Are Indian FOSS communities closed-source ?
This will hopefully be a short read as how Indian communities specially product-based communities are opaque in functioning.
I have been re-reading a book called ‘Microtrends‘ I bought few years ago. The book starts with a bow to another best-seller sold several years ago called Megatrends . I haven’t read the former though because at the time the book was attuned more towards American trends rather than global trends, did come to know that later trends had more global trends which make it more relevant as well.
The book though, at the introduction itself talks about microtrends in the sense that small spikes or trends which affect the whole. If we think or take Google trends as the base (for IT personnel) where a shift of 10% tells that something weird is happening (but without knowing the causation) there are also 1% or 2% spikes which can change the discourse. I am not going to talk much of the book as the book itself is worth reading and I would hardly do justice to a book which has some 400 odd pages on this little blog post, the idea sits pretty nicely with the concept of Long Tail which has been shared and epitomized in various books since ever. The idea common to the long tail concept as well as in the book is that you need to reach out to just 1% of the population. This means if we were to think in Indian terms, we have a population of 120 crores (1200 million) we need to reach 1.2 crores (10.2 million) of people. But these are raw numbers.
The actual base should be somewhere in 10-12 cores (100-120 million) people who are educated and can use computers at some basic level. These numbers are based on Wikipedia’s List of Countries which speak English . The data even there is too old and hence the numbers would probably be a tag higher but as have no others numbers to base on, hence using those.
Of these 10-12 crore people numbers, FOSS needs to target 1% i.e. 10-12 Lakhs (10-12 million) people as sustained, motivated number of people to make a mark and it’s here I think almost all FOSS communities in India have failed to make a mark for number of reasons. While I have been part of and associated with various FOSS communities, there are two things which seem to be a feature (or should we call it anti-feature) of most communities :-
b. Cabalism (or simply Cabals)
As have been part of both parts do understand that both factions and cabals start with good intentions but sometimes later warp beyond recognition. Don’t have any straight answers for it other than ‘constant vigilance’ preached by Alastor Moddy of Harry Potter fame for people within and from personal experience, not an easy thing to do at all.
c. No communication, Mis-communication
d. Fragmented content with contradictory messages.
The above two I have also seen time and again as a ‘feature’ of the Indian FOSS community at large where most communities in India don’t really communicate to other FOSS communities or world at large or are pretty bad at things. A simple example which can explain this is that every week-end or at least every other week-end there are foss events which are held in Pune by various FOSS communities and there should have been one calendar where FOSS activists could put up events happening but sadly isn’t. There used to be Punetech.com which used to be one of the places where people were able to put stuff up but since Navin (it’s founder) has its own start-up the site has stagnated. While we can’t blame Navin, there is a responsibility on all FOSS communities to make an events site, which is hosted by a neutral party (somebody like sflc india, paid by various foss communities, and content created by everybody) and using the open standard .ics which can be imported and constantly be updated by the community. I don’t think it’s a new idea at all but needs some love by the various FOSS communities in Pune and elsewhere as well.
Apart from above, one of the tragedies that the FOSS community in India is that it has become afraid of the by-and-large ‘Not Invented Here‘ syndrome. For instance, 99% of the time in most FOSS communities if for some reason or the other a form is needed to be filled then Google Forms is used and I don’t understand the reason why. There are good alternatives galore and even if they do not fulfil the need why don’t the communities sit across the table and have open-design forms, hosting etc. and profit instead of google profiting from whatever they do.
As been part of communities and a user of various products, it has been becoming increasingly frustrated to see FOSS communities increasingly becoming infantalized rather than becoming more mature in dealing with all the stake-holders and more specifically users. I have seen on many an occasion at a user meet where a user is told to report a bug by a developer (when there were at least 4-5 people from the core community) and the bewildered look on the user’s face.
It would have probably taken at the most 5 minutes for any of the developers to open an account for the user, help him through the process and generally made him feel part of the process but more often the user is left to his or her own devices. And this is when he needed to go to bugzilla, but that wasn’t even the case, there needed to at least have a look as to whether what the person was saying is true or not or to what extent and what solutions may have worked or not before going down this route.
Now this made the user feel that :-
a. Either they didn’t care about users or
b. They weren’t confident about the product Or
c. They didn’t know how to give support.
And this is not a one-off experience but a sustained user-experience. While I could perfectly understand if this was a web-server (like apache, nginx or something else) the software are more of the end-user softwares and not towards system-administrators.
This is not based on any specific community or specific meeting but something I have been observing over a decade as well. I don’t have any band-aid or fixes for all the solutions but do encourage FOSS communities to really dig deep and see if there can be some solutions to the issues outlined. The fear is while the opportunities are all there, the communities and the people have become a bit laid back due to setbacks, failures of earlier years.
One the other hand, I have found the traditional ‘Commercial’ products and communities to be quite more coherent in their approach to all the issues above. While again, I could not find any reasons apart from the fact that the former is ‘commercial’ in nature while in FOSS the act is ‘voluntary’ in nature.
I do wish I could provide some more ideas but then it has to come from within community, especially the processes. So with that, I will stop for the day.