Takeaways from the recent Open Community Conference track at the Open Source Summit North America.


LOS ANGELES — The Open Community Conference was one of five tracks at the Linux Foundation’s recent Open Source Summit North America. Chaired by Jono Bacon, the tracks covered community management, open source office establishment and open source culture in organizations.

If you missed it, here are four takeaways worth applying to your work.

Find the right community manager

Community managers seem to come from all walks of life: the engineer; the marketer; the team lead. But what makes the best community manager? Alan Clark, director of industry initiatives, emerging standards and open source at SUSE, has been involved in open source communities for more than 15 years. He’s seen trends in community management come and go, but the constant success is when a community manager reflects the values of the community.
“Community management is a little different everywhere. It depends on the personalities of the managers and the personalities of the community.” Clark has been involved with both openSUSE and OpenStack, and offered the two as examples. “In the openSUSE community there’s very little marketing. It’s very developer-focused and less about promotion, social outreach and marketing. Most [community managers in openSUSE] come from engineering backgrounds, and that’s very appropriate, but in OpenStack, that wouldn’t reflect the needs of the overall community.”

“OpenStack has set core values that it has embraced, particularly transparency. The successful community manager has to personify those and be the enforcer of those. Community managers are the front line and they set the tone and the attitude of the community.”

Delete the bias against marketing

Marketing is often perceived as a lower status role in the tech industry, as Deirdré Straughan called out in her presentation, which means that emerging open source projects or organizations working with open source often think they don’t need or want marketing. This is a naive mistake, as good marketing––not the kind that insults your intelligence or abuses your information––is what communicates your open source work to the world. Toolkits let developers access your project, blueprints and roadmaps help people evaluate, training gives the skills to use and contribute, and yes, this is all “marketing.” Straughan challenged the audience to reconsider their bias against marketing and to recognize that great marketing is part of a successful open source strategy.


Identify the invested parties in your organization

Nithya Ruff, senior director of the open source practice at Comcast, and Duane O’Brien, open source programs evangelist at PayPal, urged people trying to start open source program offices in their organization to spend time identifying who at their organization has a vested interest in formally engaging with open source communities.

Is the legal team getting overwhelmed with requests for contribution information? Is engineering eagerly consuming open source? Is marketing desperate for help to clearly communicate the open-source basis for their products? Finding who has this special interest can act as the impetus to kickstart more formal engagement with open source communities.

Start with “inner source”

Shilla Saebi, open source community leader at Comcast, has found success by establishing open source practices internally, “inner source” as she’s dubbed it, which helps the organization and individuals develop policies around open source and become comfortable with contributing so they can successfully engage with open source communities.

Inner source looks similar to externally facing open source: licensing discussions with the legal team and meetups. At Comcast there are internal slack channels dedicated to open source projects: the OpenStack channel has more 1,200 members; Cloud Foundry, 900. Inner source acts as a practice for engaging with open source communities, growing familiarity and confidence that translates to external engagement.

Share your thoughts on what makes open source communities tick with @WhyHiAnnabelle and @Superuser on Twitter.

Cover Photo // CC BY NC