more on segmenting open source communities

I wanted to following up on yesterday’s post about the topology and segmentation of open source communities  with one or two addition comments.

My friend Rahul R. reminded me of the fact that one critical reason we segment is to more effectively allocate time and resources. In a bell shaped vision of the open source community (to get this you really have to read yesterday’s post) it would make sense to allocate the bulk of time on the centre (or average) user. But in a power law distribution, with a massive majority of community participants poorly networked to the project a community may face an important dilemma. Consolidate and focus on current community members, or invest in enabling a group so massive it may seem impossible to have an impact.

But as I reflect on it, this segmentation may create a false choice.

Concentrating on the more connected and active members may not be beneficial. A community needs to cultivate a pipeline of future users. Focusing on current community leaders at the expense of future community leaders will damage the project’s long term viability. More importantly, as discussed yesterday, consolidating and insulating this group may acutally create barriers to entry for new community members by saturating the current key members relationship capacity.

The reverse however, concentrating on a mass of passive users, trying to transform them into more active community members is a daunting task (especially when you are considering a user base of 20-30 million, or even just a beta tester community of 100,000 people). While I think there are a number of exciting things that one can and should do to tackle this segment, it can, and does feel overwhelming. How can you have impact?

The key may be to leverage the super users (or super-nodes – those who are more likely to be connected to people throughout the community) to create a culture that is more inclusive and participatory. Over the long term, successful open source communities will be those capable of not only drawing in new members, but networking them with key operators, decision makers and influencers so that new branches of the community are seeded.

I suspect this does not necessarily occur on to its own. It requires an explicit strategy, supported by training, all of which must be aligned with the community’s values. This will be especially true as newer entrants will have a diverse background (and set of goals and values) then the original community members. Possibly the most effective way to achieve this is to inoculate the super nodes within the community with a degree of openness to diversity, and a capacity for relationship cultivation and management so as to create an open culture that functions well even with a diverse community.

So let’s segment the community- but let’s also use that segmentation to build skills, awareness, etc… in each segment that allows it to contribute to a strategy that transcends each individual segment. For an open source community, I would suggest that, at a minimum, this means offering some training around relationship management, dispute resolution, facilitation and mediation to its super-nodes – e.g. the people most directly shaping the community’s culture.

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