Viewing Communities as Funnels

It has been ages since I have had time to write a blog post. Last week, I decided to get my act together and start again. Of course the cold and wet summer in the UK also helps a bit. I have accumulated a lot of material and experience since my last post. Today, I will start with an idea that I first published at Open World Forum 2011, which marries the idea of a Sales Funnel with software adoption in open source communities. It then extends that model to the progression of a potential user of your software, to becoming a user and possibly a developer in your project. I will also show how the funnel can be used as a health dashboard for your community and as a community management tool.

Besides having found its way into the Sales Process, the funnel analogy is commonly used in marketing, for Freemium Adoption Models as well as Social Networking and  also Information Seeking.

Key Constituencies in an Open Source Community

Before looking at funnels, it is worth looking at constituencies in an open source community. It should be relatively straightforward to define constituencies for  communities in general.

Industry Segment: It helps to understand what industry segments your project is a part of. For Xen.org it is virtualization and cloud, for MySQL and PostgreSQL it is databases, etc. Why should people in a project care? A common project goal is to grow the project’s user base. Being known by as many people and vendors in your industry helps achive that goal. You will be in even better shape, when seen in a positive light.

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GSoC: first few lessons learned

For the first time this year I have been admin for a Google Summer of code mentoring organization. Now as Google has announced the students, and while my impressions are still fresh, it’s time to share some lessons.

Don’t allow old project ideas

I allowed a few project ideas from 2010 into the 2011 list. None of them were very popular with students. I think there are two reasons:

  • It’s too easy for mentors to just pick up an old idea. In the end there is a risk that the mentor doesn’t take GSoC and engaging with the students as seriously as he should and don’t get into the right mindset.
  • Applying for a GSoC project is a bit of a gamble for students too: good students will look at ideas lists from several years and will notice that an idea is old and just not apply.

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Getting on top of Social Networks

As community manager I should know better and regularly publish on the blog. Well, it’s been a very busy beginning of the year and taking over an existing community creates its own set of challenges. Besides community managers, I’d expect that many open source project leads which take over an existing project will face similar issues. The issue at hand this time: taking control of existing social networks.

Becoming manager of existing social networks, groups, etc.

The community I work has a presence in 40+ different social networks and other on-line services. Some support the concept of a group admin/manager. Others don’t and admin rights tend to be tied to a specific user ID. When you try and take over management of some social networks you can end up in a number of situations.

  • The easy one is where there is the concept of an admin or manager: all you need to do is to ask another admin/manager to promote you to manager. Now this works easily if you your existing manager cares and knows their log-in details. Which for me was luckily mostly true.
  • The more probematic case is where managing a group is tied to a specific account and manager ownership cannot be transferred: there are quite a few sites where this is the case. What you essentially need to do is: get the password and change the profile. If the profile was personal, e.g. Joe Bloggs, make it generic (i.e. changed it from Joe Bloggs to Xen Community Manager) otherwise the next person will face the same problems. I also changed the profile such that it mentioned that Joe Blogs was community manager during a specific time period. This was necessary because some of the history in comments refers to Joe Bloggs, which may confuse users.
  • The worst case scenario is where the management role is tied to a specific universal ID and cannot be changed (such as a Google, Twitter or Facebook ID). I was surprised to find out that there are a quite few such services. In this case, you are stuck if your predecessor has used a personal ID which he/she will want to continue to use.

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Moving on to Pastures New

As the Symbian Foundation is changing to a licensing organisation with no staff, I am moving on. I will start a new role as open source community manager for XEN.ORG in mid January. I am looking forward to this exciting opportunity and many of the different and  new challenges ahead.

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DevCo: Experiences saving a young community

In the last few weeks, my life and that of many of the people I have worked with for a year and a half, has undergone some drastic transformations. My employer, the Symbian Foundation, is changing from an open source foundation into a licensing organisation without staff, all websites will be closed and of course this will have an impact on the open source community around Symbian. At some point in future, Nokia will hopefully build an open source community around Symbian. For now, we do not know what this will look like.

In summer, I took on a board seat at Symbian Devco, an organisation whose aim it was to give individuals a bigger role in the Symbian open source community. DevCo is (almost) entirely independent of the Symbian Foundation. The only dependency was that the Foundation was nice enough to host the DevCo website, help out with admin work and pay for a number of legal services.

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A model for building communities?

For some time I have been thinking now whether it is possible to express the business and people dynamics of building communities, in particular open source communities in terms of a model that is easy to understand by software engineers and architects.

Before I go there, I wanted to share though why I think this is necessary. The background is a situation where many engineers from within the Symbian eco-system, with little hands-on open source practice suddenly faced the challenge of  becoming making open source work for them and their employers. Although there is now some really good literature out there, such as The Art of Community by Jono Bacon and the Open Source Way by Red Hat, I found that many of the people I worked with found both books too verbose, or the latter too much geared towards the use of tools and open source as a business. When I followed up with a few of our project lead, what they were really looking for was “a model of  building communties described in terms of architecturual diagrams, supported by not more than 20 pages of documentation“.

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On the Universe, Gravity & Twitter

For a while now, I have been thinking of writing a philisophical blog post on whether a year of Twitter usage has actually had a significant impact on my work life or the way how I generally use the internet.  If you had asked me a few weeks ago, the answer would have been a definite: hardly any impact! The main impact has been that occasionally people on twitter point me to articles which I otherwise would not have read.

The reason for this is mainly that I am not a multi-tasker. I tend to single-mindedly work on one task at a time, and usually only have one (at most two) windows open on my desktop (I may have a few minimized though). For that reason, applications such as Tweetdeck do not appeal much to me. The same is true for RSS and news readers. Although I have these apps installed, I hardly ever use them.

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