What is a death star user group?

One of the challenges that those of us face in open source is that some companies don't have a focus on good. They have a focus on being there for the benefit of their shareholders, and the harm of their competitors.

I've worked with IBM and Sun, and have been able to be one of the "good guys" able to reach out and help people be a part of the community. Other times, I was speaking on behalf of that compaany.

So one of the challenges we all face is that there's a point where someone will believe that you are evil. ;)

Folks from Apache are not used to being found as evil. They can usually have a good defense for not being evil.

On the other hand, when you're dealing with a large company found of patents/copyright control, lots of people will think you are evil.

Focus of session

How do we reconcile this on a personal level, and how do we act on a community level?

On a personal level, one of two things could happen:

  • A dawning comes upon you at some point that you are part of the problem: remember the power of quitting in order to keep your soul.
  • Or, you might be able to put the evil of your employer into context. All employers are evil, or you as an anarchist are able to use that power to achieve some of the goals.

So let's explore the moments that you've realized you're a tool, and how you've helped to explain these to the community.


Apache/Microsoft - I'm both cynical and ____. From the cynical side, I'd say you're right on about the death star. It's naive to believe that those businesses are going to do something that hampers their business one way or another. However, years at Apache have told me there are many ways to skin a cat. Openness / transparency can be achieved even in corporate environments. My approach is talking about practical things of what we're doing: code, etc. This isn't good enough for some, but instead of engaging with them I focus on making sure we keep doing better work, be honest about it being good for business, point out where benefits align.

First thing I say is "I'm the open source community manager for SuSe for this company." And I'll do as much good in the community as I can, as long as it's good for my company. Be up front about it. If you get to the point where people understand this, they won't complain much.

Dawn (Intel) - Talk about the good things you're doing within your company in the community to show them "I go to bat for you guys..."

Ryan - Danese Cooper very good at separating individual vs. company hat. And making it clear which is which.

Simon - This actually something that's challenging. If you're running a user group on the death star, if you need to tell Darth Vader not to kill someone, that's a problem. One of the things I did at Sun was an "ombudsman" role. Poeple believed Sun was a lot more evil than it actualy was: misunderstanding, blown out of proportoin. What's needed there is a sympathetic ear, not press. I would tell people who were frustrated to send an email to and a small team would investigate the claims.

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