Last night I listened to the excellent Ubuntu-UK Podcast and something mentioned pipped my interest and sent the dusty cogs in my head whirring. Someone wrote in and asked about how to get involved with the community.
This is something that has intrigued me before and I think I’d like to put fingers to keyboard and etch out a few ideas as to how I see a possible solution. This is a bit of a mind dump so you may have to bear with me.
Becoming part of any community can be difficult initially. Everyone feels a little bit of an outsider when they start and it can take a little while to fully integrate with a community. This is what I see as Problem #1.
Problem #2 is trying to find your place. Some technical people feel happy commiting patches and so on to various OSS projects, these people I think just need to find their itch that needs scratching. The large problem is people who are not necessarily technical and want to get involved but don’t know their way around the community yet, or are uncertain where they want to sit.
Problem #1 is a very personal thing. There is no solution, as far as I can see, that doesn’t come from the individual themselves. In order to integrate yourself with a community you sometimes just have to throw yourself into it. Certainly the other members of the community can help by being inclusive in discussions, not being purposely obtuse and by being aware of that unsettling feeling of finding your place, but without the original individual just getting involved a bit, I’m not sure what else could be done.
Problem #2 is where other community members can be more helpful. There are some people, such as popey and a few others, who have been around a little while such that they are in a very good place to be helpful, and try to be so. Maybe what’s needed here is a list of people who can be contacted, either individually or as part of a forum (irc chatrooms, the ubuntu forums, mailing lists, etc) who might be able to point people in the correct direction. Yesterday when I brought this up on IRC I think I used the phrase “Community Ambassadors” but I think in many ways that’s wrong. What’s needed (from my point of view, I’m open to discussion on this) is essentially just an easy way for people who want to get involved to be able to contact these people to get some pointers. The thing that makes the community is the people and a website with ideas on is a bit impersonal sometimes can’t answer peoples questions or just bring the overwhelming scale of what’s available to get involved in down to a manageable viewpoint.
As I can see it, I don’t think this problem has an instant solution, but may need to be pecked at repeatedly until a best fit solution is found. Hopefully this will generate some discussion! Feel free to contact me here, find me on jabber at firstname.lastname@example.org or blog your viewpoint too. Hopefully we can generate some common ground and generate an action plan to go forward.