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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

I totally agree. Becoming an Ubuntu member should not be such a chore. Quite a few of the ubuntu-za guys that helped me and others tirelessly found the whole process to become a member too much. Why add hurdles to the process. I agree the interview was also daunting but fun. Who amongst us was not nervous when we had our interview, and greatly relieved when accepted into the community

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Wiki Page requirement: I suggest moving the summary-of-contributions from wiki to discourse or to folks’ own blogs.

Discourse posts can be edited like a wiki, and discourse access is faster/easier to obtain.

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That’s a nice idea, we could have a “membership applications” category here. A user could start a discussion detailing their contributions, and others could add their testimonials as replies.

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Oh! This is a really good idea. There’s less potential for holdup with wiki editor approval, and there is pretty much no risk involved, since anyone can already sign up for Discourse access already, and it can be edited, Wiki style.

I like the idea.

We have had such a process with the forum in the past. I think it is easy for all to write testimonials in discourse as in the wiki.

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Looking at Torsten’s link to the forum led me to discover the “Code of Conduct Signing Assistant”, which looks interesting:

I believe this shows 2 things:
First, if someone was willing to write a wizard to automate the process, it’s too complex. Second, if someone could automate the key generation and signing process, it supports my point that this doesnt really prove anything other than it’s your launchpad account.

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diddledan this is a good idea and it seems much simpler, It was a trying experience for me about ten years ago signing the Code of Code Conduct as well and I agree a much easier user experience is needed, In regards to the wiki issue we could have a Candidate create a thread here on discourse with all the same information that we currently request Candidates to include in their wiki page, and testimonials can be posted by replying to the Candidates thread, this is just a rough idea, this is could just be a stop gap measure until the wikli system can be upgraded or replaced because it definitely does not work as intended, many times while updating a wiki page it would not work properly for me and it is very slow and not user friendly for a new user, I like the idea of starting a new wiki system then locking the old pages and just have them as read only but even if the wiki system gets redone it is likely to be quite a while before it is started and longer before it is completed.

As for having a method of granting Membership without a meeting because a Candidate is not available when the meetings are offered, as an Ubuntu Board Member we can and have voted on very rare occasions on the Mailing List to grant or deny membership.

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Apologies, I posted the same thing about moving the requirement to create a wiki page to discourse without seeing your post, that’s what happens when I am trying to squeeze in a post just before going to sleep.

Even though I’m not an Ubuntu member, I like this idea very much (especially because I don’t like the MoinMoin syntax). Maybe a separate “Membership application” category is a good idea.

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All sounds crackin’. I’ve thought about applying a few times and each time been put off by the process, a lack of understanding of what is required, and a lack of understanding about what it means. shurg

Soon I’m going to start work on refreshing the documentation around how to become an Ubuntu member, along with what that means, as part of my work on the community team to make things more accessible. Naturally improving the experience before all of that makes a whole lot of sense.

Reading through, it looks like the biggest hurdles are the wiki and the gpg signing. The ‘real-time’ interview is the only thing that’s persisted. So @mark.johnson’s original ‘how it should be’, becomes:

Document your contributions on Discourse and invite members of the community to give testimonials in a ‘membership applications’ category

  1. No need to be part of the launchpad wiki editors group
  2. No need to bug popey
  3. All at least while the Wiki is re-done. It is going to be. But it’s unlikely to be soon and it’s unlikely to be fast
  4. Easy to seed a template that mirrors what already exists on the wiki

Agree to the code of conduct by signing something like https://ubuntu.com/legal/contributors/agreement .

Present your application to the membership board

  1. Still a real-time interview with the board

Thoughts?

The thing that hasn’t had a lot of discussion is making IRC info more prominent? Personally I think there should be a way to do all of this without IRC (not replace, just another option). Making the information more prominent/clear makes sense, but I’d say there should be a way to do the meeting without IRC.

I understand that’s where things live and have lived for a long time, but I’d wager most new people won’t have it, and setting it up and figuring it out is an unnecessary hurdle. Someone could contribute to Ubuntu and do enough to become a member without ever touching IRC, and that’s a good thing. A new communication tool though is a big decision and is a whole other thread, just wanted to put that out there.

All of this is super doable. It would mean a few edits to the wiki to update the process, a few additions to discourse, and someone creating a CoC form. Where would that live? ubuntu.com?

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Instead of a new form, I think @mark.johnson was suggesting staying with the current Launchpad tracking. The method of signing would change from import-GPG-and-sign to simply using the existing Launchpad credentials (checkbox in profile).

In other words, a ticket to Launchpad requesting the change…unless somebody in this thread is already familiar with that part of the Launchpad code and wants to write the patch.

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I feel that the IRC meeting is important.

Folks understandably don’t like it: You are putting yourself out there to be judged. Who enjoys that?

However, it has benefits also:

  • It demonstrates that community leaders care enough to carve out time to talk to you about your goals and to welcome you.
  • It demonstrates the standards of those leaders, and encourages both peer leaders and the new member to maintain high standards.
  • It’s definite: No mucking about with bureaucracy or maybes or delays. You get a straight Yes-or-No answer at the meeting; the vote is done right in front of you.
  • It’s symbolic: A brief ceremony of acceptance and welcome.
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