What I believe: the ASF’s Mission Statement

What I believe

The mission statement of The Apache Software Foundation should be:

To provide high quality, open source software for the public good at no cost, and to showcase our meritocratic and community driven method of building sustainable software projects.

Note that this differs slightly from the original Certificate of Incorporation, both in some clarifying details, and the addition of the “showcase…” part. The original incorporation papers – over 10 years ago now – very broadly defined what the Foundation was going to do as:

… engage in any lawful act or activity …, including the creation and maintenance of “open source” software distributed by the Corporation to the public at no charge.

Commentary

  • It’s clear that the core mission is to provide software for the public good. That’s both the key value we provide as a non-profit serving the public, is what we were founded to do, and what we’ve been very successful at.
  • I would argue we should add the “high quality” or a similar qualifier, because the greater public isn’t well served by projects that don’t work well or have major bugs. If we really want to serve the public good, our projects need to work for them mostly as-is to serve some useful function.

    Note that I don’t see any need to restrict the type or kinds of projects we engage in; I’d be happy to have an end-user browser come to the ASF, if the community aspect made sense.

  • I believe adding the “and to showcase…” section is important. Our success beyond the actual software products we’ve provided for the public is astounding, in terms of our leadership position in the areas of software licensing, community development, and public and media awareness of open source issues. If our purpose is a public charity, then we should capitalize on what we’re good at.
  • “Meritocratic and community driven” is another way of saying “The Apache Way”. Communities tend to build better software – in the long term – than individuals. And a healthy and diverse community is the best way for merit to surface and be recognized, typically within the ASF as being elected a committer. Note that diversity of community is important as a policy too, as our Incubator’s graduation policy shows.
  • “building sustainable software projects.” This is the rationale for the “showcase” addition. We’ve proven that not only can we build software, we also have a pretty good method for doing it – and keeping it going. The sustainability is a key part of our value to the public: knowing that our projects will likely continue to support and improve our software is a huge benefit over short-term projects or ones that die out if key individual committers move on.
  • Besides the fact that I believe the public benefits from learning about our methods, the “showcase” part also has an indirect benefit for the public as well. Teaching other software developers (and others) about how we work and succeed will draw more individuals, organizations, and projects towards us. This enables us to provide even more software for the public good, and helps to ensure that people wanting to donate time or code to the ASF will be aware of our policies, and it will be easier for them to join us if they choose to.

I’m sure it can use some minor wordsmithing; I can’t quite express the merit and community ideas in the clearest (yet concise) way yet. But I believe we’re selling ourselves far too short if we don’t acknowledge and embrace the fact that our impact on the world stretches well beyond simply the code that we release.

One thought on “What I believe: the ASF’s Mission Statement

  1. The more I think about this, the last point is critical. Ensuring that the Apache brand showcases our Apache Way of collaborative software projects gives us a much better chance of attracting contributors who are familiar with our methods.

    It’s clear as the ASF grows in both members, committers, and projects, that we still have a long way to go in efficiently explaining to new communities (like in the Incubator) what the important parts of the Apache Way are. While we have a wide number of amazing committers who serve as community mentors (officially or unofficially), we still have a way to go in providing clear and helpful materials that those mentors can use to simplify their jobs, and that potential contributors can find on their own to learn about our project methods.

    New podlings would have a much simpler time getting started, and would be more successful at quickly taking the Apache Way to heart and truly using it if the Apache brand were better at expressing the real meanings of our meritocratic and collaborative methods.

    This is a process that many voices can help with. There is no one single best document that could ever effectively explain the perfect Apache Way. Having a number of viewpoints that make it easy to approach, all pointing at the central concepts, would be a big bonus to many of our Apache projects.

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