Maintainers Organizers Report

By Andrew Russell, The Maintainers Co-Founder

Thanks to our project’s support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, 2019 has been a busy time for my fellow co-founder Lee Vinsel and me. Together with Jessica Meyerson and her colleagues at the Educopia Institute, we’re focused on a new dimension of our effort to raise awareness around the concepts of maintenance and individual maintainers. This new dimension explores how best to foster and support the many interest-based maintenance communities that have surfaced organically – from transportation infrastructure, to digital preservation, to open source software.

The core of our work with these maintenance communities is to find ways to “maintain The Maintainers.” (In other words, how can we avoid being crushed by irony?) To that end, our Sloan grant is supporting targeted efforts with two distinct communities of maintainers: 1) a group of “information maintainers” who have been working together to define their shared interests over the past year, and 2) a group of “workforce maintainers” who have explicit interests around supporting the maintainers in our workforce. Together with Educopia, we will be hosting a series of in-person meetings in April with stakeholders from these groups, with an eye towards capturing lessons learned for other maintenance communities to benefit from as we approach 2020. We plan to distill these lessons, as well as our process for engaging communities, into a document we’re calling the Maintenance Community Framework.

Another important focus of our work under the Sloan grant is to improve our communications. In a sense, we’re maturing as an organization (or trying our best!). Guided by Christina Drummond and Sam Fried on our project team, our goal is to improve the frequency and timeliness of our updates. After developing a strategic communications plan over the winter, we are now ramping up our updates on this blog, the Maintainers listserv, and Twitter. We’re also investigating the best way to “maintain” these communications platforms for the good of our community. For example, we’ve had a fascinating dialog on our Maintainers email list over our different options for list migration: use Google? Stick with tried-and-true open source solutions? Who will take care of administration and troubleshooting? Throughout the discussion, we welcome the opportunity to pause and reflect, and to keep in mind the balance between our values and our practical needs to be low-overhead and sustainable.

Also along the lines of communications, we are actively refining some of the core questions people ask us: who are The Maintainers? What do you do? And what are you trying to accomplish? We raise these questions constantly in individual conversations, but it’s time to document some of our answers—and open questions—on our website, Much like our conversations on the listserv, we will be looking to you, our community, to help us refine and affirm our shared values and mission as we continue to evolve from our origins of an academic quip to something much more impactful.

The planning is underway for our next annual gathering, building on our successful 2016 and 2017 meetings. We have identified four focus areas that will each have a dedicated track—information maintenance, transportation infrastructure, open source software, and maintainers in the workforce—as well as an open track for other topics that don’t neatly fit. Announcements for the Save the Date, Call for Proposals, Lodging, and Sponsorship information will be forthcoming over the next month.

We want to hear from you! We’re eager to hear your experiences, listen to your advice, and talk about your ideas for building this movement. Please reach out on Twitter (@The_Maintainers), send us email, and/or join our maintainers mailing list and contribute to the discussion.