I love working with the Ubuntu community. I love the opportunities, challenges and people that occupy it. Each day is filled with a diverse tapestry of challenges, be it growing new teams, refining governance, developing strategy, or simply chewing the fat with Ubuntu and upstream contributors from around the world. No day is ever the same.
Something has been bothering me though recently. On my team we work on a huge range of different topics and ideas. We work closely with our community to identify areas of focus and scale, and we indulge in a raft of technical and social puzzles. Despite the hundreds of emails and hours of discussion, I have recently felt like something was missing. It was if we have overlooked something; the small detail in the painting that makes it all make sense.
This conundrum was beginning to chew me up. Although work distracted me with the day to day goings on in the community, when taking a walk to my local coffee shop, driving the car or taking a shower, my mind was trying to uncover this missing link. I knew the answer was buried away in my brain, but I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I mentally cycled through all the different parts of our community, the teams, the people, and the direction to try and find it. Nothing.
Then while at the recent Ubuntu Developer Summit, it finally struck me.
Ubuntu is a remarkable phenomenon. A worldwide network of enthusiasts united by the desire to make a difference. Some join us for the technology. Some join us for the community. Some join us to narrow the digital divide. Each of us is attracted to Ubuntu for our own reasons, but a great many of these reasons have one underlying element.
Whether freedom of technology or choice. Freedom of accessibility, language or collaboration. Or possibly the freedom to innovate and inspire. Ubuntu is a philosophy forged in software; a striking opportunity to make a real difference to real people.
This is not a theory. This is not a formula conceived by social scientists in a university. Millions of people around the world are using Ubuntu right now. Each one of these computers, whether a laptop, desktop, netbook, mobile device or media center is infused with our shared ethos.
It turned out that the missing link I was searching for was simple. We need to regularly reconnect to our ethos. We need to fall in love with Ubuntu again.
Right now, we are a fork in the road. Do we want to compete, or do we want to win?
Like the wider Free Software community, Ubuntu grows every day, and as we have matured we have taken on the responsibilities of growth. Across the hundreds of Ubuntu teams all over the world, our swarm of contributors manages thousands of packages, bug reports, documents, translations and more. We have developed open governance and councils for handling this growth. We have produced systems and processes to handle the dazzling variety of activities and avenues of contribution that are available in our community. We have also had the spotlight shone on our baby. Ubuntu is regularly the subject of reviews, books, features on television and radio, conference coverage and more. We have all worked long days and late nights and each and every day more problems are solved and more details are painted into the Ubuntu portrait.
Throughout this seemingly endless stream of emails, bug reports, wiki pages and more, its easy to lose sight of why we are doing this. It can be easy to let the details dominate our thinking, obscuring the incredible opportunity before us. It can also be easy to forget that every contribution we make to Free Software is helping to drive forward that real and tangible difference I spoke of earlier.
Ethos is a powerful force. Throughout history, people have come together to challenge the status quo. They are driven by ambition, finding strength within themselves to make things different. This is what our community needs right now: we need to reconnect with our ethos. It has always been there, but as we grow and face new challenges, we need to use our ethos to define our solidarity. Ubuntu will always change and grow, new blood will join our community and our elders will retire, but the ethos that binds each and every one of us never changes.
The potential is electrifying. Just look at LoCo Teams as one such example. We have over 180 LoCo teams spanning nearly every country on the planet. Every day these teams get out there and spread the word of Ubuntu. We have teams such as the French LoCo who had over 4000 people attend their Intrepid release party. But it doesn’t stop there. The Ubuntu Forums have over 700,000 members contributing over 6 million posts. Our community is actively translating Ubuntu into over 190 languages. We have over 300 diverse teams covering pretty much any technical and creative endeavor you can think of.
But throughout all of this potential, we all need to take the responsibility to remind ourselves of the ethos that binds us all.
Shortly after I joined Canonical as the Ubuntu Community Manager I received an email from a contributor in Africa. The sender informed me that where he lived there was sparse Internet access and little access to computers. He told me that he had seen Ubuntu demonstrated in a local town and our ethos inspired him to join the community and participate. To do this he walked two hours to the local town to an Internet cafe, used his own money to buy an hours worth of Internet access to contribute to Ubuntu, and then walked two hours home afterwards.
That email has always stayed with me. Firstly, it is a reminder that we need to make every second in his and everyone else’s hour count. We need to smooth every interaction. We need to optimize every process. We need everyone to not only feel that their hour was productive and satisfying, but it was fun and rewarding.
But possibly the most salient of lessons in that email was just how much commitment people can have to an ethos they share and want to be a part of. When we feel the ethos and the mission, we are ready to take on the world.
I want us to regularly reconnect to that ethos. I want us to celebrate it, enthuse each other and unite behind it. But this is something we need to do together. We all need to regularly share why Ubuntu and Free Software is important to us. We need to regularly inspire each other and help balance out the day to day details with the wider opportunity before us. Winning is not just about producing great software, it is also about building strength in each other to really knock the ball out of the park.
So, today I would like to ask each and every one of you reading this to do one simple thing to help us all reconnect and share our ethos. If you have a blog or use Twitter or identi.ca, I would like to ask you to take five minutes to write down why Ubuntu is important to you, and what aspect of our ethos attracts you and motivates you about Ubuntu. How does our ethos around freedom excite you about the project? If you don’t have a blog, use IRC, mailing lists or anything else you can think of. The key point here is in sharing with others about what Ubuntu means to you. If we work together to continue to share our ethos, it will not only be healthy for our community, but also healthy for the next important chapter in the Ubuntu story.