If you weren't online last Friday you probably have missed the big news announcement on the variouscommunitydistributionwebsites. The main pages of them got replaced by a placeholder announcing the birth of The Canterbury Project. People started to wonder whether it is an April fool's prank or for real. This blog post is meant to shine a bit more light on it and address one comment received about it.
If you go to the news item on the Debian site you'll get your answer about that it indeed was an April fool's prank. The idea for doing something in coordination with other distributions came to me when I thought about last year's (or was it already two year's ago?) prank that the various web cartoon sites pulled: they replaced their main page with the page of another cartoonist. My original idea was actually along that lines. So I started to dig up website contacts from different distributions, I was aiming at the big names in the community distribution sector.
Given that my time is pretty limited these days with renovating the house we plan to live in soonish I knew I had to let in others in within Debian. I though didn't want to involve too many people, for several reasons: it should be a surprise to as many as possible, but more importantly, I didn't want to shy away other distributions by an overwhelming Debian involvement. That's also part of the reason why I didn't contact many Debian based distributions.
So first contacts where made, a dedicated IRC channel used for coordination, and people involved joined in. Then the thing happened which the Free Software community is so well known for: additional ideas came in, two people independently addressed me whether it wouldn't be better that instead of a circle replacement of the frontpage, why not display the same page on all of them. And one of them added that a corresponding news item might make sense.
So there we were, having to think about text to put into two things: the news item and the replacement page itself. At this stage Alexander threw in a project name with a background that was adopted. Francesca started with an idea for the news item, I started to put quotes in and asked for ones from the other involved people that fit their distribution well. Klaas came up with a template for the replacement page that we tweaked. Fortunately we ended up being five distributions and the colors of the banner did match the distribution ones rather well (except for one, we had to tweak the color of one banner).
We were all set, and actually everything went fine. And it definitely caught the attention. This blog post goes out in thanks to the following people:
For Arch Linux: Pierre Schmitz and Dieter Plaetinck—thanks for joining in on such a short notice!
For Debian: Alexander Reichle-Schmehl (thanks for the name!), David Prévot, Francesca Ciceri (thanks for gathering contact information!) and Martin Zobel-Helas (thanks for webserver setting tweaks).
For Gentoo: Robin H. Johnson—thanks for the best quote for the news item!
For Grml: Michael Prokop—thanks for the great live CD and your input!
For openSUSE: Thomas Schmidt and Klass Freitag—thanks for the perfect website theme and the best mocked up news item!
... and most of all, to the to be left unnamed person from the distribution that didn't join in in the end: a lot of thanks has to go in that direction because of the invaluable input. The actual idea about the additional news item is to be accounted to that person, and the Canterbury logo was tweaked there too.
I hopefully haven't forgotten anyone. There surely were some more people involved in the other distributions, and I guess the named people weren't aware of all the ones involved inside Debian. Feel free to drop missing names in the comments.
Finally, let me address one concern raised: someone claimed that the real joke with this prank was that we would consider collaboration to be a joke. Actually, the total opposite is the case here. That it was possible to pull it off should be proof enough that Collaboration Across Borders actually is possible. And the background information put into the news section of the replacement site is real. Also, my personal quote in the news item was meant dead honest. I do believe that DEX has a limited point of view and only tackles part of the problem.
Unfortunately, for such efforts to really come to life it takes people with a really long breath and dedication to it. Efforts like the VCS-PKG and the Freedesktop Games effort are more or less stalled. Even though a lot of people do believe in stronger collaboration to be a good thing, the basis is not working out too well. I'm in the fortunate position that for some of the packages I maintain there is exchange between packagers from different distributions to avoid common troubles. If it can't be done in the big it should at least be tried in the small.
I want to specifically highlight again one part of the updates in the replacement page: the CrossDistro track at this year's FOSDEM. This one was more than fruitful, on several levels. From what I've heard a lot of discussion happened besides the talks too, and connections got established. It doesn't sound unlikely like this might be done again next year.
So again, thanks for enjoying this April fool's prank, thanks to everyone who helped to deliver it, and especially a lot of thanks to the people who this might have got thinking of possibilities to improve on the collaboration front!