Friday, May 4, 2012

Pyjamas hijacked!

Image retreived from

What is pyjamas?

Pyjamas is a port to python of google's web-toolkit (GWT). Pyjamas allows one to write python code, and have it automatically translated into javascript. The generated javascript then can be run inside a browser as a web application, or can be run unchanged in a suitable run-time environment as a desktop application. In both cases, the applications can communicate with web servers via AJAX calls.

What happened?

During a heated discussion about what it would take to promote pyjamas to a larger audience, some people got angry with pyjama's main developer and innovator, Luke Leighton. In summary, a few people were not happy with the existing infrastructure used by the project whereas the main developer rather bluntly dismissed the concerns and told people to concentrate on things that really matter instead. Furthermore, Luke told the people that pyjamas is bloody innovative. innovations are disruptive. get used to innovation being disruptive!. . People got really upset and concocted some sort of master plan to prove the world once and for all they were not to be laughed with. Innovation disruptive? They were going to teach Luke about innovation!
The normal procedure when people are not happy with the way an open source project is lead, is to create a fork and let both parties go their own way. This is more or less what happened here too, but with an evil twist (read on, stuff like this doesn't happen every day).
As it turns out Luke Leighton didn't hold the rights to the domain name, and the disgruntled people (at least one of which had admin rights on Luke's server to "help out" with administering it) contacted the rightful owner of the domain, and convinced him to transfer the domain name to the dissidents. Then, suddenly and out of the blue came an [[ANNOUNCEMENT]] on the (now defunct) pyjamas-devel mailing list (although to be honest there had been a vague hint to it in the past). In the announcement it was said how from now on points to a new location, where the pyjamas source code and wiki can be found on github, and the mailing list has been replaced with mailman3 software, and it was pointed out that Luke Leighton from now on was no longer in charge of the project in its new incarnation. Until today it's not entirely clear if private data has been copied from Luke's server to recreate the mailing list using new software. If that is indeed the case, it might consist of a criminal act (data theft) in at least one of the involved countries, and we may not yet have seen the last of this.

Effects of the hijacking

Well, the basic aim of the disgruntled people is to have better infrastructure, to make the project look more mature and attract more developers. How well did they succeed in achieving their goals with their actions? The current state of things for an outsider, at the time of writing 4 days after the facts, is not looking very good to say the least (although the dissidents, I'm sure, will disagree):
  • The new and "improved" website lacks basic functionality: most links are broken; the manual is offline; the examples are no longer accessible. Most links in google's archives now point to non-existing pages. Contact links still point to the old defunct mailing list, etc. I assume this will be solved over time, but in a proper transition to new infrastructure, this should have been solved before transitioning. Someone clearly was in a lot of haste to pull off this underhand trick, and apparently all this haste lead to getting very tired, too tired to fix the basic functionality. (And oh the irony of fate! While I'm writing this post, the google groups appear to suffer from very slow reply times. Seems like the shiny new technology has its share of flaws as well...)
  • During the recreation of the mailing list under the new ownership with new mailing list software, something went wrong and tens of people who had registered to the mailing list, but had asked not to receive emails (e.g. because they follow the group using an nntp reader via gmane) now suddenly got flooded with emails from the pyjamas list and started sending mails to unsubscribe (which were then received by all the other people who also didn't want to receive emails from the mailing list, who then also started to send unsubscribe mails...) The unsubscription emails didn't work, because the new mailing list software expects different commands (but of course no one had been informed about that), which led to an avalanche of "please unsubscribe me" and "please stop unsubscribing" messages, and eventually to killing off the mailing list, and creating a new one here. Looking at the number of people who've subscribed to the new list so far (5 at the time of writing, one of which already made it clear that he doesn't agree to how the changes had been hastily enforced), it would seem that this whole operation is not exactly something a 600+ community of people was waiting for.
  • Since the hijacking, only a few individuals have publicly applauded the event. So far, the hijack seems to have happened to serve the interests of those few individuals. No discussion about the matter happened on the mailing lists. No wonder a large part of the existing community is shocked and, frankly, pissed off (including, it seems, many of the current top committers). No matter how many professional tools one uses, without active committers the future of the project looks very uncertain. And with the main developer and innovator basically having been stabbed in the back, it can be expected that he won't be contributing to the project anymore (in the best case he would continue in a fork of his own, perhaps under a new name, but at this moment nothing's certain).
  • Corporate users of the framework now consider the whole project to be avoided-at-all-cost. No one in his right mind wants to base a business on a project hijacked by a minority of impulsive hotheads, without clear guarantees for continued development and support.


Even if the project manages to survive and attract new developers (and I really hope it does in one way or another, because pyjamas at its core is really cool technology!) the current state of matters where the main contributor and driving force Luke Leighton is as-good-as-eliminated from the project, where the fully functioning website is hastily replaced with something completely broken for days in a row and while making a significant part of the active and passive users unhappy is probably the worst possible thing that could have happened to it, and despite the new and shiny tools, the project might take a long time to reach a decent velocity, and gain some credibility with corporate users again.

EDITED TO ADD: shortly after publishing this blog entry, the copy of the pyjamas website has become more functional again. It was about time. EDITED A SECOND TIME TO ADD: see for a surprise :)