustbin of the next big thing.

I feel our community is rudderless and unless you’re fully committed to the Ubuntu Phone / Touch OSes there’s little for us to get excited about. And the only option for non-believers is to gracefully bow out. But then who to we grant the mantle to if nobody is around with any passion anymore to pick it up? We run with our hands outstretched behind us, baton waiting, but there’s nobody to pick it up and run with it. They’ve either run off and joined other races, or they just quit altogether.

I see some changes coming down the pipeline regarding the new oversight for the loco teams, but I fear it’s too late for any meaningful change. The strong community we once had burned up and moved on. And we still act as though we have a vibrant and active community; like setting the table for relatives long since departed in the hopes that the ritual will somehow be enough. But the ritual cannot replace what is lost.

There are two evolutionary paths for every organism: adapt or perish. Adaptation takes time, effort, and a willingness to accept the result of those changes no matter how painful. Those who will not or cannot adapt will suffer the consequences as the environment changes around them. As members of the community we’re chided if we don’t adapt as being relics of a dying age. Perhaps, but evolution takes time, resources and effort. I’m not sure the current community is capable of adapting to fit the model citizenry that is expected. And so we get this listless participatory inertia. We put on events because that is what is expected. We participate in making things better because if we don’t we will be looked down upon. We applaud the “new hotness” in the Ubuntu Phones because if we don’t then the gambles that are taken in our name will be for naught.

Perhaps a new community will spring from the ashes of the old one. But in the mean time our rituals aid in giving us comfort until something better comes along. But in the end the rituals become dull and hollow, and have no purpose outside of the ritual. And that’s where I see us today.

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