One month ago, Teo Romera talked at Project Management course of Master of Libre Software about managing volunteers in free software communities. In particular, he commented about the paper “Managing Volunteer Activity in Free Software Projects” by Martin Michlmayr, and the MIA (Missing in Action) team of Debian.
As they say in the MIA team wiki page, “MIA means Missing in Action and is a group of people and scripts which help to track inactive people in Debian. The MIA Team is responsible to orphan outdated packages if the maintainer is not responsive. We also help the people to find solutions like finding a Co-Maintainer and so on. According to this information a “MIA Person” is someone who has packages in Debian and maybe is even an official Debian developer but was quite inactive for a while and let his package get out of shape. Someone is considered a “MIA person” as soon as anyone reported this person and an entry in the DB has been created.”
About the scripts, here are some of the information that used initially (maybe now it is not the same, Michlmayr’s paper is from 2004):
- Echelon monitors every mailing list and looks for postings sent by a Debian developer. If found, the database is updated (not MIA).
- From package management system, if there are unfixed Release Critical Bugs, Fails To Build From Source Bugs, Bugs fixed but not closed, Old Standards-Version or New Upstream Version and no activity seems to appear, we can think that the package maintainer is MIA.
The MIA team is in charge to email and try to contact that missing people and know which are their plans about their packages in Debian. The MIA team encourages people to be communicative and think about the global effect of neglecting assumed tasks (tasks not being done, and preventing others to assume and do them). Their main goal is to improve the quality of the project and ask all members to talk each other so nobody will be “missing in action”.
When I learned about this system and policy to take care of quality as well as taking care about people involved in Debian community, I get impressed. Being a volunteer driven distribution does not mean lack of professionality and quality. For me, Debian community is an example of many things for the (not only free) software world.
The MIA team is also a good example of the rules for automating tasks or not automating tasks that Fogel talks in chapter 3 of “Producing Open Source Software”, as I summarize in another blog post.