Levels of Community

I started going to yoga classes 2-3 times a week early last year because of back pain. I stuck with it because, not only did it help to get rid of the pain, but I also met great people and became a member of a local community.

This year, during lockdown and self-isolation here in Wellington, I kept up my yoga practice with the help of YouTube yoga. And while it wasn’t the same as being in one room with other people around me, I felt a connection to the teacher, to the commenters, to the people I imagined practising along with me in their living rooms.

Then I found out that my favourite yoga teacher back in Berlin teaches live classes via Zoom. When I joined, it was great to see the other participants, to wave to them, to talk in the chat, across timezones and oceans. The feeling of belonging made me very happy.

About two weeks ago, I was able to participate my first yoga class after lockdown ended here in New Zealand. And this time, the sense of community was even stronger.

So, what does this have to do with Open Source?

Open Source is not just about the code but about the people who contribute to the code. People join FOSS projects for various reasons: wanting to address a specific technical problems, career opportunities, recognition – but social motives like the fun of working collaboratively, political motivation, and the sense of belonging are also an important factors
(see for instance this paper on the sustainability of Open Source software communities beyond a fork.

In two weeks, I’m participating in the Linux Foundation’s virtual Open Source Summit. I’m “going” because I want to hear great talks, but also to meet people. When I signed into the Slack workspace for the conference, I immediately felt a little burst of energy and community. Just starting a few casual chats and seeing familiar names pop up made me feel less remote and more connected.

To become part of an Open Source community means that you join a network of collaborators. Way more often than not, this network will be spread out over different regions, different countries, different continents.

And so, various levels of community grow around those projects. One level is the shared code with pull requests, commit messages, comments, documentation. One level might be growing around chats on IRC or Slack, or through discussions on email lists. Another level consists of contributor meetings, user group meetings, conferences – either in-person events or increasingly virtual events.

All of these levels have a similar potential to foster community and a sense of belonging. Like the different yoga experiences, each of these levels offers a chance for connectedness and community.