I've been a moderator for a commercial desktop mapping forum for more
than 10 years and this behavior is quite common. I think it has more to
do with how people adapt to a social network than it has to do with
anything unique in the Open Source world. Like Chris mentioned, the
majority of subscribers prefer to lurk below the public visibility
horizon in a way that resembles an iceberg where only the tip remains
above the waterline while the majority of its bulk lurks below.
People lurk for many of the reasons you suggest, but I think the most
common one is that they don't feel expert enough to contribute anything
useful to a thread, and the risk of saying something "stoopid" --in
public... and worse, thus revealing to their GIS/mapping peers the depth
of their ignorance-- is just too embarrassing to contemplate. Especially
when compared with the perceived safety of remaining anonymous in the
shadows where they can drink in new knowledge like free beer while also
being entertained by the interplay of the forum's regularly featured
fools and sages.
If we assume that Maslow was right about what motivates people
(self-interest) then lurking in an open source community and not
participating is exactly the wrong thing to do. If your business depends
on some FOSS tool, then it's in your self-interest to expand the
environment in which it operates as much as possible. Because if what
you sell depends on tools like OpenJUMP, you want OpenJUMP well
supported with a lively user group, a good supply of free data,
technologically competitive, and actively being developed. This is the
key to making money out of bits instead of atoms. If you sell services,
give away the software and the infrastructure of the environment it runs
in. This expands the market for your services and since the tools are
free, the more people who download them the bigger your market share
gets. If you sell software, give away services that leverage it. But if
you lurk and don't contribute to its development or the development of
the environment in which it operates, then you're sort of stepping on
your own air hose.
- Bill Thoen
Landon Blake wrote:
I would like to get some comments on a phenomenon I have discovered
among the OpenJUMP community. I know for sure of one (1) company that
maintains a separate fork of OpenJUMP, but which monitors our mailing
list and likely grabs patches form our source code repository. They
never participate in the forums or make known their use of OpenJUMP in
any other public manner.
I think there is at least one other company that does this.
I only learn of these companies when I am contacted by private e-mail
to work for them on OpenJUMP development, usually by some headhunter.
I actually did a little work for one of these companies (which was not
a great experience, but that is another story) and I was surprised at
how important OpenJUMP was to their operation. They even distributed
it to their customers.
I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why this company wouldn’t
take a more active role in supporting the OpenJUMP community. I’m not
necessarily talking about money here, but about writing documentation,
contributing their own patches, or answering questions on the mailing
lists. Our community is very informal and open, and an organization
could likely have a large influence on the direction the program took
with an investment of some resources.
Is OpenJUMP the only community with these open source lurkers? How
many of these companies do you think there are? (I’m not talking about
one guy who downloads an open source app and uses it. I’m talking
about actual companies with more than one employee.)
Why don’t they get more involved? Are they embarrassed? Do they not
want their competition to find out about the open source program they
are benefiting from? Are they violating the terms of the license and
don’t want to get busted? Do they not understand that their
involvement is a key part of the program’s survival?
This has become an important question for me recently as the active
development of OpenJUMP has slowed. We don’t have any organizations
actively participating in development. (Well, maybe one or two, but
they have been quiet lately.) I’m the only one working on serious
improvements or changes, and not just bug fixes. I would really like
to reach out to these lurkers to get them more involved. Ultimately,
the survival of the project may depend on it.
What do you think? Send an e-mail to the project list with an
invitation to contact me privately about getting more involved? Are
these lurkers worth the time?
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