There is an air of disquiet again on Planet GNOME - and once again the reason behind it is the way the site is administered.

For the second time in six months, a developer from the GNOME desktop project has openly accused the project's media spokesman, Jeff Waugh, of being unresponsive to requests for changes in a GNOME service that Waugh looks after.

One uses the word "openly" because numerous similar accusations have been made on the GNOME Foundation mailing list - the two cases referred to stand out because they were made on blogs which are owned by the two developers in question.

Rodney Dawes, who maintains things like gnome-icon-theme and evolution-webcal among others, accused Waugh of being unresponsive to requests for changes on GNOME Planet, a site which aggregates blogs from people who are part of the project.

The inclusion of one's blog on the site is now becoming important, because the publicity afforded by having your personal musings on a site that is sanctioned by a project of the size and stature of GNOME carries much more weight than if the same musings were appearing on some remote blog unrelated to the project.

The fact that the syndication happens does not, in any way, detract from the degree of robustness that one sees in the postings. This is apparent from Dawes' post on April 20 when he wrote: "For quite a long time now, Planet GNOME has been quasi-maintained. It is very difficult to get changes made due to the lack of responsiveness from Jeff. But as a GNOME site and service, why is it not maintained by the infrastructure team? Why is it such a pain in the ass for foundation members to get their blog syndicated on planet?"


Dawes is not the only person who has been annoyed by this issue; on looking through the GNOME Foundation's mailing lists, one finds complaint after complaint. For instance, in January last year, Jordi Mas had this to say: "For more than three months I have been sending e-mail messages to the current GNOME Planet editor Jeff Waugh but I got no answer. I also tried to contact him in the gnome-hackers chat channel but the only answer that I got was "I'll look into that", but nothing never happened."


Waugh's response to this included a sentence that often figures in his responses to accusations of this nature: "I can't see any emails from you..."

Following the issue makes for some interesting reading. Corey Burger continued the same thread asking, on February 3: "Jeff, If you are crazy busy, as you usually are, can we get somebody else in on the maintenance of planet?" Davyd Madeley chimed in: "I would like to see a team (perhaps lead (sic) by Jeff?) formed to take responsibility for Planet." And Claudio Saavedra added: "As far as I understand, there are tasks which could be separated, and would ease the Planet maintenance...", after which he went into detail about how the work could be separated.

There was no response from Waugh for the entire month. And there the issue lay for seven months, until September last year.

It was resurrected in a different thread by Ekiga developer Damien Sandras, who was apparently upset by what he referred to as "the way some people *control* that community, even if they never contributed anything back to it." The community referred to was GNOME.

Sandras had a couple of complaints, one about the delay in a project member getting an account on Subversion (SVN, the version control software used by the GNOME project), and the other about delays in getting a blog added to the Planet. About the latter he wrote: "When I think to (sic) Julien, I am also getting mad. He has been contributing to Ekiga for 5 years. He recently created a blog and asked to (sic) Jeff to be added on planet.gnome.org. He was first ignored, then Jeff told him that he had to post often to be added. One day later, another guy was added to planet.gnome.org with 3 posts having been done in a 6 months period. That is what I call dictatorship and boycott of my project."


The complaint about the delay in getting a blog syndicated was echoed by others: Arangel Angov took it up, writing: "And this is not the first time that someone complains about having this issue. How do we select the people that go out live on Planet GNOME? Is it only enough for the person to be a contributor (when i say contributor i mean every contributor) or only developers get added? Why is decision making and administration left to only one person?

"We should delegate this responsibility along with the appropriate access to more people and make a list of conditions that a person has to meet so he gets added cause it's clear that this is either too much work for one person or that person is not the right person for the job."

Another developer, Zeeshan Ali, referred to Waugh's delay in responding to email: "Jeff replied to him? 1 month is nothing, I had to wait for 1.5 years to get my blog syndicated to p.g.o and it's been months now that i have been asking him to put my picture there."

Waugh responded to Ali, writing: "I received a mail from you on 2006-05-09 which I replied to, but didn't hear back. I ended up adding you regardless during a post-travel sweep of Planet requests. I got the hackergotchi mail on 2007-04-30 and replied a week or so later with suggestions about it. I haven't received a new one, so you still don't have a hackergotchi on Planet GNOME. I'm sorry, but I can't go chasing after people for this stuff."

(A hackergotchi is a little picture which accompanies each blog post; it serves as "an avatar to identify the author of a given RSS feed in blog aggregators.")

But Ali wasn't finished, firing back: "You did reply to me? I NEVER EVER recieved (sic) any reply from you except for this one of course (meaning Waugh's reply which was quoted above)."

Another developer, Valek Filippov, suggested that email wasn't the right medium for dealing with such things. "I mailed him (Waugh) a lot with no answer, but to be honest I have no idea if he even read my mails and ignored them or my mails were spam-filtered for some reason or he'd answered but my spam-filter ate his replies. Bugzilla seems to be much better addressing such communication problems. Also it proves things. Nobody would be able to say 'Jeff didn't reply me for months' if we used bugzilla for p.g.o."

Waugh then chimed in, detailing why he had not dealt with the problem raised by Sandras. He did not respond to Ali again, but admitted that there were problems in the administration of Planet GNOME: "I know Planet GNOME maintenance has been patchy -- I've been thinking about ways to alleviate that while keeping strong editorship in place. The Board has prompted me about this too, so I have plenty of incentive to resolve it without any of the poop flinging we've seen in this thread."


When GNOME co-founder Federico Mena-Quintero suggested a way out by having a planet-gnome module on SVN, Waugh indicated that he wanted to continue to retain sole control of Planet GNOME, saying: "planet-web already exists, but making it a free-for-all isn't a useful solution."

The discussion was a long one; at one point Dave Neary suggested having "a second person with full editorial control, alongside Jeff, and some published guidelines on the criteria so that people know whether their blogs have a good chance of getting accepted onto the planet or not." Though this seemed to be a sensible idea, it was never taken up for discussion.

Later in the same thread, Bjorn Lindqvist, addressed Waugh and raised, what was by now, a familiar theme: "...many months ago I emailed you and asked to get my blog syndicated. I never got any reply and left it as that because I didn't care very strongly about it and my blog isn't that good anyway."

He added: "One could speculate why one doesn't receive any reply: 1. Jeff gets so many mail each day that he forgot about it. 2. The mail got lost in the spam filter. 3. Jeff doesn't like you. 4. Jeff doesn't like your blog. 5. Jeff doesn't like your politics. 6. Neither you nor your blog is elite enough. 7. planet.gnome.org in an old boys club.

"Of those, only 1 and 2 are really plausible. But there is *no way to know that*. Which is why you people resort to speculations which is why this whole thread started. Which is why a transparent process is really really important."

Another who had a similar plaint was Pascal Terjan: "I agree with you (Lindqvist). I asked by email to be added in May. In June someone asked my "why don't you ask to get on planet GNOME ?" so I asked again. I think I asked again by mail since but can't find it... About one month ago I tried to ask in private on IRC without answer again."

There was a great deal of discussion about editorial control of Planet GNOME and towards the end of the thread Waugh said he was writing up guidelines for this aspect of the administration of the site.


Nothing happened in October. On November 26, a bombshell was dropped by senior developer Murray Cumming, who, in a post about candidates for the Foundation board, squarely took aim at Waugh. And while some saw the post as overtly personal, Cumming had specific complaints against Waugh which he ventilated in detail. He saw the same attitude which Waugh brought to Planet GNOME being duplicated all over the project, "the release team, the web team, the Gnome mobile group, the marketing team, and his management of Planet GNOME."

"Jeff Waugh’s only aim is self-publicity and any responsibilities in GNOME are just a way to achieve that," he wrote.

Strangely, when Waugh responded to this post, using his own blog as the medium, he did not refute any of Cumming's specifics - in fact, he acknowledged that there was some truth in the accusations. He then tried to paint Cumming's entire post as a personal attack and solicit sympathy.

The issue of administration of GNOME Planet was raised on the mailing list two days later - November 28 - by Mena Quintero, who asked if there had been any progress on the drafting of guidelines. He also pointed out that Neary's suggestion about having a second person with full editorial control of the Planet was worth discussing. And he offered to be the co-maintainer.

Waugh did not respond until December 14 and, when he did, there was no mention of documenting the guidelines: "I've spoken to potential maintainership team members who already have direct experience with pgo maintenance, and have been working on sucking guidelines out of my head and into publishable form. What you're asking for is already on the way."

When Mena-Quintero tried to push the issue, asking 'Who's on the "potential maintainership team' for PGO, so that we may inquire them (sic) about the progress?", Waugh got a bit ratty, writing: "Sorry, but I'm not going to get caught up in pointless crap like this. Some folks may think it's okay to treat me differently as a result of attempted character assassination, but you should know better Federico. I've already said - before your emails and after them - that I'm writing down the guidelines and will have a maintainership team in order to resolve the minor maintenance issues with Planet GNOME. The potential co-maintainers have already had experience doing so, and were asked months ago."

Later in the same thread, Mena-Quintero wrote: "I just find it funny that this (the drafting of guidelines) has been going on since September. That's three months to write a few guidelines and give the OK to some co-maintainers. So either the list of guidelines is horribly long, or the co-maintainers are not doing their job. I'd like to know who they are, if you please, so that I can help :)."

Since then there has been no discussion about the administration of the Planet on this mailing list. After 15 months, there are no guidelines for the Planet. There is a list of do's and don'ts for the hackergotchis, period.

Until Dawes ventilated his grievances nine days ago, there has been silence both on the mailing list and on the Planet about what obviously is a festering sore.

The irony? If you ask anyone involved in an open source or free software project how it operates, they will insist that it operates as a meritocracy and that the cream rises to the top!

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the sitecame into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

 

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