As a conceptual follow up to my last post, it's relevant to point to a couple of news items which demonstrate how the maturation of open source software is behind the trend towards different varieties of formal methods for representing community sentiment. While it is true that open source is, and always will be, associated with community. And that openness breeds membership/participation, and community is the manifestation of those commonly directed activities, interests and individuals. There are an increasing number of open source efforts which are coming to grips with the reality that while communities form in a mostly autonomous fashion, effective representation of the community must be promoted in deed and done so at a very conscious level.
Grasping the significance of both the finalization of the GlassFish interim governance board as well Novell's kickoff for the openSUSE board of directors requires a better understanding of what community means. From where I stand, community is not only a key differentiator for open source software but also its main asset. By that I mean that the concept of technical communities predates open source and continues to exist outside its domain. However, the open source model represents progress for the notion of integrating shared ownership of IP (in this case, software) into profitable business models. Where, the members/participants of open source communities also double as owners.
For commercial open source vendors, this fact changes the dynamics of what it means to meet the needs of stakeholders. Since customers often begin their open source experience as community members, or at least users, ensuring that the community's needs are being considered is paramount. In the same way that proprietary companies make it a priority to field a competent sales and marketing teams since both serve as the mechanism through which [potential] customers are reached, open source vendors must investigate how well they can discern the pulse of their product communities. And governance boards which include independent community participants are often the best place to start. I'm convinced that while governance strategy is important in its own right, abstract strategy is incomplete without integrating formal community representation.
Oddly enough by representation, I don't mean traditional democracy either (not that I'm against real democratic processes), because even for companies based on the open source model, business decisions should be made by those paid to make them. However, decisions which fail to take into account the needs and perspectives of significant stakeholders within a community are more akin to one-sided rulings. A community (both seen and unseen) is a reflection of your user base and should be handled with care. So affording transparent representation of the community shouldn't come off as a surface deep PR push, i.e. "See we really do care about the community," rather its complexion should be that of a vital link to the double-sided coin of open source success.