Userops: Deployment for the People

Deb Nicholson and I both recently gave a talk at FOSDEM 2015 called “Can Distros Make the Link?” (A recording is here, and my slides are here, hit “s” for speaker notes or read the org-mode source if you prefer.) The main purpose of the talk was that packaging libre network services/applications for distros is important, but distros in their present forms aren’t really enough to solve the deployability problems and pains that anyone trying to run their own libre servers knows. I had a bit of a worry that this thesis would upset part of the audience (it was in the distros room, after all) but it turns out that everyone seemed to agree and be on board.

Many audience members even encouraged us that this conversation needed to continue beyond FOSDEM, and there was discussion of hosting a mailing list to continue the conversation. As usual, everyone had various ideas of where to host it, but the audience seemed to feel that MediaGoblin’s servers were fairly neutral ground, so we announced that we would put up a mailing list and announce it here when we got the chance.

It’s a bit delayed, but I’m happy to announce the launch of the userops mailing list! If you’re interested in talking about making deployment easier for every-day users, please consider joining the conversation there. (Oh, and we also have an IRC channel: join #userops on irc.freenode.net, if you’re the IRC type!)

Why the name “userops”? As you may have guessed, this is a pun on the term “devops”; the idea is that we also care about configuration management and deployability, but we aim for a different audience. Devops, as the name implies, focuses on liberating developers in the world of deployment, particularly developers who have to deploy a large number of machines for $LARGE_CORPORATION at their job. Userops, on the other hand, aims at liberating users in the world of deployment. You shouldn’t have to be a developer to take advantage of network freedoms and run network-oriented free software. After all, the free software world generally agrees that it makes sense that users of desktop software should not have to be developers, and that “user freedom” takes priority over “developer freedom”… the freedom of $LARGE_CORPORATION, while not something we object to, is not really our primary concern. (Though of course, if we build solutions that are good enough for end-users, corporations will probably adopt them, and that is fine! It just isn’t our focus.)

(Oh, and in case you stumble upon it, “userops” was originally a name I had for one of my personal projects experimenting with deployability, but a friend of mine convinced me that the term was too useful to be constrained to one particular piece of software, so I’ve renamed that project! Everyone is now free to use the term “userops” to refer to the vision described above.)

We believe that “userops” is now more important than ever. These days, it is not just enough to use free software network services, one must have the ability to deploy and make use of that software. (For many of this, the timeliness and urgency of this is seen with the turmoil for many free software developers figuring out where to go now that the hosted version of gitorious is being shut down.) And as you may have guessed, we’re well aware of how true this is not of just “all that other libre network services”; MediaGoblin requires quite a bit of technical skills and resources to run. We’d like to improve that, but we think there are some real challenges that are beyond what MediaGoblin can do as MediaGoblin itself: things need to happen on another layer (or layers) too. Hence “userops”!

If this is something you likewise care about, and especially if it’s something you’re working on or thinking about (or would like to), consider joining the conversation!