Planet KDE: What the deuce is it?

June 24, 2008

Episode IV, as the Millennium Falcon is approaching near the ruins of Alderaan and discovers a TIE Fighter:

Obi-Wan: “A fighter this size couldn’t get this deep into space on its own.”
Luke: “He must have gotten lost, been part of a convoy or something.”
Han: “Well, he ain’t gonna be around long enough to tell anybody about us.”
Luke: “Look at him. He’s heading for that small moon!”
Han: “I think I can get him before he gets there, he’s almost in range.”
Obi-Wan: “That’s no moon. It’s a fully operational Planet KDE.”

Just what is this planet under constant construction, and what is its goal?  To destroy Alderaan, or something more noble (but possibly less fun)?  Chani brings up an interesting topic (seems to be a habit of hers :)).  PlanetKDE has an “About” section on the right pane, but that just help to keep KDE and clee from getting sued on a weekly basis.

As part of the always-reviled Marketing Working Group, it’s important to step back and assess from time to time our various communication channels, and reassess their utility.  What works and what doesn’t?  How to improve?  Not really all that different from refactoring code.  Except our comments like /* I have no idea what I’m doing here */ are usually done in private mailing lists, not in the middle of private methods.

To continue on with the programming comparison, I’ve always thought of our planet as a bazaar more than a cathedral.  (Let’s not forget the KDE rock band Bizarre Bazaar.)  Its strength is its diversity.  Some writers balance between work and personal life and some write solely about KDE.  Some are certain to include code snippets and design patterns, and some would never venture into technical territory.  Some blog frequently and some only when necessary.  Some use casual expressions and expect readers to understand and some barely write and constantly apologize for their English mastery.  It’s this variance that leads to the very naming of the aggregator “planet”.

When a free software community like KDE has a strength from global contribution, it’s also a weakness in having personality shine through – without avenues like our planet.  Community members sometimes don’t get to meet, let alone distros, business partners and users around the marble ™.  What separates free software communities from faceless corporate entities is this insight, proximity and vulnerability.  Everyone gets to see not just our the code, but our passion, frustration from trolls, joys from accomplishment, and giddiness when Zack has a new post.

Which is why a Ballmer jumping around on a stage like a deranged spidermonkey with smaller deranged spider monkeys in his pants is newsworthy.  It’s very rare glimpse into a prominent personality in a business.  Not newsworthy in free software.  You get emotion every time you hit the refresh button.  So of course nameless faceless businesses have noticed this trend and you get developer blogs from MegaCodeCorp Amalgamated.

The more you try to define and frame Planet KDE, the more I worry you take away its power and effectiveness.  Does that make it harder to police with a laissez-faire approach?  of course.  Do you have a meritocracy where community veterans can get away with saying things that would get a first time poster lambasted?  Sure.  Does everyone have some mental barometer that notes when someone crosses the lines about blogging on topics not related to KDE enough?  Yeah.

But it’s how I learned about Pradeepto before I met him.  And how I’ve learned about Boudewijn even though I have yet to meet him.  And how I can confirm that it’s definitely Paul Adams blogging after having met him.  Definitely not an impostor.  And how our users and business partners learn about us.  Do we need to self-censor more than a blog-o-sphere with 3 users and 3 readers?  You bet.  Does every writer need to understand that their comments will get linked to in news stories?  Fo’ sho’.  Will Wade ever stop using rhetorical questions as a writing tools in his blogs?  Never.  Did Wade even bring up any unique ideas or answers in this post?  Come on, it’s Wade we’re talking about here.

So thanks Chani for raising these questions.  The Planet is distinct from the Dot, distinct from our homepage, distinct from our mailing lists, distinct from techbase and distinct from our press releases and interviews.  But it overlaps with all of them.  And with any aspect of our community we should take the time to reflect effectiveness, utility, clarity, popularity, etc.  Ask anyone on the kde-quality mailing list.


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