Hi everyone, Joost here. I'm writing this post to address some problems that have been worrying me lately. Specifically, these problems:
The good news is that it's a relatively short list. The even better news is that all of these problems be addressed by the same solution: Community building.
Before we get into that, let's briefly look at each problem:
Over the course of the last week I read Working in public: The making and maintenance of open source software by Nadia Eghbal.
I bought it because I was hoping to find answers to some of the questions that I ask myself. Questions like “How do other maintainers do it?”, or “Am I doing it wrong?”
In other words, I was hoping to find a fix for what I increasingly perceive as a problem: The inability to scale my own labour in line with how I'd like to scale FreeSewing, the project.
I don't want to spoil the book, but it didn't provide any straightforward answers on how to address that problem. It turns out that the vast majority of open source maintainers are in the same boat. Most projects are run by either a single person, or a handful of people.
There's nothing wrong with that. But it does put a firm upper limit on how much projects like FreeSewing can accomplish.
I worry that I have been neglecting the communal aspects of FreeSewing, there are no comments or social aspects on the site. I've always felt it was a fool's errand to try to corral people onto your own website. Better to let them have discussions on the platforms of their choice.
For the sewing community, the platform of choice is often Instagram. Since I have left Instagram a year ago, I feel like I'm getting further away from the sewing community.
My reasons for leaving are as valid today as they were back then, but I wish I could connect with the sewing community in a way that works for me.
First things first: Black lives matter ✊🏾
My insecurity stems from my environment. I am a white, middle-aged, cis-gender man who was born and raised in a country with a history drenched in the blood of people of color (that country is Belgium). To this day, casual racism permeates all aspects of the society I live in.
A welcoming and diverse community is a sine qua non for me. But I feel ill-equipped to figure out how to create one on FreeSewing.
As I mentioned earlier, these things have been on my mind for a while, albeit they were a lot more fuzzy. Then earlier this month I listened to Black makers matter with Julian Collins on the podcast Love To Sew.
Julian is a patron of FreeSewing (thanks Julian) and actively involved with the Black Makers Matter movement on Instagram. I reached out to Julian looking for help, and we had a lengthy Zoom call where we talked about his work and how he goes about organizing the community.
Julian had a lot of good advice. I couldn't possibly cram it all into this post, but it sort of boils down to:
So I am taking Julian's advice to heart, and asking for help. Before we get to that though, let's make sure we're all on the same page about the kind of community we're trying to build here.
To ensure that your values are aligned with those of FreeSewing, please take a moment to familiarize yourself with:
If reading that made you happy rather than angry, we could use your help :)
We're starting simple: We plan to hold a Zoom/Skype/Whatever call every 2 weeks to figure it out as we go. We start the first weekend of September (next weekend). We haven't picked a time yet, for it will depend on the time zones the participants live in.
If you'd like to attend, please let us know in our chat room.
Beggars can't be choosers. All help is welcome, and I certainly don't want to turn down any volunteers.
That being said, an overly vague call defuses the message. So I've listed/included a number of roles below to give you an idea of the kind of work that goes into FreeSewing. It's not meant to be an exhaustive list, but merely a starting point for a discussion.
The order is alphabetic.
You keep our backend in step with the latest frontend developments. Express is no stranger to you. Node JS is a good friend. Or maybe you'd like them to be.
Maybe you're unusually short or tall. Maybe you have a bit of a pot belly or very large breasts. Maybe you have a disability that requires fit adjustments. Whatever it is, you represent a minority fitting issue, and are willing to act as an ambassador to make sure your needs are heard and understood.
You're an extrovert extraordinaire, or you're good at faking it. You enjoy chatting with all sorts of people, and networking is just you doing you. You're like the jelly that molds a group of individuals into a cohesive community.
You look after our database. Other people might feel that's not important, but you know better. You're familiar with MongoDB.
Your aim is to make almost all these other roles irrelevant by automating the heck out of everything. CI and Github actions are fun for you. You like to sit back and have the robots do the work for you.
You improve our websites, specifically freesewing.org and freesewing.dev. Both of them are built with Gatsby, an open source framework for building frontends that is powered by React. If you know these things, or would like to learn them, this is your jam.
You create illustrations to go alongside the written documentation. If you draw a bicycle from memory, it actually looks like a bicycle.
Inclusion & Diversity Manager
You have skin in the game when it comes to inclusion and diversity. You'll help make our community welcoming and diverse. You won't be afraid to tell this pasty white dude when he's wrong.
You represent FreeSewing in a non-English community. You can help answer questions or triage problem reports. Or you can point out where translations are missing.
You'll be responsible for a specific FreeSewing design/pattern. You'll be the person to ask questions about how to make that pattern. You'll make sure the documentation is not forgotten. And you can help with questions or triage problem reports to developers or designers.
You come up with new pattern designs for FreeSewing. You might not know how to turn on a computer, but damn if you can't draft a bodice.
You check original English text of translations for typos and/or grammar mistakes. You propose improvements and watch over a consistent style and tone across FreeSewing's documentation and written text. You're fluent in the language you're proofreading.
Social Media Platform Manager
You represent FreeSewing on a platform, where platform could be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tiktok, Snapchat, Reddit …. You manage the FreeSewing account on the platform, and use it to interact with the community.
You look after our servers. You install updates, make sure certificates are up-to-date, the works. Linux is where your heart lies. You secretly automated most of your work with Ansible but hey, you put the playbooks in Git so no worries.
Technical Writer (code)
Technical Writer (sewing)
You write documentation for freesewing.org, our makers website. You have good writing skills and familiarity with sewing.
You translate FreeSewing into one of its additional languages (French, German, Dutch, Spanish) or if you're ambitious, add a new one. You're fluent in the language you're translating to, and have a good grasp of English.
You know what UX is and are happy to point out where it sucks and how it can be made better.
You pull the plug on new releases, you bundle our code, and publish new versions of our packages on NPM.
You know how to make things pretty, even if you're not sure how to actually make them work. You appreciate that we don't use #000 for black.
We can't offer you money. Please read our revenue pledge to understand why that is.
What we can offer is responsibility, recognition, and a stake in something that strives to be a force for good in this world.
It can also be an excellent learning opportunity for those of you who would like to pivot to a role in web development. And for as far as my time stretches — I will gladly teach and mentor people from underprivileged communities aiming for social mobility.
Maybe you can help. Maybe you know somebody who can help, or for whom this would be a valuable learning experience.
Either way, I'd appreciate it if you could help spread the message that I'm asking for help.