I’ve yesterday had a conversation with the CEO of an Open Source company who sounded rather frustrated when I discussed the importance of nurturing Open Source communities. He said:
People seem to think they have a right to free software and free support. It is not about free speech. It’s all about free beer!
I don’t think this blanket judgment is true. There have always been freeriders in Open Source communities, but the overall benefits of an Open Source community to an Open Source business always outweigh the community loss imposed by freeriders.
Here are the top commercial reasons why Open Source software vendors should invest in community development:
- Better sales lead generation: A growing Open Source community translates into a growing sales pipeline if done well, i.e. OSS vendors can monetize a part of the community user base and convert them to commercial users.
- More effective sales: Community-driven sales requires less effort compared to a direct sales approach, because potential buyers have already evaluated the Open Source product and contact sales only when they are ready for a purchase.
- Raise visibility: A vibrant Open Source community fosters branding and word-of-mouth marketing.
- Build a Brand Community: Open Source brands grow and thrive around real value created by a community of engaged, informed participants. A healthy community adds tremendous value to almost any activity a company engages in.
- Larger install base: The goal is to build the corporate brand as well as product and service quality by creating a larger install base.
- Cost-effective marketing: The larger and the more active an Open Source community, the more it helps to spread the word and the less investment in marketing is needed to achieve the same level of visibility.
- Higher credibility: A growing Open Source community helps companies to be perceived as a true Open Source vendor by journalists, analysts and potential customers. A critical mass of community members also indicates how well a product solves a problem and that there is actual demand.
- Cost-efficient and competitive business: Commercial Open Source offers the best cost-benefit ratio for enterprise customers due to cost savings, innovation and investment protection enabled by a vivid Open Source ecosystem that contributes bug fixes, new features and more.
- Investment protection: Reduce client risk by broadening the base of product-related skills.
- Test and develop new markets: Open Source offers companies and organizations a highly cost-effective route into international markets. Through community development tactics, OSS vendors can test and develop new markets and communities with little upfront investment.
- Externalize 1st Level Support: Enable community to help themselves share information, to reduce support burden for the OSS vendor on basic issues.
- Technology and thought leadership: Community development will help to establish an OSS product as a technology leader in the space by attracting external developers. Based on that, OSS vendors can through appropriate communications also become a thought leader.