This will be the last post to “Seeing the fnords”. I decided to embrace progress, static websites, shiny DNS domains and free github page hosting, and moved this blog to http://ttx.re.
The new blog is called ttx:reloaded. Most posts from this blog have been imported. I won’t be posting here anymore, so please update your links!
Some people asked me to analyze the results of the recent TC election in the same way I ran the analysis for the previous one. I finally found the time to do it, here are the results.
The April 2014 election was set up to renew 7 of the 13 TC members. We had 17 candidates, you can find the official results of the election here.
This graph shows how each candidate was ranked. The first bubble on the left represents the number of people that have placed that candidate as their only first choice. The last bubble on the right represents the number of people that have placed this candidate as their only last choice. If multiple candidates are ranked at the same level, we average their “score”.
We can see that once again the Condorcet algorithm preferred a consensual candidate (Devananda) over less-consensual ones (Julien, Sergey). It’s also interesting to compare the spread between Michael, Jim and Mark.
At the previous election, running the same ballot with CIVS so-called “proportional mode” option altered the result. This time, the proportional mode returns the exact same set of winners.
The goal of this analysis is to detect blocks of voters, who consistently place a set of candidates above anyone else. I slightly modified my script to reveal the most popular pairs: calculate how many people place the same two people above anyone else, and try to detect bias in the most popular pairs.
The most popular pair was Vish/Thierry (with 5.58% of voters placing us above anyone else). We could call that the old-timers party. The second most popular pair was Jay/Sergey (the Mirantis party) with 5.13%. 4.24% of the voters placed the Julien/Thierry pair on top of anything else: that could reveal an influential French party ! The Foundation party pair (Jim/Thierry) was preferred by 3.34%, same result as the Foodie party (Mark/Thierry). The Jay/Vish pair was preferred by 3.12% of the voters (a variant of the old-timers party). It’s also worth noting that 2.45% of the voters favored the Flavio/Steven pair (best score of the RedHat pairs), 1.56% favored Michael/JohnG (best score of the Rackspace pairs) and 1.11% favored Joe/Devananda (best score of the HP pairs).
While this analysis shows some corporate bias in the vote, it’s worth noting that (a) it’s extremely limited, (b) it’s actually decreasing from the previous election, (c) it did not affect the result in any significant way and (d) it’s comparable to other bias (old timers, French people).
Run your own analysis
That’s all I had to share. But don’t blindly trust me, you can run your own analysis by downloading the anonymized ballot !
Various governance models exist for free and open source software projects. Most of those happen naturally, some of them are chosen… Which one is the best ? Is there a best ? How could we judge the best ? Like any ecosystem, I’d postulate that F/OSS project communities should have long-term survival as their main goal: the ability to continue operation as the same community over time, without fracture of fork.
The “benevolent dictator for life” model usually happens naturally. The project is often originally the brain child of a single, talented individual, who retains final say over everything that happens to their project. This usually works very well: the person is naturally respected in the community. It also naturally allows for opinionated design, and people who sign up to the project can’t ignore what they sign up for.
The main issue with that setup is that it’s not replicable, it can’t be dictated. It either happens naturally, or it will never happen. You don’t choose someone to become your dictator-for-life after the fact. Any attempt to do so would fail to get enough legitimacy and natural respect to make it last. The second issue with that setup is that it’s not durable. If the dictator stops being active in the community, their opinion is not as much respected anymore (especially by new contributors), which usually triggers a painful fork or governance model switch (that’s what happened in Gentoo). Even in the rare cases where the original dictator manages to retain interest and respect in the project, it’s inherently brittle: the “natural” dictator can’t really be replaced in case something bad happens. Succession is always dirty. So from a long-term survival standpoint, this model is not that great.
Aristocracy is used to solve the perceived drawbacks of the dictator-for-life model. Instead of focusing on one person, let’s have a group of people in control of the project, and let that group self-select successors in the wider pool of contributors. That’s the role of “committers” in certain projects, and it’s also how Apache project management committees (PMCs) usually work. It also works quite well, with self-selection usually ensuring that the members share enough common culture to reach consensus on most decisions.
The drawback here is obviously the self-selection bias. Aristocracies all fall after getting more and more disconnected from the people they control, and revolution happens. Open source aristocracies are no different: they fall after gradually growing disconnected from their project contributors base. Whenever contributors to an open source project feel like their leaders are no longer representative of the contributors or relevant to the present of the project, this disconnect happens. In mild cases, people just go contribute somewhere else, and in difficult cases this usually triggers a fork.
Direct democracy / Anarchy
The obvious way to solve that disconnect is to give the power directly to the contributors. Direct democracy projects give ultimate power to all the contributors. Anarchy projects let contributors do whatever they want. Debian is an interesting mix of the two: developers vote on general resolutions, but maintainers also have a lot of control on their packages.
While these models have a certain appeal, those projects usually have a hard time taking necessary decisions that affect the whole project, so they tend to linger not taking any critical decision. It’s also a model that is difficult to evolve: when you try to add new layers on top of it, they are never really accepted by the contributors base.
That leaves us with representative democracy. You regularly designate a small group of people and trust them to make the right decisions for the governance of the project. It can happen in cases where there was no natural dictator at the beginning of the project. It’s different from aristocracy in that they are chosen by the contributors base and regularly renewed — ensuring that they are always seen as a fair representation of the contributors to the project. It’s more efficient than direct democracy or anarchy in making clear and opinionated decisions.
Now it’s far from perfect. As Churchill famously said, it’s the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. It also only works if the elected people are seen as legitimate and representative, so it requires good participation levels in elections. So here is my plea: the OpenStack Technical Committee, which oversees the development of the OpenStack open source project as a whole, is being partially renewed this week. If you’re an OpenStack contributor, please vote: this will ensure that elected people have the legitimacy necessary for making the decisions that need to be made, and increase the health of the project.
Since the very beginning of OpenStack we fulfilled our Open Design promise by organizing a developer gathering open to all OpenStack contributors at the beginning of all our development cycles, called the Design Summit. Those events have proven to be an essential part of OpenStack success and growth.
Design Summits are a set of discussion sessions under the auspices of a given OpenStack program. There are no formal presentations or speakers, just open discussions around a given development theme. The elected Program Technical Leads are responsible for picking a set of discussion topics, and they take suggestions from the rest of the community on our session suggestion website at summit.openstack.org.
One of the last sessions at the Icehouse Design Summit in Hong-Kong was about the Design Summit format, and how we should improve on it. Several issues were reported during that session, like:
- the inability for technical people to attend (or present at) the rest of the OpenStack Summit
- the (in)visibility of the Unconference track, making it difficult for nascent projects to attract interested contributors
- the difficulty to have cross-project discussions in a schedule strictly organized around project-specific topics
- the difficulty for incubated projects to continue to collaborate during the week, outside of the limited scheduled slots allocated to them
I’m happy to report that we acted on that feedback and will implement a number of changes in the upcoming Juno Design Summit in Atlanta in May.
First, we started staggering the Design Summit from the rest of the OpenStack Summit. The main event starts on Monday and ends on Thursday, while the Juno Design Summit starts on Tuesday and ends on Friday. This should allow our key technical assets to attend some of the conference and maybe present there.
Second, the Unconference track is abandoned. It will be replaced by several initiatives. Part of the Unconference was traditionally used by open source projects related to OpenStack to present themselves and recruit contributors. We’ll have an Other projects track at the Design Summit to cover for those. This will be limited to one session per project, but those will appear on the official schedule. If you are an open source project related to OpenStack and would like one of those slots, please head to the session suggestion site !
Another classic use of the Unconference was ad-hoc continuation of discussions that started in scheduled sessions, or coverage of lesser topics that couldn’t find a place in scheduled sessions. To cover for that, we’ll set up a roundtable for each program (complete with paperboard) to serve as a rallying point for contributors around that program. This designated space (codenamed project pod) can be used to have additional discussions and continue collaboration outside of the limited scheduled sessions.
Last but not least, we’ll dedicate the first day of the summit (Tuesday) to cross-project workshops. During that day, no other integrated project sessions will be running, which should facilitate presence of key stakeholders. We’ll be able to discuss OpenStack-wide goals, convergence, integration and other cross-project issues.
We hope that those changes will let us make the most of those 4 days all together. At the end of the Juno Design Summit we’ll discuss whether those changes were an improvement and whether we should do them again for the K design summit in Paris in November. See you all in Atlanta in 8 weeks!
Yesterday we entered the Icehouse development cycle Feature Freeze. But with the incredible growth of the OpenStack development community (508 different contributors over the last 30 days, including 101 new ones !), I hear a lot of questions about it. I’ve explained it on various forums in the past, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to write something a bit more definitive about it.
Those are valid questions. Why freeze features ? That sounds very anti-agile. Isn’t our test-centric development model supposed to protect us from regressions anyway ? Let’s start with what feature freeze is not. Feature freeze should only affect the integrated OpenStack release. If you don’t release (i.e. if you don’t special-case certain moments in the development), then feature freezing makes little sense. It’s also not a way to punish people who failed to meet a deadline. There are multiple reasons that a given feature will miss a deadline, and most of those are not the fault of the original author of the feature. We do time-based releases, so some features and some developers will necessarily be caught on the wrong side of the fence at some point and need to wait for the next boat. It’s an artifact of open innovation projects.
Feature freeze (also known as “FF”) is, obviously, about stopping adding new features. You may think of it as artificially blocking your progress, but this has a different effect on other people:
- As was evidenced by the Icehouse cycle, good code reviewers are a scarce resource. The first effect of feature freeze is that it limits the quantity of code reviews and make them all about bugfixes. This lets reviewers concentrate on getting as many bugfixes in as possible before the “release”. It also helps developers spend time on bugfixes. As long as they can work on features, their natural inclination (or their employer orders) might conflict with the project interest at this time in the cycle, which is to make that point in time we call the “release” as bug-free as possible.
- From a QA perspective, stopping the addition of features means you can spend useful time testing “in real life” how OpenStack behaves. There is only so much our automated testing will catch. And it’s highly frustrating to spend time testing software that constantly changes under you.
- QA is not the only group that needs to catch up. For the documentation team, the I18N team, feature freeze is essential. It’s difficult to write documentation if you don’t know what will be in the end product. It’s frustrating to translate strings that are removed or changed the next day.
- And then you have all the downstream consumers of the release that can use time to prepare it. Packagers need software that doesn’t constantly change and add dependencies, so that they can prepare packages for OpenStack projects that are released as close to our release date as possible. The marketing team needs time to look into what was produced over the cycle and arrange it in key messages to communicate to the outside world at release time.
- Finally, for release management, feature freeze is a tool to reduce risk. The end goal is to avoid introducing an embarassing regression just before release. By gradually limiting the impact of what we accept in the release branch (using feature freeze, but also using the RC dance that comes next), we try our best to prevent that.
For all these groups, it’s critical that we stop adding features, changing behavior, adding new configuration options, or changing translatable strings as early as possible. Of course, it’s a trade-off. There might be things that are essential to the success of the release, or things that are obviously risk-limited. That’s why we have an exception process: the Feature Freeze exceptions (“FFEs”).
Feature freeze exceptions may be granted by the PTL (with the friendly but strong advice from the release management team). The idea is to weigh the raw benefit of having that feature in the release, against the complexity of the code that is being brought in, its risk of causing a regression, and how deep we are in feature freeze already. A self-contained change that is ready to merge a few days after feature freeze is a lot more likely to get an exception than a refactoring of a key layer that still needs some significant work to land. It also depends on how many exceptions were already granted on that project, because at some point adding anything more just causes too much disruption.
It’s a difficult call to make, and the release management team is here to help the PTLs make it. If your feature gets denied, don’t take it personally. As you saw there are a large number of factors involved. Our common goal is to raise the quality of the end release, and every feature freeze exception we grant is a step away from that. We just can’t take that many steps back and still guaranteeing we’ll win the race.
Open innovation vs. proprietary innovation
For companies, there are two ways to develop open source projects. The first one is to keep design and innovation inside your corporate borders, and only accept peripheral contributions. In that case you produce open source software, but everything else resembles traditional software development: you set the goals and roadmap for your product, and organize your development activity to meet those goals, using Agile or waterfall methodologies.
The second one is what we call open innovation: build a common and level playing field for contributions from anywhere, under the auspices of an independent body (foundation or other). In that case you don’t really have a roadmap: what ends up in the software is what the contributors manage to push through a maintainers trust tree (think: the Linux kernel) or a drastic code review / CI gate (think: OpenStack). Products or services are generally built on top of those projects and let the various participants differentiate on top of the common platform.
Now, while I heavily prefer the second option (which I find much closer to the ideals of free software), I recognize that both options are valid and both are open source. The first one ends up attracting far less contributions, but it works quite well for niche, specialized products that require some specific know-how and where focused product design gives you an edge. But the second works better to reach universal adoption and total world domination.
A tragedy of the commons
The dilemma of open innovation is that it’s a natural tragedy of the commons. You need strategic contributions to keep the project afloat: people working on project infrastructure, QA, security response, documentation, bugfixing, release management which do not directly contribute to your employer baseline as much as a tactical contribution (like a driver to interface with your hardware) would. Some companies contribute those necessary resources, while some others just get the benefits of monetizing products or services on top of the platform without contributing their fair share. The risk, of course, is that the strategic contributor gets tired of paying for the free rider.
Open innovation is a living ecosystem, a society. Like all societies, it has its parasites, its defectors, those which don’t live by the rules. And like all societies, it actually needs a certain amount of defectors, as it makes the society stronger and more able to evolve. The trick is to keep the amount of parasites down to a tolerable level. In our world, this is usually done by increasing the difficulty or the cost of defecting, while reducing the drawbacks or the cost of cooperating.
Keeping our society healthy
In his book Liars and Outliers, Bruce Schneier details the various knobs a society can play with to adjust the number of defectors. There are moral pressures, reputational pressures, institutional pressures and security pressures. In open innovation projects, moral pressures and security pressures don’t work that well, so we usually use a combination of institutional pressures (licensing, trademark rules) and reputational pressures (praising contributors, shaming free riders) to keep defectors to an acceptable level.
Those are challenges that are fully understood and regularly applied in the Linux kernel project. For OpenStack, the meteoritic growth of the project (and the expertise land-grab that came with it) protected us from the effects of the open innovation dilemma so far. But the Technical Committee shall keep an eye on this dilemma and be ready to adjust the knobs if it starts becoming more of a problem. Because at some point, it will.
StoryBoard is a project I started a few months ago. We have been running into a number of issues with Launchpad (inability to have blueprints spanning multiple code bases, inability to have flexible project group views, inability to use non-Launchpad OpenID for login…), and were investigating replacements. I was tired to explain why those alternatives wouldn’t work for our task tracking, so I started to describe the features we needed, and ended up writing a proof-of-concept to show a practical example.
That proof-of-concept was sufficiently compelling that the Infrastructure team decided we should follow the path of writing our own tool. To be useful, task tracking for complex projects has to precisely match your workflow. And the POC proved that it wasn’t particularly difficult to write. Then people from HP, Mirantis and RedHat joined this effort.
My Django-based proof-of-concept had a definite last-century feel to it, though. We wanted a complete REST API to cover automation and scripting needs, and multiple clients on top of that. Time was ripe for doing things properly and start building a team effort around this. Time was ripe for… the StoryBoard sprint.
We gathered in Brussels for two days in advance of FOSDEM, in a meeting room sponsored by the OpenStack Foundation (thanks!). On day 2 we were 12 people in the room, which was more than we expected !
Colette helped us craft a mission statement and structure our goals. Michael presented an architecture (static JS client on top of OpenStack-like REST service) that we blessed. Jaromir started to draw wireframes. Sergey, Ruslan and Nikita fought uncooperative consulates and traveled at night to be present on day 2. We also confirmed a number of other technology choices (Bootstrap, AngularJS…). We discussed the basic model, bikeshedded over StoryBoard vs. Storyboard and service URLs. We got a lot covered, had very few breaks, ate nice food and drank nice beer. But more importantly, we built a strong set of shared understandings which should help us make progress as a united team going forward.
We have automated testing and continuous deployment set up now, and once the initial basic functionality is up (MVP0) we should iterate fast. The Infrastructure program is expected to be the first to dogfood this, and the goal is to have something interesting to present to other programs by the Atlanta summit. To participate or learn more about StoryBoard, please join us on #storyboard on Freenode IRC, or at our weekly meeting.