Platform for Branden Robinson


Greetings, fellow Debian developers.

The purpose of this message is to outline the reasons I am running for Debian Project Leader (DPL), and to present an idea of some specific things I would like to accomplish during my term, if elected.

First, a brief biographical introduction is in order. My name is Branden Robinson; I have been a Debian Developer since approximately January of 1998. My most prominent work in Debian has been as maintainer of the XFree86 packages, which I have done since March of 1998. Since August of 2001, I have also been the Treasurer of Software in the Public Interest, Inc., Debian's legal parent organization and manager of the Debian Project's assets in the United States. Late last year I joined Debian's team of Policy Manual editors. I am a fixture on the debian-legal mailing list, and participate with other developers in the vetting and analysis of the terms and application of various software licenses, and how they mesh with the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG). Of course, I'm often found on other Debian mailing lists as well. I am 28 years old, employed as a free software developer, married, and have no children.

Some of this platform may be familiar to you if you have read either of my DPL Platforms from the past two years. Since I have run twice before, unsuccessfully, this year I questioned the utility of running again, and wondered whether my perceptions of where this Project's problems and opportunities lie were widely shared. Rather than attempting to guess at the answer, or engaging with people in informal conversation in effort to gauge the degree of common ground, I decided earlier this month to circulate a questionnaire among Debian Developers via the debian-vote mailing list. This, I felt, would give me some more concrete, if not strictly scientific, data to work with. The experiment paid off. I received 73 replies, of which about 60 were from Debian Developers (the remainder were from Debian users, most of whom are in the New Maintainer queue).

While I have done no rigorous quantitative analysis of the questionnaire results, I actively solicited free-form commentary within the questionnaire, and most respondents were apparently happy to oblige, and were very free with their opinions. Moreover, there were some recurring themes in the replies -- themes which include points of concern that I share. Therefore, I have concluded that there is a significant number of Debian Developers who would like to see the next Project Leader attempt to tackle some specific issues. Consequently, I am standing as a candidate again this year, and I pledge to do what I can to address those concerns.

The purpose of this document is to identify my guiding principles and priorities, not to draw a roadmap which I will follow in excruciating detail. A Project Leader will need to be flexible enough to cope with problems and opportunities as they arise, and as he or she learns more about them. A Project Leader needs strategies, but not necessarily a generic recipe that is applied to all issues. Since I feel that a diagnosis of problems is less valuable without proposed solutions, I'm suggesting possible solutions. I look forward to interested people stepping forward and participating in the process of solving these problems. To me, leadership means listening, and then taking action on an informed basis. If you feel that some of my proposals suffer from a lack of information, I urge you to waste no time in bringing me up to speed.

Some of the respondents to my survey are a bit disenchanted with Debian's constitutional system of governance. I still feel as I did last year: Debian's democratic, constitutional foundation is a sound one. Our Constitution is, however, not directly applicable to how everyday decisions get made in the Project. Neither is it, I feel, an instrument of last resort. Instead, it is a tool that is well-suited to solving certain kinds of problems, and making certain kinds of decisions. It is less well-suited to others. In my opinion, the Constitution is good for three things: distributing power and responsibility within the Project, resolving important issues that are contentious, and soliciting the input of every Developer where appropriate (as in Project Leader elections).

The role of Project Leader is an important one. The DPL is the Project's primary representative and spokesman, both internally and externally. The DPL must have an awareness of the challenges that face our Project which are too large for any one Developer to surmount, and attempt to allocate resources towards overcoming those challenges. At the same time, the Project Leader must strive to maintain an environment that encourages experimentation, novel problem-solving, and reinforcement and reward for the volunteer spirit that is the backbone of our Project. Finally, the Project Leader must be able to present Debian's "best face" to the press and other people and organizations.

Delegation and Accountability

The central -- and overriding -- issue to my mind about the role of DPL is the process of delegation under the Constitution. I feel as I did last year -- delegation is potentially a great mechanism, whose potential has not yet been realized as I think it could be.

First and foremost, I think we need more visible delegates from the Project Leader. For the most part, Debian Developers have very narrow bounds within which they can exercise their personal discretion. However, the larger issues of administration and coordination are often neglected; sometimes because there is no one to do them, and/or because no one has a clear mandate to act upon them, or because there is a single point of a failure, and only one person is doing a particular task.

This is where I think the Debian Project Leader is required to act; indeed, I consider this to be perhaps the central duty of the DPL. The DPL need not necessarily assume personal and direct responsibility for the problems of the day, but rather he or she should delegate responsibility for these duties, and set clear and reasonable expectations for their fulfillment. The days are long gone when the Project Leader could fulfill many administrative tasks himself; instead, the DPL must identify knowledgeable, dedicated, and willing people already within the Project to handle the jobs. The DPL must also follow up with the delegates, and ensure that they understand their responsibilities; not just so that they know what is required of them, but so that they know what is not required of them. Because this is a volunteer project, it makes no sense to heap more upon a delegate than can reasonably be borne. It is primarily the Project Leader's responsibility to recognize the situation and act when a delegate is overwhelmed. Any task that can benefit from parallelization and a team approach should receive one, as long as qualified delegates can be found to do the job.

My perception, and that of many of the respondents to my questionnaire, is that we don't presently have enough delegates, and we particularly don't have enough in some key areas of infrastructure.

I would like to see greater formalization of the delegate status. As a first approximation, I believe there should be a webpage on the Debian site specifically dedicated to DPL delegates: it should enumerate them, describe each one's responsibilities, state the date each one's term began, and provide a link to each delegate (or team's) webpage where they can post news and status information, where applicable. Delegates should be directly involved in establishing their own standards and responsibilities; this is not only more fair to volunteers, but this should also serve to get the DPL and the delegate off to a good start in having open channels of communication. The best goals are those we are free to set for ourselves. While the DPL cannot single-handedly ensure that everyone's goals are met, he or she can at least develop a strong knowledge of the Project's strong and weak points in the delegation structure, and solicit volunteers to reinforce the weak points.

Other Issues

There are some other things I'd like to accomplish during my term as DPL, but they all take a back seat to the above.


Thank you for your attention. I welcome your feedback on my platform, and I strongly encourage you to vote in the forthcoming election.


The Project Secretary has afforded the candidates and opportunity to rebut the platforms of the other candidates. My thoughts on each follow.

I am not going to conclude with a rhetorical prophesy of doom or irrelevance for the Project if any other candidate is elected, since I don't feel that's the case. I am also not going to imply that no one else is capable of providing "clear and effective leadership", to quote a platform from years past. I will instead rest on my analysis of Debian's strengths and weaknesses, my stated priorities, my record, and my experience. I urge each voter to take these factors into account for all candidates, consider carefully, and make the best possible decision you can make. It is my hope that if you share my perspective and goals, that I have inspired your confidence, and that you feel the Debian Project would be better served with me as your representative for the next year.

Thanks again for your attention, and for your part in making the Debian Project such an exciting place to be.