[Squeakfoundation]Meshwork and Hierarchy in SqF

Paul Fernhout squeakfoundation@lists.squeakfoundation.org
Wed, 30 May 2001 10:03:15 -0400


We on this Squeak list hold or advocate essentially two perspectives:
* SqF could be created now to be essentially a hierarchically organized
but somewhat publicly accountable SqC analogue, where the only question
is who at first fills the slots in the hierarchy (board of trustees,
executive director, treasurer, volunteer coordinator, development
director), since we already of a long list of worthwhile things for SqF
to do, and
* SqF could be created over time using a chaordic processes to be and/or
support a meshwork development involving a community process evolving

The first is essentially what we have now with SqC and what we are most
familiar with in general in corporate America. The second is a newer
organizational concept relative to that, and Dee Hock says in his book
"Birth of the Chaordic Age" http://www.chaordic.org/ that it is often
the most experienced and successful managers who have the most trouble
with it (for various reasons, since it can seem to fly in the face of
organizational logic that they know works.) It is a tribute to the
flexibility of the experienced managers on this list that they've given
the chaordic process as much rope as it has got so far. :-) That may
also be a tribute to Smalltalk itself, since when used well Smalltalk
tends to make people think more in terms of collaborating agents than
monolithic programs.

The two perspectives of hierarchy and meshwork aren't completely
incompatible since all organizations have aspects of both hierarchy and
meshwork, so they actually form more like two ends of a spectrum (or
perhaps more like two axes of a graph). As an exercise, think about
where you would place the Borg of "Star Trek: TNG" in such a two axes
graph, both before and after the writers introduced a "Borg queen" for
theatrical puposes.

This forwarded post referencing Manuel de Landa's work is intended to be
less of as a crosspost and more "for the Foundation records". It was a
reply I made to Gary's concern about "hierarchies on the way" on the
main Squeak list, posted in a thread related to one I started to try to
sound out the larger community's feelings on a community oriented SqF
purpose. This post elicited at least one positive comment (thanks
John!). (Thanks also go to my wife who read Manuel de Landa's book and
pointed de Landa's work out to me in another context related to free
software/content development.)

I post it to the foundation list as well because it seems to bear on the
issue of talking vs. doing and what the issue is that creates some
conflict. Conflict isn't always bad -- it's more how it is handled --
since resolving conflict through either transcendence or compromise can
be essential to creativity. As several have expressed to me publicly or
privately, hopefully we are mainly a community of doers, and it is not
my intent here to advocate a group that only discusses process. However,
doing may include discussing of what to do (system architecture?) since
good programmers do spend time talking with colleagues and reading about
their craft and its context in addition to coding.

But having said that, I'd say I'm talked out at his point. :-) I've had
my say, and raised what I thought were the key issues, and how we go
forward now is up to the group process and individual initiatives. I
think a purely conventional hierarchical SqF attempting to be a publicly
accountable SqC would be an improvement both for the community (who will
get a broader spectrum of issues addressed) and for SqC (who can then
focus on other things as the Squeak community grows). So please don't
let my interests in supporting meshwork aspects of Squeak development
prevent a worthwhile hierarchy from forming if the alternative is having
nothing (especially as such a hierarchy will be part of the Squeak
community meshwork in any case, and will probably end up answering to
those meshwork needs if it is to have any long term relevance).

However the foundation organizes formally, this meshwork and hierarchy
distinction is one to keep in the back of our minds as we go forward,
even if the initial foundation is completely hierarchical and also
centrally manages Squeak releases. 

-Paul Fernhout
Kurtz-Fernhout Software 
Developers of custom software and educational simulations
Creators of the Garden with Insight(TM) garden simulator

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Meshwork vs. Hierarchy in SqF
Resent-Date: 30 May 2001 01:55:29 -0000
Resent-From: squeak@cs.uiuc.edu
Resent-CC: recipient list not shown: ;
Date: Tue, 29 May 2001 21:59:49 -0400
From: Paul Fernhout <pdfernhout@kurtz-fernhout.com>
Reply-To: squeak@cs.uiuc.edu
Organization: Kurtz-Fernhout Software
To: squeak@cs.uiuc.edu
References: <200105280135.f4S1ZC518961@smtp-server1.tampabay.rr.com>


Very perceptive point on hierarchies. (And that raises a valid concern
about any organized foundation interacting with a community).

Manuel de Landa in his book "1000 Years of Non-linear History" 
talks about the interrelation of meshworks and hierarchies. These can
overlap each other, as you might have hierarchies as elements of a
meshwork, or you might have informal meshwork links within a hierarchy. 

You seem to celebrate the meshwork aspect of Squeak and open-source /
free software. Me too! (Despite what might otherwise appear by my
involvement on the SqF list.)

It would be good to tease out objections to:
* managing the Squeak Foundation as a hierarchy vs. 
* having a central point (implicit hierarchy) for managing releases vs.
* whether people participating in the existing community meshwork around
Squeak might have a definable common purpose. 

The thing is, as soon as people are giving money to an organization for
general use under its direction, there is effectively a hierarchy in
that there is now a decision maker (the foundation) issuing orders made
enforceable (somewhat) through money. Alternatives would be to have
money go directly from donor to developer, to consider the chaordic
model of multiple levels of control (lots of hierarchies), for
individuals to keep doing their own thing, or for the foundation to be
more like a alliance (Apache group?) than a formal organization
(although human tribal machinery may effectively make an alliance
somewhat hierarchical by having either a first-among-equals or a
"benevolent dicatator"). As Manuel de Landa points out, it is very, very
rare for any system to be either a pure meshwork or a pure hierarchy.

However, we already have a funded hierarchy deeply involved in the
Squeak Community -- it is SqC. Maybe what is happening here is really
some people thinking about replacing one hierarchy (SqC) funded by
Disney with another hierarchy (SqF) funded by the community (or a few
commercial donors), in order to make the development of Squeak more
responsive to the organizer's vision or donor's needs (or out of general
goodness :-). It's an easy thing to think this way -- because a central
release system is a situation we are all familiar with. It is a valid
question to ask, should we replace one hierarchy with another as opposed
to doing something else? 

Whether there are better alternatives in this situation is a good
question. One may want to look at a more "termite" model of management
for how the Squeak community could (and to an extent, does) work:
In some ways, the "termite" model is probably how much development
already works in practice, ignoring SqC for the moment, as people make
some exciting bit of Squeak code and others pile more code onto that,
and then things get really moving in the community if two or more such
piles of code can be linked together to make something grander (like
Nebraska -- based on various other creative code related to Morphs).
However, even termites are in a way hierarchical, controlled both with
pheromones secreted by a queen and also with shared DNA patterns
effecting their behavior. So again, it is hard to find a pure meshwork
(or hierarchy).

Personally, I've been musing on the idea of a peer-to-peer source code
management system for Squeak to address exactly this concern you raise.
I've been thinking some about this, although I can't yet see how they
could *easily* coordinate code releases. Anyone know of peer-to-peer
systems used for source control already or got any ideas on this?
Obviously, emailing around changesets is a start. Maybe that could be
enough with a better prerequisite system?

However, even if SqF didn't manage releases, there may well be a
legitimate reason to have such an organization for "marketing" Squeak
and serving as spokesperson for the community (given the way the rest of
the world works and what the press might expect). 

Your point about "interpretation" is also very important to always keep
in mind. I guess that's one reason why the US has the Supreme Court in
addition to other branches of government -- to ultimately "interpret"
the constitution. Who will play that role in a Squeak Foundation? I
don't know. Presumably, the board of trustees, who are typically
volunteers. For that reasons, many times paid staff can't be voting
trustees (separating the "executive branch" from the "judicial")
although this is a gray area:

-Paul Fernhout
Kurtz-Fernhout Software 
Developers of custom software and educational simulations
Creators of the Garden with Insight(TM) garden simulator

gb wrote:
> I like all the arguments in this thread, but I think I can sense hierarchies
> on the way, and while they may be good for armies and conquests and
> businesses, they may not be the best model for an open source group.
> Purposes and charters rely upon the interpretation of the powers that be,
> and that isn't such a good thing when fascists are at the top of the
> pyramid. But then again hierarchies seem to achieve more.
> >From my perspective I'm grateful to find something that I can do what I like
> with (Squeak) depending only upon how much I know. And I find it very
> interesting that people do their own thing and share it with one another
> without controls and collaborate freely.
> Regards,
> Gary