Landon, et al.

I'm aware of this phenomenon in the MapWindow community as well. It is
particularly prominent with non-English speaking folks who, for a number of
reasons (mostly described by Bill below) don't feel comfortable joining the
conversation and openly participating in the project.

I think there is another clear reason for this behavior... they sometimes
just don't know that they are welcome/invited. This might be more of a
pronounced problem for those of us developing specifically for Windows
because Windows users have historically been told that they are not allowed
to participate.

However it's also a phenomenon of GIS in general. When was the last time
that the major GIS software vendor asked it's customers to actively join in
writing documentation, answering forum questions and - heaven forbid -
fixing bugs.

So how do you fix this. Well all I can think is to continually invite invite
invite. Everytime someone posts a forum question, give an answer and then
invite them to answer other people's questions. When people ask for bug
fixes, invite them to fix a big - or to hire someone to do it.  Any time you
get a personal communication, invite them to do something on the project.

This has helped a lot with our project, and I think we've landed some
awesome project participants (some of whom are likely reading this now!) by
letting them know how much we need them, and inviting them over and over to

That's my suggestion anyway,


On Sat, Aug 22, 2009 at 4:53 AM, Bill Thoen <> wrote:

> 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?
>> Landon
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Daniel P. Ames, Ph.D. PE
Associate Professor, Geosciences
Idaho State University - Idaho Falls
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