Most people who went to school learned to count, a skill basic enough to be mastered by everyone. Yet, we often forget to use the necessary amount of critical thinking with counting, which leads to some problems–especially in free software.
Working for a company that started as a Linux distribution provider, it will surprise no one by saying that my team is often asked to acquire some statistics about the downloads of packages in order to estimate community engagement and the number of users of the project.
Though my job is not a community liaison, I work with enough of them to understand they need a way to measure the growth of their respective communities and the impact of their work. The professionalization of the community metrics field has even spawned its own mini-conference. Similarly, my colleagues working on the commercial side of the company have long since embraced the use of metrics and KPI offered by numerous CRM software platforms that provide reports to the upper management and enabling them to have a synthetic view and much-needed feedback on their initiatives.
But when people ask me for such statistics, I often explain why this is not the best idea. While download statistics are good for trends in community growth, they are not the sole sign of community health. This is due to three points I will now explain in detail.
Last monday, I went to DotScale 2015 in the heart of Paris (living half a hour of Paris, it was a rather easy trip for me). DotScale touts itself as "The European Tech Conference on Scalability," and focuses mostly on distributed systems and scalability issues. Started three years ago following the success of the DotRB conference, this year DotScale attracted around 750 attendees, most of them from France.
Thanks to my unending and unwarranted optimism regarding extra- and intra-urban transportation in Paris, a topic so vast I could dedicate a entire book just to rant on it, I managed to arrive at the beautiful Théâtre de Paris around 10am, in time for the start of talks but just after breakfast. Greeted by a small group of students serving as staff, I quickly moved through the small booth area set up in the hall to enter the theatre serving as main room, where I met up with a group of colleagues who had saved a seat for me.
On the 25th November 2014, I was invited to speak about Project Atomic at New Directions in Operating Systems. Thanks to a friend, I was able to come the day before, and had the joy of taking the metro to the venue. Of course, it had problems, and of course, I lost my way while going there, so I arrived at the venue just in time for the start of the first talk.
After a quick but well-deserved coffee and breakfast, I sat down for the first talk, which was about the concept of rump kernel and its applications. The whole idea of rump kernel is to take an OS kernel (for example, NetBSD) and compile it as a regular userspace program to be run on another OS. The speaker, Antti Kantee, explained why, spoke of the history of the project, how it progressed, and how they managed to interface with Linux drivers. I would recommend people who never heard of rump kernel take a look at the website, and if you are familiar with it, check out the book about it. Kantee said they are currently looking for a publisher for the second edition, so if you know one, do not hesitate to contact them using the website.