Meritocracy vs. Democracy

Author: Jacob Barkdull on Friday, June 11 2010 Comments

"Ubuntu: meritocracy not democracy" by Ubuntu community manager Jono Bacon, I have a few comments. Mark Shuttleworth once said "In Ubuntu, decisions are not driven by a popularity contest, but instead by informed decision-makers with firm experience of the problem and making solutions" ... "this is not a democracy." By definition 'Informed' is: "To supply (oneself) with knowledge of a matter or subject."

How do you do this without coming to a consensus with the community? I don't care who makes the decisions in the end, but to be informed you must listen to the community. And to "fix" a problem you must first understand the problem and know the best solution, the users must not still have a problem, otherwise it's not a proper solution and the "decisionmaker" was not "informed."

Mark Shuttleworth doesn't make good decisions. As for Jono, the community manager job is NOT to make excuses for bad decisions, it is to represent the community (just as we in the U.S. elect each person to represent us, this is democracy, and this is how good software is developed.)

In the article Jono explains "At the heart of Shuttleworth's response was a clarification that decisions at Ubuntu are not made by consensus but by recognised and informed decisionmakers."

Than Ubuntu needs new decisionmakers, because Ubuntu's "meritocracy" is flawed to say the least. Ubuntu's developers are grossly uninformed as to what Ubuntu users want and need. We need someone who is actually informed of what the community wants. Consensus means "majority of opinion", of course getting a vote from everyone in the community would be impossible, but that would be a direct-democracy approach anyway, what we need is a representative-democracy or a "republic" (as it is called in the U.S.) approach, which is what Debian is closest to being developed as.

A poll at the time of the change showed: 20% wanted left positioned window controls (with 1039 votes) and 80% wanted right positioned window controls (with 4142 votes). Poll: Do you want the Ubuntu window controls on the Left Or Right hand side? Yet the Ubuntu "decisionmakers" still chose to go with left positioned window controls.

Where did Ubuntu's "decisionmakers" get their information? Definitely not from the community. Jono goes on to say "In a meritocracy, you don't climb the community hierarchy by driving a nicer car, having finer clothes or other such material attributes. Progress is made through great work that's identified and respected, and grounded in experience and informed judgment."

A meritocracy approach to software development is a pragmatic approach, and not only that, but, meritocratic software development means you make decisions based on each changes merits.

Here's the problem with that: You have to define merits. Merits mean nothing without a definition. If Ubuntu's design team defines "merits" as "Well, we like it." instead of "This seems to be what the majority of users want." you have a "merit-based dictatorship", if you go with the latter you have a republic (or representative-democracy), except without the community's election of the "decisionmakers."

Mark Shuttleworth is the Ubuntu "Benevolent Dictator For Life" and with Benevolent Dictatorship being a form of government in which an authoritarian leader exercises political power for the benefit of the whole population rather than exclusively for his or her own self-interest or benefit or for the benefit of only a small portion of the population -- paraphrasing Wikipedia. Mark Shuttleworth doesn't deserve the "Benevolent Dictator For Life" title, he deserves to be called simply "Ubuntu Dictator For Life", his leadership is not benevolent.

InaTux wrote about this issue a while ago, saying "[Ubuntu's behavior] is less democratic, and it is not any more meritocratic, because a decision is only a good decision if it is beneficial to the community. And so far the community isn't liking certain decisions Ubuntu's "decision makers" are making. Tomboy, F-Spot, Mono, kernel binary blobs; a proprietary repository and terminology ("Linux For The Rest of Us" and "Open Source") are also bad decisions to Free Software advocates." Free Software is a democracy, Mark Shuttleworth!

They go on to explain "Democracy is more than just the final decision, it's also about the open discussion of an idea, good or bad. Government legislation is discussed before it's voted on. So is Free Software; even if the people who end up voting on it are Ubuntu's design team, it should be discussed with the community beforehand. Just as legislation is discussed amongst the public and media before it's voted on by the U.S. Senate or Congress." Update: One more comment on the matter, click here.
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