Planets and Resignations

Recently a Debian Developer resigned from a position of responsibility in the project by writing a blog post. I won’t name the DD or the position he resigned as I think that there are general issues which need discussion and specific examples will get in the way (everyone who is seriously involved will know who it is anyway – for those who don’t know, it’s not really exciting).

Also I think that the issue of the scope of a Planet installation is of wider importance than the Debian project, so it would be of benefit for outsiders who stumble upon this to see a discussion of general issues rather than some disagreements within the Debian project.

There has been some mild criticism of the DD in question for announcing his resignation via a blog post. I don’t think that this is appropriate. In the absence of evidence to the contrary I’ll assume that the DD in question announced his resignation to the relevant people (probably the team he worked with and the Debian Project Leader) via private email which was GPG signed (if he indeed intended to formally resign).

The resignation of one DD from one of the many positions of authority and responsibility in the project is not going to have a great affect on the work of most DDs. Therefore I don’t think that it was necessarily a requirement to post to the debian-private mailing list (the main list for communication between all developers regarding issues within the project) about this. It was however an issue that was bound to get discussed on debian-private (given that the circumstances of the resignation might be considered to be controversial) so it seems to me that sending an email of the form “here is a blog post I’ve written about my resignation” would have saved some pointless discussion (allowing us to skip the “why didn’t you send email” and get right on to the main discussion).

A resignation letter from a public position of responsibility is a significant document. Having such documents stored on publicly accessible places is good for the community. Having a record of all such documents that you have written stored on your own server for reference (by yourself and by other people you work with) is a good thing. Therefore it seems to me that a blog is an ideal place for a resignation letter. It used to be regarded that there was a certain formality in such things, and that a letter of resignation was required to be delivered in the most direct way possible (by hand if convenient) to the person who receives it. If such conventions were followed then a blog post would occur after the receipt of the letter of resignation had been confirmed (possibly in this case a confirmation email from the DPL). But in recent times things have become less formal and the free software community is particularly informal. So it seems quite appropriate to me to have the blog post come first and the email notification merely contain the URL.

Now a letter of resignation is expected to contain certain specific details. It should say specifically what duties are being resigned (particularly important when a person performs many tasks), it should have a date from which it will take effect, and it might be appropriate to mention issues related to the hand-over of tasks (whether the person resigning is willing to work with their replacements).

The “resignation” (if we should call it that) in question did not contain any of the specific details that I would expect to see in a formal resignation. This indicates to me that it could be interpreted as not being a formal and official resignation, but instead being a post (possibly written in haste while angry) about a situation which may not end up being an official resignation. Until we get some more information we won’t know for sure either way.

This demonstrates one problem with blogs, people usually have a mixture of serious documents and trivial things on the one blog. It can be difficult to determine how seriously to take blog posts. I’m not sure that there can be a good solution to this.

At the moment some people are suggesting that every DD should read Planet Debian [1]. I disagree with that. If there is an issue which is significant and affects the entire project then it should be announced on one of the mailing lists such as debian-private, debian-announce, or debian-devel-announce (and will be announced on one of them eventually even if not by the person closest to the events). Forcing every DD to read a lot of blog posts is not in the best interests of the project. Now we could create a separate Planet installation for such things, there is already Debian Times [2] and Debian Administration [3] which serve as a proof of concept. If there was a Planet installation for important stuff related to Debian which had it’s content syndicated in various ways (including an email gateway – provides a quite useful one) then requesting that everyone read it’s content in some way (either by web browsing, an RSS feed reader, syndication in another Planet, email, or something else) would not be unreasonable. The volume of posts on such a Planet would be quite small (similar to the current announcement mailing lists) so if received by email it wouldn’t fill anyone’s mailbox and if people visited the web site they would only need to do so every second month if that suited them.

The issue of what types of posts are suitable for Planet Debian is probably going to get raised again soon as a result of this.

3 comments to Planets and Resignations

  • jldugger

    Probably the blog post should be interpreted as announcing intent to resign, rather than the resignation itself. But why does debian-private exist, if an event like intent to resign should be made public?

  • etbe

    There is not much traffic that really needs to be on debian-private. One example is vacation messages (few people want to publicise the fact that a house full of expensive computer gear will be empty for a while). Then of course there are follow-ups to vacation messages (EG if it’s for a honeymoon then there are congratulatory messages).

    Another example is security problems which sometimes get discussed, but unfortunately there have been leaks so such things generally don’t get announced there if possible.

  • etbe

    Sam Varghese has written an article which cites this post. I had hoped that this issue would have been a bit quieter. But it is news and the reporting seems fair and accurate (according to the best published data and my personal recollection of some unpublished things).