Collaborative Maintenance

Stefano Zacchiroli blogs his thoughts about collaborative maintenance. He identifies two arguments/religions about it:

  1. it is good because duties are shared among co-maintainers
  2. it is bad because no one feels responsible for the co-maintained packages

And he says he stand for the first one.

I’m not sure that those two positions really contradict.

Sure, collaborative maintenance is a good thing, because it allows to share the load between co-maintainers, which often results in bugs being fixed faster. But collaborative maintenance creates the problem of the dilution of responsabilities, and the dilution of knowledge. In many cases, a single maintainer will have a better knowledge of a package than the sum of the knowledge of all co-maintainers. Also, sometimes, teams don’t work very well, and everybody start thinking that a specific bug is another co-maintainer’s problem.

In the pkg-ruby-extras team, we have been trying different organizations over the past two years. We have now settled with the following:

  • each package has a “main responsible person”, listed in the Maintainer field
  • the team address is listed in the Uploaders field, as well as all the team members that are willing to help with that package (people add themselves to Uploaders manually. Another variant is pkg-kde and pkg-gnome’s automatic generation of the Uploaders field based on the last X entries of debian/changelog (pkg-kde variant, pkg-gnome variant).)
    Interestingly, we discovered that for several packages, nobody was really willing to help, so I’m wondering how other teams with (nb of packages) >> (nb of active team members) work.

Stefano also raises the point of infrastructure issues caused by the switch to the team model. I ran into one recently. My “Automated mails to maintainers of packages with serious problems” are currently only sent to the maintainers of the packages with problems, unless someone has problems in both maintained and co-maintained packages (in that case, all problems are mentioned). I thought for a while about sending mails to co-maintainers as well, but that would mean sending more mails… I might try that and see if I get flamed :-)

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