By the time I wrote that keynote, KDE already had very clear social principles, agreements and mechanisms. They are reflected in the new Manifesto, so there is in one sense nothing really new there. What is new is that those principles are being stated openly and clearly. Not everyone felt they needed to be, and so I'd like to address the reasons why this is such an important step for KDE.
KDE as a community, a technology creator and the keeper of many assets with value (ranging from KDE e.V.'s bank account, IT infrastructure, trademarks, reputation, etc.) is something that many people and organizations want to be a part of. This is a sign of success that was built up over the 15+ years of history of KDE. As new projects and new people come together under the big tent of KDE, we are faced with three key tasks:
- Enabling external self-identification: Making it possible for those who are not yet affiliated with KDE to know whether they ought to be and what that would mean. This helps KDE remain relevant and full of energy. We've seen this happen with projects like Simon, Kdenlive and Necessitas.
- Enabling internal identification: As KDE has grown, it has become populated with more and more projects and products that do not fall cleanly into the original technical scope of "targets the desktop paradigm and uses Qt and KDE libraries fully." We even have multiple applications focusing on the same category or area of interest. Which of these applications is a part of the KDE system?
- Passing these capabilities on to those who come after us.
Prior to the Manifesto, when "grey area" issues arose, (well-intentioned) people would too often disagree over things they agreed on just days, even hours, before. Prior clear understanding of what it was to be a part of KDE would dissolve when we looked at it too hard or with too much on the line. That's just how people tend to work in group situations when it becomes necessary to turn implicit knowledge into explicit agreement, especially as stress is added. (Unresolved questions involving a common good is a source of stress in a group.)
Prior to the Manifesto, when KDE members would leave for one reason or another (the most common reason probably being lack of time due to changes in personal life), they would take their social knowledge with them. New generations of KDE members often were left to figure the pre-existing structures on their own, such as what a maintainer is in KDE. Now, we have a way to easily point new members to what our commitments are and what benefits come with them. This will help create continuity in the long term.
I'd like to stress that these are not theoretical problems. Well, they were six years ago when I gave that keynote: things were sailing along pretty smoothly then. However, upon examination, it was clear the the particular growth path KDE was on meant that this would not last without us taking action. The Manifesto was not the only thing needed, and we worked on other parts of the solution over the years, but the Manifesto is a keystone artifact. And yes, it took six years of effort. Turning an entity as big as KDE is like turning a large boat at sea: you can't do it quickly. This is important to keep in mind for future efforts ... though that is a topic for another blog entry entirely perhaps.
It is quite important for us to remember that the KDE Manifesto is a living document, just as KDE itself is a living and evolving community. The Manifesto will see revision over time as we come to understand it better ourselves and improve our ability to communicate it clearly. It will be an iterative process which will see the Manifesto evolve with time. So having come this far down the road on a journey we should all be very proud of, we aren't finished.
And we never will be: maintaining a community's health is a journey, not a destination.
I'd like to thank Kevin Ottens and those who helped in the process of drafting and vetting the KDE Manifesto. It was a huge effort, both in terms of energy put into it and importance, and that deserves our appreciation.