Software Freedom Day Melbourne 2013 - Building free software communities


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  • Welcome – thank you for your time today and for your interest in free software. We've heard some great presentations already today – with Jon's introduction and Andrew, Pat, Adam and Ben giving us some great talks on free software and free society. My name is Kathy Reid and I've been involved free and open source communities for a while now, and have helped organise and grow those communities What I'm hoping to share with you today are some principles and practises that will enable you to help grow your own free or open source community. We'll look at some successful free and open source communities and look at some of the principles and practises that have made them successful. On the flipside, we'll also explore some less successful communities and chat about what we could do to improve them. Please feel free to ask questions or make comments at any time – many of the people here are members of communities and will have a lot of stories and experience to share.
  • So as our first example, let's take a look at WordPress. WordPress is only 10 years old -it turned 10 years old this year – yet in that time it's grown an expansive community and a rich ecosystem. But what are some of the principles and practises that it uses to establish, grow, nurture and maintain an active, vibrant community? One of the best starting points to start exploring this question is a book called the ART OF COMMUNITY By a chap called Jono Bacon. You might have heard of Jono Bacon – he is the community manager for a niche operating system – you migh have heard of it – called Ubuntu. Well, Jono has distilled the knowledge he's gained in the role of community manager into the ART OF COMMUNITY book – which by the way is freely available online.
  • One of the first things Jono talks about in the ART OF COMMUNITY is something called SOCIAL CAPITAL.
  • He defines this as hose tangible substances [that] count for most in the daily lives of people: namely goodwill, fellowship,sympathy, and social intercourse among the individuals and families who make up a social Unit....” Social capital embraces the concepts of kudos, respect, goodwill, friendliness, getting along, doing someone else a good turn before a bad. Putting this in to the WORDPRESS context, we can see lots of examples of how social capital has helped to drive the creation of the community. The forums for a start are community moderated; people using goodwill to help each other. In turn, those providing assistance are ascribed kudos and respect. One good turn deserves another, and the reciprocal good will helps to build and reinforce a strong community. Many of the plugins and themes for WordPress are given away for free, and there are many free resources available to learn about WordPress. INTERACTION Can anyone think of examples of in their open source communities where goodwill is entrenched? What are some of the behaviours that support or detract from social capital? There's some great examples there. For me personally one the worst examples of destroying social capital within a community was the recent abuse that Sarah Sharp, a linux kernel developer based in the United States, received on the Linux Kernal Mailing List. In summary, Sarah was verbally abused by one of the Linux kernal maintainers. This sort of antisocial behaviour destroys goodwill in a number of ways – it obviously reduces the motivation of the person involved to contribute to a community, but far worse – it repels potential community members from joining in and getting involved. I don't want to go too much into things like codes of conduct and anti-harrassment guides, but that's exactly why they're so important – because the community is poorer when such behaviour is tolerated. So, that's a little bit about social capital. But surely there's more to organising free software communities than just social capital – absolutely – but it's such an important one that it deserves to be mentioned firs.t
  • Of course, the principle that we would normally talk about first is planning, and having a strategic plan. Building a great community does require some planning, and some of the most successful free software communities do a lot of planning work. For example, Ubuntu has the Developer Summit, Wikipedia organises planning sessions, the Drupal community through the Drupal Association Board does a lot of governance and planning. At a local level, our own free software communities also do planning. For example, Linux Australia does at least one, if not two face to face sessions with its Council every year, where strategic priorities for the year are discussed and agreed. One of the best tools for doing strategic planning for your free or open source community is a SWOT analysis – if anyone would like to know more about SWOT come and see me after the presentation, but in essence this tool explores the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats within your community and allows you to identify and prioritise actions to take. Of course, once you know what actions you want your community to focus on, you will need to prioritise these. This can be quite tricky, so one of the useful tools to use here is an effort versus value matrix, where you plot the different activities based on how much time they will take and how much value they will return. High effort, low value activities become apparent very clearly, and it also outlines the high value-high effort activities that are worthwhile to undertake, but which you might want to engage some external help to do.
  • As part of the planning process, it's also useful to know your community very well. You might know all your community personally if you're a smallish group, but if it's a geographically distributed group or larger group, a community survey may be useful. ** I know for example, Daniel Jitnah has done some excellent work in this space both for LUV and for OSIA. As part of the planning process, you might need to give some consideration to division of labour. How will teams or roles be structured within your community? Do you need to have a formal governance body such as a committee or council? Does the organisation need to be legally established? Having defined roles can be a key part of community building. Different roles require different skills. For example, the role of the President within Linux Australia is a very public facing role; the incumbent will often speak to the media, and engage with key stakeholders. The secretary role requires a different set of skills; an eye for detail and keen organisational skills to ensure the production of agendas, minutes and correspondence. Having different roles within your community will also help you to attract a diverse range of people to become part of it. So, you have some social capital, some good will, you have a prioritised plan and a bit of a roadmap for your community. What do you do next?
  • DIVERSITY Is a very important part of building communities for a number of reasons. Inclusivity a key aspect to long term survival; something that has been proven with historic civilisations. At a more practical level, diversity is a great thing for your community because different opinions, different ideas and different skills can combine to produce an effect greater than just the sum of their parts. There is a touchpoint here with the roles topic that we spoke about previously; different people will be attracted to your community for different reasons, and their skillsets and what they contribute will also differ. Some people are naturally better at communicating, and some people are more comfortable with a back of house role, perhaps looking after the group's technical infrastructure. It is important to appreciate and respect diversity; without doing so you will alienate future members of your community and damage your reputation. There are a number of free software groups who do this really well; the Drupal Association has global membership at a board level; INTERACTION How would you characterise the diversity of the free software groups you're involved in?
  • PROMOTION AND MARKETING So, you feel that you have some good social capital with which to build a community, you have a plan, and some roles, and you have been thinking about diversity. How do you let people know about your community and invite them to join? This is one of the hardest issues to tackle for free and open source communities. Free and open source doesn't have the big dollar budgets of many movements in the tech space – think Apple or Microsoft, and so what you do has to be high impact and low cost. Often promoting or marketing your community comes down to lots of little things done in a co-ordinated way; again planning can help with this. At a higher level, I think one of the things that the free and open source movement does well is market itself. Individual products such as WordPress, Drupal and perhaps even Linux are marketed, but the concept of open source is quite fragmented. There are many organisations such as the Document Freedom Foundation, OSIA, Linux Australia, the Linux Foundation, Open Source Way etc all promoting free and open source in a fragmented way. So think about how you will promote and market your community. How will you brand yourself? How will this attract potential new members to your community? Are there members that you don't want to attract? INTERACTION What have you seen that works well here?
  • Don't underestimate the administrative effort that it takes to continually keep a community vibrant and alive – there is real time expended in things like keeping a Twitter feed active and keeping news feeds populated.
  • Once up and running each community has to think about governance and moderating conflicts as they arise. You will need to give consideration to the governance and rules of your community – how will these rules be decided, made public and enforced? Moderation for instance is a hot topic within this community – with various reasons for and against. Who makes the decisions and what sort of consultative process, if any, is used for decision making? How are conflicts resolved within the community? One example of this for instance is the Linux Kernel mailing list, where new patch submissions are reviewed by Linux himself. He has the ultimate authority and say in terms of what goes in. Presumably this results in uniformity and consistency, but could also be a bottleneck. One of the issue many communities also face is burnout – where the same people are tasked with duties time and again. So you will need to think about strategies to prevent burnout – but that's a whole other talk! INTERACTION How have you seen governance work well? Or poorly?
  • Software Freedom Day Melbourne 2013 - Building free software communities

    1. 1. Building open source communities Kathy Reid Software Freedom Day, Melbourne, Australia 21 September 2013 @KathyReid |
    2. 2. Photo:Photo: ““ is is the platform of choice for 19.9%platform of choice for 19.9% of all websites”of all websites” - TechCrunch, August 2013- TechCrunch, August 2013
    3. 3. • Photo: Mr Jono BaconMr Jono Bacon The Art ofThe Art of CommunityCommunity
    4. 4. Social capital “those tangible substances [that] count for most in the daily lives of people: namely goodwill, fellowship,sympathy, and social intercourse among the individuals and families who make up a social unit....”
    5. 5. Strategy and planning • SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) • Prioritising activities based on EFFORT and VALUE – some high effort activities may yield very high value
    6. 6.
    7. 7.
    8. 8. Resources for promotion • Lanyrd • MeetUp • Mailing lists • Website (interactive) • Social media “Nothing beats face to face interaction – a cuppa or a BBQ”
    9. 9. Governance and conflict • Moderation • Decision making • Burnout
    10. 10. Some closing thoughts • Ensure you have social capital • Develop an inclusive plan • Promote and market your community • Steer it in the right direction
    11. 11. Thank you
    12. 12. Further reading • Bacon, Jono 'The Art of Community', available online at • McMillan, Robert 'Why this hacker stood up to Linux Torvalds',, • Thym, Thomas 'Seven Principles of Open Source Communities',, retrieved 20 Sep 13