Proposal: Improving the membership application process

As you may know, I recently became an Ubuntu member. I have had many surprised reactions to this, as I have been active in the Ubuntu community for 10+ years, so many assumed I was already a member. However, whenever I looked at the process to apply, I was put off and decided I would come back to it later. In this discussion I hope to show why the current process discouraged me from applying, and offer some proposals to improve the process for others.

In theory the process is:

  1. Document your contributions on the wiki, optionally gathering testimonials from the community.
  2. Agree to the code of conduct.
  3. Present your application to the membership board.

However, in practice, you must also complete one or more of these additional steps:

  1. Apply to join the Ubuntu Wiki Editors group on launchpad, and possibly bug Alan Pope until he approves you.
  2. Correctly generate and install a gpg keypair.
  3. Upload your public key to launchpad.
  4. Set up your mail client to receive encrypted email to verify your key.
  5. Digitally sign and upload a copy of the code of conduct.
  6. Set up an IRC client to connect to #ubuntu-meeting.
  7. Ensure the IRC nick you plan to use is available and register it with NickServ.
  8. Make sure you are connected to the right channel at the right time.

Proposal 1: Modernise the wiki

@popey has already detailed this better than I can on his blog. From my point of view, either providing an automated way of verifying new users (much like discobot does on this site), or giving new users editing rights in a limited area of the wiki to let them create their page, would be a major step forwards.

Proposal 2: Do away with GPG signing

No human has verified the key I have used to sign the code of conduct. The only reason you know its my key is because I uploaded it to my launchpad account. You are not trusting the key, you are trusting the account. The same level of trust would be achieved if there was a checkbox on my launchpad profile that said “I have read & accept the code of conduct”. I believe something like that should replace the current process.

Proposal 3a: Make IRC info more prominent

Currently the #ubuntu-meeting link on the Membership Boards page takes the user to the Kiwi IRC web client and will connect them to the correct channel. This is great, but it’s easy to miss. This link could be added the NewMember page with some basic information about what IRC is, how to use it and how to register your nickname ahead of the meeting.

Proposal 3b: Make membership boards asyncronous

IRC is a great example of an open, federated chat system. However, its not a great example of a modern communication tool. I’m not going to use this proposal to suggest Ubuntu adopts Matrix, Mattermost or some alternative for its meetings. However perhaps membership applications don’t need take place in a synchronous meeting at all. Perhaps an asynchronous medium like a discourse thread would serve the purpose just as well.

These proposals are by no means complete, and I’m not pretending to be able to solve all the problems myself, but I hope that these sow the seeds for some positive discussion and improvements to the current process.

6 Likes

Generally I concur in this proposal. The only time and place where I have seen cryptographic signatures in general use has been when I was a civil servant. My signing key was tied to my badge and was required for signing electronic paperwork in a variety of circumstances. That key was revoked upon separation when I handed in my badge.

The hope 15-16 years ago that we would be using GnuPG keys to more generally prove identity over time hasn’t panned out. A different authentication and attribution solution should be pursued.

2 Likes

Speaking as an Ubuntu Member, I agree with so many of these ideas. Getting access to the wiki to make a page and the GPG signing are hurdles, and I wonder how many potential members they’ve deterred. Thankfully, I had people to help, but until we make changes, whether those proposed here or others, better documentation for the first three points seems like a solid start.

I did, though, like my ‘real time’ interview, and felt like it did add something to the process. Maybe there’s a way, however, to have an asynchronous option for people it would benefit, because of schedules/etc.

And speaking with my auburgine-colored hat on as the Community Representative, I am excited to see this proposal and look forward to supporting the community in whichever way they decide to proceed - and very interested to see the discussions that happen along the way. Thank you for starting this, @mark.johnson, and to @skellat and everyone who joins the discussion.

5 Likes

Thanks @madhens. Good to hear feedback that the in-person interview is valuable. I certainly didn’t have a problem with it, and with the right support around IRC there’s no real reason to drop it. 3b is really more of a “what if” proposal than the others, in case it provokes a cool new idea.

3 Likes

In terms of the GPG Signing requirement, I would like to see this replaced with a more user-friendly mechanism, too. The method of signing the Canonical Contributor License Agreement to contribute to Canonical projects such as snapd and snapcraft could serve as a viable concept for how it can be done with a web form: https://ubuntu.com/legal/contributors/agreement

3 Likes

Diddledan with the possibly home-grown solution! Thanks for providing an example of a more user-friendly alternative. :slight_smile: