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Response to ‘Meaning of “the only thing that could have happened”’

After I setup John D. Smith’s account on The Open Source Way wiki, I followed up to look at his website and discovered he is one of the authors (with Etienne Wenger and Nancy White) of “Digital Habitats: stewarding technology for communities”. This is a book out of the communities of practice milieu, and in fact is a book I’ve recommended on a few occasions. (An oversight: we missed having it listed on the wiki, which John fixed, thanks!)

This post is in response to John’s post about his experience at the Community Leadership Summit this year. I tried to post this as a comment to his blog, but had troubles getting signed in, so I’m going to post here instead.

John, I’m glad you bring up the topic of belonging at CLS.

Originally, there had been a CLS goal of reaching out beyond software to share with people from different community backgrounds than open source. I think that is still a goal.

When I was last at CLS in 2010, some of us looking for that higher-level community leadership conversation were disappointed at the quantity of “how to deal with assholes in your online forum”-type sessions. At the same time, it was already becoming a place for that higher-level discussion but only about open source communities.

The reports I got from CLS 2011 revealed that trend continued, on the higher-level side. It has become a place for people interested in open source communities, and is now the de facto summit for that angle. Unfortunately, this growth of one aspect – which is honestly the easiest one that could have grown out of CLS – has the effect of pushing aside the conversations from outside of the software sphere.

One reason I agreed to put so much support in to CLS this year – working with Guy Martin on the OSS community consulting working group, and a good percentage of my team at Red Hat were there, although I had to cancel at the last days – is because of the growth of the open source aspect. I cannot ignore that being valuable to what I do. However, I do think it’s a loss to not continue growing the non-software focus.

Would you consider coming again if you and others could make it more of a place that works for your interests? You might only represent a small percentage of the people there for a while, but the kind of higher-level conversations on community interaction that you want to have outside of just-software is very much needed. Open source folks need to learn about what is happening outside of our narrow sphere of influence and affect. “Digital Habitats” is good example of the kind of material many people may not know about – that’s been my experience with the main “Community of Practice” book, people really didn’t know there was this body of academic research that addressed what we experience in open source communities.

If that type of conversation doesn’t grow at CLS, it will grow somewhere else. I would like it to happen, though, where the open source folks can be involved – we have a lot to teach, but even more to learn.