Effect of the Last Week on Ruby on Rails

As someone who, like many here, depends on Rails for my job, I’m worried about the long term effects of the last week on Rails. I’m not going to discuss those changes at Basecamp but I want to discuss my concerns about what this means for Rails itself.

In the last week we’ve seen:

Beyond my concern at the pain the last week has caused so many, I worry about one particular problem: that the Ruby on Rails brand will become viewed in a toxic manner and companies will avoid using it as to not be associated with it. Yesterday, I read that seven VPs of enterprise/Fortune 500 companies are trying to remove Basecamp from their companies. If this is accurate, it begs the question: will this desire to disassociate from Basecamp lead to disassociating with Ruby on Rails? I don’t think it’s inevitable but I do think it’s possible. This will be influenced by a second concern.

I fear that positive work in the Rails community on diversity and inclusion has been put at risk. As an example, the work by Rails Girls brought so many people into our community who would otherwise have not participated. I worry that the last week will lead to two problems:

  1. It will make people from marginalized backgrounds feel that they may not be allowed to safely discuss “political” issues dealing with bias, discrimination, exclusionary behavior and attitudes, and harassment, thereby pushing them out the community
  2. It will encourage an anti-inclusion subset of the tech community to view Rails as a place where they feel at home.

These two problems will interact with each other and could become a self-sustaining cycle. If the community gets a reputation as anti-diversity and anti-inclusion, it will push a lot of companies and users to not invest in Rails. That harms all of us.

In a practical sense, all of these problems boil down to one thing: Ruby on Rails is simply too associated with Basecamp and DHH. We can’t have decisions at Basecamp or DHH, whether we agree with them or not, putting Ruby on Rails, the software so many of us love and depend on, at risk. It’s not fair to those of us who aren’t involved in those decisions and it’s not fair to the owners of Basecamp or DHH individually to have to consider this as they run their company and live their lives.

What I would respectfully propose is that the Rails trademarks and ownership of the common Rails resources be moved into an independent multi-stakeholder organization with a robust governance model. I believe the Python Software Foundation’s model which includes a clear mission to maintain the project for the common good and board elections to set overall policy would be a good starting point. Such a model reduces the risk to everyone from any single organization’s or individuals decisions. Additionally, it also improves governance and creates more “ownership” of the project among users.

Governance in Rails is not a new issue. People have brought up that the current model has flaws. Parts of the project being designed “behind a wall”. Pull requests staying open for a long time without a sense of what it takes to get it merged (or rejected). People simply not understanding how decisions are made. I believe this is partly due to the governance model for Rails no longer meeting the needs of the community. This isn’t to say that it was the wrong governance model originally; it’s simply that the project has evolved and what worked in the past doesn’t necessarily work now.

I want to be exceedingly clear: I am not criticizing anyone on the Core team or any other team in Rails here. They have done a marvelous job working in the system that exists; they are not failing in the least, but the system seems to be failing them. And after this week, it may be failing all of us.

I don’t know how this moves forward from here. But I believe something needs to change because Ruby on Rails is too important to all of us and all the users we serve with our software.

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Thanks for sharing, @wwahammy. I agree with your sentiment.

As someone who uses Rails professionally and in my free time, I want to keep using it and recommending it to folks. But I’m worried about a “chilling effect” if DHH chooses to stay on as a member of the Rails core team and maintain ownership of the project’s trademarks. After the events of the past week, I am also concerned that this discourages contributions to the project, especially from people who don’t feel that their personal views align with Basecamp’s new policies.

I hope we see a path forward for Rails that helps the project and its core team distinguish themselves from DHH, Basecamp, and Basecamp’s policies.

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I’ve been using Rails for 15 years now and it still makes me happy. I want to continue using Rails professionally and believe a better governance model is needed to keep the ecosystem strong.

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I agree with your overall sentiment and believe there is a need for Rails to evolve its governance model.

I am happy to support this effort in anyway I can. Let’s work through this as a community <3

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Thank you, and I couldn’t agree more.

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Thanks. Totally agree. When did open source project became about a company or person . Ruby on Rails is all about its community and it’s awesome people. I remember coming to the RoR world a decade ago and stayed because of the warm welcome by people and the community.

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Well it sometimes is, like Linux under Linus. There’s pros and cons to that.

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Thanks for raising this topic Eric, and I completely agree. Rails is far too valuable as an asset in the technology “commons” to remain this vulnerable to errant decisions made by any one person. We need to ensure not only that the day-to-day operations of building Rails can continue to go smoothly, but that the Rails brand itself continues to represent quality, care, and inclusion.

Many of us have careers, livelihoods, products that are completely dependent upon Rails thriving. And we want to be able to attract new blood to this space so it doesn’t slowly and painfully become obsolete.

I’m no expert in OSS governance models, but I’d wager there are bunch of folks willing to step up to put in both time and money to ensure things move forward on a healthy path. Let us not pretend change will be easy, but likewise let’s not simply shrug and allow cynicism to block meaningful change. The future is bright if we work together.

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How about a DAO? This might be a great opportunity to leap to the cutting edge of governance . .

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Rails (and DHH) changed my life and has dominated my last 15 years. I would like Rails to be a part of my next 15 years and I agree that something has to change to make that happen. Thank you for starting the discussion.

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I came back to Rails shortly before the RailsConf this year after a long-ish break. (And I have written my first Rails app using version 0.14.something)

I enjoyed RailsConf immensely and now I am worried. So: Thanks for raising your voice.

In my opinion the community matters more than any one specific member, no matter whether they build the community itself or the technology it is built upon. I also do believe that we, the community, are strong and willing enough do demonstrate clearly what our values and goals are.

Again, I am not suggesting anything, but voicing my worries about the community and how welcoming & inclusive it is perceived or actually is.

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I think we need to give it some time to see how this evolves. A few very key maintainers and contributors have also messaged about not separating from Rails and the Rails community. Also, people who develop technologies in supporting silos are also re-affirming their support. That said, the Rails community is now much larger than in the past, and there is always a chance a body of code that is MIT licensed could be forked and developed by a different group.

However, we should remember that the beauty and charm of Rails is also that it isn’t built as a framework first - it’s extracted from solving real problems for real web applications, and there is no doubt that Basecamp, HEY, etc. has contributed to that body of knowledge. But, equally, so have companies like Stripe, GitHub and Shopify all of whom are very large, rely on Rails (and Ruby) a lot, and have dedicated teams working on issues related to Rails and Ruby.

Also, should some people leave, it won’t be the first time in the long history of Rails.

In summary, my first sentence: I think we need to give it some time to see how this evolves.

Best Regards, Mohit.

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ROR has been huge community that worked together for decades and it needs to be going on with proper governance.

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We have the Rails Core Team and The Rails Committers team (unline for other frameworks, for example). I don’t think a new “committee” makes sense. Rails is MIT that’s what we should be thankful for, rather then trying to strip DHH of his trademarks.

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That wasn’t that brief actually, or coherent or helpful. Good luck though! Thanks for the input.

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I find myself fundamentally failing to understand the outrage/concern regarding the recent Basecamp story.

I think that the Rails community should welcome (to take a simple illustrative example) Trump Supporters & Biden supporters to work on the stack. They should be able to work with each other respectfully on the basis of the tech. They don’t need to discuss their preference for USA president in this forum.

As I see it; DHH & Jason have made a similar decision for their company. Some people don’t like that - and they have left.

There is an immediate effect from losing some core contributors - but that can happen any day of the week through illness / accident / or just a change of heart.

Of course - I’d love to see some long-standing issues (like pull requests languishing) resolved - but I don’t see that this is a new problem triggered by Basecamp’s recent issues.

I fundamentally don’t understand the storm in Basecamp world - but I suspect it is something of a storm in a teacup; And really shouldn’t be the trigger for any significant rails changes.

Now if you believe that Rails fundamentally needs a different governance model anyway, then go ahead and make that case. And of course - if you can convince a like-minded group then there is nothing stopping you forking everything to create Ruby on Tracks (or whatever!)

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Agreed. We need to have confidence in the long term future of Rails.

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I strongly agree. The improvement on Rails governance can benefit all of them.

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I find myself fundamentally failing to understand the outrage/concern regarding the recent Basecamp story.

I think that the Rails community should welcome (to take a simple illustrative example) Trump Supporters & Biden supporters to work on the stack. They should be able to work with each other respectfully on the basis of the tech. They don’t need to discuss their preference for USA president in this forum.

Political and societal discussions are so much more than “their preference for USA president”.

They cover things like diversity, equity and inclusion (which Basecamp also disbanded their working group for, meaning these are issues they no longer care about?) as well as other things that affect their employees.

Being a woman in tech is a political issue. Being gay, or transgender, or an immigrant, is also unfortunately a political issue. People can’t just “stop being political at work” when it comes to who they are, and expecting them to do so is pure folly.

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I recognise a risk that we’re getting sucked into exactly the kind of unhelpful discussion that has led to Basecamp’s change in policy

Political and societal discussions are so much more than “their preference for USA president”.

That was simply intended as a simple non-confrontational example. You could insert any of the issues you allude to and my argument will be unchanged.

They cover things like diversity, equity and inclusion (which Basecamp also disbanded their working group for, meaning these are issues they no longer care about?) as well as other things that affect their employees.

Basecamp’s memo specifically explains that responsibility for diversity has moved back to being ‘owned’ by a specific named HR employee. It seems unfair to suggest that this means they don’t care.

Being a woman in tech is a political issue. Being gay, or transgender, or an immigrant, is also unfortunately a political issue. People can’t just “stop being political at work” when it comes to who they are, and expecting them to do so is pure folly.

We’re hitting a great example of the substance here.

So - firstly, because I fear being misconstrued - I feel a need to state that I think that people should be able to work and contribute in tech (and other fields) regardless of sexuality / gender / etc.

However @sevenseacat - you and I could probably have a great discussion in the bar about the degree to which the fight to achieve that equality needs to take place in a company chatroom.

I’m sure we’d agree on a lot - and disagree on at least some.

Honestly - I don’t think this forum is a helpful place to hold that discussion. (If you want to ping me on twitter or email for further discussion, you’ll find me easy to track down).

As far as discussing the future or Rails, or (say) my ideas for Rails production configuration, or how I think enums are confusing in Rails - we’re just best staying away from those differences (and agreements).

Working together productively and respectfully will be easier if we save that debate for our personal time - and focus on the work.

In this forum, the work is Rails, in Basecamp - it is productivity software.

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