Developing Community

My JavaOne encounter has caused me to think a lot lately about developing community around open source projects. Here’s a good rule of thumb if you want to develop a community around you’re open source project: don’t call your potential future users “stupid”. Yes, I am making a mountain out of the proverbial molehill.

The first and most important thing is to realize exactly how great the open source software you’re creating is. If you don’t believe in it, nobody else is going to either. But this does require balance. Confidence in the value of your software and your engineering Kung-fu is good. Arrogance will turn others way. Having said that, history has demonstrated (to me) that some amount of arrogance can be valuable.

Second, you need to assume that the community that your open source project serves knows nothing about you and cares even less. And they’re not going to know anything about you until you tell them. In rare cases, the stars may align and the community will come to you, but these cases are rare. Overnight successes almost never happen overnight. In the early days of Eclipse, the Eclipse team heavily with the community they wanted to develop. They sent their rock stars out into the community to do demonstrations, host code camps, deliver talks, write papers, hold hands, and more. Eclipse was an overnight success because the Eclipse project put a lot of hard work into making it so.

You need to get out into the community you’re trying to attract and engage them in a manner that is appropriate for the community.

So… how do you define the community you’re trying to attract? How do you engage that community? How can you demonstrate the value of your open source software to that community?

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2 Responses to Developing Community

  1. Don’t mind the community. Care about the code and only the code. Make it simple to access it… with git and without viewCVS. I don’t think making a demo camp will attract much people very soon, in particular when they will all be busy coding. Even a traditional conference like EclipseCon won’t cut it anymore soon – you’ll have to make gatherings for sure, but presenting in a cold amphitheater, well, why bother if you can do a screencast or a webinar ?

  2. Wim says:

    The answer to the last two questions can be given much more easily if you know who your community is. If you know who they are, say Volkswagen, Porsche and Fiat. Then the foundation can engage in high level conversation with them and then communicate that found wisdom to Hyundai, Saab, Toyota and the others.

    Now those are big companies, but this is hard with the 50 million small companies. E.g. why did a company like Remain Software in the Netherlands choose to jump into Eclipse and why are they still happy 5 years later. What did Eclipse gave them and would’nt that information and passion be helpful to glue the occasional downloader in Remain’s geographical location to Eclipse technology.

    I believe that we must start registering the Eclipse consumers. And on the registration form, there can be a tickbox: “Do you want to come in contact with an Eclipse user in your region to talk about the technolgies that Eclipse has to offer?”

    Stuff like that.

    And given the already big community Eclipse has, the answer to the first question is: You can define the community you are trying to attract by analyzing the community you alread have.

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