Winning Pragmatists with Open Source Products

The meritocratic style of Open Source communities can irritate those who simply want to make a deal to raise their own productivity (so-called pragmatists). Highly community-driven projects without at least one strong corporate leader provide too many options frustrating especially those pragmatic buyers who are willing to spend good money for the best services.

A community without one ore more strong companies is in danger to alienate pragmatists who don’t want to invest time to become part of that community to later trade merit, but instead want to invest money to benefit immediately from the expertise hidden inside the community. For highly community-driven projects, crossing the chasm also means trading merit for money and building at least one strong corporation to provide the buying experience pragmatists expect (i.e. the whole product).


For example, Drupal is still a largely community-driven Open Source CMS project without a strong company taking the place of the cathedral in the bazaar. Where could a potential pragmatic customer turn to if in search for the one and only Drupal service provider with the best expertise, longest and most successful in-market track record and offices around the globe?

In fact, things are changing when it comes to Drupal: Acquia sets out to become for Drupal what MySQL is for MySQL. Chances are good they will succeed, given their team and $7 Million VC financing. This means that Drupal can finally line up with those Open Source competitors who are Open Source CMS vendors providing enterprise-grade services, such as Magnolia, Alfresco, eZ Systems.

Interestingly, Joomla! (formerly known as the CMS called Mambo) has gone the opposite way by cutting off the one malicious corporate head and letting a thousand small heads grow. It remains to be seen if this puts Joomla! into a good position given the long march towards consolidation in the CMS market. Same goes for Plone, now a true democratic community.

Pragmatic customers want to buy the best from the best. They appreciate simple choices and distinct correlations between a product and a company – even if they just want to turn towards that company to check out which other companies provide similar services (e.g. partner companies).

In other words: Pragmatists don’t want to search whom they need to talk to. They need a point of reference, even if it is just for comparison sake. Allow me a pointed remark: A “secret society” of community members or a multitude of small companies scares pragmatists away if that’s the only way how they can get an Open Source product up and running.

Find more Open Source marketing articles in my Wiki.

Quantums of Open Source Communities

I have a deep fascination for quantum physics ever after reading Heisenberg‘s book Physics and Beyond (“Der Teil und das Ganze” in German) while graduating at high school.

For example, the concept of wave-particle dualism states that all matter exhibits both wave- and particle-like properties. Just imagine the next person you are talking to suddenly transforming into innumerable numbers of waves going right through you (The Matrix contains a similar scene).

Wave-particle dualism seems like a nice analogy to describe the core elements of Open Source communities. For example, interaction between OSS community members exhibits both monetary as well as reputational properties. Money is the particle of OSS communities, while reputation is the wave.

Quantums of Open Source Communities

Money and reputation can be regarded as the same “thing” which appears to us in two different properties. Both are a mean to value a person’s expertise. You get what you’re worth, either in terms of money (i.e. getting paid for your work), or in terms of reputation (i.e. being acknowledged as a valuable community member).

The dividing line between money and reputation is blurry, because money is another way of valuing reputation and building a reputation can seamlessly lead to making money.

The money-reputation-“thing” is a quantum, an indivisible entity of Open Source communities, a matter of economic and personal exchange forming the basis for The Wealth of Networks.

Find more Open Source marketing articles in my Wiki.

Corporate Identity in Open Source Markets

The potential for successfully building or extending a corporate identity based on Open Source depends on a company’s relationship towards an Open Source product. The graph below relates the extend of product ownership to the level of awareness potentially available for marketing:
Open Source Corporate Identity
Basically, the more you own the product, i.e. the more it is directly correlated to your company, the more you can make out of it.

If you’re the creator of the product (e.g. MySQL, the company, is the creator of MySQL, the database), you can utilize maximum awareness in your market. Your whole ecosystem will support your marketing efforts. For example, those providing extensions to your product, will automatically market your product while promoting their extension.

If you’re an external contributor to a product (e.g. providing patches with bug fixes), you might only be known amongst the developers community and your company will have a hard time transforming your contributions into business value via marketing. Nevertheless, being a contributor is not worthless. It allows you to build tight relationships within an OSS community, helping you to spot early trends and to mobilize visionaries and early adopters for whatever your offerings are.

System integrators market their specific expertise and experience, their goal is to build up a good reputation amongst customers. Of course, large system integrators (such as IBM) can leverage quite some awareness with all sorts of marketing tools, while small to medium ones typically try to score with their expertise (see for example Optaros White Papers).

Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) typically market to a certain industry. For example, they provide extensions or add-ons for an OSS product connecting to proprietary CRM systems (e.g. SAP connectors).

Distributors, such as the major Linux distributors, can utilize a similar level of awareness like large system integrators do – of course, depending on the fact whether their offerings are industry-specific or of general nature. Product ownership of distributors is two-fold: They don’t really own the OSS products they assemble, but they do provide tools which they own (e.g. installers, updaters, etc.) and which are crucial for a distribution’s business relevance.

Find more Open Source marketing articles in my Wiki.