Welcome!

Open Source Cloud Authors: Yeshim Deniz, Liz McMillan, Automic Blog, Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White

Related Topics: Open Source Cloud

Open Source Cloud: Article

Segmenting Today's Open Source Community

Open source is ideally the ultimate in 'grass roots' marketing where people learn about the project by word-of-mouth

From a commercial open source company's point-of-view, open source is ideally the ultimate in "grass roots" marketing where people learn about the project by word-of-mouth and where they volunteer their time and effort, resulting in a vibrant community that benefits the company in many ways.

While this ideal may apply to some open source projects, for the vast majority of open source companies, it is not a case of "build it and they will come." Instead, most open source companies need to understand who comprises their community so they can formulate a viable business model. In particular, they need to understand that communities consist of heterogeneous types of people, with their own interests, motivation, needs, and ability.

Open source companies need to identify the groups in their community, decide which ones to focus on, and choose the best way to work with them. This is de rigueur for determining how best to monetize the interest in their software, ideally without disrupting the community spirit that differentiates their software from proprietary offerings. This is where "old school" marketing can help. Obviously these techniques need to be adapted for open source, requiring the blending of traditional marketing techniques and community relations.

Treating a community as an undifferentiated blob can result in failure to generate sustaining revenue as well as alienation of a community. As a community is perhaps the most distinctive component of an open source company, losing its community is tantamount to failure. If the community is not properly nurtured, an open source company's potential won't be realized.

This article suggests a general approach for segmenting a community to aid in formulating a business model and marketing plan to reach a project's potential. Moreover, it uses the example of an open source company, Funambol, Inc., to provide concrete examples of how open source community programs can be effectively used.

Does Open Source Need Marketing & Segmentation?
For many (Cherkoff 2005), open source is meant to be a disruptive business model where the conventional laws of business and marketing don't apply, e.g., it's ideally meant to be the ultimate in "viral marketing" (Rushkoff 1994, Helm 2000, Skrob 2005) or "guerrilla marketing" (Levinson 1984), where only interested parties raise their hands and volunteers give their time and/or money to the cause, and where you don't need to spend much time or money on traditional marketing.

While that may be the case for some open source projects, especially those that don't need to make money, and while it may work for start-ups and early stage projects (Rosenberg 2005), established commercial open source companies need to determine how they can monetize the interest in their software, ideally without disturbing the open source philosophy that differentiates their software from commercial offerings.

This is where time-honored marketing principles and best practices apply (among the others, Baker 2000, Doyle 1998, Kotler 1999 and 2002). This means understanding your community and what makes users tick, determining their needs and interests, and formulating products and services that your organization can offer and that the community is likely to want and buy.

The most successful open source companies such as MySQL, Red Hat, SugarCRM, and Zimbra all do this to a certain extent, albeit in a stylistically different way than pure commercial companies. The sooner an open source company comes to grip with the reality that it needs to practice standard marketing techniques such as segmentation, target marketing, and direct marketing, the better it will be.

Obviously, these techniques need to be adapted and adjusted to take into account the appropriate ways to communicate and interact with open source community members, so we're talking about the blending of two disciplines, marketing and community relations.

A widespread stereotype about open source is that communities mainly consist of hardcode hackers who only contribute code. In reality, communities are comprised of many different types of people, each of whom has their own interests, motivation, needs, and ability to contribute. As a project experiences success and crosses the "chasm" between the early and mainstream stages (Moore 2002), the community is composed not only of "techies" (developers and IT people), the typical early adopters, but increasingly by non-technical people, i.e., end users looking for products and solutions. Moreover, communities are increasingly composed not of individuals but professionals who work in companies such as system integrators, OEMs, and service providers and are involved to further the business objectives of their corporations. The fact that communities have corporate members is relevant because business-to-business marketing requires a different approach than marketing to individuals/consumers.

Communities are really heterogeneous groups that need to be addressed differently: various people and segments require communication through different channels with different messages. An open source company should identify the different groups in the community, decide which ones it's going to address, and choose the best way to leverage the target groups. Community segmentation and marketing are essential for designing effective business models and actions.

The risk of unfocused actions is to de-energize the community, which could result in losing the unique competitive advantage distinguishing open source companies. The community is an open source company's primary distinctive asset and if not properly leveraged and nurtured, the "disruptive" potential (Christensen 1997) can stagnate (Onetti and Capobianco 2005). Just being open source is not itself a guarantee of success; there are plenty of companies without active communities. Anyone can go to Sourceforge and see projects that languish because of minimal community involvement; furthermore, projects are like stars, they can shine for periods of time but if they don't continuously renew their energy, they can burn out. Consider the case of a highly popular and publicized open source project such as Evolution, a one-time alternative to Outlook that has languished.

Recognizing that your community consists of several kinds of people and grouping them according to their needs and profiles has broad implications for the business model in terms of how to best work within each of these groups. This article aims to describe, through case study research, a generic approach for how commercial open source companies can segment their communities to aid in formulating a business model and marketing plan to reach their potential. It's for anyone who works in an open source company or project who's trying to determine a viable business model.

The article is structured in two parts. The first part proposes how an open source company can segment its community. In the second part we will present the experience of Funambol, a provider of open source consumer push e-mail and personal information management (PIM) synchronization. We'll describe how it segmented its community and created nurturing and leveraging open source programs.

Segmenting an Open Source Community
An open source community often consists of an assortment of people, developers, end users, IT people, ISVs, SIs, ODMs, and partners. Segmentation helps by identifying these distinct groups. One question we'll try to answer is how it's possible to segment an open source community.

Note that for this article, we broadly define the use of the term "community" to include everyone who participates in an open source community. This includes people who download project software and documentation, read or post messages to community mailing lists, visit the project Web site looking for project information, and participate in project events such as webinars. This definition of community may be different than the more narrowly defined group of hardcore developer enthusiasts but in our experience, the broader use of the term is more relevant to an open source community. Note that it doesn't necessarily include commercial customers and partners though there's likely to be some natural overlap.

A community can be segmented according to several characteristics. We could refer to demographic variables such as age and technical skills (dividing community members into "techies" and "unskilled" individuals), or psychographic characteristics such as the purpose of community involvement (separating people who operate for business purposes from individuals moved by hobby/volunteering aims). Moreover, for corporate community members, we could segment using typical B2B criteria, e.g., dividing them by company size (discerning SMEs from large corporate), location, industry and/or business type (e.g., distinguishing among service providers, system integrators, independent software vendors, device manufacturers, and so on).


More Stories By Hal Steger

Hal Steger is vice president of marketing at Funambol, Inc., the mobile open source company. He has over 20 years of enterprise software marketing experience, including several years working with open source projects.

More Stories By Alberto Onetti

Alberto Onetti is a professor at Insubria State University (Varese, Italy) where he is head of a research center and teaches business innovation management. He has written numerous articles and books and act as consultant for companies and banking groups.

Comments (2) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
alberto onetti 04/09/08 09:41:48 AM EDT

Hi Ross, thank you for the update about Evolution project. You provided to us a really helpful insight.

Ross Burton 09/28/07 10:21:38 AM EDT

"Consider the case of a highly popular and publicized open source project such as Evolution, a one-time alternative to Outlook that has languished."

This isn't really true. The Evolution project in the last six months has gained three core maintainers, and just released EDS 1.2/Evolution 2.12.

Evolution has strict time-based release cycles, releasing every six months, and my tools tell me that in the last six months there have been 2018 files changed, 395302 insertions and 214719 deletions. That doesn't look like a stagnating project to me.

@ThingsExpo Stories
With tough new regulations coming to Europe on data privacy in May 2018, Calligo will explain why in reality the effect is global and transforms how you consider critical data. EU GDPR fundamentally rewrites the rules for cloud, Big Data and IoT. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Adam Ryan, Vice President and General Manager EMEA at Calligo, examined the regulations and provided insight on how it affects technology, challenges the established rules and will usher in new levels of diligence arou...
Recently, WebRTC has a lot of eyes from market. The use cases of WebRTC are expanding - video chat, online education, online health care etc. Not only for human-to-human communication, but also IoT use cases such as machine to human use cases can be seen recently. One of the typical use-case is remote camera monitoring. With WebRTC, people can have interoperability and flexibility for deploying monitoring service. However, the benefit of WebRTC for IoT is not only its convenience and interopera...
The 22nd International Cloud Expo | 1st DXWorld Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo, to be held June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York, NY, brings together Cloud Computing, Digital Transformation, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Machine Learning and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding busin...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Synametrics Technologies will exhibit at SYS-CON's 22nd International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Synametrics Technologies is a privately held company based in Plainsboro, New Jersey that has been providing solutions for the developer community since 1997. Based on the success of its initial product offerings such as WinSQL, Xeams, SynaMan and Syncrify, Synametrics continues to create and hone inn...
Smart cities have the potential to change our lives at so many levels for citizens: less pollution, reduced parking obstacles, better health, education and more energy savings. Real-time data streaming and the Internet of Things (IoT) possess the power to turn this vision into a reality. However, most organizations today are building their data infrastructure to focus solely on addressing immediate business needs vs. a platform capable of quickly adapting emerging technologies to address future ...
No hype cycles or predictions of a gazillion things here. IoT is here. You get it. You know your business and have great ideas for a business transformation strategy. What comes next? Time to make it happen. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jay Mason, an Associate Partner of Analytics, IoT & Cybersecurity at M&S Consulting, presented a step-by-step plan to develop your technology implementation strategy. He also discussed the evaluation of communication standards and IoT messaging protocols, data...
Product connectivity goes hand and hand these days with increased use of personal data. New IoT devices are becoming more personalized than ever before. In his session at 22nd Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo, Nicolas Fierro, CEO of MIMIR Blockchain Solutions, will discuss how in order to protect your data and privacy, IoT applications need to embrace Blockchain technology for a new level of product security never before seen - or needed.
In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Raju Shreewastava, founder of Big Data Trunk, provided a fun and simple way to introduce Machine Leaning to anyone and everyone. He solved a machine learning problem and demonstrated an easy way to be able to do machine learning without even coding. Raju Shreewastava is the founder of Big Data Trunk (www.BigDataTrunk.com), a Big Data Training and consulting firm with offices in the United States. He previously led the data warehouse/business intelligence and B...
Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo have announced the conference tracks for Cloud Expo 2018. Cloud Expo will be held June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, and November 6-8, 2018, at the Santa Clara Convention Center, Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation (DX) is a major focus with the introduction of DX Expo within the program. Successful transformation requires a laser focus on being data-driven and on using all the tools available that enable transformation if they plan to survive ov...
A strange thing is happening along the way to the Internet of Things, namely far too many devices to work with and manage. It has become clear that we'll need much higher efficiency user experiences that can allow us to more easily and scalably work with the thousands of devices that will soon be in each of our lives. Enter the conversational interface revolution, combining bots we can literally talk with, gesture to, and even direct with our thoughts, with embedded artificial intelligence, whic...
"Evatronix provides design services to companies that need to integrate the IoT technology in their products but they don't necessarily have the expertise, knowledge and design team to do so," explained Adam Morawiec, VP of Business Development at Evatronix, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Recently, REAN Cloud built a digital concierge for a North Carolina hospital that had observed that most patient call button questions were repetitive. In addition, the paper-based process used to measure patient health metrics was laborious, not in real-time and sometimes error-prone. In their session at 21st Cloud Expo, Sean Finnerty, Executive Director, Practice Lead, Health Care & Life Science at REAN Cloud, and Dr. S.P.T. Krishnan, Principal Architect at REAN Cloud, discussed how they built...
Digital Transformation (DX) is not a "one-size-fits all" strategy. Each organization needs to develop its own unique, long-term DX plan. It must do so by realizing that we now live in a data-driven age, and that technologies such as Cloud Computing, Big Data, the IoT, Cognitive Computing, and Blockchain are only tools. In her general session at 21st Cloud Expo, Rebecca Wanta explained how the strategy must focus on DX and include a commitment from top management to create great IT jobs, monitor ...
"Digital transformation - what we knew about it in the past has been redefined. Automation is going to play such a huge role in that because the culture, the technology, and the business operations are being shifted now," stated Brian Boeggeman, VP of Alliances & Partnerships at Ayehu, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
In his Opening Keynote at 21st Cloud Expo, John Considine, General Manager of IBM Cloud Infrastructure, led attendees through the exciting evolution of the cloud. He looked at this major disruption from the perspective of technology, business models, and what this means for enterprises of all sizes. John Considine is General Manager of Cloud Infrastructure Services at IBM. In that role he is responsible for leading IBM’s public cloud infrastructure including strategy, development, and offering m...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Evatronix will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Evatronix SA offers comprehensive solutions in the design and implementation of electronic systems, in CAD / CAM deployment, and also is a designer and manufacturer of advanced 3D scanners for professional applications.
To get the most out of their data, successful companies are not focusing on queries and data lakes, they are actively integrating analytics into their operations with a data-first application development approach. Real-time adjustments to improve revenues, reduce costs, or mitigate risk rely on applications that minimize latency on a variety of data sources. In his session at @BigDataExpo, Jack Norris, Senior Vice President, Data and Applications at MapR Technologies, reviewed best practices to ...
Nordstrom is transforming the way that they do business and the cloud is the key to enabling speed and hyper personalized customer experiences. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ken Schow, VP of Engineering at Nordstrom, discussed some of the key learnings and common pitfalls of large enterprises moving to the cloud. This includes strategies around choosing a cloud provider(s), architecture, and lessons learned. In addition, he covered some of the best practices for structured team migration an...
22nd International Cloud Expo, taking place June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and co-located with the 1st DXWorld Expo will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud ...
22nd International Cloud Expo, taking place June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and co-located with the 1st DXWorld Expo will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud ...