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Video A Conversation with Ubuntu's Jono Bacon (Video) 53

You've probably heard Jono Bacon speak at a Linux or Open Source conference. Or maybe you've heard one of his podcasts or read something he's written in his job as Ubuntu's community manager or even, perhaps, read The Art of Community, which is Jono's well-regarded book about building online communities. Jono also wrote and performed the heavy metal version of Richard M. Stallman's infamous composition, The Free Software Song. An excerpt from the Jono version kicks off our interview, and the complete piece (about two minutes long) closes the video. Please note that this video is a casual talk with Jono Bacon, the person, rather than a talk with the "official" Ubuntu Jono Bacon. So please, pull up a chair, lean back, and join us. (Alternate Video Link)

Robin Miller:Today we’re talking with Jono Bacon, who in many ways is THE voice of Ubuntu. He does podcasts, he does hangouts, he actually is not only a community manager but has written a book on how to manage communities. So when somebody talks about writing about managing a community, hewrote the book. Yeah, he looks like this, I was looking at him in exactly the same place just the other day on April 1st and this is how he looks. Look at the guitars in the background. Jono, is it true that you’re really a musician who does everything else part time?

Jono Bacon:I think some people may be thinking that from time to time. No, I am fortunately or unfortunately for some, I am a full time community manager, music is my part time thing. I don’t think I can survive the music industry; it’s pretty brutal to be honest with you.

Robin Miller:But you can do like Janis Ianand just do your own thing. She sets up house concerts. If you‘re a big enough fan, she will come to your house, and play for you and your friends for a few thousand dollars.

Jono Bacon:No, I quite like the music being in my spare time because I got fairly deeply ingrained in the heavy metal world for a bit and it’s a pretty tough and at times frustrating place to be. So I quite like that being a hobby.

Robin Miller:Indeed however we opened this interview with the official Jono Bacon, heavy metal version, an excerpt from the Free Software Song, and at the end of this interview we’re going to play the whole thing for those who are into such things. This isn’t the folk music version; this is the heavy metal music version.

Jono Bacon:Yeah, there is only one version: the metal version.

Robin Miller:I know this guy Richard who might disagree with you.

Jono Bacon:I think he disagrees with me on a few different things. He’s never actually said anything about the song. If I’d say no, I tell a lie. If I remember right when I put the first version years ago, it was awful.

Robin Miller:It was awful.

Jono Bacon:I sent them an email, I said, hey check it out, I’ve recorded this version of the song and I distinctly remember, he sent me a reply that said, oh, that’s nice. I said, ok, obviously didn’t care. But that’s fine, I mean, I am not expecting him to care about my stupid...

Robin Miller:It’s been a long time since Richard M. Stallman has called me or emailed me to bawl me out. But he has been known to do it.

But how did you first discover this Linux and free software stuff?

Jono Bacon:It was 1998 and I was living at home with my parents and my brother. My brother came to stay with us for a couple of weeks, my older brother Simon and I would start my computer complaining about Windows and he said, oh why are using Mickey Mouse operating system like Windows, you should try Linux. And at that time I was working in a bookshop. I had a part time job in a bookshop and he said, you can go and buy a book and a CD will come on the back of the book with it. So I got Slackware Unleashed and he helped install it on my computer and I’ll never forget, like he spent all night installing Slackware on my machine, it’s very nice of him, and then the following day, I got up, went downstairs, and there was a post-it note stuck to the screen, with username, password and just this prompt, and that was it, he left.

I was a little worried at that point, and I had it on my computer for about a week and then I reinstalled Windows because I just thought I wasn’t smart enough Linux which is true.

Robin Miller:You weren’t smart enough for Slackware?

Jono Bacon:Right, yeah, that’s true. And there is something about Linux. I remember in the first chapter of that book, he was talking about this big global community coming together to work and there was something compelling about that, that made me reinstall Slackware and stick with it. And the rest is history.

Robin Miller:So, wait a minute, you started with Slackware which is the definition of user unfriendly Linux.

Jono Bacon:It was complicated, yes.

Robin Miller:I started at least with help from very smart people and Red Hat, early Red Hat. As Bob Young once put it, we first met when he was selling Red Hat on floppies and baggies at a folding table. This goes back to

Jono Bacon:It took them a while to get past that...

Robin Miller:So somehow you went from that to what is pretty commonly regarded at least in my house and on my computers as the easiest Linux there is, namely Ubuntu.

Jono Bacon:Right.

Robin Miller:That’s a heck of a move.

Jono Bacon:Yeah.

Robin Miller:How did this happen, this

Jono Bacon:Yeah, it took a while to get there. I mean, I started out – I always knew I wanted to do something with Open Source because it just fascinated me and at least for my peanut sized brain it felt like contributing to Linux and Open Source was like almost an ethical thing. Like I was doing something that was good for the world. I’ve always been pragmatic, so I’ve never subscribed to the everything-has-to-be-completely-100%-free philosophy, which is fine.

Robin Miller:I’m on your side, I’m on your side. That’s why Richard called me to ball me out.

Jono Bacon:Exactly, but the thing was, I used Slackware and then I went on and tried Red Hat for a while and then went on to Debian, my best friend Stewart, he bullied me into using Debian. I was having a lot of issues with package management with Red Hat at that time – sorry at that time it was Mandrake, and I jumped from Red Hat to Mandrake.

Robin Miller:I know, I agree, I was actually quoted on a Mandrake box cover.

Jono Bacon:Right, exactly I mean Mandrake for me was brilliant, because I was always passionate about making Linux easy, and then I moved to Debian because it solved a lot of my issues in package management, but I always wanted a really easy-to-use Debian, and around that time, the brightest hope for the time was Progeny and then Corel Linux came out for a bit and that went way and there was Xandros.

But when I first heard about Ubuntu and I remember going to FooCamp, the first FooCamp in Europe and Scott James Remnant and Jeff Waugh who were part of the original Ubuntu team, they were doing a talk at Birmingham Linux User Grou while I was packing to go on this trip. But a friend of mine, Steve,went to it and we’d heard about this super secret Debian startup, and I was friends of Scott and still am and he gave me bit of the background on it, and they were basically doing exactly what I wanted to see, which is a really easy to use Debian.

But the thing that really got me was around that time there was a lot of controversy about big companies screwing Linux. There was IBM who were investing a lot, there was worries about Red Hat, people worried that the community aspects of Linux was going away to a degree, and the thing that really shook me about Ubuntu was this millionaire you had never heard of, Mark Shuttleworth, from day one put in place a code of conduct, a community counsel and technical board.

And for me that was like, this guy is making Debian easy and he is putting the right community governance in place, that to me felt like it was the spirit of Linux Open Source was there, and from that minute onwards I was just captivated. And couple of years later I was working at a place called OpenAdvantage at the time which was a government funded UK outfit health organizations moved to Open Source in the West Midlands because the West Midlands is kind of like a bit like almost like Michigan where a lot of the heavy industry moved to China.

So lot of people who were in manual labor were out of job and I was helping people to learn Open Source. That came to an end because it was government funded project and I’ve met Mark a couple of times because we invite him in LugRadio, this podcast we used to do, and I emailed him and I said, is there any chance I could come and work in Canonical, you know what I do, and he said, well we do have this Ubuntu Community manager position, but I’m not really sure it’s for you.

And I said to him, well, can you just tell me the job description and I’ll take a look and I read it and I thought this is my dream job and interviewed a bunch of times, and ultimately managed to get it and I love it. I love what I do, so. It’s frustrating at times because the Open Source community is not afraid to express what it thinks from time to time and a lot of that can be nonsense, but it’s a little

Robin Miller:What is the worst thing about being a community manager?

Jono Bacon:I think the worst thing in my mind is the politics, there are some people out there and I’m certainly not going to name names, there are some people out there who have a view point about how something should work, about a philosophy or ethic or whatever it might be, and they will use some pretty unhanded techniques to make their message learned and known. And I’ve been watching House of Cards recently and it kind of some reason reminds me that. To me it’s just – I’ve been banging on this drum for years, but to me like we can all have different viewpoints and spectres and ideas, but we should always have dignity and respect in our discussions, and some people don’t have that. They cause stress, they cause arguments, they shout and bawl about why they don’t like something and sometimes use underhanded techniques to go where they want, and I don’t like that. I think it’s a negative attribute in human beings and unfortunately our community, like every community in the world, is plagued with bits of that as well.

Robin Miller:Yeah, well and you are talking to somebody who’s worked on Slashdot for most of the last 15 years.

Jono Bacon:You are probably familiar with some of this, right?

Robin Miller:I am familiar with all of it – just so you know. And of course, I will be accused inevitably of this being a paid or unpaid or something as an advertisement.

Jono Bacon:Oh, of course, yeah.

Robin Miller:Yeah, tell them how much you paid me?

Jono Bacon:I paid you zero dollars. So, yeah, just so everybody knows, Robin sent me an email that said, do you fancy coming on and doing an interview and I said yeah, that’d be nice. And that was it, so...

Robin Miller:Because usually we see you in your official capacity and here you are and it’s kind of like the actress Kerry Washington who stars in Scandals, an American TV show, and in the show she is scared, she is upset, she is unhappy and she plays an unhappy person, but when you see Kerry Washington like on Late Night with or something like that or on a talk show or hanging out, she’s just the happiest, most bubbly person, and I am seeing that in you. Your April 1st cast, you were all serious and answering questions from this one and that one and you were like, bah, bah, bah, bah, there wasn’t a smile in an hour and I mean, I’m not saying this is bad, you were being serious in doing your job.

Jono Bacon:That was important as well to be clear, I mean that was yesterday, I do my weekly Q&A and I’m usually pretty happy, but yesterday I had a bit of joke that I was sick of Open Source, I’m getting out of it, so yesterday I was just the most – I was obviously taking it the most miserable you have ever seen, so yeah, that was not the normal Jono.

Robin Miller:I’ve heard others too, I research, I actually research, I watch some others, but you have like official Jono, people have official whomever, President Obama hanging out with his kids, he’s much happier looking than when he’s delivering a speech to the United Republicans.

Jono Bacon:Right, right.

Robin Miller:Obviously he doesn’t do, thank god, but here you are and you just look so loose, that’s why we’re talking about Jono, this is a what do you call, meet Jono the musician, and the guy who decided Open Source was a cool thing, and got involved with it.

Jono Bacon:Yeah, I think it’s one of those things where by one of the things from time to time, I think it’s the nature of any job that’s fairly public facing is that some people will think – they’ll either think okay, you are just a mouth piece for the company that you work for or you can’t have an original thought, or if you agree with what your company is saying that it’s almost like Stockholm Syndrome.

And I think it’s one of those things, I look at it a lot as how you professionally handle situations like, do I agree with everything Canonical has done? Absolutely not. There have been certain things I think we’ve made mistakes in the past. What I look at is the cool philosophy and the cooler ideals of the company, and not just the company, but the people who run it and people who I work with. And frankly, I agree with most of what we do, but that’s because I agree with the philosophy of what we’re trying to achieve here and what is annoying is that some people will say oh, well that’s because you are a sound – my favorite term is Shuttleworth’s lapdog, I love that, I love this idea of me as this kind of this little animal with his luxurious coat sat on

Robin Miller:I’m looking for my guard doggie, she is around here somewhere.

Jono Bacon:I love that term -- Shuttleworth’s lapdog -- people use that – they’re trying to get into my skin with it, but it

Robin Miller:My first introduction to Mark Shuttleworth was at the Debian Meeting in Mexico where they kind of handed out between Debian and Ubuntu, first time he went to it and it was like, everybody was prepared to do battle and pretty much cleared it up. But so, I’d slept in. I’d been drinking with friends. I know how could that

Jono Bacon:Come on.

Robin Miller:How could that happen? People I know from unam (big university with a world-class CS dept.) and all that, how could we be out drinking?

Jono Bacon:I would never dream of doing that personally, but then

Robin Miller:But anyway, so my wife – I wandered out and my wife says, oh here’s this nice young man I met. She came with me and they were sitting, the tables were full in the cafeteria. She said his name is Mark. He is a very nice guy. So, I was into – Mark Shuttleworth, my wife really liked him.

Jono Bacon:Right.

Robin Miller:She had no idea that he was behind Ubuntu. She knew what Ubuntu was and all that.

Jono Bacon:Yeah.

Robin Miller:But she didn’t know who Mark Shuttleworth was. He was just this, Mark, this nice young man, I think he had a beard at that time. He’s one of those beard types.

Jono Bacon:He’s had a pretty diverse and athletic facial hair history. I know Mark now for about 8 years and it’s like anyone who is like I think very well-known, there is often a cult of celebrity where people get together in bars and they talk about people, and I think the thing about him is that he is, like a lot of people in his position, he is really driven, he’s really motivated, but he’s got ideas and like he is very optimistic that he could achieve his ideas.

Now one of the things I like about him is that he is pretty collaborative in the way that he works with people like, we have lots of meetings and he will be in those meetings and he will evaluate people’s ideas, that’s not to say that – he doesn’t say, from time to time, he’ll say, okay, like do this, like it’s going to be this way. I mean, it’s like any executive.

Robin Miller:Yeah.

Jono Bacon:He needs to lay the law down. But from my experience of working with him, he’s always been very collaborative and easy to work with and just fun to hang around with like, when he comes out for dinner or when we hang out in a bar or whatever it might be, he’s just a fun guy to hang out with, he’s got great stories, he’s like very personable. And I like that. I couldn’t work with somebody who I don’t feel – shares the values that we work on with Ubuntu or at a personal level, I wouldn’t want to hang out with somebody who I don’t really have much of a connection with, I’d rather just go and hang out with somebody else.

Robin Miller:But let’s know one thing Mr. Lapdog, on one side, you have the community, okay? And you’re the community’s lapdog, right?

Jono Bacon:Right. I prefer the whipping post.

Robin Miller:Whipping post? Well, whipping boy is even better. I want boy in there if we can’t have dog. And on the other hand, Mark Shuttleworth’s sounding post, so you are whipping post and a sounding post. But the thing is you are in the middle, with you

Jono Bacon:Right.

Robin Miller:Stealers Wheel song that I really liked and there you are and we’re stuck in the middle with Jono right now. What’s it like? That’s the thing. Is there much conflict where you feel torn that you are in the middle?

Jono Bacon:Not really, to be honest with you. I mean, it’s one of the situations whereby the thing about being a community manager is that you get way more credit than you deserve and you get way more crap than you deserve. And the reason for that is because people in the community, a lot of people in the community will see me as a representative of Canonical. If they like something, they will be like, ah, thank you so much. It’s amazing what you guys do. And if they don’t like something, it’s like what the hell is wrong with you? Why are you doing this? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. My goal is to – I’m definitely to a degree, straddle that middle ground, but Canonical is pretty clued in with what’s going on in the community like the tone and feel and perspective of the community I think is pretty well known in Canonical because like the vast majority of our staff work in the community.

I mean, everyone works – the majority of our people work from home. People read in the website, people read and read it in various other places. The main thing where I tend to straddle the middle ground is when he’s handling situations. So, there will be times when members of the community will feel like they have a concern or they have an idea or whatever it is, they don’t know how to connect to the right pieces of Canonical or in Canonical there will be something that we need to do, a decision that we’ve made and how do we work with a community around doing this?

So, there is a certain amount of impedance kind matching, I guess, you could say. But it’s not generally frustrating. The time when it gets frustrating for me is or challenging for me is when emotion takes over. It’s when there is a huge overreaction to something in the community or there will be a huge overreaction to something in the company or a combination of the two. And a lot of what I try to do is to say, look everyone, just calm down, okay? Just relax, we’ll figure this out. We’re all human beings here.

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A Conversation with Ubuntu's Jono Bacon (Video)

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