The two teams could split, each forking the project and going their own ways. But even then, who keeps the spoils and the name of the project? Some open-source communities, therefore, have entrusted the power to make decisions in one or two people.
These people get, to first approximation, the absolute raddest titles in technology. They are the Benevolent Dictators for Life.
In 1995, the programming language Python had a small but growing community. Its leaders established a foundation to support the language—Python’s inventor, Guido van Rossum, had even just moved from the Netherlands to the United States to help the project. So as the foundation established itself—at that point, it and the community were synonymous—it appointed van Rossum the final arbiter of all developmental conflict. He was the first First-Interim Benevolent Dictator For Life.
“While I can't prove my title (with or without the First Interim prefix) was never used before, I'm pretty certain that it originated [in that 1995 meeting],” Rossum wrote in 2008.
Since then, BDFLs have been appointed for a number of other projects. Linux, OpenStreetMap, and WordPress all have BDFLs. Ubuntu, the user-friendly commercial distribution of Linux, even has a Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator for Life, Mark Shuttleworth.
(Shuttleworth can make such appointments because his $500 million fortune has funded the development of Ubuntu. He is also the first independent citizen of an African nation to travel to space. Also also, he resides on the Isle of Man with his wife and 12 ducks.)
It Came From a Small Town in Kansas
Until last week, Django had the same. Its BDFLs were Adrian Holovaty and Jacob Kaplan-Moss. They held the title because they, like van Rossum, invented Django.
And what is Django? It’s serving the website you’re reading right now. Django’s a framework for writing applications using the language Python, particularly applications that have a news-y element or work sort of like a content management system. It runs some or all of the websites for Rdio, Instagram, and Pinterest. It was created only about nine years ago.
Django sprang from rather unusual roots for a piece of software: a college town in Kansas. As detailed in this excellent brief history, it was created by developers at a local newspaper, the Lawrence Journal-World, after they couldn’t find a Python framework they wanted to use. So they made Django.
Now, the team at the LJ World—detailed in this 2005 New York Times story—turned out to be an absurdly talented group. Assembled by a guy (Rob Curley, known for his local digital news mettle) who was hired by a guy who wrote emails on a typewriter (Dolph C. Simons, Jr., the paper’s conservative, septuagenarian owner), they included Holovaty; Kaplan-Moss; Simon Willison, who later worked at the Guardian, and Wilson Miner, who has helped design Facebook and Apple’s corporate website.