Understanding community is vital to the success of open source projects

Published • 13 Jun 2008

LugRadio recently featured a section on ‘community’ in their latest episode — Finding Emo — discussing how many individuals and companies alike endeavor to form communities around their projects and products, and how in the end many of these fail. In particular with Jono Bacon on team it is a noteworthy listen (segment starts at approx. 27:00). I think the only thing that was missing at the end of the rather long segment was a conclusion of thoughts by Jono. Here’s my take, in order:

  1. Don’t be a no-one: in order to start doing something yourself you’re the only one in need of convincing and inspiring that that something it’s in fact worth doing. Conversely, acquiring a community of contributers (developers, documentation writers, usability nutters and crazy “orange-sunglass-wearing” artists like myself) requires a bit more. To ensure others will jump onboard when you launch your project build a positive presence in an open source community; being known for your work gives you an air of trust and commitment that inspires others to lend an ear when you have something to say.
  2. Be involved and listen: this should almost come automatically as part of having a presence in a project and as part of a community, but the last part is what really needs pointing out. Sometimes you have more to gain from listening to others than speaking yourself (and this applies far outside of open source communities). Listening will let help you understand the community you are apart of and the people within it, who ultimately are the easiest and possibly largest pool of possible contributers you can reach out to (at least at launch).
  3. Become part of the community and launch from it: it is easier setting a stage within your community and communicating directly to its participants who already contribute to an open source project than from somewhere outside. Still address the world at large and invite anyone who is interested, but do it from a stage where you’re bound to have an audience.

These apply as much to companies that want to extend their products and build their services whilst contributing to open source as to individuals who just want to start their own project but could do with a few extra hands. Too many companies simply put up a web page offering links to a public version control repository and hope a mad flock of developers will form around their project.

Don’t be a no-one, get involved, and listen so that when you’re ready to kick-off your project close to the community you’ve become a part of you will pique the interest of contributors.

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