Eclipse ecosystem: Open discourse at the risk of open conflict

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Open discourse brings conflicts out from behind closed doors. A while back I was involved with an open source conflict that degraded technical discussions to power struggles. I looked to Bjorn Freeman-Benson and Mike Milinkovich the help resolve that conflict. This week, countless eyes were peeled on Planet Eclipse as a very public conflict arose between the two of them. Open source passions often transcend organizational and professional boundaries. That’s what makes someone bored with their day job contribute to Eclipse on evenings and weekends. It’s what makes someone like Bjorn continue to be invested in the success of Eclipse long after he has moved on from his job as the Director of the Committer Community.

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Mike, Mik and Bjorn at EclipseCon 2008

Open conflict helps avoid the slow death by a thousand cuts that can result when fundamental or structural problems are hidden from a community. This is one reason why open discourse is as important to a healthy ecosystem as an open development practices. It is up to us to process the information underlying the conflict, learn from it, and move on. My perspective comes from joining the Eclipse community eight years ago, as one of the first non-IBM committers, and watching it grow. Mike’s great leadership as Executive Director has created the successful Eclipse ecosystem and membership that we have today. Mike has been instrumental in laying down both the technical roadmap and community design that makes Eclipse so successful.

Bjorn’s five years of contributions have been remarkable as well. He drove the most fundamental changes to the Eclipse development process with a consistent theme of improving the mechanisms that support committer collaboration, release coordination and innovation. Bjorn has that very rare ability to understand the overlap between people and technology, and employ social engineering in order to define the rules of engagement that make a community successful. The technological implementation of social rules is just as important to open source ecosystems as it is to social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. Having collaborated with both Bjorn and Mike throughout most of this decade has given me an appreciation of how different their perspectives are. Bjorn’s academic stance will have him happily debate you to death, and can result in some provocative statements.

Mike is a business leader, and if those statements cease being constructive, he will call “jerk” on you in order to protect the foundation and ecosystem. Evolving open source ecosystems requires the voices of both Mikes and Bjorns. One creates business direction and drives change within the ecosystem as a whole, the other focuses on community structure and dynamics. While recent posts went into enough of a downward spiral as to stop being constructive, we should not discount that Bjorn’s critiques of the Eclipse ecosystem struck a nerve, and have stimulated some of the most significant discourse we have seen around Eclipse since the code went live eight years ago. Assuming that the discourse can return to its constructive form, it is in our interest to have it continue as part of Planet Eclipse.