February 9, 2016
It Only Takes One
I love talking to people and listening to them as they share their story with me. I find it fascinating to hear about what they do, what they work on, how they live, and what they love. There’s always one thing I notice when I have these conversations. When you ask someone what they do you will most often get some story about how they make money. Inevitably the question of what someone does is intrinsically tied to their bank balance. But if that’s the case then you’re asking the wrong question.
I’ve seen many posts before suggesting alternatives to the question about what someone does which will give you a better answer or a more enlightening response. I love those suggestions because that’s when something different happens. That’s the moment I notice something different.
Ask a better question, get a better answer.
Ask someone what they love, or ask someone what a perfect day might look like to them (and feel free to specify that it does not need to even be related to work) and watch the reaction and response you get. You’ll immediately see what I’m referring to. They don’t rattle off some answer related to how they pay their mortgage. No, instead you’ll see a passion ignite in their eyes, you’ll hear a lift in their voice, maybe even a smile will slowly emerge across their face. This is golden. This is why I love to listen to people share their story. I enjoy hearing what people are passionate about. I especially enjoy watching them get excited and feeling that excitement start to resonate in my own spirit. Because in this moment, in that flicker of a spark, you connect with someone on a deeper level.
Their passion, their excitement, their eagerness to share with you something they deeply care about and love is contagious. When you’re passionate about something and you share it with someone else you have the opportunity to go much further than answering the “what” question, you answer the “why” question. Did you catch that? Your motivation and energy to accomplish something which answers your “why” can resonate with others.
Imagine this with me now. What happens if you were to spend time each day sharing your passion, and your driving force with others. This contagious spark spreads. Your passion leaps from person to person, motivating, inspiring, and engaging. Those individuals in turn will share that passion and that experience with another, and another, and another. Suddenly what started as your vision, and your passion, a single solitary flame burning inside you is now a raging inferno spreading farther and faster than you ever imagined. Now you’re no longer alone, now you are a group of individuals brought together by a common goal, a common purpose and a common passion…wait, does that last sentence sound familiar? It should. I used a similar sentence once before in a previous post, only this time I’ve left off the first three words. Here is my previous sentence:
“Every successful community must be centered around a common belief, a common passion.”
You see, that same passion which excites you, and ultimately those around you; that same driving force which answers your “why” and that of others ultimately provides you with the basis of a community. And as that fire spreads your community grows.
People often ask why Mautic is such a successful community. They wonder at how we’ve grown so incredibly fast in such a short time. The answer is easy. In fact, the answer is so easy at times people struggle to believe its true. But it is. The Mauticians which make up our community have a common belief and a common passion. We rally around our goal and the answer to our “why” and we spread like a wildfire. If you still don’t believe this, talk to a Mautician, find someone who knows and loves Mautic and ask them about it. Watch the light in their eyes, the smile on their lips, and hear the excitement in their voice as they tell you how we’re revolutionizing the world, disrupting an industry, and empowering everyone. And then afterwards, well then I imagine I’ll see you very soon in the Mautic community.
Find someone who knows and loves Mautic and ask them about it. Watch the light in their eyes, the smile on their lips, and hear the excitement in their voice as they tell you how we’re revolutionizing the world, disrupting an industry, and empowering everyone.
July 3, 2015
The Price of Free Software
Let’s talk for a minute about the topic of free software. As you may know I am deeply involved with the Mautic community which offers a free marketing automation platform. This platform is free, open source and available for immediate download by anyone interested. I am thrilled to be able to play a part in this community which seeks to support businesses, organizations, and people in their marketing efforts without asking for anything in return.
I have over a decade of experience in this type of environment as I’ve previously volunteered my time in the Joomla community as well as spending time in both WordPress and Drupal communities. All of these communities are centered around a free product and also an open source one. Their content managements systems can be downloaded and installed and used with no payments made. These are merely three additional examples drawn from personal experience, hundreds if not thousands of other communities exist to provide free software. This leads to an inevitable question. Is free software truly free? What is the hidden price of free?
I’m going to break this down into three sections. First, we’ll examine monetary costs, second we’ll look at secondary costs, and lastly we’ll look at future costs. After each section we’ll draw a conclusion.
The Monetary Cost of Free Software
This first point may seem almost ludicrous since we’re discussing free software and by very nature free software implies that there is no monetary cost. However, unfortunately in some cases free software is limited software. These types of free software are poor restricted attempts to win customers by offering something free which in truth is merely a hint or shadow of what the software should do.
This is a uniquely cruel form of torture and one which should be abolished and abhorred. No software intentionally shackling or tethering the user under the guise of free software should be allowed to exist as free software. This kind of “free software” does indeed have a very high monetary cost and unfortunately gives all other types of free software a bad name.
Conclusion: All free software has not been created equal.
The Secondary Costs of Free Software
There are, of course, additional costs associated with a software platform that exist far beyond the money spent in acquiring the software. These are indeed very real and should not be forgotten. Let me name just two of these secondary costs for you.
- The Learning Curve: With free software there is a learning curve which the user must overcome before they are comfortable using the platform. This learning curve requires time and dedication. This time can be extremely expensive. And yet, I would challenge you with a question. Could I not remove the word “free” from the first sentence and the statement would remain the same? “With software there is a learning curve which the user must overcome before they are comfortable using the platform.” Yes, this statement is also true and valid.
- Training & Support: Free software may not cost for its use, but there are training and support expenses which result from the use of this software. And again, these costs would be equally attributed to paid systems as well. Every time software is implemented there is an opportunity for training and support fees to be provided.
So we see that there are opportunities for additional secondary costs associated with free software. There is something though that I touched on briefly in the second part of the Learning Curve cost. The time involved in learning a new platform, of any kind, is a cost that can be most exorbitant. But here’s an interesting suggestion. When dealing with a free community full of active volunteers this learning experience can be much aided through network of others. This type of learning can never be accomplished in the same volume by a paid software company. Thousands of volunteers working and participating on the improvements of the software able to answer your questions, offer advice, and improve your understanding makes your learning curve easier with free software.
Conclusion: All software has secondary costs.
The Future Costs of Free Software
Here we explore the potential future costs as a result of implementing free software. Some would suggest that because free software is free it must then be unsustainable and more liable to disappear in the future. I find this somewhat ironic. These communities which exist purely for the growth and improvements of the software and are not tied to a for-profit business serve to exist for far longer times. Successful communities will be able to continue without fear of failure due to lack of funds. Now free software where the code is also open source means the code will be forever in existence and available to everyone, anywhere. And lastly, due to the sheer size of free, open source communities volunteering there is a much larger development pool capable of continuing on the progress and improvements to the software.
Conclusion: Free software is not bound by for-profit corporations for future existence.
I am not foolish to assume that all free software is as wonderful as the software I listed at the beginning of this post. These are both free and open source software tools which are a bit different from just examining “free software” however, my background and experience leads me to speak to this type of free software. There are of course other, far worse examples of free software which harm the concepts of the software listed here.
And lastly, you may notice that the second item listed is the only example where actual costs may exist. This is indeed a cost associated with free software. However, as I stated this cost exists regardless of the nature of the software. Both free and not-free software hold these secondary costs. Therefore I believe it is fair to say these costs are valid to be disregarded when valuing the cost of software since they will exist in any situation.
I conclude then that while there may be costs associated with free software you will find that these costs are far, far less then in other situations and ultimately you will still find free software to be more cost effective than the alternative.
March 18, 2015
The Power of Product Hunt
Chirp. That’s how it began. A single, simple, chirp from my Tweetdeck. I was in the middle of a meeting in my office when the tweet came in and I glanced only half-interested while deep in conversation. When I read the tweet however everything else stopped.
— Product Hunt (@ProductHunt) March 17, 2015
That was all it said. Added as a maker of Mautic. (Our open source marketing automation platform and community.) But I knew what this meant. I was very familiar with the twitter handle @ProductHunt. For those that don’t know what Product Hunt is here is a brief explanation. Product Hunt features a list of the best new products on the web. Every day the list is restarted. Throughout the day these items are voted on by the community and comments added. This social aspect allows trending of the most popular new items. For startups and early stage communities this is an incredible achievement and I was well aware of the power of Product Hunt. I’d even submitted Mautic in the past but had never heard anything back.
Happy St.Patrick’s Day
Now, here on St. Patrick’s Day, I had just received notice that we’d been added. Things kicked into high gear almost immediately. I excused myself from the meeting I was in and quickly informed the rest of the Mautic community that we had been “hunted” as Product Hunt refers to the adding of a new item.
And as expected, traffic spiked. (See graph above) We watched – anxiously monitoring our web servers as they creaked under the sudden load increase. But though we may have been anxious we had a confidence because we had some great tools in place.
Some Of Our Tools
We were using a CDN for static assets (CloudFlare is amazing), we also have a secret weapon (not too secret). We use New Relic. We could monitor throughput, response times, CPU usage, memory usage, and errors in live time. This was incredibly helpful as there were moment when we were registering a dozen accounts a minute and we found a problem with simultaneous registrations. We were able to fix them incredibly quickly and notify those few affected users directly. Remember, first impressions are everything! Zendesk was also a great help in monitoring and responding to any specific questions or support issues.
Of course we had thoroughly tested and re-tested to ensure we could handle a traffic increase and traffic spikes (we knew we would be wildly popular once people began to hear about Mautic). But there’s nothing like the confidence that when things are actually exploding you are capable of dealing with the situations as they occur.
Helping Continue Momentum
We continued the buzz by promoting Mautic’s addition to the list through various social media posts. We had to work fast because although we were aware of Product Hunt and hoped to be featured we had to create the resources on-the-fly. We created a custom short URL, http://mau.tc/prod-hunt which would be easy to share (Thanks to Bitly.) And then very soon after the announcement we released this on our social media platforms:
But we didn’t stop there. We continued to share the good news to hopefully increase the visibility of our listing throughout the day. We updated all our social media platforms at the same time. Following some good advice we didn’t stagger our announcements but posted everywhere.
Later we created a second social media announcement focused on the specialness of being listed on St. Patrick’s Day and later in the afternoon we released this graphic:
The response was tremendous. These social media posts helped to boost our presence and awareness of our placement on Product Hunt. As a result we saw an increase in upvotes on the site and our listing began to trend. Things continued to grow as a result and now, the day after we are still “above the fold” as we continue to trend into the second day on Product Hunt.
All in all the day was a thrilling and somewhat wild ride. We saw thousands and thousands of new users and an incredible response to Mautic. Just as we had all suspected, people are thrilled when they discover the power of free and open source marketing automation. My alert may have started with a single chirp from a single tweet, but it wasn’t long before the notifications were coming in so close together the sounds were overlapping.
If you have a startup or a young community then you may be aware of Product Hunt already. If not, you should be. If you are, take a look at some of the tips I shared above to help you capitalize on your listing and do everything you can to maximize your social sharing!
December 15, 2014
Beta List Featured Startup Mautic
So there’s an awesome website, if you’ve never heard of it you need to check it out. It’s called Beta List. Beta List gives you just what it sounds like, a list of awesome new software platforms that are currently in beta. You can get a quick overview of what the app does and view a screenshot or two before visiting the site to sign-up for the beta.
No, not an advertisement!
Why am I talking about this website? I’ll tell you why. Yesterday I was notified, much to my delight, that our young, new community Mautic has been added to the list and featured. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but it’s pretty awesome to be placed on the list among other great up-and-coming beta apps. We’re incredibly excited to share Mautic with new people and introduce others to the future of marketing automation. Free and open source marketing automation.
Check us out!
If you have time I’d encourage you to stop by our listing, check us out, but also look around at some of the other amazing beta opportunities listed on the website. Oh, and I apologize in advance because you may get lost in the excitement of looking around and lose track of time.
September 23, 2014
Use Marketing Automation and Never Work Again!
What is Marketing Automation?
To some this is a familiar term and to others its a bit intimidating. Let’s look first at what marketing automation is and then we’ll look at a few more related topics and hopefully give a pretty clear picture about what we’re doing.
Marketing automation is defined by wikipedia as the following:
Marketing automation refers to software platforms and technologies designed for marketing departments and organizations to more effectively market on multiple channels online (such as email, social media, websites, etc.) and automate repetitive tasks.
This is a fairly detailed definition which while it answers the question of what marketing automation is, it could perhaps be simplified somewhat. Marketing automation is powerful software and processes which makes complex and repetitive tasks easy. (That’s pretty simple). It doesn’t mean you don’t work, but it does help with the repetitive and mundane tasks.
So that’s a bit easier but still rather generic. Let’s look quickly at who marketing automation is for and who should be interested in the topic.
Who is Marketing Automation For?
Marketing automation is for every business. Maybe that’s not completely true. Before Mautic was created marketing automation was something only available to large businesses with significant marketing and sales budgets. I’m incredibly excited to be a part of something which is revolutionizing a market and empowering businesses of all sizes. Marketing automation is changing forever. We are building software which everyone can use to save them time, simplify their sales processes, and learn their customers better. Mautic allows you to do everything from better lead nurturing and targeting to social media networking with potential clients. Marketing automation also helps you automate tasks such as email campaigns and much more.
Why Open Source?
So if there are such powerful software platforms already providing these services why bother with creating another one? If you’ve followed my writing at all then you know I’m passionate about open source. I believe strongly in the power of open source and I have volunteered hundreds (thousands) of hours to open source and its promotion. I truly believe open source makes our world a better place. Whether you’re talking about a content management system to power your website or software tools to give you the business tools you need to be successful. Open source now provides an option. Read my previous articles about open source and community if you need more reasons or specifics for why open source is important.
What is So Special?
So now we know what marketing automation is and we also know why open source as a software type is important we can now look at what makes Mautic different and special. As I said previously marketing automation was not available for everyone. Marketing automation used to cost thousands of dollars a month and was simply unaffordable for many for most small and medium sized businesses. Not any more. Mautic is special because it completely disrupts everything. Mautic is providing the powerful tools of marketing automation to businesses of all sizes at a cost everyone can afford. Free. This open source community is focused on empowering every business and giving everyone equal opportunities for success. That’s revolutionary. And as an open source community it’s exciting.
When Is It Available?
Ok so now some of you may be as excited as I am; at least I hope you are. Because Mautic is all about equality. Breaking down the barriers which previously kept powerful software away from the every-day businesses. Open source is truly changing our world. I am as eager and anxious as the next person to see Mautic released and am hardly sleeping as we work to release the beta software. Dates are shifting constantly (as always with software development) but we have a strong expectation that we’ll be able to release an alpha version to those businesses which have signed up to be early testers within the next several weeks.
You can check back on my blog as I will be posting more information about what is to come in the weeks to follow and if you have any specific questions or ideas please let me know – I would love to hear from you! We have great things ahead. And I truly believe we are all in this together – Let’s work together to do revolutionary things!
September 16, 2014
Why I Love Open Source (Reason 2)
I previously blogged about the first reason why I love open source. You can read that post here. This is the second in the WILOS (Why I Love Open Source) series. It’s difficult to come up with just one reason to focus on at at time and maybe that’s why my posts on the topic come so far apart. But I have narrowed down my second reason why I love open source and I’ve listed it below along with my reasoning. Please keep in mind these are in no particular order and I hope you’ll agree with each of these reasons.
Reason 2: Open source gives power.
Ok, no panicking. Don’t go thinking this is the “I will rule the world” type of power. Power in open source is very, very different. Read my points below and I think you’ll agree that power is an excellent reason to love open source. There’s different types of power and different applications and displays of power. Here’s what I mean.
Power drives communities
When a community holds power they are able to do great things. A community which has been empowered to make decisions and change the course of the project is a highly motivating force. These open source communities are powerful and capable of shaping their future based on the needs not of a single corporation but of the entire community. This power enables the community to feel in control and share a bond which encourages teamwork and cooperation. In addition the empowered open source community maintains stronger bonds of trust between the individuals which make up that community.Great open source communities are built on the trust and relationships of dedicated individuals.
Power belongs to everyone
Open source is unique in that it allows everyone to be empowered. The really great open source communities give their volunteers the opportunity to own the source code themselves. They can take control of the code. What do I mean by taking control of the code? It’s easy. If you see a problem. You can submit a pull request to fix it. If you see a need you can fill that need. The opportunity is available for you in an open source community (and particular the open source code projects). This is power. This is exciting power. This means the power for improving the project belongs to each and every individual.
Power means responsibility
It can be an awe-some and intimidating task to think that each community volunteer yields the power to change the direction of a global open source project. This amount of power can be overwhelming and certainly challenging…but as the popular phrase goes, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Each of us working in a volunteer open source community must behave responsibility. We have the power to make changes which will affect others well beyond our own sphere of influence. This empowerment means we are responsible. We must maintain a sense of respect, support, and encouragement for others. We must hold this power responsibly. Questions about what that looks like? It’s as simple as the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
I love open source for so many reasons. The power to change our world and improve the lives and businesses of people I would never otherwise meet is almost breath-taking. Stop and think about it for a second. The power to help others and provide a sense of empowerment to someone else is yours. Your open source activities empower you to find both personal and professional satisfaction.
Do you consider open source to be powerful? Have you thought about the power you hold when volunteering your time in an open source community? If you haven’t then I hope these couple of points have encouraged you to think about it again. And I believe you’ll agree with me. Power is certainly another reason to love open source!
September 4, 2014
A Vision Statement
One of the first things every community should have is a reason for doing what they do. I’ve said it numerous times before and I’ll probably elaborate on it even more in a future blog but the first and most important part of every community is the “why”. I won’t go into more details now; if you want to refresh your memory watch this video.
A vision statement for a community is important to understanding the why and sharing a grand “perfect world” example of what things would be like if the community’s why is achieved. If you have never heard or thought about a vision statement before or if you simply want to learn more about them then keep reading.
What is a Vision Statement
According to the Business Dictionary the definition for a vision statement is as follows:
An aspirational description of what an organization would like to achieve or accomplish in the mid-term or long-term future. It is intended to serves as a clear guide for choosing current and future courses of action.
These aspirations are usually grand in scope and world-changing in philosophy. Some might even consider them to be unattainable. The vision is what the community strives to see happen. It’s their purpose for existing and their motivation for future improvements. The vision statement helps to shape the direction and course for decisions and choices which might affect the entire community.
Because the vision statement shapes the direction of the community it is quite important that the vision match up closely with the why of the community. Now that we understand what a vision statement is by definition let’s look at a few examples.
Examples of Vision Statements
The following are some examples of vision statements from well-known companies. See if you can find similarities between them.
Shaping the future by preserving our heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing our resources with the world
Our vision is nothing less than realizing the full potential of the Internet — universal access to research and education, full participation in culture — to drive a new era of development, growth, and productivity.
– Creative Commons
Our vision is a world in which every child attains the right to survival, protection, development and participation.
– Save the Children
Almost every community, non-profit organization, and company has a vision statement. I’ve explained the reasons above why a vision statement is important and now we have three samples from three vastly different types of organizations. What similarities can we find? First, each of these statements clearly defines a purpose: shaping the future (Smithsonian), drive a new era (Creative Commons), and every child attains the right (Save the Children). Each of these purposes is grand in scale. Each one wants to change the world.
There’s nothing wrong with a vision statement that seems impossible to achieve. Your vision is your ideals, your goal, and the thing which motivates you as you make decisions. If you are in a community that doesn’t want to change the world…then why would you even bother. Making a difference in the world is one thing which instills the passion in volunteers.
A Problem Identified
As I shared previously, I’m excited to be involved in a brand new open source community. Mautic, is a free and open source marketing automation software. The Mautic community is centered on a very particular focus. Small business. The little guy. The underdog. Whatever you want to call us. We’re the ones working to build the base for our world. Our companies are the ones which employ the most people, provide the most revenue, and give stability to the global economy.
Previously we’ve been neglected. Big business likes to work with big business. That means big software companies like to focus on big business because they can charge more money and make more profits. Because of this misplaced focus the small businesses are disadvantaged. We lose out on access to tools and resources which others are able to use. Because we are ignored we lose opportunities. Without opportunities our chances for success are lessened. We see this as a problem.
The Mautic community is focused on solving this problem. We, as a collective group of individuals, are joining together for a purpose, and a cause. We have grand ideas about what we want to do and we want to see the world changed. Here is our vision statement:
Mautic is free and open source marketing automation and our community is passionate about doing big things and changing our world. I can’t wait to share more about what we can do and how we can do it. I’ll hopefully provide another update as things move quickly towards a grand unveiling. I’m excited to be able to be a part of something so revolutionary and if you’re interested in joining this community you are welcome to become a part. We’re all in this together and we’re passionate about changing our world.
August 28, 2014
Proprietary Open Source
I’ve noticed a bit of a trend in some business circles where companies are eager to use open source. Open source is the “thing to do” and everyone is doing it. I love it. The more the world uses open source the better. The problem comes when the businesses are using open source but keeping their same closed source mindset! That’s not the open source way. That’s a business interested in open source merely to be included in a trend. That’s a poor attempt at proprietary open source.
What do I mean by proprietary open source? I’m glad you asked! It’s a bit of a contradiction those two words, and yet it seems to be what some businesses try to do. Here’s what I mean.
Protect the Code
The first thing these faux-open source businesses want to do is protect their code. They want to be accepted as open source by the world but they have failed to understand some of the very basic tenants of the open source way. I don’t mean they want to protect the code from being used incorrectly or broken. I mean they want to lock the code down and prevent it from being manipulated, used, or distributed by others. They want to keep the code from being universally accessible. For those who may not recognize those last two words, they are pulled directly from Wikipedia’s definition of open source.
A business cannot be an open source business if they fail to follow the very definition of open source. The right way to protect the code is not obfuscating, encrypting, or otherwise restricting access to the code. Successful open source businesses understand this.
Dominate the Market
The second signal of a false open source company is their singular quest to dominate a market. Of course every business seeks to be successful and success can be enhanced by complete control over a space but this is not the reason to select open source. Again, there’s nothing wrong with being the best or being the company which stands head and shoulders above the rest. But dominating a market should not be the reason a business chooses to be open source.
Make a Profit
Making a profit is an important part of any business. If a business doesn’t make a profit then the business will fold. Of course I would never suggest that a business not seek to be successful. I’m always looking for ways to improve efficiency, increase profitability and grow the businesses I’m involved with. I do mean that if a business selects open source purely with the goal to make a profit then they have not understood the purpose of open source. There are many examples and long debates on open source as a successful business model. This is not my point. A business should not be consumed purely with being profitable and as a result view open source merely as a way to generate revenue.
Miss the Point
When I see a business exhibiting the above symptoms I immediately begin to think they are missing the point. They fail to understand the open source way. The reasons for using and contributing and working with open source are many. I’ve heard countless stories from people I greatly respect on why they work with open source. The more I hear these stories the more stark the contrast becomes when I see someone fighting to keep their code “protected” and keep their business in control of a marketplace. I realize these businesses have missed the point.
Lead the Way
The open source way is indeed a different way of thinking. It requires a dedication and focus on more than a single business. Is your business an open source business? Is your focus on an open source world? There are many, many great resources available to help you as you learn more about open source and doing business in an open source marketplace. Will you be one of them? I encourage you to consider it. Consider promoting open source. Lead the way.
July 30, 2014
Why I Love Open Source (Reason 1)
The conversation rages on, discussion and debate abound, individuals pick fights and people take sides. The community becomes embroiled in each minor change and pick up the banner for the underdog regardless of the logic or lack of evidence supporting a claim. At times it feels almost ludicrous. How could such animosity, such anger and personal feelings be so openly shown within a community? I believe the reason is simple and it is one of the reasons why I love open source.
Reason 1: Open source is full of passion.
Why can so much drama be found in open source communities? (Love the logo there BTW). I believe the answer is a single word. Individuals in open source communities hold a character quality which cannot be bought, sold, forced, or enforced. These volunteers have passion. They believe in what the community stands for and they believe in the power of their voice to improve it. They love the efforts being made and they love the goals the community is trying to accomplish.
At times this passion is difficult to control. Moderating oneself on discussions which matter to them regarding something they feel so strongly for is difficult (impossible?). But this passion, this desire to be a part of the discussion and the community is indeed one of the reasons why I love open source. Let me give you a few examples.
Passion implies dedication
At times it can certainly feel discouraging when there is debate and discussion on every point. In fact, if talking is the extent of every decision then indeed the community will fail. Action must be taken to implement change, to make progress, and to improve. This can be easily lost in discussions and debates. It’s much easier to talk about something than to actually do something. I challenge you now – do something!
That was a freebie ‘aside’. Whenever you get to feeling discouraged or frustrated with these frequent examples of passion (through the form of debate or argument) remind yourself of this simple fact. This level of dedication often occurs because the individual is passionate about what you’re doing and what they believe holds value. If they didn’t-they would leave. (I know at times that seems hard to believe.) The next time you feel like someone is arguing just for the sake of arguing keep this point in mind.
Passion demonstrates attention
When someone can post a comment or create an issue and immediately generate multiple responses this tells me there is a certain amount of attention being demonstrated within the community. Individuals who are showing attention to everything occurring within the community hold a passion about the community. They care. Sounds crazy when you read responses and replies but the bottom line is clear. If they didn’t care they would find another community.
Open source communities frequently rely on the volunteers to contribute time and attention without renumeration (no pay). When a community has a significant number of individuals demonstrating such a high level of attention to details and minor discussions it shows a passion for the community. There is little financial gain for these volunteers but they value the community and its future enough to give it their attention.
Passion shows life
The last thing I use to remind myself when feeling discouraged with the seeming endless debates found in open source communities is the fact that without this debate, without this passion, there would be no community involvement. The very presence of these discussions demonstrates the life of the project and the community which holds them. Each open source community I am involved with seems to hold some level of these discussions and arguments. Each also can be overwhelming at times. But if everything was quiet in the community there would be cause for concern as well.
Bookmark this post!
The next time you are feeling discouraged or frustrated with your community for some reason use this post to remind yourself of the value of the passion which drives your community. Passion in open source communities is an invaluable asset. You won’t find the same type of passion anywhere else. This is one of the reasons why I love open source so much. Open source communities are unique and wonderful.
So take a deep breath and focus on the positive aspects. Then, with a clear mind and a cool head, dive in and make a difference yourself.
Above all, don’t let the passion end in a debate or fall into the trap of endless discussion. Break the cycle, contribute more. Get up, get involved, roll up your sleeves and do something. No matter how small, no matter how seemingly insignificant. Just do.
July 16, 2014
4 Survival Tactics for Your Open Source Project
It finally happened. You developed a killer app. You spent months agonizing over every decision in getting the application to market and you’ve worked incredibly hard to create a cutting-edge technological marvel which blows away everything else on the web. You focused on all the right metrics, the user experience is beautiful and the community is thriving. (Yep, it’s open source). You feel on top of the world, and it’s exciting.
Don’t get left behind
Before you know it, in a blink of an eye, the year(s) flew by and now you’re standing looking back over a long history of product releases. You’ve pushed new versions and sure you’ve updated things along the way. Your community has seen better days but it’s still strong and still somewhat active. This is the day you failed to plan for. The day which sneaks up on you and you never saw it coming. Sure, you had lulls and there were times when activity slowed down in the project. Every project has those moments right? You told yourself it was just a fleeting rare occurrence and nothing more serious. Now you sit looking around at the dust and rubble left behind and wonder what the future holds. How could you have prevented this outcome? Here are 4 quick ways to ensure your open source project stays relevant and you don’t get left behind.
1. Be Aware
The first step to ensuring you don’t get left behind when it comes to your project in the world of technology involves staying aware of what’s happening around you. Don’t be so caught up in your own world and your own drama that you fail to see the bigger picture. Keep track of current trends, what others are doing and how they are changing the technology scene where you work. Subscribe to your main competitors’ newsletters or mailing lists. Watch what improvements and modifications they are making. Be aware of your surroundings. This is the first tip of good survival tactics for your open source project.
2. Be Accessible
Accessibility is always a hot topic and an important one. The concept of accessibility typically takes two main paths when discussed in relation to an open source project. First, you should want to make sure your product is accessible and available for everyone to use. This is almost a given these days and most open source projects spend significant time ensuring they are accessible for all.
The second path that accessibility takes is the openness and accessibility of the project to new volunteers. How easy is it for someone to contribute and be a part? Does your project do more than just “say” they encourage new volunteers? How is this demonstrated? What is the on-boarding process for a new volunteer and how easy is it for them to not only be involved but see something accomplished? You must be accessible (and prove it) in order to stay relevant and survive.
3. Be Active
The idea of staying active is deceptively simple. Here’s why being active is so difficult. Active is different from busy. Busy is the false pretense of doing something to look as though you are active. Busy is a creative way to waste time. If that’s the case, how do you determine the difference between busy and active? You can quickly tell by the results. Do you have results to show for your time? If you can point to improvements and updates and ways in which your open source project has grown as a result then you have been active in the right sense of the word.
Active involves the idea of being aware as well since they are very closely tied together. If you are aware of something but do nothing about it then the awareness provides no benefit. Once you are aware of something and you make the conscious effort to do something about it. To be active with what you know then both the step of being aware and the step of being active work together for the benefit of your project.
4. Be Accepting
This fourth and final (for this article) step in your survival tactics involve the idea of being accepting. Accepting is an interesting word. It sounds passive and yet here it’s used in a very aggressive sense. You could think of this acceptance as an active desire to change where needed. Change is tricky. I’ve spoken about it before on several occasions. Some individuals are very risk averse and avoid change simply out of fear of the unknown. Survival requires the acceptance of change and the ability to deal with changes.
Accepting also can be considered accepting of other individuals within your open source project. Having a culture which accepts differences of opinions and ideas and deals effectively with differences when they occur is quite important to an open source communities chances for survival. As your open source community grows it will need to be capable of growing and accepting others. The ideas, the code, the questions, and the fears of others must be faced as an opportunity to grow and (when necessary) change.
You Can Survive
These are four survival tactics which you can and should employ in your open source project to ensure you don’t get left in the dust. There are other tactics as well but master these four and you’ll be well on your way to staying relevant, vibrant, and growing within the ever-changing landscape of today’s world.
July 11, 2014
The Future of Open Source
I was recently involved in a discussion where the topic of open source came up. The comment was made that open source has become quite ubiquitous in the world and the concept of open source was no longer novel or unique. In fact open source has become pretty much the “norm” or the standard by which technology projects are created. So with that base in mind, what does the open source of tomorrow look like?
Disclaimer: Please keep in mind what follows are my own thoughts only. You may completely disagree. I may be entirely wrong about what tomorrow’s open source holds and how the future of open source looks. These are only my thoughts based on my opinions.
Today’s Open Source
I think when we explore what open source has done for technology in general we see some interesting points and some great success stories. Everyone is familiar with the success of major corporations like Linux, which has now proven its dominance as an operating system (I refer to server dominance – they still struggle with implementations for the end user). We’ve seen countless companies (and governments) attempt to integrate open source deeply throughout their products. And we’ve seen millions of smaller projects employ open source and publish their code on popular social sites like GitHub or BitBucket. That’s now.
Tomorrow’s open source continues on this basis but expands it even more. And it’s already begun. Here’s a few things I think we’ll see in the future of open source.
Open Source Will Go Beyond Technology
This idea of going beyond technology has already begun to occur. We’ve seen articles about companies involved in open source farming, open source healthcare, and many other areas of life. The concept that open source refers to merely the code behind a particular software project is yesterday’s thinking. Looking forward at what tomorrow holds we see a world where open source permeates every aspect of life.
The benefits to this saturation are numerous. We’ll see advancements in our scientific research. We’ll experience faster innovation in the study and treatment of various health conditions. We’ll be capable of improving our planet by improving our understanding of nature and each other.
The idea of open source will continue to grow and expand beyond the current community of the technical and the engineers. More and more people will be familiar with the term open source, but the idea will be vastly different then what it means today.
Open Source Projects Will Be Blended
In the future of open source the projects built on open source will begin to be blended. We’ll see a sharing of open source information cross-pollinate between various aspects of life much more so then is evident today. If we look at a small subset of open source available today we notice the efforts of communities to make their open source product not only available to everyone but interoperable with others as well.
The communities want to work together and interchange bits of open source systems to allow people to create what they want to see without being reliant on any one open source project. As mentioned, the majority of open source today is code-based. Developers share their code through online social networks and encourage others to use it. They work to make their code generic enough that it can be used with other open source code as well.
In the future this sharing and blending continues to become more of a priority. In the future open source will lose the heavy “tech” feel and be found everywhere in the world and as that encompassing occurs the new cutting-edge will be seamless interaction between different systems. The future of open source will be the sharing of knowledge and concepts.
Open Source Will Be Simplified
The next logical step for open source to take is a simplification. As those individuals push the limits of blending open source across platforms the need for a standard or simplified base will become more and more a priority. Open source projects will seek ways to increase the ease with which they can be blended and integrated with each other and through this process the concept of open source will be simplified and standardized.
The simplification of open source will increase the number of individuals who can work with open source. Currently open source is somewhat limited to technology. As such the more technical-minded of the world are leading the charge and creating things with open source. In the future this balance begins to shift.
Tomorrow’s open source is everywhere, in everything, and simple enough for everyone to be a creator rather than just a consumer. The world will become more open as more people are empowered to put their imaginations to work in creating something new. Because they can.
Open Source Continues.
The future of open source is somewhat of a mystery. I admit the ideas above are perhaps more of the immediate future than a long-term vision. (Maybe I’ll share other revelations later). One thing is clear. Open source has proven its dominance and will continue to impact our lives in more and more ways. The benefits of open source will continue to grow and the use of open source will be far more widespread.The future of open source is the future of our world, and it’s exciting.
Do you have ideas about the future of open source? Tweet me, I’d love to hear them! Let’s share knowledge, let’s promote open source, it’s our future.
June 5, 2014
The Validity of Open Source
Open source is the combined contributions of millions of independent volunteers. This single concept brings with it a few inherent realities. In this article let’s look at a few potentially concerning points about the nature of open source contributions.
One of the major, oft-touted benefits of open source software is the diverse, large and ever ready army of developers contributing to the project. This can be an incredibly powerful argument when demonstrating the value of open source to a corporation. However, the larger the community and the bigger the pool of contributors the more opportunity there exists for problems or potential security risks.
Let’s look at a few potential areas for problems and how good open source communities are protecting themselves from problems.
More Contributors Means More Risk
This is a very real concern. When a community grows there are more developers contributing code to the project. As more developers contribute code and their solutions to problems there is a very real need to establish some guidelines for all contributors to follow.
Establishing a standard for code submissions, requiring acceptance of a common license, and implementing peer review are three ways in which good open source projects help to mitigate the risk of problematic code.
Establishing Coding Standards
Code standards are a set of guidelines or rules which the open source project expects all code submissions to adhere to. Most open source projects of any size establish these standards, Joomla, OpenStack, Ubuntu are three such examples. Usually code standards are simple procedures to ensure that every code submission looks similar and once merged will make the system feel as a single unified piece of software.
Accepting A Common License
Open source projects should always have a software license of some kind. This defines the distribution policies and the methods in which others can use the software. An important step to consider when allowing developers to contribute code is the license which should be applied to the proposed code. It is important because developers must be aware and in agreement with the license type chosen by the project. Some open source projects request a signature to acknowledge the license type of any code submitted.
Implementing Peer Review
When an open source project becomes large it becomes increasingly difficult for a limited number of core contributors to review each and every code request submitted. Very quickly this becomes a bottleneck for the entire project and slows the progress and growth of the software. Implementing peer review is the most common practice for fixing this bottleneck. This process requires other developers to understand the mission of the project and the quality to be achieved from all submissions.
More Contributors Means Less Security
Some argue that when open source projects grow in size they open themselves up for security risks and hazards brought about from a diverse group of contributors and secret agendas which might otherwise be disallowed in closed source software.
While there is a certain reality in a singular controlled environment found in closed source corporations the advantages of open source far outweigh the perceived risks. In addition, these risks can be easily controlled with a thoughtful approach to community organization.
If a community is grown organically and carefully around the shared vision and goals of the organization then the community becomes much stronger than even a closed source corporation. They become more than individuals contributing code to a project.
When volunteers share a common vision they become so much more than a community of individuals.
Individual objectives fade and blend into the whole. Everyone begins to merge into a single focused community.
When a community is built on common goals and a vision which is shared by the contributors then personal beliefs are enforced and individual personal ethics are held strongly voluntarily. Open source provides a certain freedom. The idea that each volunteer is responsible for their own actions brings with it a sense of personal empowerment but also a sense of self-governing.
Trust is not something to be bought. Trust is something shared. Trust empowers people. Open source communities are built on trust.
More Contributors Means Less Progress
Some would attempt to raise the argument that when the number of contributors grows too great then the progress of the project is slowed and ultimately the project suffers. The notion is a common one and relates well to an old phrase, “too many cooks spoil the soup”. While there is truth in the saying this is not an absolute truth and taking the proper steps will make this potential negative an incredible positive for open source communities.
Assigning clear tasks and delegating responsibilities is one way in which good open source projects are able to protect themselves against the potential problems of too many contributors. When a project defines goals and objectives and then breaks them down to assignable tasks they encourage contributors to work together towards accomplishing those goals. Instead of everyone dabbling in everything they clearly assign specific tasks and thus make tremendous progress.
Listen and Focus
Similar to what was discussed earlier the establishing of a single shared vision and focus for the project will help developers and other contributors to keep momentum moving forwards towards accomplishing those goals. This means less time wasted in meetings and endless debates and discussions on the trivial matters and empowers contributors to spend their time focused on accomplishing the vision of the project.
Yes, listening is important and ensuring the shared vision is an appropriate representation of the shared goals of the community requires discussion and debate; but this should be done occasionally rather then consistently. Once it’s been determined and agreed, it’s time to move on. The result is the larger the community the better for the project because more progress will be made.
Nothing is Perfect
There will always be pain points in open source and no community is perfect. However, the argument that open source communities are somehow less ideal than a closed source corporation is simply untrue. The list above is just a small sample of how each potentially perceived risk of open source can be mitigated and resolved.
Open source may not be perfect, but there are millions of
volunteers reasons why open source is a better option than the alternative.
May 15, 2014
Building a Business Brand
Everyone is known for something. As much as you may wish that’s not the case at times. Similarly every business is known for something, be it a product, service, or character quality. What is your business brand and how does it affect what you’re known for?
According to Wikipedia, a brand is defined as follows:
Brand is the “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s product distinct from those of other sellers.”
Does this truly define what a brand is when you look at a company? If we look at some open source companies lets see if we can identify what makes up their brand. Then we can see how this applies to building a business brand for your small business.
Does A Business Brand Matter?
First question, does it matter if you have a business brand? Do you have to define a brand for your business? I think this is a great starting point. Based on my first sentence in this article you already know I believe a brand is an inherent part of a business. Rather than a contrived, artificial creation by some marketing team I believe a business brand always exists. What matters is the definition of that brand and how the brand is represented by the marketing team and other business outreaches.
Open Source Branding
Open source organizations are no exception. If we look at some popular open source platforms we’ll still find the existence and identifying effects of a brand. One example, Drupal, an open source content management system has created a page just for the purpose of defining their brand. You’ll find they have defined brand slightly different from the dictionary definition above. Rather, Drupal believes “a brand incorporates the values, culture, mission, personality and image of an organization.” This is an interesting difference.
Open source places their brand identity in the intangible aspects of the people who make up their community. I think this is a fantastic application of the branding definition.
The people within a business define and represent the brand.
Learn from Open Source
When building a business brand you would do well to learn from the open source organizations. A small business has the opportunity to establish itself both in culture and in branding. Don’t try to be just like someone else. Find ways to differentiate yourself. That sometimes feels easier said than done. Especially in some fields where the barrier to entry is low and competition is strong. How do you differentiate your business when building a business brand?
Everyone is Unique
At first glance the question can seem to be a difficult one and uncertainty can leave you unsure where to begin when building a brand. But the truth is building a successful brand is simple. You don’t have to build a brand. You embody a brand. You are the brand. As we discussed earlier, every business has a brand already. Every person in your business represents and lives the brand. And the great news is everyone is unique. There is no one exactly like you on this planet. Because of this simple fact the business which you are a part of is also unique. Build your business around this principle.
You’re not building a brand in the creation sense. You’re sharing a brand that already exists and drives your business.
Take the open source example above. Merge that example with the concept that everyone leaves an impression. The result is where you focus your attentions and efforts. Rather than attempting to “build” a brand you should focus on sharing, nurturing, and growing your brand. Look at the people in your company. (Here’s another benefit to being a small business.) What are the core values, beliefs, principles, and values you and your fellow team members hold? This is what guides your business. This is what you will be known for.
At the end of the day, your business brand reflects the people which make up your business and ultimately the products, service, support, or whatever it might be you are selling. Don’t attempt to create a false brand under the assumption it will increase your sales. Be genuine in sharing your brand. Your brand is a reflection of your culture. Interested in how this relates to your company culture?
Small Business First
Small businesses have the greatest opportunity to share unique, creative, and fun brands. Your small business can share the culture, the community, the passion of your team members through a brand which matches you. Building a business brand is simple. Learn from others, Establish values, Be genuine, and share your passion with others.
Remember, we’re all in this together!
May 12, 2014
Choosing the Right CMS Tool
It’s happened to me many times before. I’ve been stuck needing to unscrew the back off a toy to replace the batteries. I have no screwdriver handy so I begin to look for alternatives nearby. The result is mostly an extreme sense of frustration.
I smile while writing this because it happened to me not that long ago. I tried jamming my key into the narrow opening and blindly twisting in hopes I’ll loosen the screw just enough that I can then unscrew it easily and replace the battery. First, my key barely fits down far enough (side note: why do they make those screws embedded so deep anyway?), second, now the key is far enough down but I can’t tell if I’m able to jam it into the Phillips screw and get enough traction to turn.
In the amount of time I waste trying to turn my house key into a screwdriver I could have just as easily gotten up, walked to my work bench and picked up the right screwdriver. So why didn’t I?
Many times when working on a web project I’m asked what tool (CMS) I’m using. This is a valid question and one I attempt to answer thoughtfully. Although it can be incredibly tempting to pick the system I currently favor, of the one on must comfortable using. Is it ok to have a favorite? Of course, is almost impossibly to not have a particular way of working and specific tools you prefer to use. It is vitally important you’re choosing the right CMS.
What tools are we talking about using? Well usually the important one which everyone wants to know is the content management system. Which popular system is being implemented to manage the content of the website?
A better question
Sometimes I find this a funny question when asked which CMS I’m using. The better question I think is – are you using an open source CMS? Let me explain what I mean. I consider this to be a bit of a poor comparison but maybe it can be helpful.
If I’m preparing for a race and am given the choice between a sports car and a military tank you’d think I was insane if I didn’t choose the car. However, if I was then asked to pick between three or four different styles of sports cars that is a much different decision. More than likely each car would have different benefits and you would all have different opinions on which is the most appropriate. More questions might be asked, what does the course look like? How long is the race? Etc..
This is how I see the question about which CMS I use. Isn’t the choice of an open source system (sports car), a much better choice than a close source, proprietary, tank? The differences between the type of car should be dependent on the factors of the particular race.
You are the expert
Each content management system has a unique set of benefits and challenges. Each web project has a unique set of requirements. You are hired because you are the expert. As the expert you are trusted to listen and understand the needs of a job and then select the appropriate tool. The tool should not simply be your favorite. It should be the best for the job. If that means you must get up and “walk” to the workbench to retrieve the best tool – do it. You, as the expert, should have a strong knowledge of what systems are available, how they should be used, and when one is superior to another. This is your job. This is what makes you the expert. Don’t neglect your responsibility.
It’s not a competition
Too often I fear the open source content management system is viewed as a competition. A fight for dominance in a “micro” space. This leads too quickly to selecting the wrong tool for a job, and the client will suffer. As the expert you are expected to choose the best solution for them; not just the tool you like. You do a great disservice to the client when you do this. But you also hurt yourself.
More work than necessary
Yes, I said it hurts you too. Here’s why. When you choose the wrong CMS and select something close by (remember me with the kid’s toy) you will work much harder and much longer than necessary. Sure if you’ve given me enough time I could get the back off that toy with my key. Similarly if you are given enough time you could complete the job with the wrong CMS. But at what cost? You’ll have spent much more time then you might otherwise have needed to spend. You will do more work than necessary.
Save time by thinking
Take time before beginning a new project. Listen to the needs of your client and then stop and think. Think about which tool is most effective for this particular job and what will fit the needs most appropriately. If it becomes apparent that your favorite CMS (you know, your personal favorite) is not the best solution – don’t hesitate to stand up, walk over, and select the right one from your workbench.
May 9, 2014
Corporate Culture in Open Source
The buzzword of culture within a company is a frequently debated and often examined topic. A corporate culture establishes and shapes a company future. Does the same exist for open source communities? Does a culture exist and does it shape their future?
A corporate culture is defined as a set of shared values and beliefs which are representative of a company and defines its employees’ actions and the corporate hiring processes. Often this culture is founded on the goals and structure of the company and centers around the target market and the company approach to customers. Does this relate to open source? Yes. Absolutely. An open source community also has a very distinct culture and one which must be carefully considered, thoughtfully prepared and an intricate part of the organization’s core.
Defining a community culture
How does one define community culture? Here are some reasons why an open source community should establish a culture and some ways in which they should be implemented. Let’s begin with the reason why open source organizations should establish a culture.
The reason for establishing a culture
First, a community culture is of utmost importance in providing the volunteers a sense of a common bond. Much like a mission or vision statement serves to provide the general public with a set of goals and objectives the project wants to accomplish, a community culture provides the vision, attitude and beliefs for the volunteers within the project. Think of the culture as the internal representation of the mission and vision in a way.
Every community has a culture
The reason a culture must exist is simple. The public image of the community is in reality the public’s view of a community’s culture. Therefore every community has a culture. If a culture always exists, then the next step is to make sure the culture properly captures the common beliefs and goals of the community in order to provide direction to its volunteers. By understanding a culture always exists the issue is not the establishing of a culture, but rather establishing the right culture. What does the right culture do for a community?
A community culture defines direction
When a strong and appropriate culture exists within a community the volunteers and contributors are able to focus on how that culture helps it accomplish its goals. The right culture should resonate within the heart of the community and give a sense of pride, a feeling of unity, and a strong singular focus.
A community culture gives satisfaction
Culture within an open source community have an opportunity to provide incredible satisfaction to its contributors. When volunteers are part of an organization where they agree with the goals and the culture they find a personal satisfaction in being a part of the organization.
A community culture attracts like-minded people
In a corporate environment the culture will dictate somewhat the hiring processes and how new employees are brought on board. In a community environment the “hiring” is most often replaced with “recruiting” where the process of new contributors and volunteers are found and brought into the community.
The ingredients of a strong community culture
A strong community culture includes a focus on the vision of the organization and how that vision is interpreted in the everyday activities of the community. But perhaps the single most important ingredient in a strong, healthy community culture is the people. The people provide the cohesive glue which hold the entire organization and culture together. The people together form the story of the community.
So there you have it, a very clear and concise thread which runs throughout a community. A thread made up of the people. A thread which traces a path through the history of the community and connects the founding vision to the current activities. This unique thread is the culture of the community and every community has one.
May 6, 2014
Where’s the Value in Open Source?
Open Source is valuable. Very few people would argue that point. There is most definitely a sense of intrinsic worth. But where does this value exist? Is it in the code produced or in something else?
By the very nature of open source, (read more about the standard four freedoms here) the ability to view and access the source code is a powerful, driving factor. Because the code is so freely accessible and a prominent focus of open source it can easily be considered to be the value of open source.
Lines of Code
This assumption in the value of open source being the code corresponds to the influx of available services to measure and quantify this code. Take for example the social code-sharing website, GitHub. This overwhelmingly popular service provides all types of stats on code and changes made. In fact, GitHub recently released a new feature called “pulse” and it provided all manner of new assessments of the code. How many people and how many commits over a specific time period and the total number of lines of code touched. Do you see the focus? The code. All the value is implied to be held within the code.
Often times in a community we continue with this idea of placing the value of open source and the community in the code, or the product. This belief perpetuates a problem. Is the value of open source truly in a product which can be freely replicated, forked, and changed at will?
The real value of open source is not in the product. Open source is more than the code. It’s a community surrounding a shared set of goals. And when this community works together to develop code it costs time. Lots of time is spent creating this product. In fact, another website, Ohloh.net begins to touch on this when it mentions how many hours are estimated to create a particular project. But it doesn’t really capture the heart of it. It’s a great start, but still there’s something missing.
Sure open source is about code, and yes, it’s about community, and its about the time spent, but there’s something even more. Open source is about the people involved. Code can be replaced, re-written, even removed completely and the project will continue to move forward. The open source community is made up of people who are dedicated their time and their life to see its success.
Herein is where the true value lies. The people who give their time to create this amazing open source community. These people give their life to see their project grow. And this is valuable. Open source communities must be careful to place their focus correctly. When the people are neglected, the value of the project is lost, the community will suffer, and the code will fail.
The Hidden Treasure
If we realize that the people which make up a community are the truly valuable part of an open source project then its important to look at how this wealth should be handled to be nurtured properly and grown. Obviously we want to grow the most valuable part of our community. We want to strengthen the bonds which bring the community together to create something bigger than themselves. That’s the secret of a strong and growing community. The relationships. When the relationships between the people making up a community are strong then the project will thrive. The culture of a community matters.
The next time you see a thriving open source project, take a minute to examine the community. Checkout how the volunteers are viewed and appreciated. Remember, a community is only as strong as the people which make it up. And remember relationships matter. The people and the relationships are the true treasure of an open source community.
May 2, 2014
Lessons in Learning Open Source
I’m leading another talk on developing code using an open source framework. Only it’s going quite slow this time. In fact, I’m pausing after every sentence. And yet the room is far from silent and the excitement is quite high. What causes this excitement instead of frustration?
I guess I should clarify. This particular teaching opportunity is taking place in the great city of Sao Paulo, Brazil. And the reason I’m pausing after every sentence is to allow my translator the chance to repeat everything in their native Portuguese. It’s an intense experience. If you’ve never had the opportunity of sharing a highly technical topic with someone who understands only one out of every dozen words you speak then you are missing out on an experience. Now imagine there are a dozen other people sitting in the room also listening to you and trying to follow along. As I said, it’s an intense experience. But it is an unmatched feeling. Incredible might be a better word. And it makes me think about another power which open source possesses. Here’s a few lessons I draw from the unique opportunity of learning open source.
Learning is community centered
Sure, there are books and tutorials and videos, and a multitude of other resources available. In fact, there are schools and courses and an infinite number of ways to learn. However in open source you’ll often find the best learning is done within the community. People learning from people in a group setting.
The concept of group learning is unique in some sense to open source. We’re here because we want to be here. We’re not being paid to spend our weekend sitting in some classroom learning. We do this because we want to learn. And almost as much as we want to learn, we want to help others. That’s the other side of the coin. No matter how much I learn I always always find someone knows more. And someone else knows less. This means just as important as learning more is the idea of sharing knowledge with others based on what I know. Helping others. We’re a community of like-minded people focused on a particular set of values and shared interests. Our learning is centered on this.
Learning is personal
Even though we’ve discussed how learning is community centered learning is also very personal. People grow internally based on their experiences and they learn based on the instruction they are given. This learning causes them to change, and hopefully to improve.
When we are in an open source community we are often stretched outside our comfort zone. We don’t start that way, but over time we grow and the desire to learn more, or to be better forces us to timidly reach beyond our comfort zone and reach out to others. We’re driven by the deep down longing to learn more. As a result of this longing and learning we change who we are (to an extent). We improve ourselves. The very act of learning in an open source sharing community makes us a more well-rounded, and better person.
Learning is empowering
There’s something intrinsically powerful about knowledge. It’s a pretty commonly understood idea. “Knowledge is power.” But extrapolating on that notion leads back to the root that the very act of learning is empowering. By learning we are gaining knowledge and we are gaining power.
Open source is teeming with knowledge. When every line of code which makes up an application is made publicly available to be analyzed and poured over by anyone interested the result is empowering. Open source encourages learning and as such encourages the increase of knowledge and power. When you look at code and see what can be done and learn how to do things better you are empowered to do more. Now you can share that knowledge with others. Now you can become the teacher. Open source alone gives you the perfect environment – the opportunity to learn woven inseparably with the opportunity to teach.
Learning is exciting
I left one of my favorite lessons for last. Learning is most definitely exciting. I’m not referring to the type of learning you were doing in university with first year studies of ancient history (unless you enjoy that kind of thing). Instead I refer to the type of learning you find in an open source community. There’s a rush of excitement you can feel when you walk into a room on a weekend to meet with others in a community for the sake of learning. It’s very exciting.
As I wrap up my session in Brazil, the excitement is clearly evident. People talking over people, hands being raised, fingers flying on keyboards. Yes, this is what open source learning is all about. Watching someone understand the concept you’re teaching. The smile that spreads across their face when they successfully complete a task. The eyes glint with the newfound knowledge and the empowering, exciting, personal growth they’ve experienced. If you’ve never had the opportunity to experience this before. You should. Find a community and become a part. Get involved and see what learning in an open source environment is all about. I guarantee you – you’ll be changed forever.
May 1, 2014
The Fight to be Flexible
I’m sitting at the airport. This quite a common place to find me. As an open source advocate I travel a lot. Most of the time my flights are on time and my connections are easy. This is not one of those times.
I found out my initial flight leg from RDU to IAD (Washington Dulles) was delayed and then 20 minutes later delayed again; and again. Eventually it was delayed 3 more times. And as expected with that many delays, I missed the connection from IAD to GRU (Sao Paulo, Brazil). Majorly frustrating. As I make the arrangements to rebook the flight for the following day it strikes me how applicable this situation is to life, and also to open source.
We all have plans for our lives. We have an agenda, things we want to see accomplished and goals we want to achieve. In an open source community we set our sights on accomplishing lofty things. Many of them having some form of “change the world” buried in them. We put down a mission and a vision statement we want to accomplish and then we start to organize ourselves to accomplish those goals.
Open Source Opportunities
Open source projects have several obstacles to overcome in this scenario though. Chiefly, we rely on the time, interests and energies of volunteers to accomplish these lofty goals and ultimately accomplish our mission and fulfill our vision. If our volunteers fail to have the time or interest then the project also fails. This is where the power of flexibility becomes so critically important.
It is foolish to believe a mission statement or a vision cannot change. It’s also foolish to believe every deadline will be met perfectly. When an open source community relies on volunteers and contributors one of the greatest battles is the battle to remain flexible, to be willing to make changes to deadlines, to goals, and even to a project’s mission.
Why must a community be flexible?
As I’ve already mentioned when a community relies on the goodwill and generous donations of time and talent from contributors there must be an inherent amount of understanding and ability to change as a result. Secondly, and possibly even more importantly, The world changes. Software changes, companies and organizations change. An open source community grows over time and as it grows it evolves. It establishes a culture and becomes more refined (dare I say focused) as it grows. At least this should be the case because the community listens to its members. Not only does it listen to its members to help it establish culture but it also listens to the world. A strong community pays attention to the changes happening around it and is flexible in adopting change (when it’s for the good of the community).
Are communities quick to be flexible?
No, and that’s why I say it’s a fight to be flexible. Sometimes individuals in the community are change-averse. They prefer the status quo over the ‘unknowns’ involved in changing. A well-rounded community is made up of a variety of individuals. These differences should be celebrated and embraced. These differences should also be kept in mind. Just as there are those ‘strong and steady’ types there are also the ‘non-comformist’ type, this is the person who loves change, any change, and even wants change just because it’s change. There’s dangers in both these types as well as the many other types (trust me, there are many many personalities which make up a good open source community). The point is to be flexible. Be talking and communicating with each other within your community. When communication happens (and listening happens) then the true power of open source communities can be found. Because I believe this is where open source stands head and shoulders over others.
Open Source Wins
Open source projects should stop looking at flexibility as something that must be fought but rather one of it’s greatest strengths. The ability to change direction based on the community is a powerful one. Most large corporations are unable to implement the types of flexibility and take advantage of a changing culture in the same way an open source community can. The passion found in volunteers cannot be bought, cannot be forced in a closed source corporation. It’s inherent in the genetic makeup of open source. Take advantage of the benefit of being open source. Take advantage of the flexibility and use it to be an incredible community.
Remember, we’re all in this together.
April 30, 2014
The Quiet Community
That awkward silence which fills a room when there is a lull in the conversation, or that moment when you realize you’re the only one talking, or the time when you respond to a chat message and there’s no reply. These are all common occurrences in life. But when is a quiet community a bad thing?
Too Much Talk
There is of course a time when talking is not enough. I’ve see firsthand those moments when everyone is talking and no one is listening. Sometimes a community is so busy debating with themselves over minor details that they forget to actually do something. Too much talk can be a bad thing.
Too much talk means a community is not focusing their time on doing things and making progress. This will kill a project, any project. In open source communities and especially open source communities, where the community is in charge of decision making, the discussions and debates over every minor decision can quickly lead to stagnation.
I think we can all agree too much talk can at times be a bad thing. So what about a quiet community? Is a quiet community equally bad for a project? Yes. A quiet community can be potentially a bad thing. Here’s 3 potential problems in a quiet community.
Silence is deadly
If a community is too quiet it will die. Outsiders judge a project’s viability and life by its communication channels, the chatter which takes place. Raise your hand if you’ve ever gone to a Github repository and viewed the last commit timestamp, followed closely by a glance at the open issues. You’re trying to judge the health of the project by its communications. Or if you check twitter to see the last messages posted with a specific hashtag or @ tweet.
Silence in a community is not golden when it comes to a community which makes group decisions and relies on the involvement of volunteers (open source) to accomplish things.
No man is an island
Secondly, if a community is quiet then volunteers will begin to feel as though they are “alone” in the project. This is incredibly discouraging. Everyone knows the feeling of writing something and waiting for the response. In real life you look for the facial expressions, the reactions of those you’re talking to. You use these verbal and non-verbal cues as encouragement for continuing or as a warning sign that you should sit down and shut up. Now take that same feeling and apply it to an online community. You post a message on a forum, on a social media channel, in an online chat, or on a mailing list. In this environment there is no opportunity to read non-verbal (or even verbal) cues. You rely on the responses.
If a community is silent then you have nothing to motivate you to continue and you will sit down and shut up. You’ll leave the community and find a new community where the participation is higher. As humans we need this interaction.
Apathy is quiet
This last point is a hard one to pin down. I’m not claiming that apathy is always silent, nor am I claiming the reverse, that a quiet community is apathetic. But often when there is apathy the result is a lack of input. If you find yourself not really caring or believing in something you can walk away, you can leave. But that involves effort. Sometimes you don’t feel like making that effort. You’re ok with doing nothing because you’re not interested, you don’t care. You’re apathetic.
If a community doesn’t care then it will not make decisions. It will not do anything. Which means something else will happen. It will stagnate. It will die.
Three potential concerns in an overly quiet community. As with everything in life, a balance is necessary. Open source communities should keep an eye on communications. If they see any of these three concerns becoming too prevalent then it’s time to do some soul-searching. Seek out the reason for the quietness. Has the community lost its drive? Its focus? Its vision? It’s possible a change is in order. Its possible action needs to be taken to help stimulate conversation. Perhaps its merely a lull, a welcome moment of calm in an otherwise noisy and thriving ecosystem. Excellent, make the most of it. Enjoy the stillness. But stay alert and be ready to make changes if needed.
April 22, 2014
EPA and Open Source
In honor of Earth Day I figured I would write a quick post about how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency uses open source software and technology.
I admit it’s not perhaps the greatest example of open source at work. But they’re making an effort and that’s worth mentioning. The EPA is taking advantage of open source networking through the use of a Github organization and series of repositories. They’ve boldly made the decision to place their website files in a repository to allow other developers to provide improvements and help. The sad news comes out when reviewing the number of pull requests made. In the nine months the code has lived out in the open there have been exactly 0 (zero) pull-requests.
Ok, so perhaps not the greatest example. There are other repositories in the EPA organization account. Unfortunately, the other repositories post many of the same statistics. Various repositories for projects, applications, and websites exist but none have any better stats.
What does this mean? Should open source be neglected and not used by these government agencies? Not necessarily. The problem is not in the intent but in the execution. I’m sure many of you know how the recent healthcare.gov site also attempted to use Github to share all of their codebase. https://www.healthcare.gov/developers
Healthcare.gov Github Failure
This was a fiasco for them during this process and after only a few weeks they removed the code. Why do these different government agencies fail? As I said before
The problem is not in the intent but in the way they carried out their plan.
Open source is not an easy, “instant” solution, and as I’ve written about before, many will fail at open source. These government agencies falsely assume the community is waiting for opportunity to contribute code and contribute fixes. While the world is full of altruistic, well-intentioned developers it cannot be assumed they are idly sitting waiting to offer perfect little code-presents bundled up with a bug-fix bow.
I’m glad to see the government eager to take advantage of open source. But it must be carefully thought-out and planned and be sure it’s not seen as just a chance to get free help from developers. Care should be taken to grow and nurture a community surrounding the organization. It takes time, it takes thought, and it takes planning. Yes, it can be done. And it can be done successfully. It’s a multiple step process.
The first step is to recognize the benefits of open source. This one is the easy step. Most companies and people recognize the power of open source. The EPA has recognized the power of open source. They’ve taken the first step and I commend them for it.
The second step is to organize a plan for how, where, and why to implement open source. What technologies, what software, and what platform should be used to share this code with the world? This step is a bit harder than the first step but again most can accomplish this step as well with very little effort.
The third step is the first step which takes much greater effort and attention. This is also the step when most companies begin to fail. Simply dumping the code onto an online repository such as Github or BitBucket is not enough. This is not implementation. Implementing involves more than the code release. Implementation means marketing, advertising, and clearly defining the benefits for the community to helping. This means showing the value of the open source code to the greater good. Giving the community a reason for participating and sharing how the project benefits more than just the organization.
The final step is the nurturing process. This is not the end of the process but this is the last of the steps in seeing it successfully begin to grow. Nurturing the community surrounding the code means spending time showing the value of the whole. Offering praise and feedback to those community members volunteering their time. Companies who fail to plan and implement clearly never spend the time to nurture these communities. Contributors must feel valued and see positive outcome from their involvement.
Again, I’m excited to see open source growing in government agencies and other organizations but it needs to be done well. Companies should pay attention to more then recognizing the value. Encourage others to plan, implement and nurture their open source communities and then we’ll truly see the power of open source.
April 21, 2014
Open Source Isn’t Free
Whoa, slow down. Read the title again. Open source isn’t free. But that doesn’t even sound right! Isn’t the inherent nature of the term open source meant to imply a freely distributable source?
According to Wikipedia, open source is defined as follows:
In production and development, open source as a development model promotes a universal access via free license to a product’s design or blueprint, and b) universal redistribution of that design or blueprint, including subsequent improvements to it by anyone.
That certainly seems to imply that open source is free. So why would I suggest that it isn’t? I’d like to offer two counter points to the idea that open source is a completely free model.
Open Source Costs Time
I have no doubt everyone has heard the age old advice:
“Time is money.”
If we keep that principle in mind then obviously spending time on something equates to a cost. Open source will absolutely take time. If you’re the originator you will find yourself spending hundreds of hours (thousands even) improving, maintaining, managing the open source software you are distributing. That’s expensive. If you are merely a consumer of an open source product you will undoubtedly find ways you’ll need to customize the software to meet your needs. (That’s one of the reasons you probably chose open source in the beginning).
The ability to customize and modify the source code is an attractive perk of using open source, but beware this alluring benefit also comes with a significant opportunity to become a major time sink.
Takeaway: Be sure to consider the time you will spend if you select an open source model.
Open Source Costs Energy
The second point might not seem so expensive to you. Open source will cost you energy. Energy in the form of learning new software, learning new code, learning a new community. The energy expense is closely tied to the time expense. You’ll spend time AND energy working with open source. Obviously you’ll spend both of these with other models as well, but when the opportunity exists to “tinker” in the source code, the design, or the blueprint of the product the results will be a much greater expenditure of time and energy.
Remember, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. This applies to more than just Speedo swimsuits. Be thoughtful as you embark on an open source model. Plan how and where you will spend your time and energy and monitor yourself. Don’t go overboard with customizations and modifications. Or if you find you have to, be sure to budget appropriately.
Takeaway: You will spend more energy learning open source than just how to use a program.
Don’t go into open source blindly believing the “everything is free” philosophy. Open source isn’t free and it can be very expensive. That should not discourage you from using open source. There are a multitude of reasons why open source provides you with a better solution than a closed source model. Use open source but be prepared for the costs involved.
April 17, 2014
WordPress, One Billion Dollars, and You
The tech news blogs were hot today with stories of Automattic seeking an additional round of investor funding which would place the company valuation at a cool one billion dollars ($1,000,000,000). Let’s look back quickly at a couple reasons why WordPress has proven to be so successful and then how you can apply it to your business.
Automattic is best known as the company behind the popular open source content management system WordPress. Matt Mullenwig, the founder of WordPress and now CTO at Automattic has displayed a very clear vision for how the organization should be run. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect. In fact, I have had several strong disagreements with WordPress decisions through the years, but I can’t argue with their success.
I have enjoyed the opportunity of chatting about WordPress with Matt and picking his brain for his reasons behind some of the decisions they’ve made and I can’t deny it certainly makes sense. I absolutely respect their focused determination to provide an unchanging, stable platform for their users. Matt made the comment once how WordPress “sought to sustain the technical debt so the user would not have to.” I think that’s a valuable insight into some of the core principles WordPress maintains.
Let’s look quickly at some other parts of that philosophy:
Design for the Majority: WordPress has clearly identified their target market. They focus heavily on the “non-technically minded” This is the user base they build software for. Clearly defined, easy to identify, and focused. And it’s important to note they recognize this majority is not represented by the 1% vocal minority. They seek out their target audience by listening to them at events around the globe. One-on-one, in-person, listening; to more than just those loud individuals online.
If you run a business, be sure you know your specific target market. And no, everyone in the world over the age of 12 is not a target market. And listen. Listen to what your majority says, and be cautious to not fall into the trap of listening to only the vocal minority.
Striving for Simplicity: WordPress has several points of their philosophy which deal directly with this notion of simplicity. They don’t add option on top of option, they don’t add everything requested into the core, and they seek to improve each release by becoming easier to user. Does this sound like any other familiar and wildly successful company? If you thought of Apple, you’re right. In their very first marketing brochure ever the headline was:
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Sounds similar right? Steve Jobs was obsessed with the idea of simplicity in design and he built Apple around that same core value. It was successful for them. WordPress has wisely positioned themselves to take advantage of the same important rule.
Remember this when organizing and deciding on your business goals. Don’t add in everything you’re asked for by your customers. Be thoughtful and pay attention to your overall product. Make sure you stay focused on your goals and be ridiculously driven by accomplishing them.
Bill of Rights: The last aspect of the WordPress philosophy focuses on the license and distribution of their software. They believe in Open Source. They’ve determined the values of offering a free product which can be easily shared, changed, distributed, and copied. They believe in the value of community and the importance of sharing with all.
Other open source projects have led the way in this area and proven how successful this can be. Linux, the world’s most widely used server operating system, was built on this same principle. The four freedoms, as they are frequently called, have shown time and again the value of open source and how the world has been improved as a result.
Consider open source when building your business. You may not open source your core technology because you feel you have an advantage but there are plenty of secondary tools you will use or build which you could open source and “give back” to the community. Don’t overlook this opportunity.
I encourage you to read the full philosophy of WordPress. Looking at the list I think there are several elements which have helped them as they have grown as an organization over the years. Then, once you’ve read it – you should seek to apply some of the similar ideas for your own business.
Is WordPress worth one billion dollars? I couldn’t say, but I can tell you this much – the core values they have determinedly followed and maintained through the past decade are a great model to follow and I wish them nothing but success as they seek to fulfill their philosophy. Can you say the same for your business?
April 11, 2014
The Ugly Truth About Open Source
When using open source software it’s important to recognize the limitations and struggles you’ll encounter. Open source is not equivalent to perfect software. Let’s discuss the ugly truth about open source software.
We all agree the importance open source software has come to play in our world. In fact, as mentioned previously it’s quite the buzz word. But that does not imply perfection. In fact there are many reasons why open source is not perfect and I’ve written previously about 5 ways you’ll fail at open source. I assume you’ve all read that article, have protected yourself against those failures and have pushed boldly on into implementing open source in your company or organization. Congratulations.
If you’re anything like me when I started with open source you’re probably a bit like a kid in a candy store. All the different software products you can now use, and so many of them free and open source ready to be used. It can be overwhelming, and exciting all at the same time. No doubt you’ll start downloading, forking, installing and playing with more than just one. And here’s where the dark side starts to creep in. Here’s the one key takeaway from this entire post:
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Failure to Integrate is the often neglected side effect of all these open source products. You’ve downloaded and installed 3 or 4 different tools you like. All of them have great features, but now what do you do? Does each user need to login 3 or 4 different times? Does each application have a completely different ‘look and feel’? Your website can quickly become a disjointed mashup of different applications. You’ll find areas that overlap between them as well. Now you have a website where there are multiple ways to perform the same action, but each looks different. Your users will be confused, frustrated, and possibly irritated when trying to complete an action.
Now all of you who are programmers or coders know there are ways to solve this. We can easily write a new application using Composer and Packagist to build a single application with the various bits and pieces we want. And yes, that is a great way to build a cohesive full-service solution which takes advantage of all the open source projects without the integration failures. But I’m looking at the site maintainer, the builder, the end-user who is looking at completed projects ready for installation and use.
When organizing your site and exploring the great wide open space of open source technology and products, please exercise self-control, caution, and a bit of discretion. Your goal should be to use open source for your organization’s success and do so effectively. Be sure the end result is a cohesive site which is easy to use, conveys your brand objective and doesn’t leave the user feeling unsure of your mission.
I believe in open source
I completely encourage every business to use open source. The rewards are tremendous. The software available is incredible and the value you can add to your company is huge. Absolutely explore the various offerings. What I find myself most often recommending is setting up a testing server just for the installation of the many different tools you want to try (or just use online demos).
Remember, your staging or production server is not the place where you test software. Once you’ve played around with it, and you decide it’s a tool you want to use on your site – talk to your developer about integration. Find out what it will take to integrate it seamlessly into your existing website. Discuss the areas of overlap and how to handle them. Make a plan. Focus on your end user experience and how to make it a simple, intuitive website. Use open source the right way.
April 9, 2014
5 Ways You’ll Fail at Open Source
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.
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.
February 22, 2014
The World Needs Open Source
This is a presentation I gave at CMS Africa Summit in Nairobi, Kenya. The crowd was incredible from countries all across Africa. The vibe was excited and everyone eager to be involved. Obviously, the world needs open source!