[OSGeo-Discuss] Open Source Lurkers

Jody Garnett jody.garnett at gmail.com
Tue Aug 25 06:30:57 PDT 2009

Evening Landon:

As you have gathered from the responses thus far that lurkers are  
actually the larger part of the user community - and do not really  
represent an opportunity to acquire new developers for your project.

The point is that they are part of the user community; and are  
probably not in a position or motivation to become part of the  
development community.

Some tips for involving them:
- make sure project wiki; issue tracker etc is very open to input

What to do when they email you directly:
- This is a hard one; they are asking for free support; and are too  
shy or unable to go to the public email list
- I answer (or point out docs) and remind them that LISAsoft offers  
commercial support; and that free support from fellow users is  
available on the email lists
- If they have an issue I may turn their issue into an item on the bug  
tracker; and invite them to add comments with more details. I find it  
easier to show how to make a good bug report  (but other developers  
have helpful links about how to make a bug report).

What happens next is kind of up to the reaction...

If they launch into the issue tracker; or user list; and start  
interacting with community members:
- if it is a documentation or api question I will write a wiki page  
and ask them to review.
- If it is a bug - It is time to start talking about patches; creating  
them; attaching them to the bug tracker; and so on.
- The first time I will facilitate this process; often using IRC or  
- Chances are if they have started down this road they are going to  
have a successful open source experience and after a few months (6  
months to a year) it is time to start talking to them about commit  
access and taking a larger role.

If they persist in contacting me directly:
- If they are contacting me by my work email address - I usually feel  
comfortable phoning and/or asking talking to their boss about  
commercial support options at this stage :-)
- If they persist in contacting me directly; I will start to CC my  
responses to the public email list (I change my note about commercial  
support to a link to all the organizations offering commercial support  
as it is not great to advertise).  There is the risk of of course  
deeply offending someone and/or getting them in trouble - this is  
balanced by the risk of being taken advantage of.
- Chances are If they start down this road I will hook them up with  
one of the companies supporting GeoTools (on a good day it will be a  
company I work for)

What is fascinating to me is how well some of the distributed version  
control technologies are geared towards allowing groups to have a  
shadow copy of a project. Maybe I should reword that as an "internal"  
version of a project; it is actually  a really good practice; offering  
a balance between "Sticking behind on a stable version" vs the risk of  
"using the latest". It really provides a programming team to control  
the software they are getting from the community at a different pace  
then the release cycle; it is also really good in that these teams can  
live and breath patches - and can hire you to fix problems.

What is more difficult is explaining about how LGPL means that the  
work they do internally needs to come out :-) But that is a topic for  
another day ...


On 22/08/2009, at 4:55 AM, Landon Blake wrote:

> I would like to get some comments on a phenomenon I have discovered  
> among the OpenJUMP community. I know for sure of one (1) company  
> that maintains a separate fork of OpenJUMP, but which monitors our  
> mailing list and likely grabs patches form our source code  
> repository. They never participate in the forums or make known their  
> use of OpenJUMP in any other public manner.
> I think there is at least one other company that does this.
> I only learn of these companies when I am contacted by private e- 
> mail to work for them on OpenJUMP development, usually by some  
> headhunter. I actually did a little work for one of these companies  
> (which was not a great experience, but that is another story) and I  
> was surprised at how important OpenJUMP was to their operation. They  
> even distributed it to their customers.
> I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why this company wouldn’t  
> take a more active role in supporting the OpenJUMP community. I’m  
> not necessarily talking about money here, but about writing  
> documentation, contributing their own patches, or answering  
> questions on the mailing lists. Our community is very informal and  
> open, and an organization could likely have a large influence on the  
> direction the program took with an investment of some resources.
> Is OpenJUMP the only community with these open source lurkers? How  
> many of these companies do you think there are? (I’m not talking  
> about one guy who downloads an open source app and uses it. I’m  
> talking about actual companies with more than one employee.)
> Why don’t they get more involved? Are they embarrassed? Do they not  
> want their competition to find out about the open source program  
> they are benefiting from? Are they violating the terms of the  
> license and don’t want to get busted? Do they not understand that  
> their involvement is a key part of the program’s survival?
> This has become an important question for me recently as the active  
> development of OpenJUMP has slowed. We don’t have any organizations  
> actively participating in development. (Well, maybe one or two, but  
> they have been quiet lately.) I’m the only one working on serious  
> improvements or changes, and not just bug fixes. I would really like  
> to reach out to these lurkers to get them more involved. Ultimately,  
> the survival of the project may depend on it.
> What do you think? Send an e-mail to the project list with an  
> invitation to contact me privately about getting more involved? Are  
> these lurkers worth the time?
> Landon
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