Standing out in the crowd (part 3): keep your project or package visible

The first two posts in this series looked at how to market your open source project or package looking into the question what marketing is anyway and how to tell the world that you exist. After you have followed the instructionsin those two articles, some word about your project/package is out in the world and hopefully you will have made connections with a few interested people.

Momentum and Rhythm

To ensure that all this initial effort enables you to build a real community around your open source project or package, you will need to apply the techniques explained earlier again and again in different guises. Before I go into detail, let me look at two factors that are important ingredients in building a sustainable community: Momentum and Rhythm.

The first realization is that you are more likely to attract people to an open source project if others have already visibly joined it. It’s part of human nature: everybody wants to be friends with somebody popular who already has friends; nobody wants to be friends with a loner. When I look at an open source project for the first time, I tend to check a few things:

  • Is there traffic on the mailing list (or whatever communication medium is used)
  • Are there other signs of activity, such as a changing news section on the web page, regular changes in the code and bug database, regular releases, etc.

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Standing out in the crowd (part 2): advertising your project or package

Last weeks post looked at how to market your open source project or package looking into the question what marketing is anyway, finding out who your audience is and understanding your own and your audiences needs. This is necessary groundwork that helps you understand where you are, what you may be able to achieve and will influence choices you make further down the line.

However none of the groundwork matters, if the world does not know you exist. I use the term advertising in the widest sense, to tell the world that you do exist. The first thing to realize is that advertising is not a one-off thing: in a world of information overload, you need to constantly remind people that you exist. If you don’t, the world assumes you don’t exist any more. It’s that simple.

Defining your project or package

The first question somebody will ask themselves if they see information about your project/package is: what is it about? Remember, that your goal is to get your audience to invests their time, passion, code and feedback by contributing to your project/package.

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Standing out in the crowd (part 1): marketing your project or package

At OSCON and the Community Leadership Summit the question how you get noticed as an open source project (or more generally as a a community) was covered in a number of discussions and talks. A really good talk was Josh Marinacci’s talk on Marketing Your Open Source Project on a Shoestring Budget: I will follow the overall structure of Josh’s talk, provide an angle specific to Symbian packages and incubation projects and augment with my own learnings.

Fact is that there are many open source projects out there today: this is also true in the Symbian community where we already have 140 packages and incubation projects. To get noticed you need to stand out, which means you need to use marketing techniques to connect your project or package to your users and contributors.

What is marketing?

The first piece of the puzzle is to understand what we mean by marketing. You may think marketing does not apply to you because you don’t sell your software or it is part of a solution which your marketing or sales department handles.

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Getting heard in the noise #2 – know your channels!

A key success factor to “getting your message heard” is understanding who you are targeting and how to reach them.  I wanted to share with you my experiences of reaching for community members to join the BugSquad and what I discovered about our communication channels by doing so.

When we launched the BugSquad we decided to start by ramping up by stages, ensuring we understood the challenges faced by contributors and we could address them with a short turn around. We assumed that our main communication channel to the technical community was our blog and that it would help us attract most of our contributor base.

image fom Flikr: Coz Baldwin

We announced the launch of the BugSquad via different channels at different times (weeks apart) , this allowed us to measure the success each communication (in terms of new joiners to our email list compare to clicks on the actual announcement). Here is my interpretation of the results:

Our Forums: Our forums are mainly read by technically minded people that are engaged on Symbian based projects and are able to contribute to platform initiatives. This has been by far the most efficient channel to communicate to code contributors ( for development and test).

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Getting heard in the noise

Three prong plug - photo by Alikai (flickr)

A common problem people face when trying to address a community is that of noise. We live in an incredibly noisy environment, with people drowning in information and ever shrinking attention spans.

So how do you successfully spread your message?

I tend to use a 3 prong approach to publishing, with different information content and length:

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General impressions from the Community Leadership Summit

As mentioned earlier, I was at the CLS 2010 in Oregon. I learned and awful lot, made many connections and came away with many ideas. It will take some time to go through it all, make sense of it and share with you. One of the most striking realizations for me was that: “We are not alone”. Most community leaders, managers, active community members across many communities struggle with similar issues.

At this stage, I wanted to share some general expressions. The CLS was the best organised unconference I have ever been to. The spirit was great, the organisation was fantastic and the people were friendly and from many different backgrounds. The basic structure was a plenary kick-off in the morning, sessions (determined on the day) and a feed-back plenary session in the evening. On the second day, most feedback had been acted upon: so the second day was even better than the first!

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Sometimes you build it, but they still won’t come

Photo: Markus Merz (flickr)

Last year when the Symbian Foundation was still being set up, we thought it would be beneficial to provide a physical meeting place for the sizable Symbian community in London. We decided to call this the Symbian Stammtisch, inspired by the table for regular visitors to German beer halls. The Stammtisch was, obviously, to be a regular meeting held in a pub, where people were free to come, have a drink and discuss Symbian.

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