#Feudalism, in Free and Open Source Software (#FOSS) governance, is not inherently native but is often found due to structural and cultural factors inside the development communities.

Feudalism in FOSS

  1. Hierarchy and Control: In FOSS projects, a small group of core maintainers or a single benevolent dictator (often the project’s founder) holds power over decision-making processes. This creates a hierarchical structure where decision-making authority is concentrated.
  2. Dependency on Maintainers: Contributors depend on the core maintainers to merge their contributions and resolve issues. This dependency creates a power dynamic where the maintainers like courtiers have control over the project’s direction and priorities.
  3. Gatekeeping: Core maintainers act as gatekeepers, deciding which contributions are accepted and which are not. This leads to favouritism and exclusion, reminiscent of feudal lords controlling access to resources and opportunities.


  1. Volunteer Nature of Contributions: Since contributors are volunteers, there is no structure to ensure equal participation or accountability. Core maintainers emerge “naturally” based on their sustained contributions and expertise.
  2. Meritocracy Ideals: FOSS communities value meritocracy, people gain influence based on their contributions. However, this leads to entrenched power structures, as those who have contributed the most or the longest hold sway, sometimes stifling new contributors’ voices.
  3. Resource Scarcity: Many #FOSS projects operate with limited resources, leading to a concentration of control among those who dedicate the most time and effort. This result in a few individuals having outsized influence.


  1. Benevolent Dictator for Life (BDFL): Projects like Python had Guido van Rossum as a #BDFL, where his decisions are final. While this can lead to clear and consistent leadership, it also centralizes power.
  2. Core Team Dominance: In projects like Linux, the core team led by Linus Torvalds has control over the kernel’s development. This centralized control lead to conflicts within the community, as seen in the controversies around code of conduct enforcement and inclusivity.

Balancing Feudalism.

  1. Distributed Governance Models: Some FOSS projects adopt #NGO type democratic or federated governance models, such as Apache Software Foundation’s model, which emphasizes burocratic community-driven decision-making and a meritocratic process for becoming a committer or PMC member.
  2. Transparency and Accountability: Increasing transparency in decision-making helps to hold maintainers accountable through open process and community oversight plays a role in helping mitigate feudal tendencies.
  3. Community Practices: Promoting diversity and inclusivity helps balance power dynamics. Encouraging mentorship and lowering barriers to entry for contributors also helps distribute influence.


While feudalism is not inherent to #FOSS governance, structural and cultural factors lead to feudal-like power dynamics. Addressing these issues requires conscious effort to promote full transparency, accountability, and inclusivity within the community. Adopting balanced governance models and practices, like the #OGB, allow projects to mitigate the risks of feudalism and ensure a healthier development environment.

A wider picture of this mess