5 Ways You’ll Fail at Open Source

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The term open source is a very hot buzzword these days and it seems everyone wants a piece of the action. Here are five reasons why you will fail at open source.

Now don’t get too pessimistic on me. I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer. Instead I want to warn about 5 areas where if you are not careful you will be prone to fail. Avoid these five common pitfalls and you will be much more likely to succeed in the world of open source technology.

1. Lack of support

If you plan to release an open source product be mindful of what this means for your support. Don’t expect the community to come to your rescue in providing support for your product. Especially in the beginning. Everyone wants to believe they have the next big thing which will be instantly used by millions of people. Don’t expect floods of traffic and community volunteers beating a path to your support forums to help answer questions. You will be the one responsible. Your team will be in charge of handling questions, encouraging usage, and ensuring that the early adopters are able to implement your product with ease. You are the support – be ready for it.

2. Failure to innovate

This one is an easy one to let slip by. Releasing an open source product means it’s open for anyone to pull down, fork, make changes, and then submit those changes back to you the original creator. This also means you can have new features created by the community and thus improve the software product. But you should never, never rely on the community to innovate for you. You need to be constantly innovating in your product. Setting a course for new features, planning and improving the product yourself. You should lead the way in innovation.

3. Missing culture

Open source is very very different from corporate life. I know you could argue there are ways in which it’s similar but there are also ways in which it differs. One of those areas is in the concept of culture. The culture of an open source project is incredibly important. Volunteers and contributors are giving their time and their talent with no direct monetary return. If money is not a driving factor you should consider what motivates them. The feeling of community, of contributing to something great, of helping out a friend. There are lots of reasons, but these reasons when weaved together form the culture for the product. An environment which nurtures, supports, and recognizes the work of its volunteers will succeed. An open source product missing a culture will fail in time. Establish a culture.

4. Wrong mission

Open source is not a mission. Your product, your organization must have a mission. Why do what you do? What is the goal or the vision that has been decided upon. If you don’t correctly define your mission then the community will not understand your reasons for decisions made. You should be open and transparent with your mission and what you hope to accomplish with your open source project. Be prepared for disagreements and differences of opinions. Be ready to clarify your mission and why you believe what you believe. If you give the wrong mission you’ll attract the wrong community and you’ll ultimately fail. State your mission clearly and stick to it.

5. Fear of failure

Who’s not afraid of failure? We all are. It’s inherent in human nature (or at least in the adults). But every successful open source project will struggle and fail at some point. There will be obstacles to overcome and differences to learn from. If you are too worried your project is going to fail you will be afraid to experiment, afraid to innovate, and you will lose out on the potential success which may have resulted. The fear of failure can take many forms, from indecision when it’s critical a decision be made, or making the wrong decision in an effort to keep vocal individuals happy, or even making the right decision but moving too slowly because you worry how it will be handled or perceived by others. All of these are ways in which you demonstrate a fear of failure. As a result your open source community will sense this hesitancy, the lack of commitment, and will become fearful as well. Don’t be afraid of failure.

Find Success

It’s that easy. Five simple steps which will cause you to fail in the world of open source. Sure there are others, and sure you could avoid these five steps and still fail in open source. Remember open source in and of itself is not a solution; merely a type of product license. Don’t think simply naming something open source will guarantee your success. Be thoughtful as you plan your project, be careful to avoid some of the common pitfalls listed above, and be confident, you can succeed in open source.