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From Stefano Mazzocchi <>
Subject How ASF membership works and what it means
Date Sun, 22 Jun 2003 01:43:59 GMT
NOTE: copying members@ and community@ since this might be helpful to
many people.

As many of you know, three cocoon committers were nominated then elected
members of the Apache Software Foundation yesterday. Since I've been
inquired by a few on how the system works, I'll spend some words on the
process and what it means for me.

Note: there is current a debate happening inside the members of the ASF
on the "value and meaning of ASF membership" so, please, don't take my
words as the ASF truth (if there is one), but just as my personal
opinion on this matter.

Now, for the objective things, here is how the process works:

 1) any ASF member has the right to nominate an ASF committer for

 2) when such nomination is done, a few sentences have to be provided on
the reason for the nomination, for example, explaining what they have
done for the ASF and why the nominator thinks that they have the
skills/will/behavior required to be an ASF member.

 3) in the past, a nomination required to be seconded by another ASF
member. This is no longer required (am I right on this?), even if highly
welcomed by the members because it indicates some level of agreement.

 4) every 6 months or so, the members do an election. In the past, the
elections were done physically and synchronously. Today, we have a
digital voting system which works like this:

  a) if you are eligible to vote (you are a member and you are not
emeritus), you receive an email with a number that uniquely identifies
your vote.

  b) you connect thru SSH to and use the tool on
/home/voter/ to vote, using the number that identifies your vote along
with the vote content.

  c) the vote takes a time span (normally one or two days), you can vote
as many times you want and the last vote is the one that counts
(previous votes are overridden).

  d) votes are then counted. results shared to the members list (which
is a private list where only ASF members can read/write email) and the
elected people are informed and asked for participation.

Members have access to all election data, so a member is able to find
out who nominated him/her and who seconded. Votes, on the other hand,
are secret and remain so, even for members.

                             - o -

Now for the value of ASF membership.

The chain of merit inside Apache is:

 user -> committer -> member

- everybody can be a user
- users who care about a project are elected as committers
- committers who care about the foundation are elected as members

It is hard to nominate a member, much harder, IMO, than to nominate a

Why? well, because it's easy to understand if somebody cares about a
project (they submit code, they participate in the community, they do
stuff and get to be known), but it's much harder to know if someone
really cares about the foundation, because normally they don't do much
for the foundation if they are not made members.

Kicken-egg problem.

There are great committers who can be terrible members. And regular
committers who can be incredibly good members.

A committer that works on more than one project and takes
cross-pollination and community building practicesa in great
consideration, makes a great candidate for membership.

A committer that evangelizes about the apache spirit, that cares about
community dynamics, that tries to help other apache communities, makes a
great candidate for membership.

But since I value membership so much, I personally have a pretty high
bar for membership (this is not shared by other people and others
projects inside the ASF, but I don't see this as a problem because
respecting differences is what makes us stronger and able to learn) and
this is why it takes years for me to nominate somebody for membership.

Now, what is a member?

A member is a shareholder of the foundation. Basically, it's part of
those who "own" the foundation and are able to effectively decide how
the foundation works and, for example, where it spends its money.

You want to make an official apache conference? the members decide how
and who should.

You want to have our servers hosted in a location that we own instead of
sharing bandwidth with a corporation that can cut us off at any moment?
the members decide how, where, how much we can afford to pay for it and
so forth.

You have an idea to promote the foundation or to do something new and
marvellous? the members decide what to do.

Also, remember that members nominate the "board of directors" who are
the one that run the foundation in all those daily details that most of
us don't see and take for granted.

Yeah, all of this is still, in perfect apache spirit, a volunteer job.

This is the reason why committers are nominated, then elected but it's
still a personal choice if they want to participate or not.

Becoming a member is not only a great personal achievement, but it's
also a responsibility. A responsibility in front of those committers,
those people, that you are going to represent with your votes. It's like
being part of the congress of the foundation: being a congressman is
cool and gives you visibility and pride advantages, but it comes with
its own responsibilities.

For example: participating in discussions. participating in elections.
helping out for foundation-wide things. doing evangelization.
understanding the process....

But it also comes with benefits: all members have access to the entire
history of the foundation, including legal and financial stuff. They can
subscribe to any mailing list, including all PMC lists, the licensing
committee, and even the board mail list.

Why would anybody want to become an ASF member?

First of all, recognition. Being an ASF member shows that existing ASF
member have looked at your history or participation and have agreed that
you show a record of behavior that makes you *deserving* to become a
member. It's pure meritocracy: you earn power because you deserve it.
And if the ASF believes that you deserve it, many others, even outside
the open source world, will highly value this judgement.

Second, power to influence the foundation directions. If you are a
committer, you can change how your project does things. If you are a
member, you can change how the foundation works, where it's going and
you can help fixing those things about the foundation that you dislike
or didn't understand.

Third, knowledge. By becoming a member, you jump to a higher level where
discussions have a much bigger span than on a simple project. Things
like "the new apache license" or "relationship with the JCP" or
"relationship with the W3C/IETF", "position on software patents",
"position with the FSF for licensing incompatibilities", to name a few,
those are things that can change the shape of things on a global scale.
Even if you don't directly participate in those discussions, being part
of the process gives you knowledge that can help you professionally and

Yes, because, believe it or not, the Apache Software Foundation became,
over the years, an important player in the landscape of modern high
technology and can play a role in "shaping" this landscape (and, in the
past, it did) and it's becoming more and more internationally recognized
day after day, new project after new project.

                              - o -

Personally, I tend to nominate people who would value and like thier
membership but that don't seek it.

Seeking power is, IMO, a clear evidence that you don't deserve it,
because I think that only those who don't really care about power, will
use it with judgement and balance.

Some members have criticized me for raising the bar so high and for
doing an entire long-term diplomatic and political analysis on people
(that might even take years) before nominating them, instead of just
judging their loyalty behavior to the projects they were committers in.

I personally believe in keeping the bar low for committership and
keeping the bar high for membership.

I believe that this helps us getting more people inside the foundation
(potential members) but keeps the real powers of the foundation heavily
filtered and therefore highly focused on what it means to be a member.

                              - o -

Anyway, this gives you some background.

If you have any question, please, don't hesitate to ask me, possibly in
a public forum so that everyone can benefit from this information.

Thanks for listening.


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