Nobody Said That Open Source Projects Were All About Customer Service

These are sort of ancient (two and a half years old), but I just ran across them today and found them to be emblematic of a cultural defect that plagues many open source projects. These are a couple of feature requests (for the same feature) filed against the file-transfer utility FileZilla:

#2648: Feature request: Support Amazon S3 (closed)

#2741: Feature request: Amazon S3 (closed)

How many things are wrong with this? The fact that the person who shut down the feature request did so unilaterally, immediately, and with absolutely no discussion? The fact that the person used a pseudonym that doesn’t link back to any kind of profile or policy, so there is no way to get context on who this person is or why they made their decision? Or the arrogant tone of the response, which almost ensures that the people who took the trouble to file these feature requests will never do so for this project again?

For commercial products, feature requests are gold. Clearly, for some open-source projects, feature requests are an annoyance at best. It may be possible that FileZilla’s mission is “support dessicated IETF and W3C standards only,” but there’s no way for a civilian user to know that. Most civilians look at FileZilla’s mission as “transfer files from one place to another.” In that context, this kind of feature request is not unreasonable, particularly since many other file-transfer utilities (including the commercial product Transmit, which I use on OS X) have supported Amazon S3 for some time. If it’s really unreasonable to support a mode of file transfer because it wasn’t part of an IETF standard codified in the 1980s, then I have a new feature request for you: plugins. Just like Firefox does. Duh.

Ultimately, the technical solution to the problem isn’t really the issue here. Maybe providing this feature is too hard or outside the scope of the project’s mandate. But if that’s the case, then say that (and take a second to link to more information about your rationale). If somebody who worked for me provided such glib, dismissive responses to a feature request, they would be fired. The fact that we’re probably dealing with a volunteer here is not the issue. The fact that FileZilla is a free/open source project should also not make a difference. The snotty attitude (for this and many other open-source projects)  poisons the ecosystem and ensures that the software remains second-rate.

Your open-source project is not your fiefdom.