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Part 3 of Leading a professional, vendor-backed open-source community

Monday 31 October 2011 6:00:47 pm

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The second part of my series on 'Leading a professional, vendor-backed open-source community' got us busy covering the ideas of meritocracy and social economy, important pillars, I believe. This finalized the short presentation of the basics in managing an open-source community. By no means is the list of principles exhaustive. I merely picked my daily drivers. On the agenda today are the specific, practical aspects of this discipline when a single vendor is backing the community.

A mug and good tunes can help savour this small write up.

The uniqueness of a professional, vendor-backed open-source community

A new element comes into the open-source community management play, the vendor. Or maybe the vendor was here in the first place; it depends on cases in history.  In the eZ case, the company came first, then the community naturally grew around it and still does today, more than ever.
Springing to my mind, as most important point, is the transparent exposition of interests. The general traits tend to be as follows:

  • The vendor needs to earn money, which it’s in part investing back into community development (manpower, infrastructure, events, awards, goodies.) A sufficient revenue stream is conditioning the health, survival and growth of the structure - the company.
  • The participation of the community is motivated by various interests: peer recognition, altruism, career or business opportunities, knowledge acquisition, social network construction/expansion and intellectual challenges. The fulfilment of these interests is conditioning the health, survival and growth of the structure - the community. These points grow the social capital on a per-member basis, in turn increasing the community's wealth, a necessary source of innovation and awareness for the company.

Openness, again. Openly exposed interests of each of the protagonists join the two ends of the ecosystem and make it a virtuous circle, speeding-up its metabolism.


eZ Ecosystem virtuous circle


One operational question remains though: How do you gather aspirations and plans?
On the vendor-side, the strategy is usually publicly explained anyways even sometimes through drafts of it to be fine-tuned when the community has feedback (at the product development level.) This practice differs from a non open-source company in that it is OK (read: important) to share early stages of strategy/tactics construction. Not necessarily in a 100% public mode at first, but with inner community circles, spanning the boundaries as the plan matures.
On the community-side, connecting the dots requires identifying the emerging aspirations. Given the possibly large size of the community, community management has to provide time-effective ways to gather and exchange information. This process has initial fixed costs (time), but gives tremendous returns to the ecosystem.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of tips to make this exchange happen:

  • Representative committees, teams
  • Asynchronous Online Exchanges
  • Synchronous live chats
  • One-to-one meetings
  • Panels at ecosystem events

In the eZ Community, the Community Project Board, the team and the increasing activity on forums and social media channels pave the way for a constant exchange on all topics, including long-term ones. The Community Manager(s) must be dexterous at managing the user-organization relationship (in such private-collective environments) by having strong listening skills, energizing the exchanges on a daily basis (annihilate the "Ivory Tower" syndrome), a capacity to consolidate feedback throughout various channels, presenting it to the vendor and vice-versa.

It is an ongoing process. Company tactics evolve in time, so do community aspirations, and they tend to influence each other. Properly implemented transparency at this level lets fairness thrive and, on a side-note, motivates closer collaboration between the vendor and its community toward well-known goals.

Balancing the commercial offerings and community development is, I believe, the most important trait of leading a vendor-led, open-source community. Next time, I will put another key element in the lime-light of open-source, vendor-led community management: software development. Until then, happy community management!

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