If it seems like I've been rehasing the topic of open source ecosystems as of late, excuse me. The reason has far less to do with ecosystems randomly having been the topic du jour recently and more with its rapidly increasing criticality. As it stands today, a consensus understanding of the open source model might include the definition and implied admittance of the importance of community. The corresponding link between community and business infrastructure, brought into play by commercial open source operations, could also be thrown in for good measure. However, I doubt that a lucid comprehension of what open source ecosystems are and do is widespread at all.
An ecosystem encompasses the immediate community of an open source product extending past the periphery. It includes groups who appear to be solely fringe downloaders (i.e. individuals who have little to no interaction with the community except through downloading freely available assets) as well as source code committers and QA testers. Part of the difficulty in conceptualizing the meaning behind the term ecosystem, emanates from the inability to adequately quantify it. I've blogged that the most appropriate manner to reach the non-paying user is to make a sustained effort to understand his/her use of the software. Regardless of what the views on collecting data about open source users might be, I think most will agree that as long as the compilation is done transparently and candidly the topic is, at the least, worth considering.
User data could at that point be turned into analytics used to better answer questions about an open source software product like who is using it, for what purpose, in what environments, etc. Seeing how as of now, there is nothing to further harden the qualitative definition of what an ecosystem actually consists of. Commercial open source outfits may know who their customers are up and down, but without better data about that other mass of free users, they are faced with the impossible task of conceptualizing what amounts to an invisible crowd. After all, counting downloads only counts for so much.
Accordingly, without a more accurate picture of the free user, it is similarly implausible that strategies related to converting them to customers can even be effectively envisioned, let alone implemented with a large degree of success. While I have to agree with the case made by Savio Rodrigues' post on adding risk to the OSS customer equation, it's my perspective that truly relevant groupings or categorizations of OSS users can't be constructed until a great deal more is known about the composition of an open source ecosystem itself. From my perspective, these improved metrics will reveal a whole host of opportunities to monetize what is, at this point, essentially a great unknown.