Sweet Caroline

Caroline’s Identity Crisis

Remember Caroline Casual-User? After speaking with some of you after the last blog post, I think I may have misrepresented her in terms of Fedora’s target user. (The LUNIX joke was really bad, serving only to confound.) Hopefully folks from the Fedora Board who were involved in the creation of the target user base definition could also clarify what their original intention was in case I’m not understanding the intent or not communicating it as effectively as I could again. In either case, I would like to explore who Caroline is, and who she isn’t, in the hopes of at least bringing a bit more awareness that we’re probably not all talking about the same woman, if not to go so far as make it fairly clear who she actually is .

Caroline’s Origins

First, let’s look at the target user of the the default Fedora desktop:

This type of consumer is someone we think can immediately benefit from the usefulness and elegance of free software. This type of consumer is also someone who can be persuaded to participate or contribute to Fedora. Consumers who don’t fit this minimum profile, though, might very well be pleased with what we provide. We tend to favor consumers who are interested in taking a step toward collaboration. […]

  • Voluntary Linux consumer
  • Computer-friendly
  • Likely collaborator
  • General productivity user

A slightly-different version of this statement from a mailing list announcement has also been widely-quoted, so let’s take a look at that too:

We found four defining characteristics that we believe best describe the Fedora distribution’s target audience: Someone who

  1. is voluntarily switching to Linux,
  2. is familiar with computers, but is not necessarily a hacker or developer,
  3. is likely to collaborate in some fashion when something’s wrong with Fedora, and
  4. wants to use Fedora for general productivity, either using desktop applications or a Web browser.

Okay. So we’ve reviewed the source material and it’s fresh in our heads. Now let’s walk through what I believe are some misconceptions about Caroline based on comments to my last blog post, and read them while referencing this source material.

Myths about Caroline

Caroline doesn’t care about technology

Caroline is supposed to be a “computer-friendly” person who is “voluntarily switching to Linux.” It may well be a flawed assumption, but I’m not sure folks who aren’t interested in technology even really understand what Linux is, nevermind would voluntarily switch to using it or describe themselves as computer-friendly.

Caroline isn’t willing to give back.

The Board’s definition and communications about it were pretty careful to point out this isn’t the case. Actually, one of the four key attributes of the target user is “likely collaborator.” The the user base definition says, “We tend to favor consumers who are interested in taking a step toward collaboration.”
“We found four defining characteristics that we believe best describe the Fedora distribution’s target audience,” states the the mailing list announcement, “Someone who [..] is likely to collaborate in some fashion when something’s wrong with Fedora.”
As Deb pointed out, “Today’s Carolines could become tomorrow’s Connies.”

Caroline only asks for mp3 and Flash support.

Well. I think do Caroline probably cares a lot more about her music collection and being able to be Rick-rolled and watch the latest Autotune the News rather than mp3 and flash technology specifically. (Although from my own guesses about Caroline, she may well be the type to write her own songs and share them or post video tutorials and video blogs – she doesn’t strike me as a straight-out consumer.) The Board-written, detailed description of her computer usage does include “locating and viewing/playing media.”
That being said, yes, Caroline has an issue if she can’t listen to her 50 gigs of music albums or see the new Snoop Dogg cameo in Katy Perry’s latest music video. The problem isn’t insurmountable, and Caroline is comfortable with computers and interested in technology, so I think she will probably find a (admittedly PITA) work-around to do these things before technologies like webm make this silliness unnecessary.

So just who is Caroline? Let’s play a game!

I think it might be helpful if we think through specific examples of places we may or may not be likely to find Caroline. So, are you ready to play……
where is caroline?

Is Caroline someone you could easily meet……

GUADEC 2006, my own photo
I think that the folks above are most likely to be in Pamela’s camp, and in some cases Connie or Nancy’s camp. Linux is a big enough part of these folks’ lives that they’ve taken the trouble to pay or find funding for a flight and lodging, they’ve taken time away from their family and perhaps even vacation time from work in order to spend at least a day if not a whole week at a conference revolving around it. (Or in the case of LUG attendees, an evening away from home missing dinner with the family once a month or weekly.) I just don’t think it is possible for these folks to be Carolines.

Is Caroline someone you could easily meet……

  • Standing in line behind you at your local farmers’ market?
  • At the Otakon anime conference?
  • At the community center studio art class you take on the weekends?
  • Shopping at the Sunday church flea market?
  • At a Blue Hills Hiking Group meetup?
  • At your local pub?
  • Sitting next in the row behind you at the movie theater waiting for the latest movie blockbuster to start?

“Farmer’s Market” by Emily Prachthauser. Used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.
Isn’t it kind of a crap shoot? I know folks I would consider to be Carolines who each individually might go to one or two of these types of events, but I think I would be very lucky to have the chance to meet a Caroline just by going to any of these events. Unfortunately, I think maybe a lot of you came away from my last blog post thinking I meant to say that a Caroline could easily be picked out at any of these types of events.

Is Caroline someone you could easily meet……

  • At the SXSW conference?
  • Hanging around at PAX?
  • Sitting next to you at a TED technology talk?
  • Attending an ACM CHI conference?
  • Building cool things at a MakerFaire?
  • Chilling out at a hackfest at RailsConf?
  • Through her awesome Vimeo channel, where she posts weekly Gimp tutorials?
  • Browing the aisles of your local electronics store?
  • Working as a technology coordinator at a local school?


“pre-panel get together” by Ed Schipul, taken at SXSW’08. Used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license.
Outcome likely, yes, IMHO. These are folks who are comfortable with computers, clearly love technology, but whose lives do not center around Fedora and/or Linux. (Instead, their lives and/or passions center around MakerBots or RepRaps, Adobe products (or Gimp!), Playstations or Nintendos, technology-related research, user interface design, blogging, building awesome web applications, maintaining computers for their students, etc. etc. ….) These are not folks who would identify themselves as Linux contributors, but whom are probably a far cry from needing instruction in how to use a computer mouse or what an MP3 is, and whom are very likely to value the freedoms using free software affords them. (They may already use free software!)
If you’ll humor me the effort, keep these folks in mind and then re-read Caroline’s yellow speech bubble at the top of this blog post. Maybe it makes more sense what I was trying to do… if you replace the “coffeeshops and parties” with Makerbots, Playstations, or building kick-ass web applications.

Who is getting left out?

So, at least in this blog post, we’re probably not talking about your grandparents’ friend Etna who stands behind you in line at your local supermarket, has three cats, and always confuses you with your younger sibling. We’re likely not talking about elementary school age children in a third-world country who struggle just to find clean water to drink. We’re probably not talking about the person who drives the subway car or bus that helps get you to work in the morning, or the woman who owns and operates your favorite neighborhood restaurant.
These folks are probably not Carolines. They’ll need a different persona. Whether or not we’re meant to or should consider targeting them, I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader.
What do you think?


  1. I think my family's a Caroline
    They couldn't care less about updates, just that the computer is working. In fact, I dare say they're afraid of updates (On both Windows and Linux, actually) and postpone them as much as inhumanly possible.
    They're also not likely contributors, though they might let me know about a quirk or two that I end up either providing a workaround, or reporting to bugzilla directly. 3/4 is good enough?

    1. Reporting to Bugzilla, according to the user base definition, is sufficient!

  2. Let me describe a few Caroline I meet recently:
    – a photographer I meet at the camp last week, he is into computers and even tried Gentoo, it was impressed by it but didn't become an user "I could compile everything and get the fastest OS ever, but once I get it booted I don't have anything to do with it". He tried GIMP but is in love with Adobe products;
    – the location manager at the same camp, he is a 67 years old guy but very active: had a 4×4 rental company for mountain driving, drives an ATV, is very active on facebook and other websites, does amateur photography (he made a lot of "making-of" at the camp) and the most important: he uses GIMP, probably for the price;
    – one of my models and her boyfriend, they are both geeks and photographers. He tried Ubuntu for a while, liked it but was unhappy with the lack of binary video drivers and was missing Photoshop. She won't leave the comfort of the Windows she knows or the Adobe tools, but she loves the idea of the Fedora community, gladly wears buttons and shirts and may get enthusiastic about some of my GIMP tutorials;
    – a friend of me who is learning web design, is very comfortable with the Windows she knows and don't want to leave and is eyeing Dreamweaver and Flash for development. When she wanted to learn about graphics, my only offer was to teach GIMP and Inkscape, I think I may got her hooked on Inkscape but still complaining about GIMP starting slowly.
    Those are a few examples but surely I can give you more. The point is, I would not try tu push Fedora, and probably no other distro, to any of them. They are nor ready for it or Linux is not ready for them.

    1. "They are nor ready for it or Linux is not ready for them." I think we need to make it ready for them.

      1. Then we should provide better applications, that's where we suck the most, people need two things: apps to get their job done and hardware support.

  3. Taken together with JonM's latest post, I'm loving the direction of discussion.
    As for the exercise…from Fedora's front page "…leading the advancement of free, open software and content."…so yeah, we're meant to and should consider 🙂

  4. Andy Fitzsimon says:

    G'day mo,
    Just dropped by to say I love this post!
    Also , I suspect Caroline has a kiwi accent and therefore is frustrated with speech recognition and the like 😉

    1. Yay thanks Andy 🙂 She may well have a kiwi accent 😉

  5. dragonbite says:

    These explorations are great at figuring out who exactly is the target market, by figuring out who exactly these people are!
    In some ways I fit a Caroline. Not from lack of wanting to participate more, but for time, skill and focus. So I do what I can (which isn't much).

  6. Joe Buck says:

    Actually, I think that Caroline is quite likely to be the spouse or SO of an enthusiastic Fedora user in one of your other categories, who is willing to go along with the use of Fedora but whose main interest in using the computer is to achieve some other purpose. If Caroline has to share a computer with Pamela or Nancy, or relies on them to keep her system maintained, then Fedora can't piss Caroline off too much or Pamela/Nancy might have to switch to some distro that can serve the both of them better.

    1. Joe, I think you've really nailed it. She doesn't mind using computers, she may have technological interests, but they do NOT center around Fedora specifically. She won't use Fedora because she loves Fedora, she'll use Fedora if it helps her work on her other (non-Fedora) interests.

      1. Joe Buck says:

        Yes, I'm a Nancy married to a Caroline.

  7. 1. Oh no! "whom are"
    2. I have no idea what is going on here, but
    "# Chilling out at a hackfest at RailsConf?
    # Through her awesome Vimeo channel, where she posts weekly Gimp tutorials?
    # Browsing the aisles of your local electronics store?
    # Working as a technology coordinator at a local school?"
    sounds basically like the opposite of
    "I try to spend as little time as possible in front of the computer."
    which in turn is incompatible with
    "I wish I had time to learn to program"
    implying that she doesn't write software, which would make enjoying a hackfest rather difficult.
    I read three _very_ different users in your text, and I think conflating them is unhelpful. In particular, one is comfortable with computers but tries to avoid them, one likes computers and wants to learn more about them, and one is already a software developer.

    1. Yea, please see the part where I said that I screwed up (the whole point of this blog post was to correct the screw up. double screw up!) The graphic with the speech bubble is the old, screwed-up version from the blog post that came before this one…… make more sense now? Caroline could be a developer (read board user statement ) just 'not necessarily.' If she is a developer, she isn't a linux or more specifically fedora developer. Fedora Linux isn't the center of her universe…..
      (edited to correct the godawful Android text completion)

    2. I updated the graphic, hope it helps.

      1. Yep, the new graphic definitely helps me to understand your article.

  8. It's eerie how much your exploration of Caroline's personality matches what I remember of the Board's discussions around the user base statement. Not to mention which, it also dovetails nicely into pitches that I made at e.g. FUDCon Toronto 2009 to reach out to communities beyond Linux — the maker culture, creative groups, DIYers, activists, and people who are working on the Web's Next Great Game-Changer.

  9. Clarification on user target is something that we need to review and keep fresh on our minds. Lovely post.

  10. […] Defined a user base. (I do worry that different folks interpret the user base differently, I have my own interpretation.) […]

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