Observing and thinking about the somewhat chilly reception Ali Akcaagac’s concerns have received on the GNOME foundation list got me thinking about the Darwinism inherent in a big free software project.
It has been said, I believe with some accuracy, that free software is a meritocracy based one’s ability to write code (or do other work – Lord knows the actual code I’ve written has no merit). But looking at the patterns of the evolution of GNOME as a group of individuals, and thinking about Ali’s problems, leaves me wondering if there is also some sort of selection pressure that favors people who are nice.
There’s a whole scientific literature on the evolution of cooperation, and how cooperative behaviors can be seen to endure in populations when there is such a strong selective pressure for the individual who defects and eats all the group’s food. Cooperation obviously did evolve as a human behavior, but it’s poised on a narrow ridgeline with the abyss of defection always nearby. (Oh, gawd, did I write “abyss of defection”? Somebody confiscate that guy’s thesaurus!)
But in a project like GNOME there is very little defection benefit, so the selection pressure would naturally favor people who are cheerful, cooperative and good at working together. Is it therefore inevitable that people who are gruff and abrasive would get nowhere in the heirarchy, and a community of nice people would emerge?