Open source has gone not just mainstream but global and prime time, and it is therefore getting harder and harder to grab the focus of developers. They are so swamped by technologies and vendors, all queuing up to entice them with the latest project, that they know they can pick and choose where want to put their time.
If you have an open-source project, the only way you are going to secure interest is by creating and growing a community where developers can meet virtually to talk about their work, spotlight their latest developments, and help you mature your product.
If you can get your open-source community going right from the start, it will flourish, and there are many potential benefits. An active online coding community will provide you with feedback you can use for developing your product. Get the community talking about your product and they will get the message out to the wider market. Developers talk and other developers listen; they are key to getting your product noticed.
A workable open-source community can also work for you as productively as an addition to your R&D department, contributing to the skillset available to improve the project.
There are a number of things you need to get right if you are going to attract developers to your community, grow it and ensure sustainability, though.
Type of license
The type of license you choose for your open-source project is paramount. Some licenses are very rigid, while others are more flexible. It is advisable to tap into the developer community for their feedback to find out what will work best for your target audience.
Easy to engage with
Developers are not going to stampede to your project, coding skills in hand, just because you have put up a sign saying it is open source. Remember, they may have never heard of you or your API, so be specific!
It goes without saying that open-source developers are driven by a number of factors. Peer acclaim is right up there, along with an unspoken bond of shared open-source community values.
Good design, reliability and maintainability are also factors. In particular, make your community fun to engage with. So rather than making developers spend time trying to find stuff, it has to be very easy to find useful tools and fun to connect with people on the same wavelength. Developers are not interested in help desks; they want answers fast, in an open channel.
Trust is key to longevity
The word “trust” is very important to the open-source community and one it holds dear to the long-term success of a project. Developers are more than happy to jump in and get their hands dirty. But they value transparency. They want to know who you are and what your road map is before they hand over their time. So make sure you have an open and clear channel of communication with them from the onset.
Sign up evangelists
Community managers need to spot and grow proponents of the product in the developer community. Word of mouth is one of the best ways of getting your product out and shouted about. They can help you gain critical mass support for your project quickly.
Getting their hands dirty
Developers like to dive in and dissect code, to find out how it all ticks. Any pro-coding resources you can give them will be hugely beneficial, be they YouTube clips, APIs, etc. Set up online forums and workshops where developers can go for technical support and to share experiences. Create an environment where collaboration can flourish.
Pull in a sponsor
If you do not get the backing of an internal executive sponsor who has bought into the open-source community, you may find yourself on a rocky road. Developers know this. The majority of open-source projects have some sort of commercial backing as the ultimate goal is to make money. (How else how can the company who created the open-source software continue to support it?)
But remember: It is a two-way relationship. If the suits don’t see any value in the project, backing flounders and coding interest wanes. So from the onset, you need to establish exactly how the developer community will work with the business agenda.
Don’t become a one-hit wonder
Sure, you’ll have lots of interest in your project when you first open the doors, but it is retaining and growing that interest that is the hard bit.
To avoid being yesterday’s news, you need to roll out your network and actively work with other open-source communities. Link up with other community managers and host shared events, forums, etc. Also, make sure you release compelling case studies on blogs and social media, and get users talking to the press. That way you stay relevant.
Incentivise developers by giving them awards, such as for exemplary programming. This puts them in the spotlight in front of their peers and makes the community more vibrant.
Don’t press the stop button
The technology industry moves fast, and there is always a new buzzword on the block. You need to keep abreast of these trends, reach out to the open-source community, and update them on developments. That way you will stay within their sights.
Never stop building
Communities mean constant peer review, like somebody reviewing your code or helping you check for errors. Therefore, the more developers you have, the better chance of finding new tricks and unlocking new innovations, raising the bar for technology. You won’t really get anywhere if you don’t put in the heavy lifting we’ve described in order to build a viable and large community.
When your open-source community has high developer involvement, don’t rest on your laurels. You have to keep working at it. You must continually feed your community ideas, encourage feedback, and re-evaluate how the product fits into the project. Remember, building a strong, supportive neighborhood takes time and, in that respect, an open-source community is no different to the one you live in.