On Gittip and Diversity

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For those who aren’t aware, Gittip is a platform for sustainable giving. It provides a way to make contributions to people who you think are making the world a better place, and in such a way that those contributions are mostly predictable and dependable. It’s an idea that I’m really excited about, and to see it working in practice has been wonderful.

Gittip has found itself to be a popular funding platform for those from marginalised groups, and those working towards social justice and diversity. It’s hands-down my favourite thing about the platform. Being a diversity advocate isn’t something that normally pays the bills, and so the fact that many of the top receivers on Gittip are working on social justice issues makes me feel that Gittip is doubly worthwhile.

Unfortunately, it’s not all hypo-allergenic kittens and roses.

Yesterday, Chad—the founder of Gittip—made a post regarding his resentment at the style in which a lot of criticism (much of which relates to diversity, safety, and consent) had been levelled at Gittip. I don’t think Chad denies that the criticism itself is valid, but that’s almost irrelevant right now. The end result was a schism where a number of the most prominent Gittip users closed their accounts, or stated their intent to do once a suitable alternative could be found, citing that Gittip was no longer a safe place for minority users.

I want to discuss all of that, but I want to start with a request:

Be compassionate

Seriously. This sucks for everyone right now. It’s shit. I know some of you are going to want to beat up on Chad, and I ask you please don’t. Vilifying Chad, or Shanley, or anyone else isn’t going to make the world a better place. It’s not going to make anyone feel safer about using Gittip. It’s not going to give us alternatives. It’s not going to heal Gittip’s culture. It’s not going to change society for the better. I don’t care what you think of the people involved. Vilifiying people just makes you a jerk.

If you have closed your account, or if you are about to do so, then I would ask you to please continue to support the people you believe in.

My viewpoint

I know that making a post like this without giving my own take on things will just result in people asking me anyway, so I’ll state what I think here briefly and precisely.

I think it’s critically important to have a funding platform that not just caters for, but is actively friendly towards minorities. I will freely admit that Gittip has struggled on the second of those two points.

A lot of people have been trying to improve Gittip and its culture for minorities, both inside and outside the organisation. I am deeply appreciative of their efforts, and while they have resulted in change for the better, I know there’s been a lot of frustration that those changes have been made slowly.

Gittip was founded on a culture of radical transparency and openness. Everything would be out in the open; source code, meetings, IRC logs, discussions, decissions, source code, all of it. I think that transparency is good, but in a world where one’s gender may mean threats of extreme violence over one’s opinion of a comic book cover, radical transparency does not mean safety. There are good reasons why users and contributors may wish to do things in private. There are people who can’t safely appear in televised meetings for all the world to see. And it’s not the role of Gittip to decide what’s safe for a person and what’s not; that’s up to the person themselves.

For me, the fact that radical transparency can be actively harmful to safety and consent has been what I’ve witnessed Gittip’s culture struggle with the most. For some members of the team, that has been a learning experience. I hope that no matter what comes of this, everyone will continue to learn about the issues involved.

Of course, things run deeper than this, and this brings me to…

My talk

Next week I’m giving a talk about Gittip at Open Source Bridge. Up until recently, I had a pretty good idea how that was going to play out. In the last couple of days I’ve had to re-think things.

I will still be running my talk, however I both hope and anticipate it will be much more a discussion rather than the traditional presentation I had planned. I want my session to be a place where we can facilitate understanding, and find real ways of making progress. I anticipate that a lot of this will have already happened by the time my talk is scheduled to run, and I would very much like to hear from those who have been involved.

AdaCamp is this weekend, and I am sure it will include much discussion about Gittip. I’m really glad for that; AdaCamp is an excellent place for these discussions to be happening. There’s also been a lot of discussion on IRC on #atunit on Freenode. If you’re interested in participating, I suggest you head over there.

If you’ve been involved in those discussions, either at AdaCamp or elsewhere, and would like to co-present at OS Bridge, then I would invite you to contact me. You need to be at the conference, and you need to be willing to sit down with me earlier in the week to flesh things out, to make sure that what’s going to be said is going to be constructive and helpful.

In case there’s any question, I will absolutely be discussing the issues of radical transparency versus safety and consent, particularly in the context of Gittip itself. I will also be encouraging discussion from the audience.

If you can’t be at the conference, or don’t feel comfortable getting on stage or participating in the audience discussion, you can still contact me at paul.j.fenwick (gmail), or if you wish to comment publicly, you can do so below. In both cases you can be anonymous.

Further reading


I’m a casual member of the support team at Gittip. I’ve tried to be involved with policy decisions where I can, including those related to support, code of conduct, and expectations of privacy. I’ve received money from the Gittip payroll.

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