Sharing the topic “Women participation in open source community” in GNOME.Asia HongKong

Free and opensource software community traditionally have less women participation. It seems the gender difference became an issue, a barrier, instead of an opportunity. I further think, we need to recognize these differences in order to take advantage of them.
Do we recognize these differences? I have heard some topics or discussions that usually focus on “women also can do…”. It’s good that people recognize women actually can do them, but that gives male audience a false confidence of knowing women interpreter their challenge the same way as men, or are motivated the same way.
I decide to try to demonstrate this with a carefully designed dialogue, the subtle difference on women perceive, part-take and motivated in FOSS setting. The way I did it in GNOME Asia HK, sparked attention and recognition more than I expected, so here is it to share:

what do I love GNOME?
Dialogue 1: between Bob (male) and Carol:

Carol: GNOME? What’s that?
Bob: It’s a desktop environment. It does what Windows does, but once you get used to it you don’t want to use Windows, it beats the crap out of Windows.
Carol: What’s so special about it?
Bob: You can do all sorts of things. It’s a Linux system, so basically you can do everything with it, you have total control! For example you can use a piece of Javascript to automate the editing process, or to customize how it looks.
Carol: I can customize a lot of things in Windows too.
Bob: But limited, very limited. Even worse, the limitation is because Microsoft want to lock you into using only their products. Basically they are taking away your FREEDOM! On the contrary, GNOME is shared, you know, if you have a cool idea, you make something happen, others can use it as soon as it’s ready, it become part of the system, in fact it’s how it growed! If you have a good idea in Windows, they don’t share everything, they don’t buy your improvements.
Carol: Cool, sounds like of the people for the people style.
Bob: It sure is.

What do I love GNOME?
Let’s look at the keywords here:

as in “it beats the crap out of Windows”. Enjoying winning, leadership, and is proud of the advantage of his solution.
Total Control
Being able to control is a reason behind the recent quick advance of FOSS.
Being independent of software vendors, allowing you to modify and improve GNOME, is a big reason Bob loves GNOME.
And, with the dialogue, a visual image of what Bob is thinking:

Dialogue 2: between Alice (female) and coral:

Carol: GNOME? What’s that?
Alice: It’s a system. Do you know Android? Windows? They are systems too. Gnome is also a system, but different.
Carol: What’s so special about it?
Alice: It is built by a community. I mean, Android is made by a big company, so is Windows. GNOME is a bunch of people working on things mostly because they just love it. I actually know these people, nice people.
Carol: Oh. Good. So, what can I do with GNOME?
Alice: Pretty much everything. Watch movie, taking notes, edit photo and so like. I use it myself.
Carol: Can I look at it?
Alice: Sure.
Carol: It sure look much better than Windows.


There is an exploring spirit in Alice. That’s behind the popularity of pinterest, a website focused on women group.
Nice people
An social experience attracts women. Alice likes to work with a group of nice people.
Being visually pleasing is to embrace perfection, this is what Microsoft fail to do for all these years. They managed to maintain constant ugly look.
Again, to match the dialogue, a visual image of what Bob is thinking:

What can we learn from this?

For the boys:
To attract women to the community, we need to present GNOME lively, with video, real-life touch-and-feel. Get them on-board first, the flow-chat and code snippets can follow later.
You don’t have to be the world-beating software solution, to have nice people relationship is more important for women participation.
Keep aware not all of them are contributing code. Also keep aware women’s sociable nature might itself be a good advantage to community.

For the girls:
To recognize the nice folks here in the community is striving for the freedom of software users, and appreciate that. It gives a solid start for a good relationship. That is, no matter how many iPads are being sold a day, and double that number, these people won’t stop for their ideals. It’s actually an effort to make the world better.
As long as you recognize the above point and willing to share your energy, your work, there isn’t a technical barrier. It’s not needed to be ashamed of not knowing a lot technical details. Out of the competitive nature of boys, they don’t help those who don’t attempt to help themselves, so as long as you showed you tried something (usually that you googled), it should always be easy to get help.

GNOME community people generally knows they are competing with e.g. Microsoft Windows, targeting the users, not for geeks only. So, if a way to solve a problem is too complicated, ask if there is a method for users: there often are, only geeks are accustomed to say the geeky solution first, for that is more speedy. For example, if using ssh command to download a file look obscure, there is actually an intuitive option near “My Computer” that can do it too.

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