Open Source Is Not a Sport for the Armchair Quarterback

Earlier this week the techboard asked what we should do with Brainstorm. Having been involved with Brainstorm since almost the beginning, I felt it appropriate to handle how we would deal with it since no one wants to be unpopular, except for me of course. The TLDR is that Dell launched IdeaStorm and of course people thought this would be a great idea for OSS.

The very first thing I noticed when the idea of shutting it down was a fundamental misunderstanding of what Brainstorm is and is not. So let me be clear here:

Brainstorm was never about user-driven voting for what goes into Ubuntu.

Brainstorm was about communicating ideas that the user base were interested to Ubuntu, and at THAT it did a pretty decent job. Every cycle the tech board was taking in the top ideas and responding to them. Most of these ideas were pretty obvious. Ubuntu developers don’t need anyone to remind me that Ubuntu needs to do a better job at hardware support. We know and deal with these issues every day.

Brainstorm was about engaging developers with users, and here’s why that doesn’t work anymore:

  • Just go to UDS. It’s virtual, anyone can join without caring about travel expenses, just talk to developers directly.
  • Be involved in projects you care about; there’s mailing lists and tons of feedback options for developers.
  • It takes a reasonably intelligent person about 10 seconds to come up with 10,000 years of development work that will never be accomplished with the resources we have.
  • Go do stuff, the more you do, the more you get a say.
  • At the end of the day I’m swimming in great ideas. I don’t need great ideas, I need people willing to make great ideas a reality.

It seems that a great number of people think that Brainstorm is all about “wish-driven development” - the idea that you will come up with an awesome idea and then a team of developers will go do that for you and deliver what you want. Unfortunately that is not how it works. The only way you will ever get things done is if you do the work alongside other people. The currency of Open Source is the amount of work you’re willing to put into it. And while some people are saying that they’ll move to other distros or give up on Ubuntu because “no one listens to me” are in for a rude awakening when they realize that no open source project is driven by webpoll results.

Some people have equated the “age of Unity” as the reason as to why Brainstorm is failing, but I don’t think so, the site was flailing long before then. I might be seemingly overly negative, and that’s not my intent. In fact the barrier to get involved with Ubuntu is lower than ever.

The ironic bit so far is that the amount of complaints about Brainstorm shutting down far outnumber the amount of volunteers who have laid aside a ton of their own personal time to do the work to make the site succeed. That tells me a few things. First of all, the amount of people who will complain that things don’t work like they want them to is high. The amount of people willing to work on Ubuntu to fix these problems is relatively low.

So is Brainstorm a failure? Probably. I think we learned a bunch of things. No other OS has tried this before. Sure, they say Windows 7 was my idea, but you know that’s made up. I like that we tried, shrug.

I like that we now do design and user-feedback based improvements into Unity. Some people don’t like that. Some people don’t like that we do test driven development either. To each their own. Anyway Brainstorm was never my idea, it was a community idea that seemed to make sense at the time and whose course has run. Let’s torpedo the unrealistic idea that webpolls run an operating system and just people wired into making an operating system. Want to make a difference? Here’s the schedule for the last day of UDS if you want to get involved.