Brussels / 4 & 5 February 2017


Interview with Justin W. Flory
What open source and J.K. Rowling have in common. Importance of storytelling in open source projects

Photo of Justin W. Flory

Justin W. Flory will give a talk about What open source and J.K. Rowling have in common. Importance of storytelling in open source projects at FOSDEM 2017.

Q: Could you briefly introduce yourself?

My name is Justin W. Flory and I’m a 19 year old student from Rochester, New York, USA (temporarily living in Dubrovnik, Croatia for the next few months). I’m a contributor to the Fedora Project, where I work in various parts of the community. I’m the Fedora Magazine editor-in-chief, team lead of the Community Operations team, a founding member of the Diversity team, an Ambassador, and more. You can find out more about my activity in Fedora on my wiki page.

Q: What will your talk be about, exactly? Why this topic? And what do you hope to accomplish by giving this talk?

My earliest experiences in open source began as a non-technical contributor, where I wrote articles for the Fedora Magazine and helped out with tasks on the then-new Fedora Community Operations (CommOps) team. As my activity in the CommOps team grew, my awareness of the different corners of the Fedora Project community also grew. The best way to describe it was like a machine with different gears spinning and doing separate, individual tasks, but together they’re working for the same objective.

This experience learning the Fedora community showed me the value in how all of these separate pieces work together. Often, people in one side of the project will have no idea about what others in a different part are doing. The challenge then is finding the way to extract the big “story” of the project. But also, why is this so important? Why does finding the story really matter? This, and more, I plan to answer during my session.

Q: Most developers are comfortable with code and data, but not with stories and narratives. Do you have any tips for them to use the power of storytelling for their open source project? What are some easy ‘storytelling hacks’?

The easiest answer I have is simple: your code and data are stories and narratives in themselves. Even if you don’t think your open source project has any stories, look at commits, issues, or pull requests, and think: what goals do you see? What objectives are you trying to meet? Think critically about the things you have already. Once you have established what the discernible goals and objectives are, the challenging part then becomes how to share it with the world. One quick way is a personal blog post. But there are also other ways to give your work more visibility, which I’ll cover more in my talk!

Q: Which open source communities are good examples of projects that are using the power of storytelling to the fullest? And what tools are they using to do that?

Fedora is an example of a project that has an infrastructure that simplifies how we extract the story of a project. We have a unique messaging bus, called fedmsg, that emits a notification for every measurable activity in the project. Every commit on a Fedora repo, every build, every bug, every blog post by a contributor, every translated string, every Ansible playbook run, every new comment in a ticket, every question on Ask Fedora, are all emitted on the messaging bus. If you watch a raw feed of notifications (see: #fedora-fedmsg on freenode), it probably seems annoying. But we also have tools that allow us to more finely whittle down the “firehose” of notifications to find patterns and trends that tell us something meaningful. But the stories from this data doesn’t present itself to us. We are improving at finding ways to use this data meaningfully to benefit the project. I hope to use Fedora’s infrastructure as an example for other projects to see or learn from, so attendees can help bring something back to their communities.

Q: Suppose I’m convinced that my project needs storytelling. How do I measure afterwards whether my storytelling efforts have been fruitful?

The answer to this depends on what methods you are using to find that “story” of your project. Finding the right tools and methods for extracting the data you need to start is the first step, but following up after to see how effective your efforts have been is equally important. After making efforts, try running before-and-after reports to measure your effectiveness. What will determine if your efforts have been fruitful is up to you: it could just be more users, or maybe it’s a growing number of contributors, or perhaps someone or many people who want to translate your project into their native language so others will benefit from your project.

Q: Have you enjoyed previous FOSDEM editions?

This will be my first one! I helped with the post-FOSDEM coverage on the Fedora Community Blog last year, but now that I’m living in Europe, I jumped at the opportunity to make it to one of the largest open source events on the continent. I can’t wait!

Creative Commons License
Creative Commons License

This interview is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Belgium License.