[Osia-members] My thought: A new approach is needed.

Arjen Lentz arjen at lentz.com.au
Fri Feb 2 14:14:31 AEDT 2018

Hi all

I appreciate the debate "OSIA (business) vs Linux Australia (community)", described eloquently by Jack.
After a bit of ponder I'd like to add a few points to this, which may help the discussion.

Yes there is a perception of a distinction and separation between business and community.
For that perception to exist externally is understandable, as people (incl. government) do not necessarily see how open source can be profitable, so they see the two as quite distinct.
What I don't quite understand is why we also appear to be working within that perspective, as we're supposed to know better!

Well over a decade ago now, I had an interesting conversation with a Marketing VP, one key question he asked me was "how can we leverage the community to do X?"
I understood how they got to that question, from their traditional perspective.
I explained that the company should not even try a "we lead, community will follow" approach, as that's just not how community works.
Announcing some marketing initiative is not going to make it a hot thing in the community. You can't expect them to care for the company's cool-aid.

The key insight might be that community is not a synonym for consumers.
Consumers are passive participants in a product/service ecosystems.
A community is not a passive "receive-only" entity.

Let's look at a few scenarios where companies and community interact.

1) Company builds something with OSS licensing.
The most successful instances of this are where the company acts as a participant, as part of the community.
Essentially, the company is a community member like every other one - perhaps, because companies can be mistrusted, there are higher expectations re their behaviour as a community citizen.

2) Company is a user of one or more OSS components to deliver products or services.
Here a company can either choose to be really quiet, or to be active - they may choose a different approach for different OSS components, and the needs (and approach) may change over time.
When they're active, they'll have to partake like a regular community member. Tossing their corporate weight around (for instance to make demands) tends to not go down well.
The interaction can take a few different forms.

2a) employee of company is active within the community - they'll be regarded as an individual first, but it is acknowledged that they are also representing the company they work for. Their contributions are received in both contexts, both the individual and the company get credit (or criticism).

2b) corporate sponsorship of community events, corporate partnership (for instance with company from scenario 1). Of course there are people in the background who arrange things, but the outside doesn't see that.  So there, the company is the visible entity and regarded (as a whole) to be desiring to identify with the community.
In this context, its perceived attitude/strategy is explicitly scrutinised.  For example, someone at LCA asked me about IBM's sponsorship as they didn't know about the OSS activities IBM does (ozlabs, openpower, etc) and only knew them from other things - companies are often by their very nature (and their size) quite schizophrenic.

I hope my brief descriptions and examples sufficiently clarify that seeing community and companies separately is not to our advantage.
In our daily work it is not how things actually work, so having these two conflicting paradigms can be quite a hindrance.
Some people may not yet see things this way, but that's all the more reason to not send out conflicting messages.
I think it would be strategically prudent to take this bull by the horns, and start/continue building a public image that actually reflects how open source works.
In open source space, a key aspect is that the world is not divided into producers and consumers, but instead we have community.
This is not the traditional marketing-variety of community (like Coco Cola and Nike have a "community") - e.g. the type that can be leveraged.
The OSS type of community is one where the community often drives innovation, and where companies are equal partners/participants in that process.

Linux Australia has, regardless of its name, had quite significant policy influence as well as press exposure.
So has OSIA.
When you look at the type of things the different organisations have campaigned for, provided submissions for, etc, I don't see that much difference.
The original background may be different, but the objectives are pretty well aligned.

Some of you may remember that I was one of the founding directors of OSIA (in 2004). I think it made sense at the time, as it helped make the broader public (and govt) aware that businesses were doing OSS, and that it was a real and growing economic force. Various studies were done on this topic by govt agencies and others, which further helped to prove these aspects in a way that policy makers understand.

Now, I think joining forces with Linux Australia (under whatever name) makes sense.  Let's call this a convergence (of our respective trajectories).
The point that OSS does not contradict with earning money (either on individual or on corporate level) has been well made, and while not universally understood, it's now widely acknowledged and appreciated. The conversation and narrative has changed over the years, so in that sense we can definitely say "mission accomplished" - not solely because OSIA existed, but it has played an active role. Good.

Names can be important, but names are easy.
For an organisation or company, having extra trading names or trade marks for particular purposes is a perfectly normal part of business.
Linux Australia already has a trade name "Open Source Australia", for example (this as per something Kathy said at the LA AGM, I may not be accurately conveying)
It could have others. But that's very much an implementation detail.

Finally, but I think very importantly, is the acknowledgement that any organisation that relies on volunteers will always have a limited set of volunteers to pick from.
There is an overlap in people (further proof of convergence), and they're generally not going to be involved in both LA and OSIA at the same time.
But even without overlap, reducing organisational and governance overhead will only help us both financially and with distribution/load of the potentially available volunteers.
Heck, a different structure (OSIA and LA converging into a single entity) may actually entice new volunteers to come forward!

We can keep declaring that OSIA should do this and that, but reality is that we don't have the resources (mainly people) to accomplish these ideas.
If we want more to be accomplished, we should find a new form that makes this possible.  Wishful thinking isn't going to achieve this.

In conclusion, I think the current situation is not viable, I've made a decent case for why joining forces makes strategic sense, and I reckon we should get on with that.
The details can be worked out, but the direction needs to be set.  Right now we're just camping at the crossroads, not going anywhere.
Let's pick a path.


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