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Innovation

What does open source community mean?

Those open source businesses which remain true to their community ideals through this recession are going to come out stronger for it. If the companies don't come out despite high ideals, then they will.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

Matt Asay is out with a post calling the whole concept of open source community overhyped.

If by that you mean the Tom Sawyer concept of volunteers coming over to whitewash the fence for you, he's right.

(This classic image of Tom Sawyer by Norman Rockwell was made into a U.S. postage stamp in 1972.)

But that's not really why companies leave Sourceforge and start their own community forges. It's not why they hire community managers, not why they run message boards, newsgroups and blogs.

Some of these reasons involve profit. They are looking to convert downloaders. They are looking to build goodwill and word of mouth. They are seeking corporate collaboration. They are building their reputations.

What I have found, in general, is that the more an open source company gives to its community, the more that community gives back.

True, most users freeload. That is, they don't become members of the project's community in a meaningful way. They download the software, they use the software, and that's about it.

This does not make the community-building effort meaningless, or overhyped.

It means you need to seek its value elsewhere. You find it in your reputation, not just among the rank-and-file but in boardrooms and other places where big decisions are made.

This recession has been frustrating for many leading open source businessmen, like Matt. They do not feel they have gotten their just desserts for their willingness to release code. They feel like they left money on the table, money that won't be coming back.

I understand the pain. I had over a dozen paying assignments during the Internet boom, where I warned constantly that the boom would bust. Yet when it busted I wound up broke like everyone else. It was unfair, I thought.

Then I found the real benefit of my Internet-era honesty, when I looked in the mirror and liked what I saw. Staying true to your path and true to your readers is its own reward. Even though some may never appreciate it.

The same is true here. Those open source businesspeople who remain true to their community ideals through this recession are going to come out stronger for it. If the companies don't come out despite high ideals, then they will.

Long ago there was an Internet rumor of Kurt Vonnegut giving a commencement address at MIT. Someone even wrote a phony speech for him.

In fact Vonnegut did give one commencement speech I recall, at my own alma mater, Rice University.

He told the graduates most would not be rich, or famous, that they should seek instead to become good members of their communities, and that this was a great source of wealth and happiness.

From Twain to Rockwell to Vonnegut. All with the same lesson for open source, which is to stay the course. 

So it goes.

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