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OMG! Interviews: Jono Bacon

Jono Bacon is a number of things in the open source community and is possibly one of the most well known faces associated with open source. He’s been a public figure staying in the limelight ever since he got involved in the free software movement way back in the late 90s. From successful podcasts, albums, coding, writing books and being Canonical’s community manager, Mr Bacon has certainly fried it all. (Ha!)

I first talked to Jono earlier this year when I started the Ubuntu Manual Project. Him and I had a few long skype calls in the early days when I was finding my way around the community. One of the coolest things about Jono is that he’s super approachable and is always willing to listen.

When I got to the Ubuntu Developer Summit in Brussels last May, I met Jono for the first time in person. I distinctly remember hanging out with MPT in the lobby of the hotel when Ivanka Majic and Jono wandered over and I got a big man hug from Jono. I won’t forget that, it’s a great sign of how awesome this community and Ubuntu really is!

I sat down with Jono and had a chat about open source, future plans for Ubuntu, his hobbies, interests and his opinion about OMG! Ubuntu.

So Jono, you’ve been involved in open source for a few years now, had a fairly successful podcast with LugRadio, then more recently Shot of Jaq. You’ve written a couple of books and made some creative commons music, and been the Ubuntu community manager for Canonical for a couple of years too. What do you like about open source, do you enjoy it because it’s better, or because it’s free, do you enjoy giving like Robbie Williamson or is it just an interest that turned into a job?

Open Source and Free Software really appeals to a bunch of different needs and interests I have. Firstly, I have always wanted to spend my working life contributing to a mission and ethos. When I was younger and I was getting those ultra-dull lectures at school about “the world of work” and what options I had available, the concept of just working for another company that just makes another product scared the life out of me; I feared having to feign interest in a product that has limited human benefits for the world.

I have always wanted to spend my working life contributing to a mission and ethos.

When I first discovered Open Source and collaborative community (when I installed Slackware on my computer back in 1998), the ethos absolutely captivated me. My interest was not inspired by career opportunities, that didn’t even cross my mind, but I instead felt empowered that with my computer I could help change the world. That feeling was incredibly addictive to me, but it was a tough ride as back then Linux was incredibly technically demanding (I am technical, but not edit-my-text-with-edlin technical), but I was more interested in the “people power” aspect as opposed to the “programming power” aspect.

I feel incredibly blessed that I have been able to turn my passion for community and Free Software into my career, but what fundamentally drives me is a feeling that Ubuntu is one of many projects and communities that is doing something really right for people. Ubuntu is an enabler that has helped unlock computing and technology for so many people, and I get a huge smile on my face when I get some of the wonderful emails of people sharing their stories of how Ubuntu and Open Source in general has changed their lives. Sure, I get paid, and now I am married will be starting a family soon, money is always a pressing consideration, but it is the ethos and opportunity of helping people that is stuck between my teeth, not the financial rewards; anyone can make money in a million different places, but few are afforded the privilege of being paid to pursue their passion, a passion that contributes towards changing people’s lives.

In your role as community manager, you’ve had to deal with some interesting (and often loud) people. How do you maintain a cool head when handling issues like the recent “tribal war” (to use Mark’s terminology)?

I think much of it has just been learning about how different people approach different challenges. I think when conflict occurs, the participants feel that they lack empowerment and that an element of their ethos has been compromised. In these situations these folks are typically (a) crying out for support and understanding for their views and (b) often emotionally resistant to opposing views and criticism. If these factors are ignored conflict turns into a ping-pong game, often getting more and more heated, and with some people the debate steps away from the topic and becomes personalized, and that is incredibly dangerous for community.

I have always tried to take a calm approach to these situations; I just feel that a relaxed demeanor that is focused on solutions is better than taking part in the ping pong game. No one likes fighting and conflict, so I am a firm believer that the goal should be to try and find solutions to problems or just agree to disagree and move on and have fun in our community.

Where would you like to see Ubuntu at the end of 2011?

I would like to see continued growth; we are teetering on the edge of the chasm, with everything to play for to become a really mainstream Operating System and bring Free Software and Open Source to the masses. We are going to face some significant challenges in getting over that chasm – satisfying the plethora of needs that consumers require from us, but I am confident our incredible community will live up to the challenge.

I am really excited by the work going on in Ayatana and with Unity.

From a functionality perspective, I am really excited by the work going on in Ayatana and with Unity, and I am excited to see that developing and maturing. I am also really excited to see all the great work going on in GNOME and KDE; we are seeing some incredible innovation happening, and I really want Ubuntu to be the best place to consume that innovation. Exciting times! :-)

Martin Owens recently suggested to me that if Earth was the Ubuntu community, then OMG! Ubuntu! would be Pluto. We don’t even register as a planet. Do you think OMG! Ubuntu! represents a small, cold and lifeless moon or are these sort of news websites important for bringing Ubuntu to the mainstream?

I think OMG!Ubuntu has been playing an increasing role in getting information and news about Ubuntu and our community out to the wider end-user community. OMG! Ubuntu! is not a small, cold and lifeless moon but instead a bright shining orange star!

We all know that as soon as we touch Ubuntu we’re sucked in and working with Ubuntu seems to age us all quicker. When you’re not managing the community, you’re working on your creative commons music project, Severed Fifth, and have written a book. What other hobbies do you have, and how the hell do you keep so motivated?

LOL! I like to be creative, but I need different types of creative stimulation. I remember when I first got into Linux I went through a bit of an internal battle. When I was at school I was always told by my teachers that “you need to get a proper job and not waste your life playing music”. My parents were always incredibly supportive, but this repeated message from my teachers made me feel a constant conflict back then about whether I wanted to be a musician or be interested in computers. I was incredibly indecisive about it and I remember constantly running up and down the stairs switching from jamming on my guitar in my bedroom or dorking out in the office on my computer, compiling kernels and suchlike.

After a few years of this I thought “sod it, I am going to do both”. I have naturally gravitated towards technology as my career, but the music has been a constant. What really excited me about Severed Fifth (http://www.severedfifth.com) is that it really bridges my passion for Free Culture and music and I think it offers a really huge opportunity both for the music and for the wider Free Culture community. I want Severed Fifth to be a great example of how a band really can define success with a Free Culture approach.

As for other things to do, my favorite past-time is spending time with my wife, family and friends, socializing, exploring new places to visit, having dinner on a warm evening and having a few drinks with all of the above.

Thanks for the interview, Benjamin, keep up the rocking work!

You can catch Jono Bacon on IRC with the nick jono, follow him on Twitter @jonobacon or visit his website, http://jonobacon.org

Huge thanks to Jono for taking the time out of his busy life to be interviewed. Look out for more interviews throughout the rest of the month.