What Makes a Good Software Community?

Sarah Sharp’s recent post explaining why she was going to stop contributing to the Linux kernal project attracted some well deserved attention. The most potent and painful line:

I felt guilty, for a long time, for stepping down. However, I finally realized that I could no longer contribute to a community where I was technically respected, but I could not ask for personal respect. I could not work with people who helpfully encouraged newcomers to send patches, and then argued that maintainers should be allowed to spew whatever vile words they needed to in order to maintain radical emotional honesty. I did not want to work professionally with people who were allowed to get away with subtle sexist or homophobic jokes. I feel powerless in a community that had a “Code of Conflict” without a specific list of behaviors to avoid and a community with no teeth to enforce it.

Having worked in a more hostile and problematic community than WordPress is, she’s got some hard-won insight into what makes a place better or worse to hang out, contribute to, and grow in. Her post about the things that make communities great is jam-packed with wisdom and food-for-thought for anyone making communities, especially around software.

There’s too much in there to dissect at length here, so just a parting thought. Her recommendation for “Newbie todo lists” put me in mind of Trac’s good-first-bug tag, which is so good to have. I really need to tackle one of those some day!


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