As other people have noted, I started my Fedora life as a user of Red Hat Linux back in the day, starting with 4.1 (Vanderbilt?), and became a contributor as soon as I heard about the emergence of Fedora Core 1. And yes, as this implies, I missed a lot of the hubbub around the short-lived “Red Hat Linux Project.” Meh. When I found out there was a Fedora Documentation team, I was ecstatic — two of my favorite things in ONE PLACE — Linux and language fascism!
Did someone wave a magic wand over me and turn me into that magical beast we call a “contributor”? No, I simply looked for some way to get in contact with people who were doing things, fortunately found that way, and they helped me get started. There was nothing special about my joining the Fedora Project, except that I succeeded where we are allowing too many others today to fail. What was special was that I got a helping hand jumping through the initial hoops.
I want that experience for anyone and everyone who installs Fedora, only I don’t want it to be special, an exception to some unwritten rule; I want it to be routine, and as natural as taking someone’s hand.
I’ve talked a few times with some very smart Fedora peeps about the need for us to reach out to users to turn them into contributors. These potential contributors are the next generation of Fedora, they need help crossing these gaps, and that help needs to consist of more than pages full of instructions.
The first gap for a user is getting from “What’s that?” to “I think I’ll try it.” In a perfect world, that should be the hardest gap to cross. It reduces our biggest challenge to one of marketing and word of mouth. If a user downloads and tries Fedora, she’s already made a big commitment of time to us. If getting her to put in that initial time is the hardest part, then by the time she logs in, we’ve won the most difficult batle.
Unfortunately, though, it’s not a perfect world, and the next gap is too big. We need to reduce the size of that next gap, the one that happens between “I’ll try it” and “Now what?”
In trying to reduce it, we need to realize that often “Now what?” doesn’t occur to the user unless we proactively let them know there is, in fact, something further. We want users to see what — or rather, WHO is behind what they’re running on the computer. And that they, too, can be part of that community. But we can’t wait for users to find their way to us. WE have to make the effort!
What do I think such an effort would look like? Well, for starters, it would have a lot to do with My Fedora, a phenomenally cool new integration project led by the amazing and inimitable John Palmieri (J5) (whom I hope some of you got a chance to run into at FUDCon).
I imagine a user-facing piece of some sort that would launch on a user’s first login, helping them fulfill any requirements for joining, such as SSH and GPG key generation. This would tie together into the upcoming FAS2, include all the wee benefits we members enjoy (fedorapeople.org space, branded email, etc.), and most importantly do it as painlessly and effortlessly from the user’s point of view as possible. (And yes, of course there would be a way for skilled or disinterested users to dismiss the helping hand.)
If Fedora is to continue to prosper, to maintain its upward trajectory, it must have a thriving, vibrant community of contributors. The project and each of us who are part of it need to encourage other folks who reach out across that next gap. They should be able to have the same experience of fellowship and purpose that happens at an event like FUDCon, even if they can’t make it there in person.
So while you’re thinking about this idea — and, I hope, liking it — also ask yourself: When someone reached out a hand to me today, did I take it?