On Stewardship

What’s going on with GameStop right now got me thinking about the relevance to what we do in KDE.

For those not closely following it, here’s what’s happening: a small army of individual investors has purchased as many shares of the GameStop company as possible, calling the bluff of several large hedge funds that bet against GameStop by selling borrowed shares, mistakenly borrowing more shares than actually exist. Oops. A lot of these individual investors used a popular trading app named Robinhood, which it turns out is controlled by one of the companies betting against GameStop. So yesterday, Robinhood prohibited buying more GameStop shares, only selling. This drove the price lower and allowed some of the hedge funds to get out at a lower price than they otherwise would have had to accept, and reduced the value of Robinhood’s own users’ GameStop shares.

The people using Robinhood–whose name seems pretty ironic in retrospect–believed they could trust its owners to be good stewards of their money and investment desires, but this turned out to be false: when the owners were caught between serving their users and serving themselves, they chose the latter.

It got me thinking about platform stewardship. When things are going well, it’s easy to be a good steward. The challenge arrives when your own interests, money, or feelings are imperiled by doing the right thing for the people counting on your wise maintainership of the platform. If you let your own desires get in the way, people will start to distrust you and leave your platform.

In KDE, we also have a platform that people depend on, and trust us to be good stewards of. By and large we don’t have the same potential financial conflicts of interest, but others are possible when it comes to our feelings and other personal interests: we might want see ourselves as kings of a little digital kingdom, or want the software to reflect our own preferences rather than those of our users, or whatever.

In the interest of remaining wise stewards of our platform, we must always resist these desires. Not only are they selfish, but they are ultimately short-sighted and would lead to us losing users and credibility. By and large I think KDE community members already do a great job of this! And that’s a good thing, because the bigger we grow, the more important we will become, and the more frequent these potential conflicts of interest will become. In the face of these challenges, we must retain our culture of stewardship, and I feel fairly confident that we will!

Full disclosure: I own a symbolic one share of GameStop. It was not purchased using Robinhood. 🙂

11 thoughts on “On Stewardship

  1. I’m glad that you posted about this.
    eToro and other brokers were also scumbags.
    And let’s not forget Discord trying to stomp the whole movement, as I always expected of them.
    Big kudos to Reddit (and even twitter) for supporting the whole thing and Elon Musk for being on our side.
    💎🙌🏻

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  2. Well said. Having said that KDE *STILL* has not allowed USERS to out individual widgets in individual virtual desktops just as they were able to do since KDE 4.6, yet this is one of the most popular features of KDE. You supposedly can do it in “containers” etc. In KDE 4, you simply dropped them on the desktop. No “containers”, no jumping through hoops, no excess work — you simply found the widgets you wanted, and dropped them on the virtual desktop, thereby allowing a FAST and EASY way to CUSTOMIZE each virtual desktop. By the end of 4.14 you had a POLISHED Desktop Environment. Here we are in KDE 5.20 — or is it 5.21 I can’t keep up — you are STILL stamping out BUGS.

    While it is nice that developers are creating new things etc., but if “stewardship” is as important as you say it is, then you should make sure that popular features such as being able to drop individual widgets on different virtual desktops with out jumping through hoops, putting them in “containers”, etc., is maintained, developers be damned. As you said “stewardship” — taking care of what you have n. the job of supervising or taking care of something, such as an organization or property. A lot of people actually LIKED KDE 4, but especially the easy ability to customize each virtual desktop with different widgets. KDE 5 has been a disaster. Instead of taking care of “stewardship” and building upon KDE 4, in stead of being good stewards, you burnt everything down to the ground and started over, and have yet to replace one of the most popular features in KDE 4 — the simple ability to drop individual widgets on each individual virtual desktop without jumping through hoops, the use of “containers”, etc.
    You still do NOT have tons of YouTube videos out there. The few videos out there are poorly done, and instruction on HOW to say, put individual wallpapers on each Virtual Desktop, if they are covered at all, last maybe a few seconds before they move on to something else, on which they spend a few more seconds, before they move onto the next thing.

    It is time to put a feature FREEZE of KDE 5., put back things that were popular in KDE 4 — such as being able to put individual Widgets in individual Virtual Desktops that a lot of people miss, and should have been in KDE 5 since the start, but still are not there — clean up the mess you have created, and finally — and while not glorious — created videos and text about how to USE the stuff that is in KDE 5. THAT is STEWARDSHIP!!!

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    1. You can use desktop activities which are considered the evolution of virtual desktops, as they allow you to have each desktop set up differently. I quit using virtual desktops myself quite a while ago just because of this. Meta+Tab allows me to switch between open activities, which are quite awesome once you get used to them.

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      1. Yes, activities are a unique selling point of KDE. Great for sub-session management – each customer/project gets his/its own activity with the relevant applications running and documents opened. Quickly stopped when work is suspended and easily restarted later when work continues. Unfortunately there seems to be no webbrowser left that plays well with activities (therefore I’m stuck on konqueror 17.04). What browser do you use?

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  3. Just a few remarks or thoughts:

    Basically, thinking about stewardship and being a good steward is nice, so thanks for the article. However, I want to highlight some problems, starting with the thoughts on stewardship and finishing with some remarks to your presentation of the current events around the GameStop share.

    When it comes to stewardship there is not only challenge to overcome personal interests or other motives that might interfere. There is also the challenge of which interests one has to withstand and which one pursues. And that question is anything but trivial. I mean, for example Martin Flöser most likely tried to be a good steward in his position as maintainer for example by trying to defend the quality of the software to protect the users. Thus, one could say he resisted the desires of providing “short-sighted” workarounds to underlying problems. The goal was the same: be a good steward and withstand bad influences that potentially drive users away or corrupt the software. I hope this example can highlight the problem of such standpoints. In the end I guess it is not only important to withstand influences, but to also trying to understand different points of view, to communicate, reflect own positions and ideally find solutions that everybody can accept (which sometimes might not be possible).

    One element in this can be to try to be objective and accept the likelihood of being wrong or having a biased POV.

    This is a good transition to the current events around the GameStop share:

    I learned that often problems are more complex than one thinks and thus the deductions based on simplifications might be wrong.

    To highlight a few things:

    – “hedge funds that bet against GameStop by selling borrowed shares” – technically they don’t bet against GameStop but against its share value. This can be because they don’t think that its value is justified and will decline in the future or because they think that GameStop’s performance as a company will decline in the future.

    – “mistakenly borrowing more shares than actually exist” – I don’t think that was a mistake.

    – “A lot of these individual investors used a popular trading app named Robinhood, which it turns out is controlled by one of the companies betting against GameStop.” – Can you provide a source for that? Especially the term “controlled” might be misleading here.

    – “So yesterday, Robinhood prohibited buying more GameStop shares, only selling. This drove the price lower and allowed some of the hedge funds to get out at a lower price than they otherwise would have had to accept, and reduced the value of Robinhood’s own users’ GameStop shares.” – Implying that Robinhood prohibited buying of more GameStop shares with the motive that the price will drop is only speculation. You did not explicitly say it, so I hope you don’t simply believe in rumors but stay skeptical (I am not denying there is a chance that this is what has happened, I am just skeptical).

    – “The people using Robinhood–whose name seems pretty ironic in retrospect–believed they could trust its owners to be good stewards of their money and investment desires, but this turned out to be false: when the owners were caught between serving their users and serving themselves, they chose the latter.” – Again, you only imply things here, but still. Basically what could also have happened is that due to the increase of volatility and overall trading volume on the GameStop share the special business model of Robinhood did not scale anymore. This is also speculative, I am only basing this on the fact that Robinhood apparently got (or had to get) financial help.

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  4. I think this is a good topic to bring up and a good ambition to state.

    While significant conflicts of interest do occur I think that being a ‘good’ steward can be difficult for lots of reasons, even when things are going well. ‘good’ is subjective so it’s worth considering a) how is good defined (the overall objective + values) b) good for who (or how does this decision affect different groups) and c) what are the constraints of stewardship (resources etc).

    Often current users will have a range of views, potential users might somewhat differ, and contributors are important stakeholders too. With limited resources it’s always necessary to prioritise and make choices. With agreed objectives and values, plus acknoledging the views and interests of different groups, and constraints, I feel it’s easier to make good decisions and get supported.

    You’re probably doing all this already, just thought I would chip in.

    It’s based on my experience encouraging cycling in London, where the views of typical current and potential cyclists were significantly different 10 years ago. By agreeing objectives and values the cycling organisations could focus on campaigning for measures which encouraged new cyclists while retaining the support of the existing cyclists.

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    1. Yes, it’s challenging, for sure. I think it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of your user community for this reason. You have to know what yous users want (on average, in general, etc) so you can know how best to serve them.

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