How the community can help your business: People Powered

Open source took over the world because of community, and community expert Jono Bacon explains how this concept can revolutionize your business in his new book People Powered.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Famed anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." In his latest book, People Powered, community expert Jono Bacon spells out how your group or business can create communities, which, indeed, change the world. 

Once, communities were locked in time and space. We would get together at our clubs, churches, or community halls to work on local issues. The internet, as Bacon points out, changed that. Now, it's become possible for users who share a common interest to not merely to share their enthusiasm for, say, Star Trek or Xbox across the world, but to work together to create entirely new, world-changing products and services such as Linux and Wikipedia.

This doesn't happen by magic. It requires, as Bacon observes, hard work. 

Of course, it can happen without planning. Most of the early open-source success stories sprang from communities of like-minded developers. But they were there to write and share code, not to create a community. 

Bacon, who got his start building the Ubuntu Linux community for Canonical, has found, after years of work, that just like there are best practices for writing code, there are best practices in creating communities. In People Powered, he explains in clear, concise terms what those ways are.

For example, there are three basic kinds of communities...


The first of these are consumers. These are fans. Don't sell them short. Apple's a near-trillion dollar company because of them. There's also Imagine Game Network (IGN), where over a million gamers share their passion for gaming.


The next step up is champions. These are online groups, such as Fractal Audio Systems, with its Axe-Fx guitar processors. Here, the community members aren't just fans; they write documentation, test beta products, and help new users get up to speed. This isn't just for small companies. Microsoft's Windows Community serves as a bridge between Microsoft's engineers and its users.


Finally, there are collaborators. This is where communities gain fame. We've always had fans and champions. For example, long before the internet was widely available, early PC company user groups helped mid-wife the personal computing revolution. But the combination of open source and the internet has proven so powerful that open-source has become the default way software's now made. 

Bacon points to Kubernetes, the wildly-popular container orchestration program, as a recent community success story. Its value, like all such projects, has only increased as more and more people and companies contribute to it. In turn, all its users are reaping the benefits. 

Although Bacon doesn't, I'll remark that Docker, the container technology, which set the stage for Kubernetes, is an example of how simply paying lip service to a community will fail. Docker, which recently sold its core technologies to Mirantis, tried to control its code and plans too tightly rather than welcoming community input. This was one reason why Docker spun out. 

Bacon doesn't sugar coat it. Your efforts to create a community may fail, too. But if you follow his strategic ideas on how to get people who care about your company, service, or product to come together in meaningful, connected work, you'll have a much better chance of creating both a successful community and company.

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