Contributing to free software – to write code or not to write code? (part 2)

I am a free software user and student. The more that I read and learn about free software communities, the more that I discover really well done software applications, the more that I get surprised about how so many people is involved in free software communities.

I would also like to be an active participant in the communities that I belong but as I wrote before, from now I would like to contribute in other aspects different than writing code.
One could think that these are “second class contributions” but I don’t think so; for example one of the most important reasons to use a particular software for many people is if it is translated to their own language, so translation contributions are essential. Other important reason is the software stability, not having bugs, and for bugs to be fixed they have to be discovered before, so user contributions reporting bugs are very important too.
Until now these are my microscopic contributions to the communities I belong:

  • I am a Drupal registered user, in my profile you can find few posts about Drupal module issues, bug reporting or confirming.
  • A few translations for Drupal 7.x Webform module (they’re still waiting for approval). Why this is not shown in my user profile? I am very proud of them 😉
  • 2-3 posts in Drupal Hispano forums, answering several questions.
  • My project at job to measure free software penetration and spreading free software concept and applications.
  • I am suscriber of several mailing lists (about Debian and Drupal, and IRIS-Libre) but I rarely post on them, we could say that I am a lurker.

You can imagine that I am not satisfied with this, now that I am studying about free software, I use it everyday for anything related to computers and I am getting small experiencie, I think I can do a bit more. If others do, why not me?

A very interesting thing in free software world (and I think one of the key points for its success), is that it is quite easy to find any task in which helping covers your own needs about the software. This changes the “I want to help” motivation into a “mutual interest relationship” that constitutes a more solid reason to maintain people’s involvement in time. Enrico Zini explains this very well with his sentence: “Don’t ask yourself what you can do for Debian, ask yourself what Debian can do for you – and crush it until Debian does it!” (watch his talk in Debconf2009).

You just need to think about how to do the things that you need in a way that other people also gets the benefits. I will give one example of my own experience. Recently I set up a website using Drupal 7 and the Webform module Spanish translation was not completed. I needed the translation, since my site is in Spanish and visitors would feel strange if suddenly they fulfill a form and the confirmation message is in English. So first I began to translate the remaining strings at my own site translation interface, but later I thought that I could send that translation to the Drupal site so other people also benefit. I went to Drupal site, I read the documentation on how to contribute on translations, and I joined the Spanish team. I translated the strings using the interface and later I could export the whole translated strings into a .po file that I uploaded to my site. The job was done with small additional effort than doing it “just for myself” and I hope moderators find my translations correct and more users will benefit from that tiny contribution.

My experience with this contribution was so satisfying that I began to think about how to continue in this way, so these are my plans:

  • I will contribute all the translation that I actually need to do for my Drupal 7 site.
  • I will look at the open issues about the Drupal modules that I am using, and try to confirm the bugs that others reported, if they need confirmation.
  • Once a week I will look at the Drupal Hispano forums and if I clearly know an answer for something posted there, I will answer it.
  • I will keep on reading documentation on how to contribute.

Maybe is not much, but this is a beginning, isn’t it? I hope to be able to write soon another post saying that all these things I already did it and I am facing new challenges.

About larjona

My name is Laura Arjona Reina, I am a libre software user and fan of the free culture. If you want to contact me you can write an email to larjona [at] larjona [dot] net I am @larjona at in the social network. --- Me llamo Laura Arjona Reina, soy usuaria de software libre y fan de la cultura libre. Si quieres contactar conmigo puedes escribir a larjona [en] larjona [punto] net Soy @larjona en el servidor, de la red social
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