25 ways you can contribute to KDE

In honor of KDE’s impending 25th birthday tomorrow, here are 25 ways you can get involved to help make KDE software the best in the world!

  1. Be kind. Most KDE people are either volunteers, or paid employees who work on KDE stuff far beyond their working hours. These folks put their heart and soul into KDE, and often the most impactful thing you can do is to express appreciation to someone you see going above and beyond the call of duty. Be positive, not negative. KDE is made by people with feelings, like you!
  2. Submit code to fix bugs, implement new features, or improve the accessibility of KDE software!
  3. File a bug report for every problem you encounter! You might be surprised by how many people don’t do this, and assume that KDE’s developers are already aware of your issue. We become aware through bug reports!
  4. Help translate KDE software into your native language!
  5. Volunteer to work on sysadmin stuff. KDE’s sysadmins are always terribly overworked and in need of assistance!
  6. Subtly advocate for FOSS in general and KDE software specifically to the people in your social circle who depend on you for technical advice and support. Don’t be pushy, but make it clear you’re willing to help them migrate once they get sick of Windows, macOS, software that’s riddled with ads or tied to a paid subscription, and proprietary file formats that lock you into one app. Admit it, you’re the nerd who your friends and and family rely on! Your words have power! Use it wisely. 🙂
  7. Work on KDE’s formal promo efforts to get the word out about KDE software!
  8. Donate money to the KDE e.V. to support hiring more employees and paying for development sprints!
  9. Help maintain and expand KDE’s web presence!
  10. Design new icons to fill some of the gaps in the Breeze icon theme!
  11. Help work on the visual design of KDE software!
  12. Purchase FOSS hardware in general, and specifically, hardware with KDE Plasma preinstalled!
  13. Help a local school or small business install a Plasma distro on aging hardware so they don’t need to buy new stuff at high cost!
  14. Start contributing in your distro of choice to help them integrate KDE software better, ship a more appropriate set of default applications, update old themes which have drifted out of sync with what they were forked from, and so on!
  15. Triage bug reports to help developers focus on real issues!
  16. Answer KDE users’ user questions on social media and help people get the most out of KDE software!
  17. Review merge requests in projects you’re familiar with. This is an under-appreciated but very important way to contribute, even if you don’t consider yourself a technical expert. But you can test the changes to see if they work as described, and I bet you can also spot misspellings, obvious code errors, and weird user interfaces that could stand to be improved!
  18. Improve documentation–especially if you used the documentation and found something wanting. The best candidate to fix bad documentation is someone who just read it and found problems with it or didn’t find it as helpful as it would have been!
  19. Help manage stuff. KDE is desperately in need of “big picture people” capable of seeing things from a 10,000 foot view and helping strategically important work move towards completion!
  20. Be nice to other FOSS projects. We may be here for KDE, but GNOME is a good project too. There’s room for more than just one, and in fact healthy competition between projects is a good thing! Do don’t hate on GNOME if you’re a KDE person. They do a lot of things right and they produce quality software. Be a good ambassador!
  21. Start a local KDE user group. You might make some new friends and discover more local users of KDE software than you thought!
  22. Volunteer at your local school or university to teach students about programming or the importance of software freedom–with a KDE tilt, of course! 😉
  23. Attend Akademy, KDE’s yearly conference. Eventually it will be an in-person event again, and let me tell you, it’s a lot of fun to spend several days around members of your digital tribe!
  24. Install Plasma on as many of your home devices as possible! Experience more freedom, as well as testing more esoteric use cases. This is valuable because there is only so much hardware the core developers can test again, we rely on our users to provide reports about problems with the full diversity of what’s available out there!
  25. Don’t sweat it if things aren’t perfect–like this list of 25 things that basically ends at 24. 🙂

The FOSS honor culture

Tux with rocket launcher, taken from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tux_Born_to_Frag.jpg

In the real world, anthropologists often make a distinction between Honor cultures and Law cultures:

  • Honor cultures emphasize the idea of “honor”–whose modern analogue might be “reputation”–to encourage pro-social behavior and fulfillment of contracts. You gain or lose honor/reputation based on the above, but you can also lose it when challenged by others, which necessitates often brutal and violent action to regain it. Historically, Honor cultures have often arisen in areas with little law enforcement or central authority; order is thus personally enforced.
  • Law cultures by contrast ensure order by having a broad and well-defined set of rules with a central authority that punishes rulebreaking. Everybody knows the rules, and knows that they will be punished for breaking them, often severely. In Law cultures, order is centrally enforced; people are free to trust one another and act pro-socially as much as possible because their safety is backstopped by the promise and threat of centralized consequences when rules are broken.

Honor cultures today are often considered primitive and backwards, while Law cultures are considered civilized and advanced. There’s a pretty logical reason for this: real-world Honor cultures have tended to evolve brutal and violent methods of regaining lost honor, including dueling, kidnapping, forced marriage, “honor killings”, and family blood feuds. The ordinariness of brutality in Honor cultures tends to push away the gentle and intellectual when migration opportunities exist, so they are weak and poor in a world where power and wealth come from knowledge. Thus Law cultures are ascendant today, and Honor cultures are on the wane… except in one notable area: the internet.

On the internet, there is no real central authority to punish rule-breakers, and there isn’t even a codified set of rules! Each website is basically someone’s private property, and personal behavior on that virtual property requires adherence to the owner’s rules. It’s up to the owners to police their domains, ensure standards of conduct, personally punish violators, maintain their own community reputation, and so on. Is this sounding familiar yet? The internet has evolved a pseudo Honor culture to maintain a semblance of order!

And FOSS communities, being largely digital in nature, follow suit. Though we do occasionally meet up in person, within the physical boundaries of Law cultures (or at least we will again once the global pandemic is over), most FOSS interactions happen online, where the tenets of Honor culture are more applicable.

Now, there’s one major difference between internet Honor culture and physical Honor culture: you can’t kidnap or murder someone over the internet, so regaining your lost honor or repairing an impugned reputation has to be non-violent! It doesn’t have to be pleasant–a jerk may deploy an invective-filled rant, a troll campaign, or a denial-of-service attack–but it can’t physically harm or kill anyone. This removes the most objectionable aspect of traditional, real-world Honor cultures.

It’s worth noting that in the FOSS world, our competitors are closed-source software corporations, which generally operate physically and according to the rules of Law culture: “perform this task or get punished”; “obey the hierarchy to ensure your career path”; “here is your financial bonus for good performance”; and so on. And like real-world Honor vs Law cultures, the FOSS world tends unfortunately to be weaker and poorer than the closed-source one. Earning a living doing FOSS development is a common struggle. And our market share is much lower even though our output is generally better, and always more trustworthy over the long term. Overall, our internet Honor culture causes us to fit less well into the rest of the Law-culture world of rules, laws, financial instruments and hierarchies: corporations effortlessly partner, merge, hire, fire, invest, divest, buy, and sell using legal instruments, while in the FOSS world, these activities generally take place in the realm of the personal, and therefore happen much more slowly, if at all.

However the most successful FOSS projects are supported by Law-culture institutions to help bridge the gap: Firefox has the Mozilla corporation; KDE has the KDE e.V., Blender has the Blender Foundation, and so on. In the same way that a corporation existing in a democracy can be internally a dictatorship, a FOSS community in a Law culture can be internally an Honor culture. Thus internet-based FOSS Honor cultures may avoid being destroyed and retain our cultural distinctiveness and effectiveness in the face of real-world Law cultures.

I wonder if over time we will be pushed into becoming more of a Law culture to maintain and expand our competitiveness with the closed-source world, or whether our Law-culture institutions will prove a sufficient interface and allow us to remain internally an Honor culture. Food for thought, at least.

If you were hoping for a tidy conclusion, I’m afraid I have to disappoint you: this blog post is mostly a random idle musing. 🙂

(Header image taken from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tux_Born_to_Frag.jpg)