Bootstraping a Free Software project diversity (fedeproxy)


A new Free Software project starts this month, with an ambitious goal: software forge federation. In other words, make it so Free Software developers can participate in projects hosted anywhere without being forced to agree to the Terms Of Service of any specific forge (think GitHub or GitLab and, for instance, the exclusion of users based on their geographical location).

The name of the project is fedeproxy and it is a tiny seed. It does not have any major corporation or even large Free Software project behind it. What it has is a clear goal and a few core values: diversity, horizontality, inclusion. But these core values only exist when concrete actions are undertaken to uphold them. I won’t go into the details of horizontality and inclusion, although I’d be very happy to discuss them :slight_smile:

I’d like to ask for advice on what was done regarding diversity. In a nutshell, the project has its first story to tell. A user research meeting will happen next week and the participants diversity is much, much better than what is usually observed in Free Software projects. This did not happen by chance and maybe there is story to tell, for other projects to get inspiration from. And for participants from under represented minorities (and majority) to get a better understanding of the efforts that are made towards diversity.

Even with the best intentions, mistakes are made and many things need to be improved. In the spirit of transparency, all is discussed in public in the diversity category of the fedeproxy forum. Do you see something missing? Is something going in the wrong direction? Please speak-up: your advice is much needed to start on the right foot.

Last but not least, two people are funded to work 50% of their time on fedeproxy as of this month and for the next nine months (the budget spreadsheet is public). How does that happen in a horizontal community? The short answer is: with a EU grant and the longer answer would require a separate discussion, which I’m happy to have (all the documents for the funding application to the last detail are public). There must also be funding specifically for the work required to improve diversity: volunteering is not enough, it takes time and money. Are there other Free Software projects similar to fedeproxy in size, age and funding from which one could get inspiration in that regard?

Very much looking forward to your comments and guidance


Hi @dachary, this sounds like a neat project. Thanks for sharing.

This is a detailed thread, and it is clear you put effort into it. Have you considered writing a blog post (or something similar) to describe your fedeproxy journey so far? I think this will be easier for you to receive feedback and comments on a narrative instead of detailed policy and project reflections. Generally, I find it hard to comment on other communities because every community has its own context.

You may be interested in opening this as a discussion in the Sustain OSS community too.

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Thanks for the advice. I made a note to tell the story (part of it at least) of what happened regarding diversity in fedeproxy so far :+1:

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@jwf here is the short story of diversity within fedeproxy. What do you think?

Early 2021 two friends, Pierre-Louis and Loïc, had an idea to foster Free Software and decided to make it happen. Many projects are born out of ideas every year in the Free Software community and they inherit the unfortunate lack of diversity that still prevails. They need to improve from the very beginning and need resources to get inspiration and guidance. But organizations advocating for diversity in tech or in the Free Software community are mostly focused on large established projects and big corporations, not tiny Free Software projects that are a few months old. Which does not mean there is no solution, only that it has to be invented using common sense and learning from more experienced people willing to discuss and share.

The first opportunity to do something concrete regarding diversity in the fedeproxy project presented itself when organizing a workshop on User Research. The goal was to recruit six participants who were (i) speaking French, (ii) Free Software developers, (iii) in Paris, France. That’s a lot of constraints already and adding a requirement for diversity was taking the risk of making it impossible. But this is precisely in situations where it is tempting to give up because it would be convenient that the commitment to diversity is put to the test. A call for participation was published on Mastodon and Loïc, who lives in Paris, started to ask around if people knew developers from under represented groups who would be interested. And he deliberately did not reach out to anyone else. Not surprisingly it took significantly more time because, by definition, there are a lot less people in under represented groups. But it succeeded and it was a defining experience: legwork yields good results.

It led to a simple and effective realization: diversity is not just a state of mind, it requires work. Since Pierre-Louis and Loïc are funded to work on the project they decided to permanently allocate 5% of their paid time to diversity and the organization in charge of the grant made it official.

This is very little money (3K€) on a tiny Free Software project but it effectively improves diversity. Maybe it will inspire other modest projects to work on diversity in proportion of their resources. There are so many out there, it could make a difference on a global scale.