Evening Landon:

As you have gathered from the responses thus far that lurkers are actually the larger part of the user community - and do not really represent an opportunity to acquire new developers for your project.

The point is that they are part of the user community; and are probably not in a position or motivation to become part of the development community.

Some tips for involving them:
- make sure project wiki; issue tracker etc is very open to input

What to do when they email you directly:
- This is a hard one; they are asking for free support; and are too shy or unable to go to the public email list - I answer (or point out docs) and remind them that LISAsoft offers commercial support; and that free support from fellow users is available on the email lists - If they have an issue I may turn their issue into an item on the bug tracker; and invite them to add comments with more details. I find it easier to show how to make a good bug report (but other developers have helpful links about how to make a bug report).

What happens next is kind of up to the reaction...

If they launch into the issue tracker; or user list; and start interacting with community members: - if it is a documentation or api question I will write a wiki page and ask them to review. - If it is a bug - It is time to start talking about patches; creating them; attaching them to the bug tracker; and so on. - The first time I will facilitate this process; often using IRC or something - Chances are if they have started down this road they are going to have a successful open source experience and after a few months (6 months to a year) it is time to start talking to them about commit access and taking a larger role.

If they persist in contacting me directly:
- If they are contacting me by my work email address - I usually feel comfortable phoning and/or asking talking to their boss about commercial support options at this stage :-) - If they persist in contacting me directly; I will start to CC my responses to the public email list (I change my note about commercial support to a link to all the organizations offering commercial support as it is not great to advertise). There is the risk of of course deeply offending someone and/or getting them in trouble - this is balanced by the risk of being taken advantage of. - Chances are If they start down this road I will hook them up with one of the companies supporting GeoTools (on a good day it will be a company I work for)

What is fascinating to me is how well some of the distributed version control technologies are geared towards allowing groups to have a shadow copy of a project. Maybe I should reword that as an "internal" version of a project; it is actually a really good practice; offering a balance between "Sticking behind on a stable version" vs the risk of "using the latest". It really provides a programming team to control the software they are getting from the community at a different pace then the release cycle; it is also really good in that these teams can live and breath patches - and can hire you to fix problems.

What is more difficult is explaining about how LGPL means that the work they do internally needs to come out :-) But that is a topic for another day ...


On 22/08/2009, at 4:55 AM, 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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