Chaos: Some clarifications on Novacut

Posted: 2011-07-28

My post on the Novacut project stirred up quite a shitstorm, pardon my language. I can't even attempt to explain the whole point of my post—something that seemed to be misunderstood by anyone who didn't already agree—better than Jeff "Nekohayo" Fortin has in his blog post, which I have included below:


No matter how I try to write this, it will come out wrong. I have basically no chances of improving anything at all, especially since I’m no Shakespeare. I’m good at singing the praise of contributors, but I’m terrible at handling delicate situations. I’ll still try clarifying my thoughts into this post, which I’m quite certain will be perceived as an attack, propaganda or be subjected to attack. That’s fine. All those things are normal and to be expected after what I’ve done. By linking to Danny’s post I officially endorsed it as an individual. Since I’m a volunteer contributor to pitivi, the result was akin to a napalm strike to clear a beach for surfing.

I underestimated the consequences and hurt Jason so badly he was trembling with anger. It is only when I chatted with him once more on IRC tonight that I came to realize how deep the wound was. Even though I have my doubts they can pull it off, deep inside I’m rooting for them to succeed.

I am not here to ask forgiveness as it sounds impossible, but I am however very sorry for any pain caused by my actions. Not sure how to phrase this properly, basically I don’t think forgiveness is something you can request.

Somehow this reminds me of Ran, although I should be careful in personifying anyone as Saburo or Hidetora in this (I’m probably both, anyway). After that chat, now that I’ve been banished from the kingdom and I’m nothing more than a beggar, perhaps I can tell you the story that made me break the bundle of arrows.

The end goal was not to attack the person or the core idea behind a distributed video editor focused on making videographers more efficient at what they do, but a last attempt at preventing another tragedy.

Let me tell you (the public) the story of one of those failed video editors projects. In November 2008 I received an email from the guy who was launching his video editor project, Saya. Just as I did with Jason, I wrote lengthy emails and had endless conversations trying to make him see the hardship he was to face. Since pitivi was dormant at the time, I was cautious in my predictions that he would crash and burn, and accepted to be part of his project as an advisor. In the process I have accumulated tons of inside knowledge, and what you can see on the surface is only the tip of the iceberg. The ambitious goals, the mislead technical decisions and autocratic management attitude of the leader paled in comparison to his delusions of grandeur.

Then, just as I had predicted, this guy went into nervous breakdown (his own words) as well as complete financial disarray after alienating every contributor around him. He now came back as an empty shell of a man wandering the remainders of the castle that was burned to the ground. When he came back in that state, I asked if he would swallow his pride (much like Danny wrote here) and join an existing project—any project—which he refused. On his blog, you can see some saddeningly meaningless posts about writing playback GUI controls or an “image reading plugin”.

After so many years and seeing such a spectacular failure still occuring, I thought that next time, I would try as hard as possible to prevent it from reoccuring, by insisting much more on the forewarning part and avoiding to ever have to say “I told you so” again. I prefer to be banished first for having done my public duty rather than after the unfolding of yet another tragedy.

Wait, I know this, you know this, and Jason obviously knows this because I’ve been warning him incessantly for a year, until a point where he said “We’ll have to agree to disagree”. That doesn’t answer the question that burns on your mind, “Why did you break the bundle of arrows?” Why suddenly rock the boat on which we’re all standing?

I’m generally immune to marketing in the media in the “real world”, but not as much in open source. I had this belief that it was a completely separate world, a belief that was shattered by events of the past few months.

Seeing the first few videos posted for the 2nd kickstarter, I was annoyed. Then,seeing the latest artist video posted, my jaw dropped on the floor. What I felt at this moment is beyond words and can only be understood by someone who has been observing the tireless, daily struggle of all the open source video editors for over six years. Particularly with a claim like this going unedited: “This thing exists! It’s called Novacut”.

I immediately posted a comment on YouTube, in which I did not mince my words. You can now have a better idea why I found it logical to link to Danny’s post afterwards. I linked to it with the shortest post summary I could think of, because:
  • I could not condone his post: I was agreeing with what he presented.
  • I could not add arguments in the same direction, since
    • I could not think of a better way to say what he said, although his point about “this is a trend to be stopped” was certainly misunderstood as a personal attack.
    • You can guess from the tone of my YouTube comment, I was not in a good disposition at that time.
  • I am not the best writer there is (it took me over 9 hours just to write the post you’re reading right now).

And all hell broke lose.

Did breaking the bundle of arrows do any good? Does trying to prove the point in public achieve anything but suffering?

I need to say that I ideologically still stand behind my endorsement of that blog post and the comments I have posted. Sometimes, even when you know that saying such things out loud can’t possibly be seen in a good light, you still have to say it, for the sake of exposing to the public at large the situation as you have analyzed it to be. Open source is also a matter of dealing in public as much as possible. Leave your dissent buried in your IRC channel and private discussions, and you do not achieve anything for you, for the person you disagree with, for the world.

As improbable as it may seem, to me this is not about money. 25 000$ is peanuts. I’m not saying this because I’m a rich businessman or rockstar developer—I’m a student who spends most if not all his free time contributing to open source. I don’t make a dime on it and I’ve never been into this for the money. If it was about money I would have bought myself a copy of Sony Vegas years ago and called it a day, because I’ve spent so many years working on getting pitivi back on track that I am at a net loss in terms of unpaid work. I even wrote the user manual in secret while I was working in a summer job, and this year I had to take time away from supervising 23 employees while I spent all the rest of my free awake time mentoring SoC students for pitivi (and I still think the amount of mentoring I could provide was insufficient). My weekly paycheck was smaller because I spent less time working “in the real world”. Hang on, where was I heading towards when I started this paragraph?

Ah right: Jason, I don’t mind you getting 25 grand. That’s not the point.

I spoke the truth when I said that I knew you guys would reach the goal a few days ago, it was not even a question in my mind. Deep down, I knew that for sure as soon as you passed your previous milestone of 11K$.

I am still a bit dumbfounded that, in the comments on that blog post, there were accusations of actively “threatening the financial security of [Jason's] family”. I hope I can make that clear. It has never been something as outlandish as trying to bankrupt your family.

I’ve juggled with the ideas for years and I still haven’t found a definitive answer to what could be achieved if we threw money at pitivi. It’s not like I’m seeing a financial loss here, it has been going on for years without any budget. I rather wished you’d have got 250 000$ instead of 25 000$. I am unable to imagine, as others pointed out, what you can do in the long run with a mere 25K without quickly implementing a more permanent business model that regularly brings in significant amounts of money. I sincerely hope you get your financial situation sorted out.

Yes, of course I had that moment of “What is this? How unfair is this to all the other video editor projects out there? Imagine fulltime paid developers on kdenlive, I’d finally be able to ditch pitivi!”. That comes back to my section above: I felt compelled to share that link because not doing so would have been “refraining from giving any credibility to naysayers” and passively nodding in front of misleading statements such as “it exists”.

Jason basically went about it in a completely opposite direction to all open source software development models, with insane risks involved. After seeing what happened of Diaspora, one can’t help but to be worried. I think that was the main point behind Danny’s article, where he said enough about these macro-socio-economic issues, in much better words that I could try to convey myself. Frankly, the more I write on this subject, the more I’ll drift on a tangent and look like I’m bent on dismissing your project. Let’s shift my point of view for a minute.

What would I think of Novacut, if I was not a cautious cynical old fart?

I’d have drank the cool-aid. Back in 2005-2007, I would have killed for the realization of such a promise as Novacut’s. I would have thrown hundreds of bucks into the kickstarter. 25K, in the grand scheme of things, is breadcrumbs. I would have been their most vehement fan. I would even have called the CBC and written articles for the local newspapers or tech magazines.

Yesterday, seeing as they were merely a few hundred dollars away from the goal, I even pledged a couple of bucks myself (before I had the chat and realized how much I hurt Jason).

What will happen in the future?

If Novacut succeeds, PiTiVi dies. Hang on a minute. This statement is not to be interpreted as a threat or warning. This is me publicly saying that if Novacut manages to rapidly reach feature parity with pitivi, then pitivi becomes technologically irrelevant and *I* will join the Novacut project (if they ever let me in). These are my thoughts and do not necessarily reflect those of others, though I know that many probably feel the same as I do on this one.

And without me, I can pretty much assure you that pitivi will slow back to a crawl and fade out from my cladogram and my life. And thus will Novacut be the new heir. The king is dead, long live the King. Such transmutations are a curious fact of the cycle of life in open source.

In short, there are two possible outcomes that I can see in the long term:
  • Novacut succeeds and produces the FOSS editor that people have been awaiting for so long (simple in the beginning, but usable with more coming over time). In that case, join Novacut since it is the way forward.
  • Novacut manages to produce some code that others will use and useful lessons are provided for others (eg design decisions, workflows, etc.)

Either way there will at least be some benefit.

Everybody in life secretly wants to start a revolution and write history. In the grand scheme of things, I am a speck of dust, I’m happy to just go back to the stage of my life where I was only a cineast who wanted a “friggin editor that works”. Tell you what, you build it as awesome as you promised in the next decade, and if you don’t want me I’ll “go find a new hobby” as you suggested. Software is a big part of my life right now, but in the end I’ll be a pack of bones in a grave and until then, maybe I should go fly a kite — literally.

My feelings towards Jason could be summarized by this quote from Randy Pausch:
“When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you.”
And this is why I feel this way…