During what has become my annual bout with an anonymous east coast flu strain these past few days, I figured it might be good to mark the brief, two day hiatus from posting here with a different kind of entry. Since it's normally all about open source, I thought it might be interesting to explore how generating a buzz is accomplished from the proprietary side of things in comparison to the open source side. The motivation for doing so is to uncover ways to strengthen currently accepted ideas & concepts related to the open source model.
Generating a buzz
Despite there being ample evidence that open source does the best job of establishing a 'grass roots' foundation naturally. Proprietary software seems to do the best job of generating that initial buzz surrounding new products and services. More than simply having the top P.R. firms on payroll, this requires effective and tactical marketing strategies. While more and more information channels are emerging which can be used to get the gospel out about various efforts, there is still a lack of widespread dedication on the part of the open source community in terms of beating the marketing trail.
This is amazing because, from my perspective, the open source community should be the most aggressive within this sphere of activity. After all, proprietary holds the edge in terms of levels of general acceptance and understanding. Reaching out to appropriate members outside the immediate open source community can often be one the surest methods of expanding reach and spurring adoption. Those groups who are actively involved as early adopters and innovators, already understand the value that open source has to offer. It is the groups who know enough to be interested but not enough to make it a priority to find out more, which need to be reached most.
Currently the proprietary community is doing a more consistent and thorough job of reaching those who may be straddling the fence. So long as this remains the case it is reasonable to assume that open source will remain 'the next big thing' as opposed to assuming the mantle of 'the new in thing' a la the PC or the Internet. A logical set of questions might be, what does being 'in' have to do with delivering quality software and services that satisfies customer needs? And, isn't that what people expect from open source anyway, to deliver without too many 'marketed bells and whistles?'
It pays to be in
Being the 'in thing' may seem too immature of a concept to be relevant within the context of a technology themed discourse, but it does have a special relationship with early stage open source efforts. The faster and more effectively any technology can reach a critical mass, the better chance it has of surviving as well as generating continued value for its stakeholders. The area of expressing why a particular product is compelling is one in which proprietary outfits have long since developed competencies. Part of the reason stems from having to convince potential customers sight unseen with a closed source offering. However, this competence by necessity should take nothing away from the inherent value of being able to illustrate value in a lucid manner.
At Entiva we spend our days (and nights) examining, projecting, researching how and why open source technologies fit into current business environments and I'm continually amazed at how well some of these value propositions are hidden. Often questions surrounding the products are voiced more clearly than the very answers to those queries. In this regard, it is important to never assume something is obvious because, to those not as acquainted with the dynamics of open source, most of the time it is not.
Moreover, it is also important to understand that the word, buzz represents more than popularity and/or 'mainstream appeal' rather it is a projection of the idea that something new and/or improved has the chance to accomplish something fundamentally different, like Netscape, or something relatively routine in a radically effective manner, like Google. The ability to generate buzz goes quite a ways toward determining how well a technology progresses through its lifecycle as well as contributing to how successful it eventually becomes.
What can be done
Here are some of the things that can be done to directly leverage the nature of open source in terms of extending/adding buzz:
- Targeted outreach to potential contributors who are at the fringe
- Open invites
- Make it easy to get a grasp of current status
- Establish and maintain information channels as is appropriate
- Seek communal partnerships with other efforts within the open source community
- Actively support bottom up adoption activities amongst community members
Also, if any readers have any suggestions regarding this subject, express them as you see fit. This is a topic that deserves as many viewpoints as can be shared.