Courting Your Open Source Project’s Community

I receive a lot of email from the community. Much of it is from frustrated users who are trying to make something work. Here’s a recent example:

The problem was that I didn’t realise that the [project] comes ON TOP of Eclipse…I thought that the [project] was something separate and that there’d be no need to install Eclipse. Perhaps a change could be made to the website so that it is made clearer that the [project] (and other similar elements) come on top of Eclipse and they are not separate.

I’ve hidden the identity of the project, because it’s not relevant. I think it’s fair to say that many of our projects suffer similar problems.

Based on the tone, it should be pretty obvious that this comment came after a couple of iterations back and forth between the sender and me.

One of the bigger challenges that we face is that we already know how all of this stuff works. I fell into this trap in my first response to the sender: I told them how to use the “Help > Install new software…” option to connect to the repository and pull in the features he needed. I neglected to include one vital bit of information: it never occurred to me that this person had no idea that they had to install an Eclipse package first.

Community development is an important part of life as an Eclipse project. Project teams must plan to spend some significant amount of their time courting and informing the community. At least part of that effort involves keeping the project web site up-to-date. Put yourself into the mindset of your target community. You must plan to iterate; you’re not going to get it right the first time. Too many of our project sites are old, contain stale information, and assume too much prior knowledge to be useful tools for growing a vibrant community of users, adopters, and developers.

I think that–at least in this case–we’ve managed to keep this person in our user community. But for every confused user that decides to contact me to get help, I wonder how many others just give up and find some other solution to their problem?

EclipseCon 2013

This entry was posted in Community, Cranky Old Programmer, EDP. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Courting Your Open Source Project’s Community

  1. Xavier says:

    Interesting…
    I developed at work several projects based on eclipse. I’ve now the habit of making these projects available as standalone RCP. In this way, they are also available for people that do not know how (or do not want) to use eclipse.

    • waynebeaton says:

      A lot of Eclipse projects do this. But not all. The main point is that you really have to give your community a fighting chance of being successful with your project.

  2. This is one of my bigger fears, that people somehow associate Jetty with Eclipse (the editor) as opposed to simply being in Eclipse (the foundation). I wish that term wasn’t so overridden being an editor, an open source foundation, and a sparkly vampire series, among other things.

    • waynebeaton says:

      I’m disappointed that this is your take away from the article. It was my hope that the take away was that as an Eclipse (or open source in general) project, you need to be actively engaged with your project’s community to ensure that are successful with your project, regardless of its nature. If you’re take away was that “Eclipse is an IDE”, then I need to rethink my writing style.

      • Well, it seemed to come as a surprise to the individual in the quote that whatever he wanted to use ‘comes ON TOP’ of Eclipse which is the IDE…so my take away was less about your article and more about the situation that prompted it to be written.

      • I feel compelled to add that I find it is a very common misconception about Eclipse (the foundation) that projects located at Eclipse (the foundation) are strictly technologies that are related to Eclipse (the editor). In this case apparently a person who did not have that misconception was confronted with a situation where it came as a surprise that it was actually the case. I have had to explain the distinction between Eclipse (the editor) and Eclipse (the foundation) to countless people over the years when asked about Jetty being at Eclipse (the foundation). That is a major aspect of the identity crisis that the Runtime Project has had for years.

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