Welcome!

Open Source Cloud Authors: Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Shelly Palmer, Karthick Viswanathan, Stackify Blog

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
SYS-CON Events announced today that SourceForge has been named “Media Sponsor” of 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. SourceForge is the largest, most trusted destination for Open Source Software development, collaboration, discovery and download on the web serving over 32 million viewers, 150 million downloads and over 460,000 active development projects each and every month.
SYS-CON Events announced today that DXWorldExpo has been named “Global Sponsor” of 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. Digital Transformation is the key issue driving the global enterprise IT business. Digital Transformation is most prominent among Global 2000 enterprises and government institutions.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Nihon Micron will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion 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. Nihon Micron Co., Ltd. strives for technological innovation to establish high-density, high-precision processing technology for providing printed circuit board and metal mount RFID tags used for communication devices. For more inf...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Ryobi Systems will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion 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. Ryobi Systems Co., Ltd., as an information service company, specialized in business support for local governments and medical industry. We are challenging to achive the precision farming with AI. For more information, visit http:...
SYS-CON Events announced today that mruby Forum will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion 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. mruby is the lightweight implementation of the Ruby language. We introduce mruby and the mruby IoT framework that enhances development productivity. For more information, visit http://forum.mruby.org/.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Mobile Create USA will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion 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. Mobile Create USA Inc. is an MVNO-based business model that uses portable communication devices and cellular-based infrastructure in the development, sales, operation and mobile communications systems incorporating GPS capabi...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Daiya Industry will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion 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. Daiya Industry specializes in orthotic support systems and assistive devices with pneumatic artificial muscles in order to contribute to an extended healthy life expectancy. For more information, please visit https://www.daiyak...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Fusic will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion 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. Fusic Co. provides mocks as virtual IoT devices. You can customize mocks, and get any amount of data at any time in your test. For more information, visit https://fusic.co.jp/english/.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Keisoku Research Consultant Co. will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion 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. Keisoku Research Consultant, Co. offers research and consulting in a wide range of civil engineering-related fields from information construction to preservation of cultural properties. For more information, vi...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MIRAI Inc. will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion 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. MIRAI Inc. are IT consultants from the public sector whose mission is to solve social issues by technology and innovation and to create a meaningful future for people.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Interface Corporation will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion 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. Interface Corporation is a company developing, manufacturing and marketing high quality and wide variety of industrial computers and interface modules such as PCIs and PCI express. For more information, visit http://www.i...
Elon Musk is among the notable industry figures who worries about the power of AI to destroy rather than help society. Mark Zuckerberg, on the other hand, embraces all that is going on. AI is most powerful when deployed across the vast networks being built for Internets of Things in the manufacturing, transportation and logistics, retail, healthcare, government and other sectors. Is AI transforming IoT for the good or the bad? Do we need to worry about its potential destructive power? Or will we...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Enroute Lab will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion 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. Enroute Lab is an industrial design, research and development company of unmanned robotic vehicle system. For more information, please visit http://elab.co.jp/.
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Greg Gorman is the Director, IoT Developer Ecosystem, Watson IoT, will provide a short tutorial on Node-RED, a Node.js-based programming tool for wiring together hardware devices, APIs and online services in new and interesting ways. It provides a browser-based editor that makes it easy to wire together flows using a wide range of nodes in the palette that can be deployed to its runtime in a single-click. There is a large library of contributed nodes that help so...
DevOps at Cloud Expo – being held October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA – announces that its Call for Papers is open. Born out of proven success in agile development, cloud computing, and process automation, DevOps is a macro trend you cannot afford to miss. From showcase success stories from early adopters and web-scale businesses, DevOps is expanding to organizations of all sizes, including the world's largest enterprises – and delivering real r...
While some developers care passionately about how data centers and clouds are architected, for most, it is only the end result that matters. To the majority of companies, technology exists to solve a business problem, and only delivers value when it is solving that problem. 2017 brings the mainstream adoption of containers for production workloads. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ben McCormack, VP of Operations at Evernote, will discuss how data centers of the future will be managed, how th...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Massive Networks, that helps your business operate seamlessly with fast, reliable, and secure internet and network solutions, has been named "Exhibitor" of 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. As a premier telecommunications provider, Massive Networks is headquartered out of Louisville, Colorado. With years of experience under their belt, their team of...
SYS-CON Events announced today that TMC has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo and Big Data at Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Global buyers rely on TMC’s content-driven marketplaces to make purchase decisions and navigate markets. Learn how we can help you reach your marketing goals.
There is huge complexity in implementing a successful digital business that requires efficient on-premise and cloud back-end infrastructure, IT and Internet of Things (IoT) data, analytics, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Digital Applications. In the data center alone, there are physical and virtual infrastructures, multiple operating systems, multiple applications and new and emerging business and technological paradigms such as cloud computing and XaaS. And then there are pe...
Real IoT production deployments running at scale are collecting sensor data from hundreds / thousands / millions of devices. The goal is to take business-critical actions on the real-time data and find insights from stored datasets. In his session at @ThingsExpo, John Walicki, Watson IoT Developer Advocate at IBM Cloud, will provide a fast-paced developer journey that follows the IoT sensor data from generation, to edge gateway, to edge analytics, to encryption, to the IBM Bluemix cloud, to Wa...