I had a thoroughly enjoyable time at the Free-Software and Open Source Symposium (FSOSS) at Seneca college. I had a great time giving my talk on community management as the core competency of open source communities. The audience was really engaged and asked great questions – I just wish we’d had more time.
The talk was actually filmed and can be downloaded, but it is only available as an OGG file wihch is large (416Mb) but rumor has it they may get converted into a smaller more streamable format in the future. Once the video is available I’ll also post the slides.
One of the key ideas I’m interested in pushing is how “open” open source communities are – and how they can make themselves easier to join. I actually had an interesting experience while at FSOSS that highlighted how subtle this challenge can be.
During one of the lunch breaks Mark Surman and I ran a Birds of a Feather session on Community Management as the Core Competency of Open Source Communities. In the lead up to the session, a leader of a prominent open source community (I knew this because it said so on his name tag) walked up to me and asked:
“Are you running this BoF?” (Birds of a Feather)
Not being hip to the lingo I replied… “What’s a BoF? I’m not super techie so I don’t know all the terms.”
To which he replied “Evidently.” and walked away.
And thus ended my first contact with this particular open source community. With its titular leader nonetheless. Needless to say, it didn’t leave a positive impression.
I’ll admit this is an anecdotal piece of data. But it affirms my thinking that while open source communities may be open – to whom they are open may not be as broad a cross section of the population as we are lead to believe (e.g. you’d better already know the lingo and cultural norms of the community).
There is another important lesson here. One that impacts directly the scalability of open source communities. At some point everyone has to have a first contact with a community – that first impression may be a strong determinant about where they volunteer their time and contribute their free labour. Any good open-source community will probably want to get it right.