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Re: Q for the Candidates: How many users?

[ I reply here to both Anthony and Bernd questions, which are very much
  intertwined. ]

On Mon, Mar 22, 2010 at 05:19:20PM +1000, Anthony Towns wrote:
>   * www.debian.org/social_contract says Debian's "priorities are our
> users and free software",
>   * popcon.debian.org currently reports 91,523 submissions,
>   * popcon.ubuntu.com currently reports 1,493,440 submissions, and
>   * that this is something of a trick question,
> What's your estimate of the current number of Debian users?

I'm not going to give an actual estimate because I lack a significant
amount of needed data and, frankly speaking, I don't see why the
exercise of actually arriving at a number might be interesting as
campaigning material (if I'm missing something fundamental about why it
is so, please explain).

Nevertheless, I'll tell you what I'd do to arrive at one, and share
right now with you the impression that it would indeed be useful to have
at least a more precise lower-bound than current popcon. That, however,
I don't think has anything to do with our "priorities are our users and
free software": that is true no matter how many users we have; the
usefulness of estimates/lower-bounds is way more pragmatic than that.

Before being able to do an actual estimate, we should arrive at a
reasonable lower-bound on the number of our users (ah, BTW, with "users"
I actually mean "installations", rather than people). Popcon recent
votes is a good start. Then we can look at the official mirrors logs
(for distinct IPs regularly downloading package indexes in a given time
window), and at the same index downloads for security.d.o (which is
enabled by default and most likely not accessed via mirrors). Having all
these data, I doubt we can do best than taking the maximum of them, as
how much they overlap is not clear a priori.

Starting from these raw data, arriving at an actual estimate is
absolutely tricky and I doubt it is solvable at all by attempting some
wild estimates. For instance, I'm aware of a couple of recent research
studies on how to estimate the user base of a _single_ open source
development project by modeling and then projecting the temporal pattern
of downloads just after each release. I'm not aware of any application
of similar techniques to distribution package downloads, which have
quite a lot of specificities.

All in all, I believe it is more interesting to see how our user base
changes over time than knowing its actual size. I've already reported in
a previous thread on -vote [1] about the study by Gaudenz Steinlin
showing that our user base has been decreasing steadily since the first
release of Ubuntu (whose users you might want to consider as Debian
users or not). That aspect is definitely worrisome and I've discussed
what I believe is our better countermeasure against that (communicating
better about our distinguishing values).

[1] http://lists.debian.org/debian-vote/2010/03/msg00143.html

On Mon, Mar 22, 2010 at 02:27:23PM +0100, Bernd Zeimetz wrote:
> That results in a different question for me: Does Ubuntu enforce the
> usage of pocon, and should Debian do so, too?

Eh, this has always been a controversial issue. popcon is very useful
for a lot of QA tasks and those are way more important than estimating
our user base.

I personally think that it would be reasonable to have popcon offering
an opt-out configuration step, rather than an opt-in one. Nevertheless,
even if I were the popcon maintainer---which I'm not---I would not dare
making the change in isolation, because I know it has been a very
controversial topic in the past. For this reason I'm fine with the
current default (as I've stated in a different thread: one should always
balance the potential benefits of a technical change with its "social"

All in all, this is probably a topic where a quick and easy
devotee-based poll might show where the DD body stands in the trade-off
between the advantages and disadvantages of enabling popcon submissions
by default, and finally get this discussion past us.


Stefano Zacchiroli -o- PhD in Computer Science \ PostDoc @ Univ. Paris 7
zack@{upsilon.cc,pps.jussieu.fr,debian.org} -<>- http://upsilon.cc/zack/
Dietro un grande uomo c'è ..|  .  |. Et ne m'en veux pas si je te tutoie
sempre uno zaino ...........| ..: |.... Je dis tu à tous ceux que j'aime

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