Tag Archives: community

why collaborative skills matter in open source

For the past several years now I’ve been talking about how community management – broadly defined as enhancing a community’s collaborative skills, establishing and modeling behaviour/culture and embedding development tools and communications mediums with prompts that “nudge” us towards collaborative behaviour – is imperative to the success of open source communities. (For those interested in this, my FSOSS 2008 on the subject has been slidecasted here, and is on on google video here.

Re-reading Shirkly’s latest book, Here Comes Everybody, has re-affirmed my thinking. Indeed, it’s made me more aggressive. Why? Consider these two paragraphs:

This ability of the traditional management structure to simplify coordination helps answer one of the most famous questions in all of economics: If markets are such a good idea, why do we have organizations at all? Why can’t all exchanges of value happen in the market? This question originally was posed by Ronald Coase in 1937 in his famous paper “The Nature of the Firm,” wherein he also offered the first coherent explanation of the value of hierarchical organization. Coase realized that workers could simply contract with one another, selling their labor, and buying the labor of others in turn, in a market, without needing any managerial oversight. However, a completely open market for labor, reasoned Coase, would underperform labor in firms because of the transaction costs, and in particular the costs of discovering the options and making and enforcing agreements among the participating parties. The more people are involved in a given task, the more potential agreements need to be negotiated to do anything, and the greater the transaction costs…

And later, Shirky essentially describes the thesis of his book:

But what if transaction costs don’t fall moderately? What if they collapse. This scenario is harder to predict from Coase’s original work, at it used to be purely academic. Now’s it not, because it is happening, or rather it has already happened, and we’re starting to see the results.

My conclusion: the lower the transaction costs, the greater the playing field will favour self-organizations systems like open source communities and the less it will favour large proprietary producers.

This is why open source communities should (and do) work collectively to reduce transaction costs among their members. Enabling the further collapse of transaction costs tilts the landscape in our favour. Sometimes, this can be down in the way we architect the software. Indeed, this is why – in FirefoxAdd-Ons are so powerful. The Add-On functionality dramatically reduces transaction costs by creating a dependable and predictable platform, essentially allowing coders to work in isolation from one another (the difference between collaborative vs. cooperative). This strategy has been among the most successful. It is important and should be pursued, but it cannot help collapse transaction costs for all parts of a project – especially the base code.

But what more can be done? There are likely diminishing returns to re-architecting the software and in finding new, easier ways, to connect developers to one another. The areas I think offer real promise include:

  • fostering cultures within open source communities that reward collaborative (low transaction cost) behaviour,
  • promoting leaders who model collaborative (low transaction cost) behaviour
  • developing tools and communications mediums/methods that prompt participants to improve the noise to signal, minimize misunderstandings, limit unnecessary conflict, and help resolve differences quickly and effectively (the idea being that all of these outcomes lower transactions costs).

This is why I continue to think about how to port over the ideas, theories and tools from the negotiation/collaboration field, into the open source space.

For open source communities, eliminating transaction costs is a source of strategic advantage – one that we should find ways to exploit ruthlessly.

Cool Job in Open Source, Science and Engagement

My friend Rikia S. sent me the link to this cool job posting on the TED website.

Based on astronomer Jill Tarter’s TED Prize wish — to search for signs of intelligent life on other planets – the SETI Institute is hiring a project manager with the experience, qualifications and energy to run the TED Prize wish project for at least two years.

For those interested in Open Source Software, who love science and astronomy and who can engage a large community of citizen-scientists who are contributing to SETI’s efforts, this is a dream job.

The full job description and contact info is on their website:

This is a unique opportunity to work in both open-source software and social media, on a project whose ramifications are literally beyond global.

We are seeking someone with deep experience in managing open-source software projects and the communities that power them to drive a bold and agenda-setting initiative. The initiative will involve managing a traditional open-source software project, as well as a complex public-facing system that will enlist the general/nontechnical public’s assistance in conducting our search. To succeed, a candidate above all needs a history of success in managing major open-source projects. While it’s not essential that this person be a coding engineer, it is essential that s/he be comfortable enough with C++ code to have technically meaningful interactions with committers and the broader open-source community. It’s also essential that s/he be a strong evangelist — able to speak inspiringly in public, and to energize, recruit and maintain engagement with key influencers in the open source coding world.

The other part of the job will be governing a project that will in many ways resemble Galaxy Zoo (an intriguing “citizen scientist” system). This will involve managing a respected Web development company as it creates the site, and thereafter overseeing/”gardening” a large community of nontechnical contributors. We expect this community to be self-policing and self-monitoring, like Wikipedia’s editorial community. But it will need leadership and a baseline architecture, and our hire will be responsible for delivering this.

This is a unique opportunity to work in both open-source software and social media, on a project whose ramifications are literally beyond global.

This will be a full-time role at the SETI Institute for two years, funded by the money TED has allocated toward granting Jill’s wish. However, because this is a TED Prize wish, one in which many people and individuals are giving a lot to make happen, we do hope to find someone who will do this at a reduced rate. We have a large brainstorm taking place on June 1 and would love to have the right person chosen and at the table for that meeting.

Please send a resume and cover letter to tedprize1@ted.com if you are interested in the position.

And please forward this opportunity on to anyone you believe possess the right skills!

Blogging: Dealing with difficult comments

Embedded below is an abridged version (10 minutes!) of my 2009 Northern Voice presentation on managing and engaging the community the develops around one’s blog. Specifically, one goals of this presentation was to pull in some of the thinking from the negotiation and conflict management space and see how it might apply to dealing with people who comment on your blog. Hopefully, people will find it interesting.

Finally, a key lesson that came to me while developing the presentation is that most blogs, social media projects, and online projects in general, really need a social contract – or as Skirky describes it, a bargain – that the organizer and the community agree to. Often such contracts (or bargains) are strongly implied, but I believe it is occasionally helpful to make them explicit – particularly on blogs or projects that deal with contentious (politics) or complicated (many open source projects) issues.

At 8:43 in the presentation I talk about what I believe is the implicit bargain on my site. I think about codifying it, especially as a I get more and more commentors. That said, the community that has developed around this blog – mostly of people I’ve never met –  is fantastic, so there hasn’t been an overwhelming need.

Finally thank you to Bruce Sharpe for posting a video of the presentation.

So, I hope this brief presentation is helpful to some of you.

(Notice how many people are coughing! You can tell it was winter time!)