Creating Meaning in an Open Source Community: The role of the ethnographer



Practicing ethnography, usability and user research in an open-source community is an interesting challenge because of the unusual development environment and the community's culture of freedom. My role at Canonical, which is the parent company of the Ubuntu Project, is to convey information about users in order to create software that is easy to use and enjoyable. In this article, I describe the challenges of communicating qualitative information about users to this highly technical community. As a case study, I discuss a project where I documented developers' interpretation of and work on a traditional usability report. This research has highlighted some of the challenges that ethnographers face in the industry and some of the deep disconnects between the work cultures and tools the respective professionals – developers and ethnographers – need to use.