Dictator/Benevolent: Janus, Dichotomy?

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Taarifa is one of the best things I’ve been involved in. In various forms it’s had shout outs in the New York Times to Random Hack Of Kindness. One of my tasks is to help deploy it in Uganda soon. I recently sent this email to the Taarifa development mailing list. I feel that the role of a founder in a project always needs to be considered. I’m wondering what other people think?

Taarifans!

Taarifa is a platform that is fix my street for slums. I’m unsure whether this post is a massive shout out to my ego or what. However I want to start a discussion on the role of the founder in community projects, be them open source or not. I do so mindful of a line from ‘Batman: The Dark Knight’ ringing loud and clear; “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

At this juncture I should point out my love for another open source project, Open Street Map. I owe a lot to many members of the OSM community, either directly or indirectly. The OSM project and its community has shaped who I am over the years. From an exchange student dragging his local girlfriend mapping because she had local knowledge to going down some deep rabbit warrens elsewhere in the world. I love OSM, I love what it stands for and I love its community to the point where at one stage my health was severely compromised. However things within haven’t been plain sailing with a simple comment of “We are the Board! Shape the project!” effectively a call to arms for the project’s betterment taken as a powergrab by the board -nb I’m not singling people out for this one, the thread is included for reference, good luck if you reach the end!

In my eyes the OSM and its foundation OSMF are making the world better. Viewing it like accounts, they’re contributing more to the black column than the red. In my eyes Taarifa is doing the same, and should continue to do the same until something better comes along, or the project is dead. A lot of people in the skype channel and email have thanked me for organising Taarifa, going to talk to people and the such like. The truth is I’m just a loud, talky person. At times when things are starting maybe that is what’s needed. In future probably not. Taarifa is potentially going to be a foundation, at the very least it needs to do something around it’s identity and outward communications. It’s to be discussed at the coming hackathon and I think we should welcome it! We need to discuss what we want our structure to be, is it anarchy, benevolent dictator, committee? I don’t know, but together we should. Future plans regarding funding, grants, deployments all come under this, at it’s core where do we see this going?

My input now I think is to create the culture or influence it. I want people to love Taarifa as I do. I think the community and what we’ve done and accomplished is phenomenal. As such I’d like to shout a call-to-arms to Taarifans and other developers looking at Taarifa to JFDI if they believe strongly enough into it. Make things better, by consensus. If that isn’t working, fork the project and show why your solution is better. Then pull. Also difference is good. I believe it is ingrained in the Taarifa community’s inception that by defending and debating our positions this makes OUR project better; Remember the whiteboard sesssions! Which as it’s a humanitarian project, enables better usage and happier users which does ‘GOOD’. We’re getting new members who weren’t at the hackathon – hello there! – joining. Every person I speak to, sees how Taarifa can make a big difference, people in Uganda are hopeful, in some small way, the world is watching!

So what about the position of the founder and the quote at the beginning? Is founder the best way description; in some ways you on this list now are founders. I want to be involved in Taarifa for as long as I can, but not at the forefront. People change, they loose their hunger, they get different skills sets. And this is a good thing! One of the most contentious things I have is a business card where I’m purported to be a “Geospatial Innovation Consultant”. Geospatial Consultant fine, using ‘Innovation’ however is esoteric and buzzword bingo. At some stage in my life I innovated, I took a risk and though it cost me very dearly it apparently paid off. Now I don’t really innovate, I research, I just ‘do’. Not necessarily innovation, that baton has been taken up by someone younger, better looking with ‘nicer’ hair than I. My role should be to help them – whoever they are – to innovate bigger and better than before. I guess I’m seen at the forefront of Taarifa at the moment. But as an open note, if you think you can do it better do it. The project is bigger than me, you and the community. At the moment very deep decisions are being made or will have to be made, and they’re made with the information we have now, not 20:20 hindsight. The best team at the time should be guiding and shaping those decisions, not yesterdays team. At the hackathon, I remember drinking some cola, looking at each of the developers hacking and thinking ” I’m the dumbest guy in the room”. Everywhere on our table people created frameworks or made coordinate reference systems. Really smart things and all of you should be damn proud.

The time will come where I will need to step aside as being shouty. This is a natural process, not requiring politicking or a ‘nasty’ process. So I rally “You are the founders, shape the project, own it”. Personally I’ve only ever been able to see as far because I stood on the shoulders of giants. Your shoulders. Thank you my friends.

Will see YOU at the hackathon!

Mark

Author: Mark Iliffe

Traveller, Programmer, Geospatialist and Motorcyclist

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