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The uneven playing field of Open Source

“In Open Source, there is a long-held belief in meritocracy, or the idea that the best work rises to the top, regardless of who contributes it. The problem is that a meritocracy assumes an equal distribution of time for everyone in a community.”

The privilege of free time in Open Source (Dries Buytaert)

Great piece from Drupal founder Dries Buytaert.

The playing field isn’t even. Saying that “everyone is welcome to participate” and not acknowledging — or adjusting — for additional factors means everyone isn’t welcome to participate. It isn’t enough.

Take monthly meetups, for example. Always meeting at the same time is great for establishing a routine, e.g. the third Thursday of every month. But then you exclude everyone who works on Thursday nights.

Or what about the location? Maybe it’s somewhere that’s hard to reach by public transit, or inaccessible to wheelchairs. You’re excluding people who can’t make it to the venue, or who can’t even enter it.

As for the counterpoint of “well we can’t please everyone”? That’s true! But you can provide more options. Moving the date around. Trying different venues. Giving folks a way to join remotely.

And as it goes for meetups, so it can go for open source projects. Give people options to participate, and then make it easy for them to discover and learn how to participate.

As Dries puts it:

“While it’s impossible to fix decades of gender and racial inequality with any single action, we must do better. Those in a position to help have an obligation to improve the lives of others. We should not only invite underrepresented groups into our Open Source communities, but make sure that they are welcomed, supported and empowered.”

By Andy

Andy McIlwain wrangles content and community programs at GoDaddy as a Senior Marketing Manager. He's helped folks work with the web since '08 as a community organizer, workshop instructor, web developer, and marketer. You can find him on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.