Frequent open source miles

The bottom line is there are all sorts of things open source marketers can do with the permission users give them every day.

Seth Godin
Matt Asay's piece on "open source free- riders" got my goat this morning because we're on opposite sides of the market.

Matt's a vendor, a high-ranking executive with Alfresco who by his own testimony spends a heavy chunk of his life in hotels and airports.

I'm a journalist, a user, who thanks to the miracle of the Internet now gets to spend most nights with the family.

Of course Matt makes a lot more money than I do. And it's evident he wants more. Since I haven't cut any checks to Firefox or Open Office lately he calls me a "free-rider" and wonders how much longer the business can abide people like me.

It's amazing how the brightest people can sometimes say the dumbest things.

The incremental cost of the open source projects serving me is approximately zero. If I need a service that might require payment, I pay for it, in either cash or (often) time, paging through the confusing forums of the projects I use.

Matt asks what it would take for me to give him more of my money, or projects more of my time. Yet in bragging about his room upgrades he answers his own question.

Frequent user miles.

Hear me out. Let's put together a voluntary database of our open source use. Are you running Linux? That's 50 points. Are your most oft-used programs Firefox, Open Office and The Gimp? We'll give you 10 points for each of them.

Now comes the tricky bit. Have you downloaded beta code? Give you 10 points for each program. Reported a bug? Another 15 or so. And so on. Make a financial contribution to an open source project? A point for every dollar you send.

So, what would you give me in exchange, Matt, not just for what I'm doing but the data behind it? What's the open source equivalent of a room upgrade, or the chance to sit in the comfy chair at an airport lounge?

That's where I start to fall down, because I don't know what open source companies can afford to offer. But let's spitball:

  • Membership in a mailing list that tells you first about coming upgrades and beta code.
  • Free minutes to actually e-mail a committer about something that's bothering you. And get them to e-mail back.
  • Recognition at events sponsored by the projects or industry segments you earn the most minutes to.
  • Lottery tickets for fabulous prizes! Trips to Portland or the Isle of Man. Maybe one of Linus' old iPods? (I once bid on a laptop previously owned by Walter Cronkite.)

The bottom line is there are all sorts of things open source marketers can do with the permission users give them every day. Which is why ol' Seth Godin is staring at you from the top of this post, Matt.

He wrote the book on this. And he's got a blog, too.


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