How to Build a Better Developer Community

Dec 4

Written by: Paula Hunter
12/4/2012 10:19 AM  RssIcon

We are delighted to host Ubuntu community manager Jono Bacon this week for a webinar on this topic, and also offer up some recommendations in this post today that will be explored in greater detail in the presentation.   Our staff and mentors are well versed on this subject, and we have captured their advice on these 5 things to consider when building an open source community.

Your choice of license is about more than copyright

"If you share software on the Internet without using a license, the software is protected by your copyright and all rights revert to you. You have made no statement about how it might be used, or what you would agree to, now or in the future. Not caring, or naively believing it doesn’t matter because you believe “people can do whatever they want with my software,” or worse using others’ unlicensed software in your own means you will eventually hit a point where you stifle the growth of your software."

- Source: Stephen Walli, Technical Director, Open Source, Software Hygiene, and STDs.

Governance does not equate to bureaucracy

"A governance model need not be, indeed should not be, a complex document that attempts to cover every possible circumstance. It is a guidance document covering the most common community processes, nothing more. Finding the right balance between bottom-up anarchy and top-down leadership is hard. This is where the governance model comes in. It provides the social scaffolding for collaboration. It empowers individuals who just want to get things done and it provides mechanisms by which community deadlocks can be broken"

- Source: Ross Gardler, Project Mentor, Open Development.

Mission statements, social contracts, and code-of-conducts are important

As a community evolves and grows, the governance model needs to adapt to the state of the community.  In this age of rapid response across many different mediums, there will be times when a discussion can "jump the shark" and civility may deteriorate.   During these times, when emotions may be charged, it is important for the project leadership to remain cool, reinforce the mission of the project, and address the disruption. Having a simple set of guidelines for mailing list and forum posts need not be onerous, rather based on common sense such as the Code of Conduct for OSI Mailing Lists. If you don't have one, collaborate with your community to create one, increasing the likelihood they will respect it.

- Source: Paula Hunter, Executive Director


Even when developing proprietary software, working in a vacuum has its limitations.  Most software vendors have benefited from the input of the superusers of their code, even if these users have never seen the source code.  Taking a step closer to fully embracing open source - "one can choose to publish software under an open source license and never build a community. The software isn’t “lost”, but neither is it hardened or evolved. It may be useful to someone that discovers it, but the dynamic aspects of software development are lost to it. Taking the steps to encourage and build a community around the open source project sets the dynamic software engine in motion and allows the economics of collaborative development and sharing to work at its best."

- Source: Stephen Walli, Making Open Source Software

Structure your project to provide an easy on ramp to participate

"Contribution is the life blood of an open source software community. It leads to new developers joining the project and learning enough to becoming committers with the responsibility for the code base and its builds. Its what makes the shared economic cost work for all.  But contributors generally start as users of the software. This means that a project community hoping to attract contributors first needs to attract users. The project’s initial participants need to build a solid onramp for users that can then become contributors by making the software easy to “use”, ensuring it’s discoverable, downloadable, easily installable, and quickly configurable."

- Source: Stephen Walli,  Making Open Source Software.

For more on this topic, register for our free, online webinar today. 

Building a Better Developer Community

Thursday, December 6, 1pm EST (10AM PST)


Jono Bacon, Author, The Art of Community
Stephen Walli, Technical Director, Outercurve Foundation

Learn more and register now!

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