Yesterday Funambol, the mobile open source company, announced the launch of their Phone Sniper Community Program. This effort aims to provide incentives and recognition to community members for testing cell phones ability to receive wireless data. Funambol is already poised to break into the gigantic $300+ million in a big way by introducing a scalable open source solution that can be deployed by enterprises, network carriers and service providers across the world. Equipped with a diverse Q&A team located all over the globe, Funambol has been able to leverage valuable feedback regarding the performance of Funambol software with a vast variety of the 1,000,000,000 total wireless devices currently available.
The overarching importance of this move by Funambol is that it highlights what will become a mandatory element of successful open source companies/communities, namely incentive-driven contribution. The fact that active, participatory members are one of the most valuable assets an open source community can count on having, makes retaining and recognizing them a critical priority. The foremost reason being, the larger any open source code base grows the more there is a need for individuals who are capable of contributing back to its overall health (stability, usability, etc.) in various forms.
Take the Linux kernel as an example, the core team boasts a relatively small team of direct source code contributors who are in turn backed by a substantially larger group of auxiliary contributors who produce user documentation, help files, bug reports while also serving as quasi Linux ambassadors. By leveraging the work of this community, Red Hat has been able to build an impressive Linux distribution as well as a solid business. It is not a stretch of the imagination to say that Red Hat and Co. owe a great deal of their success not only to investors, executives and employees but also to those who have helped make the Linux kernel what it is today.
In light of this fact, providing concrete incentives for participation within open source communities is more than just a 'morally upright' thing to do. It also makes quite a bit of business sense for companies that base their business model on its output. As the open source software industry makes the transition into one that features more robust Linux-like ecosystems, a separating element of the companies and communities that ultimately succeed will be how well they present creative encouragements for contribution. Funambol has already established itself as a leader in this regard (see also their Code Sniper program) with an increasing number of other companies following suite.
For open source products that are essentially driven by community interaction that are empowered by lowered barriers of participation, it is becoming mandatory to aid the involvement of as many able and willing persons as possible. One of the emerging metrics for the success of and value created by an open source venture is the strength of the overall community surrounding the product. Fostering activity amongst contributors and users alike eventually feeds back into the quality of the product and into the bottom line of corporate infrastructure behind it. As such, open source companies must avoid taking the concept of community lightly while remaining dedicated to introducing novel ways of rewarding and encouraging consistent involvement.
If anyone has any examples of how this is being done elsewhere across the open source software industry, feel free to let me know. I've got some interesting ideas about how to best drive up participation and would like to see how they stack up to what is being done in the wild.
On a related note James Governor over at Redmonk posted both an interesting and timely piece earlier this week about why it pays to shine the spotlight on developers. I'm in the same boat as James, it's more than mildly important to make sure that people who contribute are recognized and rewarded on some level because it's only a matter of time before someone else does so in your stead.