A few days ago, Canonical reiterated its commitment to restoring the Ubuntu "community" Web portal to front-and-center of official Ubuntu websites. At almost the same moment, news hit that the Ubuntu Technical Board has decided to discontinue the Ubuntu Brainstorm site, another part of ubuntu.com that has served in the past as a vector between developers and community members. Bad timing or cognitive dissonance? Here's a look at the details.
Ubuntu Brainstorm is a site where ordinary users can make suggestions for improving any of a wide list of aspects of Ubuntu—from the core operating system, to its various applications, to marketing endeavors. Other community members then "vote" proposals up or down. All the while, Canonical employees and other Ubuntu developers review the community-generated ideas on the site as they plan the future of the popular Linux-based operating system.
Since its inception in 2008, the site has generated 22,700 ideas, 138,270 comments and 2,629,576 votes, according to statistics available at the time of writing. Alongside Launchpad, the more technical bug reporting system for the Ubuntu ecosystem, Ubuntu Brainstorm has traditionally been an important center of interaction between developers and the community at large.
But that may change. On Monday, the Ubuntu Technical Board, which makes decisions about Ubuntu software, agreed in a meeting that "Due to radically decreasing interest from both Ubuntu developers (judging by the decrease of answers) as well as users (judging by the decreasing number of voters)...it is time to end brainstorm.ubuntu.com and its regular review." Further review will determine whether to remove the site from the web completely, or leave it up for archive purposes.
Either way, this decision may generate some ill-will among Ubuntu users. While it is difficult to collect data regarding historical usage of the site for the purpose of measuring the extent to which its popularity has really decreased, it continues to receive a fair amount of activity. Several new new ideas were posted just today, for example—although voting activity is indeed stagnant.
On the other hand, some users may appreciate the apparent eagerness of Ubuntu officials to close the site. In many senses it is a redundant, under-efficient resource. There are plenty of other channels for providing feedback to Canonical, from joining discussions on mailing lists to filing Launchpad bug reports to engaging people such as Jono Bacon, the official Ubuntu "Community Manager." Many of these approaches are better suited to priotizing ideas that are realistic possibilities for Ubuntu, not the wouldn't-it-be-so-cool pipe dreams that constitute some (though certainly not all) of the feature requests and other grandiose ideas on Brainstorm.
Still, the news seems to come at a bad time for Canonical, as moves like the community Web portal issue generate some negative feedback and observers across the channel criticize the company for insulating itself from the rest of the open source ecosystem. Personally, I tend to believe Canonical is just trying to do its best treading a thin line between developing a free, world-class operating system that is commercially viable while also retaining a commitment to open source enthusiastists. But that's not to say it doesn't commit some blunders, and shutting down Brainstorm—really, how much would it cost just to keep the site running, even if developers are no longer paying much attention?—could be one of them.