A key motto at Apache is: “If it didn’t happen on the mailing list, it didn’t happen.”
What this means in practice
All decisions about an Apache project’s plans, activities, events, or changes must be done by the community on one of Apache’s archived mailing lists. Discussions and plan proposals often happen at events, in chats (Slack, IRC, IM, etc.) or other synchronous places. But all final decisions about executing on the plan, checking in the new code, or launching the website must be made by the community asyncrhonously on the mailing list.
What does “on the mailing list” mean?
It means you send the [PROPOSAL] or new idea or whatever to the appropriate firstname.lastname@example.org mailing list, and then allow time for other community members to comment on the plan, or to simply give their assent with a +1. Depending on the decision, it might be the user@ list or the private@ list, but it must be an ASF hosted and archived list.
Why this is important
This is a policy requirement for Apache projects that the board enforces, but it’s a good idea for any volunteer led projects, for several reasons:
Mailing lists are asynchronous. This allows community members from different locations and timezones to participate in making the final decision. They may have additions or change requests to the proposal that should be reviewed when they come in.
Mailing lists are archived. This allows future newcomers to the project community to review past decisions and see both what was proposed, as well as how the community in the past made the final decision they did. It also allows newcomers to understand any social expectations that a project community may have, like specific subject [TAGS] or RTC/CTR.
Archived lists allow oversight. A project’s PMC is responsible for ensuring the direction of the project is decided independently and for the benefit of the whole contributor community. Similarly, the ASF board and membership can then review a project’s behaviors to ensure that they are acting appropriately as an Apache project. In particular, this oversight often happens over time, and if a potential issue is reported in a project today, having access to the full archives of the project’s past behavior is important.
Email is ubiquitous. While many individuals prefer one collaboration tool or another, email is truly universal and allows everyone with internet access to participate in the same manner, meaning all newcomers have a level playing field for reading and sharing ideas.
This phrase is used on the official apache.org website in many places, although it’s not necessarily described in detail in any single place:
- Community Development FAQ for newcomers
- Foundation Blog post “What makes Apache projects different?”
- Success at Apache: Asynchronous Decision Making
- Foundation blog: Apache Is Open
- Foundation blog: Celebrating 17 Years of The Apache Software Foundation
- Apache CouchDB Bylaws describing how this is an important part of their project’s decision making process
This motto has been covered in a number of overview sessions at ApacheCon over the year; so it appears in numerous slides, although the real explanation only comes out in the live talks (or videos).