What to Call Traditional Community Open Source Projects Not Hosted by a Foundation?

A week ago I asked the Twitterverse how to call community open source projects that are not hosted by a foundation. By saying community open source I excluded both commercial open source and corporately-run open source. The options were plain, plain old, traditional, and ungoverned. Ungoverned won with a small margin at 34% of the 111 votes. But this is only a part of the story.

My goal with the poll was to start a discussion and hopefully end with a term for said community open source projects that uniquely distinguishes this category in a MECE (mutually exclusive, completely exhaustive) way from the other categories. I suspected to find this identifying term somewhere in the governance / leadership / owner space.

From the get-go, ungoverned took the lead and kept it until I started a discussion about this poll later in the evening (for me). This unlocked the more community minded US Twitterverse that I can reach and traditional overtook ungoverned for a while. In the end, however, ungoverned came back and won. Please note that while interesting, this is not a representative poll. Of more interest, in the end, was the discussion around it.

Foundations or not

Specifically, opinions about foundations seem pretty split. I suspect that those who liked ungoverned are in favor of foundations as this is one of its main selling points: A foundation ensures good governance and if only by the threat that it can step in if project leaders misbehave. There were plenty of comments in the discussion, though, which viewed foundations as bothersome corporate meddling.

Some people rightfully objected that my original question asked about the alternative to “foundation-run” projects; foundation-hosted would have been more accurate, because the actual governance is (almost) always with the projects and the foundation stays in the background.

I personally was in favor of traditional, because it had no negative connotation (for me). Both plain and ungoverned are somewhat derogatory, and plain old (despite its strong showing in second place at 29% of votes) is probably too much of an inside joke, standing for “let’s keep it simple”.

New suggestions

Going back to my original question of a distinguishing term, the best suggestion (better than traditional I think) was federated. The idea was to emphasize the distributed nature of governance, which is why decentralized or confederated is actually more accurate. While this works well for the peer group model (think Apache httpd) those with the BDFL model (think Linux kernel) objected. I still like it because even Linus Torvalds, despite his elevated role, is a great collaborator and work on the kernel proceeds in a distributed fashion.

There was a fair bit of discussion around dependent vs. independent, with independent being claimed by both sides. Those with a dislike for foundations claimed independent, because the projects are, well, independent of a foundation, and those in favor of foundations claimed independent, because maturing to a foundation made the projects independent from the whims of their founders / leaders.

Conclusion

What gives? This poll is clearly not representative and of the four options, plain old, traditional, and ungoverned were close to each other. Because of the slant of plain old and ungoverned, I’ll probably stay with traditional, which conveys what I’m aiming at (which is: Not those types of projects that came later). If I have to identify the key distinguishing characteristic, I may say confederated (governance). Even BDFLs (of non-trivial projects) have to be collaborative and consultative.

Thanks to Shane Curcuru, Mike Dolan, Richard Fontana, S├ębastien Jodogne, Tobie, Langel, Bjoern Michaelsen, Simon Phipps, Luis Villa, Steven Walli, Kat Walsh, Matthew S. Wilson, and many others who chimed in!

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