Patrick Ohnewein of the Free Software Centre in South Tyrol on Open Source and Government

I’ve just uploaded my video interview with Patrick Ohnewein, Head of the Free Software Center in South Tyrol.

I met Patrick at the South Tyrol Free Software Conference (SFScon) and had the chance to ask him a number of questions, including:

  • What is the role of the Free Software Center?
  • Is there greater awareness of Open Source in government?
  • Is there a pattern in Open Source adoption?

Patrick also explains the motivation of the local government in sponsoring the development of the TIS Innovation Park and highlights how local companies in the region are using free software to distribute knowledge and foster innovation.

Book Review: WordPress 3 for Business Bloggers

What started out as a private online diary in the mid-90s has evolved and, over the last ten years, finally reached almost every niche of the online and business world. Blogging has become a major part of many companies’ public relations and marketing channels, as it allows them to establish a direct connection to their customers. And, especially for small or non-profit companies, blogging offers great advantages for very little expenses. The question of whether to blog or not is nowadays discussed in almost every company environment, typically as part of a broader social media strategy.

WordPress is probably the most popular and advanced web software when it comes to blogs. In fact, the majority of all hosted blogs and websites have WordPress running under their hoods. And that’s for a good reason.

Recently, the publishers of Packt Publishing asked me to review their book “WordPress 3 for Business Bloggers” written by Paul Thewlis and published in December of last year. Let’s see if this book helps to answer the most important questions about publishing a successful business blog.

Teaching the Basics

Paul Thewlis has written a good introductory book when it comes to WordPress and blogging, especially for novices. Unfortunately, this is not apparent from either the book title or the description and so, my first impression of the book did not exactly meet my “business” expectations on the first reading.

Nevertheless, in covering the basics, Thewlis has done a good job. Most people with a blogging or WordPress background will already know the fundamentals, but Thewlis ensures that beginners are not left out with good coverage of blogging and WordPress basics. The first and second chapters, in particular, need to be mentioned here.

Choosing the Audience

I really liked that Thewlis went beyond the simple “why to blog” question and offered a wider perspective on what is possible by showing good recent examples that are helpful for businesses to identify the own strategic goals and finally end up with a reasonable blogging plan. He is not only asking the important questions, but also trying to help readers answer them for their own businesses in an appropriate manner.

That said, as the book focuses on the basics and attempts to create a (for the purposes of the book, absolutely legitimate) fictitious WordPress Business Guru, it may not  deliver what its title and description promises for already experienced WordPress users and bloggers, as well as for more mature companies.

In the end, this doesn’t hurt the book that much as the main target of the book is clearly beginners. For them, Thewlis describes in depth how to set up a local WordPress environment in order to get used to the software. He introduces all the basics that are necessary to start and extend a WordPress installation with the most common and useful plugins. He not only describes them, but also provides nice, handy usage examples.

The only thing that can be regarded as a bit inappropriate is, from my point of view, the third chapter, where he covers the design aspects of blogs and tries to give an introduction to CSS. I can imagine that for inexperienced users, this rough overview will be more confusing than helpful; it would have been better to instead help these users to understand the broader background of Web design. Novices will end up just copying the code while people who already know about CSS and Web design will simply skip this chapter part. In the end, neither of the two groups benefits.

Final Thoughts

So, what’s the final verdict? Thewlis covers a very broad range of topics in his book  and he provides valuable insights about WordPress, especially for beginners. This is very good for those who are looking for an overview of what is possible and necessary. Thewlis delivers everything that is necessary to put these users on the right track and equip them with the basics of starting a blog.

At the end, blogging is about gaining trust and credibility. That’s the one thing missing in Thewlis’ book: the most important factor in blogging is the individual. Companies don’t blog; people blog. And it is all about them when it comes to creating a successful and credible blog.

Glyn Moody on PR by Organizations in Open Source

I had the chance to do a video interview with Glyn Moody, a renown technology journalist and consultant, at the South Tyrol Free Software Conference (SFScon), past Friday.

Glyn provides great answers to the following questions:

  • Is “Open Source” still a newsworthy topic?
  • What are the trends in Open Source watched by journalists?
  • How to do PR in a sane way?
  • How important are social media in the marketing mix?

He also points out that a topic he’s closely watching these days is how governments try to fight back the internet – something he discussed in his keynote at SFScon and in a related article afterwards, which also includes his slides.

Marketers and Content Strategists: Two Sides of the Same Coin

“Markets are conversations”, says The Cluetrain Manifesto and if you take the analogy a little further, you’ll realize that conversations are only meaningful when all the participants have something useful to contribute. In an Open Source ecosystem, where the number of participants are much larger (and sometimes much louder), it’s even more important for vendors to ensure that their contributions to the ongoing conversation are meaningful and valuable.

Content for Conversations

For Open Source vendors and Open Source marketing practitioners, this implies a need for a greater focus on content: how it is analyzed, produced, approved, delivered, licensed, managed, and migrated. Open Source marketing, as a practice, needs to have a holistic understanding of not just the brand and messaging strategy, but also operational, “where the rubber meets the road” aspects like the content model, the metadata strategy, the SEO strategy, the editorial and approval workflows, the Website taxonomy, and so on. In short, marketers need to also be content strategists.

Marketer = Content Strategist?

My good friend Lars Trieloff made me aware through Twitter of a blog post, by Cleve Gibbon that identifies what content strategists do. Among his list of tasks are brand strategy, messaging strategy, tone of voice, style guide development, SEO strategy. Now think about what marketers do, and you’ll realize there’s a very close overlap here: many of these tasks are routinely performed by marketers as part of the marketing function. From this perspective and to at least some extent, the roles of content strategist and marketer are intertwined.

Marketer = Digital Librarian?

Another point to consider is that when doing Open Source marketing, the role of the marketer is to serve more as a “facilitator” of information rather than a “gatekeeper”. To do this effectively, the marketer must have a holistic understanding of the available information (content) and must be able to categorize it effectively (perhaps like a digital librarian) to ensure that the audience (which might comprise users, partners, developers or other vendors) is able to find what they need easily. Again, this involves no small amount of thinking about the content model, content types and content architecture – tasks that are commonly performed by content strategists.

Corporate Websites as Information Hubs

Look also at the tools used by content strategists and by marketers, and you’ll see a distinct overlap. Content strategists focus on content, and the primary content platform for Open Source products is usually their Website. In a similar vein, while marketers do have other tools at hand (advertising, public relations, roadshows), they focus a large part of their attention on the Website, as it’s the primary communication and messaging platform, and the locus of user activity for the Open Source ecosystem. Marketers ensure that the content appearing on the Website conforms to the company’s stated brand identity and messaging; but they also need to verify that it is useful, informative, comprehensible and engaging…all content strategy tasks.

Practical Lessons

So what does this mean for you, the Open Source vendor or marketing practitioner?

  1. First, you must realize that the marketing role also encompasses the content strategist role; the two are closely linked, and one cannot be performed without the other. This also means that if your marketing team doesn’t already include the necessary skills to perform content strategy well, it’s time to go out and acquire those skills, to supplement the strength of your overall marketing and communication effort.
  2. A content strategist must also work closely with what Cleve Gibbons terms a content executioner. Typically, this is a developer or technical expert who knows the ins and outs of the CMS system being used, and can assist with the actual implementation of workflows, content modeling, migration and other technical tasks. Having this person working closely with your Open Source marketing team reduces the risk of the content strategy being incorrectly implemented; at the same time, it ensures that the content architecture and infrastructure supports marketing and communication needs.

Modelio Goes Open Source with Marketing and Community Development Support from Age of Peers

I’m very happy to announce a new client of my agency Age of Peers:

Paris-based Modeliosoft has open-sourced Modelio, a professional modeling environment for developers, systems engineers and business architects. We supported Modeliosoft with marketing and community strategy services as well as implementing marketing and media relations activities for the launch of the open source product.

Modelio offers an array of features that is quite unique when compared with other open source as well as proprietary modeling tools. The Modeliosoft team is great and I always enjoyed our meetings in Paris – and Paris 🙂

Stéfane Fermigier About Nuxeo's Marketing and the French Open Source Community

Last week, I published a video interview with Ross Turk that I recorded at Open World Forum in Paris. Here’s another interview that I recorded at the event, this time with Stéfane Fermigier, Founder and Chairman at Nuxeo. In this interview he discusses how Nuxeo markets its open source product and he also provides insight into the French open source community. Merci for a great interview, Stéfane!

Initmarketing is now Age of Peers

Initmarketing rebranded, now Age of PeersWe have re-branded Initmarketing as Age of Peers, to reflect our new focus on combining the fields of Marketing, Community Development and Media Relations for organizations in Open Source into a single practice.

We are not only extending our services, but we are also enhancing our team of talented and skilled professionals. Our partners have worked with enterprises including Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP, as well as successful startups, and free- and open-source software foundations and organizations such as Mozilla, Wikimedia and GNOME.

Our new Website has launched today with almost 200 pages and provides exhaustive information on our service  portfolio, our team as well as some great customer case studies.

Along with the re-brand, I have turned my sole proprietorship into a German limited liability company.

Here’s the website, and please let me know your thoughts: www.ageofpeers.com.

Benefits of the Community for Partners of Open Source Vendors

The Open Source Business Resource (OSBR) published an article of your true and only. OSBR is a free monthly publication of the Talent First Network. Each issue contains thoughtful insights on issues relating to the development and commercialization of open source assets and the growth of early-stage technology companies.

Here’s the abstract of the article:

Open source vendors can benefit from business ecosystems that form around their products. Partners of such vendors can utilize this ecosystem for their own business benefit by understanding the structure of the ecosystem, the key actors and their relationships, and the main levers of profitability. This article provides information on all of these aspects and identifies common business scenarios for partners of open source vendors. Armed with this information, partners can select a strategy that allows them to participate in the ecosystem while also maximizing their gains and driving adoption of their product or solution in the marketplace.

Read more in the August issue of Open Source Business Resource (OSBR).

Community-driven Open Source Projects Become More Marketing Savvy

Web sites of community-driven Open Source project are gradually becoming more professional and “marketing savvy” in their presentation. Earlier, many of these sites would be presented in a rather technical style, with lots of code and API examples and basic design. This was of course done deliberately, with the idea of highlighting technical benefits and thereby capturing the attention of developers who would then become interested in, and contribute to, the project.

However, this has begun to change. Many Open Source projects are now dialing back the technical approach, focusing instead on a more professional overview of the project and clear categorization of content for users, developers and partners. In other words, these projects have now matured (or hope to mature) to the point where they also wish to gain traction with other members of the Open Source community, such as end-users or companies who might want to partner with or sponsor the project.

Tech Talk vs. Marketing Lingo

To illustrate what I mean, let’s compare the sites of two popular CMS projects, TYPO3 and Midgard. Both are currently in the process of relaunching their websites, which makes it easy to analyze how their marketing and communications has developed over time.

Midgard Web site as of today.

Relaunch of Midgard Web site (under development).

Midgard’s Web site is all about the code. For example, the home page focuses on developer benefits of Midgard, such as its rapid development tools for Web services and its data sharing capabilities. The home page also specifies the technologies used by Midgard, and provides links to developer tools such as the source code repository, issue tracker, mailing lists and other developer tools. Even the items in the news feed mostly focus on recent software releases.

In short, this is a site by developers and for developers, and while it does provide some information for other members of the community, it’s the developer focus that stands out most strongly.

TYPO3.org Web site as of today.

Relaunch of typo3.org (under development).

TYPO3’s Web site is less developer-oriented and broader and more inclusive in its scope (disclaimer: my company Initmarketing has previously worked with TYPO3, although not on its Website). Web site content is clearly categorized for users, developers, decision-makers and community members; this offers a way for TYPO3 to position itself appropriately for each class of visitor. The navigation shows the different entry points into the project – for example, as an extension developer, writer, translator, sponsor – and there’s also an extension repository, which also serves a barometer of project activity.

In short, although this is an Open Source project that hopes to attract community developers, it moves the code and technical details one level down so that it is also attractive to other community members, such as end-users, and corporate sponsors. Note that it’s not only the messaging though, it’s also the visual design where they differ and which makes the new TYPO3 website appear more professional. Needless to say that this all has a huge impact on how the two brands will be perceived by prospective users.

GNOME 3.0 microsite.

Another example of this marketing-oriented trend can be seen on the new GNOME 3.0 Web site. It’s attractively presented, and its home page focuses almost exclusively on end-user benefits … even though it’s obviously a community-driven software project that also needs to attract developers. As with TYPO3, the idea here seems to be to make the project more accessible, by highlighting non-technical benefits and thereby increasing end-user adoption. And that’s very much “marketing” thinking!

Some Lessons

If you have an Open Source project, there are some lessons in this for you.

For your project to succeed, you must attract the attention of the community. While you certainly need developers to adopt your project, it’s also important that you cater to end-users, because

  1. the more you highlight user and business benefits,
  2. the more potential users will get the impression that your community understands their needs and
  3. the more successful the project is in the user space,
  4. the more motivated developers are to contribute.

Marketing is useful here, because that’s what it’s good at: presenting and positioning your project in the best possible light to different user segments.

This doesn’t mean that your project site shouldn’t display any code; rather, it means that the code needn’t be up-front, but can be located a level or two down in the navigation tree, perhaps in a specific section for developers.

At the same time, there are also companies who might want to sponsor your project, or individuals who might want to contribute to it with money or time donations. Don’t ignore these user segments; instead, make sure that your project site has useful information for all of them – for example, ways to contribute, benefits of becoming a sponsor, areas where non-programming help is needed – and make sure they feel valued and necessary to the overall success of the project.

The more inclusive and all-rounded your project Web site, the more likely you are to achieve broad marketplace adoption … and that’s where the rewards really lie!

No Positioning?

You might have noticed by looking at the screenshots that none of the websites have a tagline or slogan in the header – except for the current Midgard site, which indicates the product category: “Open Source Content Management Framework”. This means that all of the above projects neglect a strong opportunity for a unique positioning and branding.

I wonder what are the reasons? Is it too hard for community-driven projects to decide on the positioning or a tagline because the software is being used in very different ways? Or because the community’s decision-making processes are ineffective? Or does the community believe that its project is widely known and thus won’t need a tagline?

Perhaps this is a field where OSS projects still need to mature marketing-wise.