5 reasons why I still contribute to Debian after 12 years

Debian is packaging the free sofware world.If you’re using Debian, you know that this distribution is built entirely by volunteers that form a very diverse community. And you could be part of it. But why should you do that? I can’t tell for you but I can share my own experience. It’s been 12 years since I joined Debian and I’m going to tell you what keeps me on board.

1. Technical excellence

When facing a new challenge, Debian will strive to do the right thing. This pays off in the long term. In many cases, it means that we will take more time to implement our solution compared to other distributions out there, but this is also the reason why our packaging infrastructure allows us to offer painless upgrades and consistency across all packages.

Debian is committed to quality and builds up on his experience thanks to the Debian Policy. My time is precious, I like to spend it on something useful in the long term.

2. Inspiring goals

In its social contract, Debian has set out to create a 100% free — as in freedom — operating system. The criteria defining what constitutes a free work are listed in the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG).

While the above is relatively ambitious in itself, it doesn’t inspire me much. What makes the difference to me is the emphasis given by the social contract on our users and free software. We don’t build a free operating system in the void, we build it for people.

Debian’s motto — the universal operating system — can also be interpreted in multiple ways: universal as in “for everybody on the world”, “on all kinds of computers”, or “for every possible usage”.

3. High impact work

Knowing that my work is useful to people is important, but it’s even better when I know that it will benefit to lots of people. With Ubuntu and the hundreds of other derivatives, there are nowadays literally millions of users impacted by my work. Even an insignificant one second improvement experienced by 10 millions of people represent 115 days of time saved for something else, you get the idea…

4. Working with great people

Debian has the chance to have lots of smart people on board. There’s always someone sharing valuable advice when you read Debian’s mailing lists. When I joined in 1998, I was a real newbie and I learned a lot of things by reading and interacting with people more knowledgeable than me. You can still experience the same thing nowadays but there’s one caveat: you must cope with various kinds of mailing list contributors including the “smart but uncivilized” (don’t be offended too quickly!) and the occasional troll (best ignore it, don’t feed it!).

5. Recognition of work

When you contribute to Debian, people get to know you through your contributions. It’s very rewarding to be thanked by your peers and by Debian’s users. Check out thanks.debian.net to convince you that many people are grateful for the work we put into Debian.

So that’s it for me. But what about you? What motivates you to contribute year after year, or to start contributing if you’re a prospective contributor?

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Can Debian achieve world domination without being on Facebook?

Debian Developers who like Debian on FacebookFacebook is not very popular among free software hackers. When I announced my Facebook page on identi.ca (see here) I got a few replies suggesting it was odd for me to use Facebook.

Indeed there are many good reasons why Facebook should be avoided: it is a centralized and proprietary service that is not very privacy-friendly. But the truth is that lots of people are using it (even Debian developers, can you recognize them on the picture?) and some are using their Facebook news feed as their main source of news.

You might wonder how many persons that represents, so here are the figures: the Debian Facebook page has 48,361 fans and the Ubuntu one has 247,932 fans. That’s right, an announce put on the Debian facebook page would reach more persons than the most popular announce list that Debian is currently running (debian-announce@lists.debian.org has about 29,000 subscribers). Unfortunately that Debian Facebook page is empty and I don’t even know who the administrator is. The Ubuntu page on the contrary is properly configured to relay news from The Fridge and Jono Bacon is posting some custom updates from time to time.

Debian contributors regularly mention “world domination” as the ultimate goal of the universal operating system (I even feature this in my blog header banner! :-)). But working towards world domination means — in my opinion — that we should communicate our ideals of freedom to as many people as possible, even if they are using a service that we don’t want to promote.

The Debian social contract acknowledges that some users have to use non-free software and we provide the non-free section for them. In the same spirit, I believe we must have a presence on Facebook. That does not mean that we endorse Facebook, and we should surely promote Joindiaspora once it’s usable. But in the mean time we should reach out to Facebook users and allow them to follow us with the platform of their choice.

That’s the choice I recently made when I decided to setup a public facebook page featuring my free software work, my blog and my book. So if you are a Facebook user, click here to visit my page and click on “Like” if you want to follow this blog in your Facebook news feed. I also share interesting Debian or Ubuntu related articles that I discover while reading my RSS subscriptions.

Below are the usual facebook widgets for the 3 pages quoted in this article (they might not show up if you read this article through an RSS feed):