Effect of the Last Week on Ruby on Rails

As someone who’s been using Rails for most of my professional work for the past 15ish years I’d like to strongly co-sign this post. Rails is a broadly used and somewhat mature framework and ought to have its governance and trademark separated from an individual person or company, for the good of the community and the further development of the framework.

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“I’m sick of seeing mobs forming to try to force creators out of their projects.”

In what sense does DHH own Rails? Honest question. Putting aside questions of owning trademarks, domain names, intellectual property law, etc, how long has Rails been around now? How many projects (Laravel, Phoenix) have been directly inspired by the concepts of Rails? At this point, where would the project be without the community? Would it even still be the same thing.

I’m reminded of the argument around copyright law. At what point should something (the song “happy birthday”, the Mickey Mouse image, Bob Dylan’s songs, The Beatle’s songs, James Brown songs) which has become such a central part of a society’s intellectual or cultural heritage be legally recognized as part of our common heritage?

20 years? 100 years? 200 years? Those numbers are not unrealistic w/regards to copyright and intellectual property law.

Not un-similarly, how much is too much profit for a company like Pfizer to make? I think they’ve made like 3.5 billion to date.

So, like, at what point does something which has become a common cultural good, for the good of society, no longer “belong” to one person?

A big question and maybe off topic so forgive but I couldn’t help to respond.

Also btw it’s silly to say “It would be a shame if he [DHH] stops doing this, because of people like you.”

Not like there wouldn’t be any way for DHH to share code no matter what happens, or be an individual contributor of code to Rails with PR’s like everybody else …

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Political issues in a company are always a very slippery slope. Somewhere along the way, many of us have allowed our passion for our views to turn into a lack of respect for, even hatred of, anyone whose views disagree with ours. I am in favor of forums restricted to technical issues parallel with forums discussing political issues, especially when those issues affect the livelihoods of members of the forum (e.g. discriminatory hiring and/or work policies in tech jobs). But these discussions must take place with a modicum of respect, if not for the opposing views, then for the complexities involved in trying to overhaul an industry/culture, and should not carry over into the technical aspects of the job. As a former tech executive and father of a transgender tech worker, I think I might have a unique perspective on these issues.

I think the situation at BaseCamp may have occurred simply because management saw political discussions harming the company culture, and came to the (perhaps overly simplistic) conclusion that the best path was to stop the discussions within the company proper. That is not the same as not caring about the issues, but I can understand some seeing it that way. It is no more possible for the executives to dictate company culture than it is for any segment of the company employees to do so. By definition, company culture is the intersection of the values of all stakeholders in the company: executives, middle managers, non-management workers, and (to some extent) customers and business partners. Finding the right balance is a messy process. Hopefully they’ll get where they need to go.

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The Rails community have no control over those causes; we can’t do anything about them. However, it didn’t happen due to any of those causes; it happened because the BDFL is involved in a political mess. Collectively, we have control over that; we can choose who we opt to follow. When there is one cohesive group putting in the work, that’s an easy choice to make; now that several core members have opted not to follow DHH any further, many others are reconsidering it.

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Even though I am a minority in a country where the government actively and legally discriminates against us, it puzzles me as to why diversity and inclusion should rank high enough on any company or project’s list of priorities to warrant this discussion.

As an aspiring software business owner, I have so many more critical priorities - making payroll, hiring good people, finding profitability, scaling the business, etc.

I need my team to be focused on the right things. If we screw up our priorities, the business dies. The Rails project team (including DHH) has proven so far (some warts notwithstanding) that they are focusing on the right priorities. I trust them to keep their eyes on the ball.

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I am not seeing that at all actually, I saw most of the prominent core members (tenderlove, rafael faranca, eileen) say they are here to stay. We don’t know who is reconsidering what since that’s usually a private process in someone’s head, but I have no reason to believe many more core members are going to bail over this - they would have done so already by now. This story has no more hidden juice in it - everything is out in the open and has been discussed to death in every possible medium.

So really sucks that this happened (mostly for Hotwire which will be delayed by who knows how long) but let’s not exaggerate what happened as well.

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I often feel that I don’t really understand what DHH is up to. But I always in hindsight see that there was some rural shrewdness to his ideas and decisions which show deep understanding about the context where those evolved in.

DHH is a grand visionary to me and he’s a man against pain. So my assessment about the events lately leads to the belief that Basecamp took action to eradicate unnecessary pain in their company.

So I think (if anyone gives a shit):

  • Basecamp will neither regret their measures nor that people who wanted to leave, left (they can do Rails somewhere else).
  • The Rails community will come out stronger because those events are a pointer to what really matters to each one of us. If people want to abandon Rails because of those events, they probably wanted to leave anyways and were searching for reasons.
  • The Rails software will be unaffected of the events because the core team is great and the community as well.

Nothing will easily diminish my affection for Rails and you all here :heart:

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I appreciate the write up and concern for the future of Ruby on Rails. Let me propose a question, if we were not so concerned with the political and sociological aspects in the first place and just let everyone use and author without regard for their background and instead let the technology and code be the focus would we be in this predicament?

Ruby on Rails, particularly Rails, should be left alone politically and just let the best code that is shipped for the project be the end all be all, not who wrote it or who is being included. In the end, keeping the project alive is what is important. If you stop looking at making sure to include everyone and let good code dictate this, the project itself would live, breathe and function so much better in the end. I’m all for including everyone, but, you can do this without being direct about that fact.

On to the latter part of the message. I do believe that the project will need a clear set of rules and policy to drive it forward into the future and that a clear mission and board of elections to set overall policy are fabulous ideas which need to be incorporated much like Python Software Foundation has done. But lets keep politics and the rest out of the project and instead try and ship great code and keep the project alive for a long time to come. This is the only way that we can ensure that everyone benefits from the Rails project and all it has to offer us in the future. Keeping politics out of the stack should be an important measure that is taken in the future, regardless of what they are, they are opinions and we build software on logic, reason and facts. Ship good code, forget the rest.

Thank you.

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To me, the biggest threat is not anything about the current state of the team. If you look at it from the perspective of governance, purely on a technical level, everything is pretty good. The biggest issue is not about governance, but about perceived governance. The clarification post by the rails core team is a really good start. But the fact that it was necessary highlights reality: many people think rails == DHH, or at least, rails += DHH += Basecamp.

I personally suggest something like the following at minimum. I think that clearing up confusion for the average person is a good first step:

  1. Rails core team members should take turns making “The Tour” video that’s displayed prominently on the RoR front page, or at least, the video shouldn’t just always be DHH. I love DHH’s video style, and I’ve always found them the best part of rails. But to the average person who looks at them, it looks like he’s the “absolute top person.” If we want people to accept rails as having a governance model that isn’t led by one person, then the next logical step is to change easy things that can mislead people.

  2. The rails main site should probably emphasize or link to the governance model/team/etc.

People are going to make whatever judgements they’re going to make. Basecamp has contributed a significant amount of time and effort on the project, and many people create a 1:1 link mentally. For better or worse, it is extremely trivial for people to write off rails – even if that’s a terrible idea, and even if it diminishes the impact of all other contributors – when this assumption is true.

In terms of actual governance changes that need or don’t need to be made: I think that there’s just a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of things that need time right now. I struggle to come to a conclusion myself about it.

What is clear to me, though, is that a lot of the innovations Basecamp has brought to Rails are extremely valuable, and I don’t want to lose them. Hotwire, Turbo, etc., which are all potential candidates for Rails inclusion or deep integration are the only things that have me excited about web development again. I really do not want to lose these things. I would love to see us fighting to keep the project together and build constructive solutions, rather than being divided.

All humans are flawed in some way or another, and errors happen. Sometimes it’s a genuine mistake, and sometimes it’s more systemic. But we can’t be so brittle as to fracture over one thing from one contributor.

I don’t know the right answer, but it would be a shame to lose everything that rails is in search for it.

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I suggest that you take some time and read deeply about anti-racism, the history of racism and White supremacy from the perspective of people of color, and how those things are deeply integrated into our society down to the level of some of our most easily accepted norms.

Basically - the conclusion for those who are outraged is that:

  • White supremacy is an active problem that must be dealt with in our society
  • Calling a worker out for using the ADL Pyramid of Hate and making a case against it is firstly, ahistoric and secondly, a great way to say “I support white supremacist norms”
  • Further supporting the implicit assertion that DHH and Basecamp will support white supremacist norms is then their moratorium on political discussions and willingness to give golden handshakes to people who dissented.

It’s complicated but I have found it far easier to understand and have an opinion about after reading a lot of the anti-racist literature available. Whether you agree with it or not, understanding the leftist / progressive perspective on this will make this kind of thing far easier to reason about in any case.

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I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. Regardless of the personal views of what took place at Basecamp, I think we should avoid knee-jerk reactions.

We are more than a community of two (or a few) people on two sides of a divide. This community is strong, supportive and resilient. Many people have contributed to it over the years, and will continue to contribute in the years to come.

Let’s wait to see if there are issues and not “borrow trouble”.

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Yeh, I think it makes sense to understand this on a personal level. It’s important to comprehend where this important minority of people are coming from.

But the question for any organization/group is whether it’s essential to buy into these perspectives. Most centrist, right wing and many left wing people in the US don’t buy into this. Most minorities in the US don’t buy into it and most people outside the US don’t buy into it.

Where it gets a bit tricky is the folks who hold those views often think it’s essential that other people buy into them which messes with an organizations ability to support viewpoint diversity.

So, I sympathize with anyone trying to navigate this problem and am not surprised it can get a bit messy and as messes go, people leaving Basecamp out of choice with a decent severance is pretty humane. And certainly not heinous enough to warrant a change of governance in itself.

Totally agree.

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Thank you for taking the time to answer those questions Andrew, this definitely allays some of my fears. I’m much more comfortable knowing that a bunch of savvy and invested people are making decisions via consensus, as much as I love DHH’s work.

Might I suggest creating a Rails youtube channel for this type of content and re-uploading some of the existing videos? It’d actually be great to have a single youtube channel to go to for guides and demos on new features and major versions.

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Personally I feel that no change is required. The Rails leadership has clearly served the community extremely well in the past, and until it starts making poor decisions in the governance of rails I see no reason to make any changes. One can debate the merits of the decision for DHH to prevent political discussion at his company, but until he enacts such a policy within the Rails team, I believe the Rails community should not be concerned with it.

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I stand behind the Rails Core team :heart:.

Not only there were steering the Rails project in a good direction, but really, they do not owe you anything. They don’t have to explain to you their positions or start a rotation on intro videos because you would like it. Especially not to people that never contributed to Rails and their first contribution is actually a rant here.

I would also like to remind everyone that Rails is an international project with an international community. Ruby is originally even Japanese. I understand you are passionate about politics in your own country, but you are making statements about “our society” that simply don’t apply elsewhere.

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Thank you Eric for your post. But I do not agree with you. In my opinion, the decisions of the DHH are correct and deliberate. And I don’t think it’s fair to take ROR from the creator. Also, I did not find anything wrong with this post.

I believe that DHH should continue to manage Rails, otherwise Rails will cease to be what it is now.

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I come at this from a progressive perspective. I am also a (non-white/ non-asian/ minority) developer who is well aware of the history of racism, colonialism and so on. Nonetheless, after trying to understand the situation, it seems to me like DHH and Basecamp’s leadership acted in good faith in a context where there were no easy options. I believe we would do well to prevent this situation from being weaponized against the community (and the technologies) we hold dear.

Let us not ignore the political content of Rails, and yes, DHH’s contributions. They are fundamentally empowering and diversity-supporting, and for that I am deeply grateful. I see the Rails community and Basecamp as an alternative to the efforts of tech monopolies to dominate the ecosystem, and I think that is why many of us have been attracted to it. Monopolists crowd out the market through their business model, but their power is also expressed in their technological choices. While Rails maintains an integrated pattern where a single developer has full line of sight, monopolists focus on disseminating alternatives which depend on a corporate structure (microservices, split front-end and back-end, etc.). Such patterns are difficult for small groups to maintain, but easy for large behemoths. DHH himself has been a tremendous advocate for this form of empowerment and innovation (“conceptual compression”), and this is real and material impact that changes peoples lives and opens up a future of possibility for many a small project.

Those that want to see more diversity and more inclusion — I agree with you. But realize that “cancelling” Rails or DHH will eventually lead to a situation where all that’s left is some corporate nightmare. That’s because real (and imperfect) people making decisions are always easy to ostracize. But at least they are actual people and not faceless bureaucracies. Meanwhile Facebook and Google’s PR people can put out enough propaganda to insulate them from the same effects. A person can never compete against a corporate brand in the same way. If we let this play out, if we fail to come to the defense of our own community and its valuable albeit imperfect leaders, and if we lose faith in each other to carry on through disagreements, eventually we will be divided up and conquered. Eventually, after the last cancellation of the last insufficiently woke company, there will be one place to work, and one way to write code: the huge tech box to rule them all. I hope that never happens.

So thank you to the Rails community and to DHH for building and maintaining Ruby on Rails. I will be more active and vigilant to support the community. I also wish those who have decided to part ways the best of luck in their future endeavors — and I mean that sincerely. May you be as impactful as they have been with this community, and may you lead the way in building a more just future.

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To those talking about DHH’s videos, after seeing this I think we can rest assured that there’s more than one talented video-maker in the Rails core team: :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

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  1. Some have said that Rails isn’t political. The stances of the Code of Conduct, changes from “Master” branch to “Main” branch, and other actions are political, and so we can not so quickly dismiss the idea of technology and frameworks being apolitical.

  2. This is not limited to Basecamp. Shopify is a major contributor to Rails, both in sponsorship and as a success story of the framework. But this story is alarming:

And this is related to an incident that happened with RailsConf last month in which there was a defense of Shopify and their keeping white supremacist stores on their platform:

This is quite a disturbing pattern that is emerging, where leaders and companies with strong ties to the Rails community would rather shutdown discussions in regards to diversity which ends up preserving white supremacy in those spaces and not making room for a more diverse set of voices. “The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept”.

I hope to hear more from how the Rails Core team not only looks to make the framework governance more transparent, but also voicing what it determines are important values to hold. I do truly hope it sees how it can lead it’s diverse community that not only welcoming people of all races but also boosting them as well.

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I think that one has to take quite seriously the question of whether it’s even possible for a given organization or group to adjudicate what ‘white supremacy’ is (compare a dictionary definition with the Tema Okun version widely used in US DEI initiatives), let alone what one should do if one has it. The idea that say, Basecamp or Shopify are white supremacist organizations is utterly ludicrous to perhaps most people but blindingly obvious to many.

The second order concern relevant to this group is therefore whether one should be so concerned with the actions organizations that have decided that it’s not a good use of their time to adjudicate such concerns that the relationship should be altered.

It’s also somewhat parochial and US centric. I suspect for many outside the US/Canada this might seem like a rather bizarre conversion to be having.

I think it’s pretty unlikely that any group will actually solve this issue without applying a political litmus test to the organization. Without doing that it will create more heat than light and possibly harm the project overall.

And so, at root the question is whether this community is one that values the contributions of people from across the political/international spectrum. If it is, then one has to think very carefully about what is gained by debating political issues or the second order question about what political stances associated companies can take.

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