Full Disclosure: Jono and I record a bi-weekly show together – where we, more often than not, tend to disagree with each other on every possible topic. Before recording the most recent episode, he gave me the news that he would be stepping down as Ubuntu Community Manager. And that this news would not be made public for several days. I promptly reminded him of what I do for a living. To which, if memory serves, he said something to the effect of, “If you tell anyone, Lunduke, I will gouge out your face with a spoon.”
I would like the record to show that my will power is legendary. And that my face is spoon-gouge free.
Now, this got me thinking. Not about Jono and his new gig (which, I'm sure, he'll be great at). No... this prompted me to ponder on the role that Jono has played within the Ubuntu project over the years, and what his departure means for Canonical.
Ubuntu has, over the last several years, captured significant market share, especially in the consumer-oriented Linux space. I would posit that a big reason for that is Jono. (I can't believe I just wrote those words... he's going to remind me about that every chance he gets.) Let me explain my thinking a bit on that...
Canonical has, for many years now, had the luxury of having two very public personalities: Mark Shuttleworth (who has acted as a sort of elder statesman for the project, aka “Self Appointed Benevolent Dictator for Life”) and Jono Bacon (who has, in many ways, played the role of the mascot). That's a gross over-simplification, to be sure, as both gentlemen wear far more hats than just “statesman/mascot.” But I believe that this dynamic has been critical to Ubuntu’s success.
Shuttleworth, as the statesman, appears publicly every so often with an essay or a speech. He sets direction. He sets tone. Then, almost as quickly as he appears, he fades into the mist.
Bacon, as the mascot, got the crowd excited. Or, if Shuttleworth managed to stir up controversy with his statements (which has happened a-plenty), Bacon did “damage control.” Bacon was out there, as the mascot, nearly every day of the week. Talking to people. Creating content (articles, blog posts, social media posts, podcasts, speeches, holding live video Q&A sessions) and generally getting people pumped about whatever it is that Shuttleworth most recently said.
In that way he has been like a hard-rocking, British guy in a sweaty panda suit getting the crowd to do a wave at a football game. What does all of this have to do with Ubuntu's growth within its market? Darn near everything, I think.
When you think of Ubuntu, who do you think of? Shuttleworth and Bacon (most likely). Those guys, for people following the Linux space, jump to mind almost immediately.
When you think of, say, Fedora, who do you think of?
Is Fedora an inferior system to Ubuntu? No. No, it is not. Both are quality systems that are highly usable – both by consumers and engineers alike.
Yet Ubuntu's market share has climbed higher and higher over the last several years... while, at least at a quick glance, the opposite appears to be happening to Fedora.
There is an important dynamic that Canonical has managed to achieve – either by design or as a bit of a lucky accident – by having two charismatic individuals to play the roles of “Elder Statesman” and “Mascot.” A dynamic that few companies ever achieve, even when they try. And, make no mistake, both roles are vital and serve to enhance the other.
With Jono's departure I wonder who Canonical will find to fill those shoes. Whoever it is, whether Shuttleworth and the rest of the crew at Canonical know it or not, will have a huge impact on the excitement that people feel toward Ubuntu and the company behind it. It will, most certainly, be interesting to watch.
On a personal note, I can only hope that whomever Canonical taps as the new Community Manager will be half as fun to pick fights with as Jono.