Advice On Growing OSS Communities

I just posted this as a comment to Josh’s reply to my reply to his JavaOne 2008 pitch:

Josh, come on dude, you’re lumping me in with VCs now?? ;-)

About 1.5 years ago, I used to argue that a project isn’t “a true OSS project” if there isn’t an open community with input and control spread across multiple unrelated entities. I used to hold Apache projects or kernel.org as the gold standard. But then I looked around at OSS vendors that the market held up as poster children. I discussed/argued this notion of “true OSS project” with JBossians. In the end, I realized that single-vendor controlled communities were going to be the rule, not the exception. But I guess you’re suggesting that even when there is a single vendor in control of the project, the vendor can choose to concede some power to the community?

I agree with you 100%. The companies that I list are financially successful, but, relatively speaking, less successful at building a community. As you point out, this has a lot to do with adding financial targets to the open source business model equation. It’s interesting you mention that some of these companies have reached out to you and others for advice on growing OSS communities.

I truly want to believe that the majority of OSS vendors will choose to be more open to third party input and thereby drive a more vibrant community around their projects. However, I need to be convinced that any of the larger OSS vendors will choose to change their business practices. And if these more well known OSS vendors aren’t about to go “truly open” (whatever that means ;-) , it’s unlikely that a VC-backed OSS startup is going to risk losing control of their OSS project.

Let me put my business hat on and play devils advocate: Why exactly do larger OSS vendors need to encourage a more vibrant community around their single-vendor controlled OSS project than what they already have? These leading OSS vendors will continue to drive community traction as new users seek OSS solutions and turn to “the leaders”. More importantly, these OSS vendors are faced with the challenge of converting an already large group of users into paying customers. Does growing the community pie to a larger number truly impact the slice that is willing to pay? It can’t hurtbut does it help in the near term (i.e. the duration over which their revenue targets are most relevant)?

Now let’s see if any of the leading OSS vendors choose to implement strategies to grow their communities by becoming “more open”. Stranger things have happened ;-)

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