Saturday, 14 July 2007

A Community is a Garden

To understand how a community is a garden, we need to relate their models in a way that demonstrates their similarity. But how is it that two seemingly incomparable things can nevertheless be seen as manifestations of an underlying unity? By modeling them of course. Modeling is all about representing the essence of something. To model something you must capture the important things about it in a logical structured way. Without such structure there is only chaos, with perhaps unrealized potential. So we create mental models of a community and a garden to draw analogies between their structures. I'll talk more about those models themselves later, after the topic at hand.

How is it that a community is a garden? And I'm not just saying that a community is like a garden, I'm saying it is one. They're each organic processes involving a balance of individual forces that are self perpetuating and hence self serving, against the unstoppable forces of the all encompassing ecosystem. In each there is the aspect of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, i.e., there is a surprising new model that one would not have expected given just the parts on their own. And there in lies the true beauty of each.

Although beauty is in the eye of the beholder, diversity is a key component of the beauty of each. Its the interaction and interplay of the participants that provides the richness.

Just as an acre of grass, while an improvement over an acre of concrete, isn't a very beautiful garden, a community without diversity is similarly impoverished. Each needs nurturing and tending while at the same time they have a life of their own that can be influenced, but not necessarily controlled.

In each, weeds often spout and must be rooted out if they are not to undermine the landscape. But what is a weed? A weed in the garden is technically just a plant in the wrong place, i.e., it's not just an ugly plant, those are easy to spot, it's more subjective about whether that plant is serving its intended role. For example, I like grass in my lawn, but not in my beds. Similarly weeds in a community are hard to define, but we usually recognize them when we see them and we should root them out. Though we might want to leave just a few. After all, Monarch butterflies need milkweed and I like Monarchs a lot. This pretty Mystic Merlin was added to my weed list last year after if turned out to be all too good at popping up everywhere. It's back!

I love my garden and I'm very fond of the Eclipse community. I tend them both to see if I can make them even more cool where lots of other cool things can happen, things that have nothing directly to do with me. When I share my garden with others, its value grows and there in so do I.

We are all gardeners of the planet earth and we should remember that this ecosystem is greater than us and will continue to be here even long after we're gone. We should also remember this in our communities: we grow value by contributing and we can collectively produce a great deal of value by each contributing just a little.

So we've compared out mental models of gardens and communities to see, from the vantage point of our lofty soapbox, that indeed, they are manifestations of an underlying unity. It's clear that we use models for everything, whether or not we're conscious of that fact. It's how we think. It's how we produce the answer when we asked, what's the model of model? Well, a meta model of course, we declare triumphantly, proud of our ability to spout technobable on demand, in a service oriented, fully Web 2.0 enabled, standards compliant way. (Hey, we think to ourselves, just try to contradict me if you can pin any of that down to some concrete model.) And when asked, the model of a meta model is? Err, a meta meta model?

So why doesn't all this just turn into never ending meta nonsense? Because a meta model is a model and hence can even be its own meta model. Ecore, a model that describes models including itself, is a particularly relevant such unity point because an interesting aspect of models of models is that they are, in important ways, all very much alike. Just as a garden and a community are completely unrelated things that are analogous, so to Ecore, XML Schema, Java interfaces, and UML2 class diagrams are analogous self describing meta models, where Ecore is arguably the simplest. And the mapping between them is of significant technical value, not just of philosophical interest. EMF delves deeply into that mapping and derives most of its value from that. EMF is like my garden and I am happy when others share my garden and my community, because I feel valued when others derive value from the things I do. This ability to convert self serving behavior into a positive contribution is what I believe to be a principle that helps drives open source communities.

Ruby likes my garden too, even when it's wet. She actually thinks it's her garden so I humor her. Thank goodness it rained!

Amber, on the other hand, prefers to keep up her appearance.

Neither of them seem to give EMF much thought, though they do turn their heads a funny angle when I explain it to them. Not only do they like the looks of the garden, it apparently tastes great too!

I'll just take their word on that one. :-P

Take away just one lesson: nurture your community as if it were a beautiful garden and you were the head gardener; encourage others to do the same. Your pleasure and work will never end...


Wassim Melhem said...

In my garden, I have been watering and nurturing what I thought were nice perennials that the previous owners had planted. Those "perennials" turned out to be weeds.

What does that symbolize? :)

Ed Merks said...

I'm just hoping you aren't nurturing any weeds in the PDE community, but I trust that your technical and sociological judgment is far more sound than your horticultural judgment.

Then again, maybe you should just learn to love weeds...

Juan José said...

Brilliant, Wonderful, Amazing! The post of the year (although those giant frogs will give me nightmares tonight)! I love your analogies on modeling, and congratulations on those two precious gardens of yours... EMF and the actual one. I really got my hopes up in that my startup model engineering company can someday contribute to the whole modeling project ;)

Chris Aniszczyk (zx) said...

Where's the kudzu ;P?