I didn’t have a post for yesterday, which means I haven’t managed to follow even the lenient rules I had set out for myself at the beginning. I could claim that, since yesterday was a holiday in the USA it falls under the weekend exception, but that’s just cheating. I fell short of my UbBloPoMo goals, I’ll own up to it. It’s still the longest run of consistent postings this blog has ever seen, so I don’t consider this a failure. I hope you’ve all been enjoying it.
Part of the reason I didn’t post anything was because I spent the end of last week dealing with fallout from a couple of things I was involved in, my own post about Mozilla and the Community Council statement about Mint, and I was quite frankly not in the mood for either a lighthearted or a diplomatic post, so I made the decision not to post something I might later regret. But during the controversy around both, one unifying meme started to emerge to me, which is the subject of this post, what I see as a new 80/20 rule.
Put simply, this rule says that people will tend to appreciate it more when you give them 20% of something, and resent you if you give them 80%. It seems completely counter-intuitive, I know, but that’s what I was seeing in all of those conversations. People by and large were saying that the reason Canonical and Mozilla were being judged so harshly was because they already did most of what those people wanted, which made them resented that they didn’t do everything.
When asked why they were so happy when somebody like Valve only gave them free (gratis) games, the response was almost always because they didn’t expect anything at all. But Canonical, because they gave almost everything away for free, is resented for something as minor as a CLA or closed-source Smart Scopes Service. When I compare Canonical’s licensing approach to Mint with Red Hat’s approach to CentOS and Oracle, I was again told that they appreciated Red Hat requiring those derivatives to strip trademarks and re-build packages, but resented Canonical’s approach of explicitly letting Mint distribute Ubuntu packages with trademarks, because we didn’t go as far as they wanted. With Mozilla people took to closed-source, ad-filled websites or activity-tracking social media networks to berate Mozilla for daring to put commercial content in unused screen space. Again, they were fine with ads on websites and Google tracking their conversations because it was expected, the fact that they existed at all was seen as a gift. But because Mozilla has previously been so non-commercial and privacy focused , this small exception was seen as highly offensive to those same people.
To put this into a non-technical analogy, imagine you are hungry and somebody walks by with a sandwich. If they stop and give you 20% of their sandwich, you will appreciate them sharing with you out of their bounty. But if the same person gave you 80% of the sandwich, your first thought might be to question why they held back that 20%. It’s a strange phenomenon, but when they keep 80% you still consider the whole sandwich as belonging to them, and thus your 20% is a gift. But when they give you 80%, you perceive the whole thing as yours, and their remaining 20% as something taken from you.
This isn’t just a strange phenomenon, it’s a very troubling one. It means that we are more likely to punish those people and projects that treat us well, and praise those that treat us poorly. That’s what I saw happening last week, and once I recognized what was happening I was able to see that it’s been happening for a very long time now. And it’s not just Canonical and Mozilla, look at any open source project with a sizable user community and you’ll see the same thing.
I don’t know how to change this for the whole open source community, but the realization is certainly going to change the way I view those projects that I use. I am going to make it a point to remember that none of the sandwich belongs to me, and to see everything somebody makes and gives me as a gift, and appreciate it even when it’s not everything that I wanted, because having 80% is always better than having 20%. I hope this post changes the way some of you view open source projects too.
 I agree with Jono’s On Accountability post, I don’t unpublish what I write or block comments that I don’t like. But the other side of that coin is that I self-censor posts that are written in the heat of the moment, and have decided against publishing a number of things after letting them sit in draft status overnight and rereading them with a fresh perspective.