Ownership and +1s

Yesterday, hell froze over.

Many people have written about the change in Apple’s external engineering culture. With the announcement of Swift at WWDC 2014, Apple seemed to have relaxed its notoriously tight-lipped communications: Chris Lattner is candidly answering questions in the developer forums, there’s a Swift development blog and I’ve even had a radar resolved! While matters are definitely changing for the better, a company of Apple’s size has insane inertia and good things take time.

So it comes to little surprise that, when ResearchKit was announced as an Open Source project, many members of the community were skeptical. But where the “old” Apple would have handed a zip archive to registered Apple Developers and called it a day, the new Apple now has a GitHub account.

A GitHub account. Apple.

I don’t think anybody would have imagined this two years ago (cue the never happened under Steve) but there’s even more: the ResearchKit team have expressed interest in adding a podspec for official CocoaPods support.

I’m glad they understand that in order for ResearchKit to succeed, they need to get it as many developers’ hands as possible and CocoaPods has done a lot to lower the barrier to entry for using third party dependencies.

However, if Apple can step up their Open Source game, we can too.

The Pull Request to add the aforementioned podspec file quickly filled with 👍s. While I understand that those emoji were well intended and only meant to express support to the cause–hey, it beats duping a radar–the thread got very noisy very quickly. As someone who maintains some Open Source repos myself, it pained me to see that the ResearchKit team’s first foray into the public iOS community was met with such clutter.

Again, I’m sure that those 👍s had only the community’s best interests in mind, but I think there is a certain sense of entitlement in our part of the Open Source world when it comes to support for some random iOS version, the dependency manager of the day or fixes for arbitrary crashes in your app, which may or may not be related to the project in question.

Let me tell you, nobody likes to maintain iOS 7 support in their spare time.

Bumping or 👍ing that issue for the twentieth time is probably not going to do anybody much good. The thread becomes harder to follow for everybody and the maintainers get more email at best and a sense of guilt at worst.

Open Source projects rarely come with a Service Level Agreement. There are many reasons to pursue Open Source just as there are many other interesting things in life. Look at the list of contributors to your favorite OSS project and imagine what would happen if they all pulled a __why, as they have every right to.

If you decide to incorporate someones project into your app, especially if you write said app as part of your day job, you have to be willing to support that project when the poop emoji hits the fan. That can mean using your own time and engineering resources or financially supporting said contributors. I don’t think many people would balk at the opportunity to get paid for working on something they started out of their own curiosity.

But maybe money is tight and you don’t have the knowledge necessary to support every project. That’s cool. If you don’t think you have the skills to fix a problem yourself, try regardless. A Pull Request will always get you further than an Issue. Even if it breaks the build, it shows that you value the maintainers’ time highly enough to match it with some of your own. It’s also a great opportunity to familiarize yourself with a code base and learn a thing or two.

Update: Thanks to Ayaka and Orta for their Pull Requests on this post 💛.

Posted in thinking-about