Some previous ideas about building new ecosystems around free software projects (V)

Related to our topic, the most relevant internal factors /strengths and weaknesses) I can think of are the following:

Strengths

  • Passion.
  • Collaboration. Sense of community/identity.
  • Worldwide project.
  • Prominent FLOSS project. Well known brand.
  • Leading technology. Innovative.
  • Well defined product (software).
  • Broad base of skills.
  • Efficient development process.
  • Economically sustainable.
  • Internal communication.


Passion: KDE, like other community projects, is formed by people passionated about what they do and aboutfreedom.

Collaboration. Sense of community/identity: this culture make them extremely efficient and determined when decisions are taken, reaching goals that might seem impossible.

Worldwide project: KDE is a worldwide project, with active members all over the world, that speaks in many different languages and come from many different cultures.

Prominent FLOSS project. Well known brand: KDE is one of the current leading free software projects in the world and its brand has a high value, not just because of the product delivered, but because of the clear identity behind it.

Leading technology. Innovative: KDE develop some of the most interesting technologies in the software industry for desktops.

Well defined product (software): KDE Platform, KDE Workspaces and KDE Applications form a whole product that give answer to millions of user needs all over the world.

Broad base of skills: KDE is formed by people with many different skills, experience and motivations. It is a rich community.

Efficient development process: to develop and deliver the product throughout 15 years, KDE have a
complex, efficient and innovative development process. Coordination.

Economically sustainable: KDE is todays an economically sustainable project. Budget control and management is efficient.

Internal communication: KDE has solid communication channels and procedures with high participation.


Weaknesses

  • Weak marketing culture. Lack of experience.
  • Lack of resources for non technical activities.
  • Complex ecosystem.
  • Complex decision making process.
  • Diffuse points of contact.
  • Self criticism.


Weak marketing culture. Lack of experience: marketing haven’t been a priority in the past. We can do much better in this area.

Lack of resources for non technical activities: some non technical areas need more manpower.

Complex ecosystem: KDE is a big project with a complex structure. It is not easy to understand it when you come from traditional organizations.

Complex decision making process: because of its nature, some kind of decisions are hard to make in KDE. This is common to most community driven projects.

Diffuse points of contact: approaching KDE can be hard to do since we lack of globally defined roles. Some knowledge of how KDE work is needed to make the approaching process efficient, specially for non technical issues.

Self criticism: KDE has a strong sense of self-criticism, which is really good for internal processes, but harmful if it is made public continually focusing on weaknesses.

Once again, if you think some other elements must be added, feel free to make comments to this post.

Some previous ideas about building new ecosystems around free software projects (IV)

After the previous three articles about very basic previous ideas to take in consideration before designing an engagement program for organizations, we need to think about what are going to be the concepts to base our program on.

To have a better chance to succeed, we have to build our program on our strengths and not on our weaknesses. In order to identify those strengths, I’ve made a simple SWOT diagram.

This entry will describe the major opportunities and threats I see that might affect to our plan of building new ecosystems with organizations.

Opportunities

  • Free Software culture expansion.
  • Desktop – web relation.
  • Free Software business models success.
  • KDE has millions of users.
  • KDE cross platform strategy.
  • Software everywhere.
  • Increasing market pressure over Universities to include free software topics.
  • Free Software seen as strategical for by many countries.

Free Software culture expansion: more and more organizations are interested in crowd sourcing techniques and in collaboration processes like the ones we use for software development. Movements like Open Data, Open Gov. Free Culture, copy-left, Free hardware, etc. are strongly related to the free software culture. Some of those movements are interesting for many organizations. A community project like KDE can expand his influence to other areas.

Desktop – web relation: interaction between the desktop and the web, along with the irruption of small devices, can allow us to expand our influence to the web world, where many organizations are extremely interested.

Free Software business models success: more and more organizations, specially companies, are developing free software business models where upstream collaboration is seen as a good value.

KDE has millions of users: KDE have millions of users so we are a good target for organizations that wants to reach them.

KDE cross platform strategy: KDE is a multiplatform and multidevice project. There is a shiny future ahead of us if we keep pushing in the current direction.

Software everywhere: software is becoming strategical in many industries. Free Software is becoming popular is most of them. KDE has more and more open markets every year.

Increasing market pressure over Universities to include free software topics: since free software is getting popular in IT industry, the pressure over Universities and other Education organizations is much bigger than in the past. This mean that the cost for KDE to find potential contributors will decrease.

Free Software seen as strategical for by many countries: more and more countries are defining national IT strategies around free software due to political, social and economic reasons. This will open us new markets.

Threats

  • Classic Free Software threats like software patents, closed formats, etc.
  • Key players without a clear and stable strategy.
  • Increasing our relations scope.
  • Management.
  • Resource dimensioning.

Classic Free Software threats like software patents, closed formats, etc: KDE and any action we take toward building new ecosystems with different types of organizations are permanently threatened by them.

Key players without a clear and stable strategy: because of different reasons, many stakeholders that traditionally or lately have been supporting KDE, change their strategy often. Although KDE has proven in the past to be good at isolating the impact produced by them, tensions might increase in the future.

Increasing our relations scope: KDE has been very successful at attracting technical contributors and other non-profits related with free software. It is not clear that we can extend that success to other type of organizations.

Management: KDE will face some management challenges in the near future due, among other factors, to the growth rate it is experimenting. Increasing the ecosystem to other type of organizations will stress even more the actual management resources.

Resource dimensioning: overload takes any organization through many non desired consequences like quality decrease, internal tensions, expenses, management inefficiencies, etc. Like in any community project, properly resource dimensioning and control is specially difficult, since our community is formed mostly by volunteers.

Isolation from the free software-business relation: KDE, like other free software communities haven’t been in the past very interested in the business side of free software. We are more technical focused. The increasing economic success of free software will force us to put energy into this area to avoid isolation.

Yes, there are probably many more, but I hope most of them are somehow included in these ones. Otherwise, feel free to add more through comments to this blog post.

Some previous ideas about building new ecosystems around free software projects (I)

There are a few free software projects out there that have been very successful through the years in attracting developers and building awesome development environments. KDE is one of them. Every new version of our KDE 4.x series is the result of a complex proccess made by hundreds of people working remotely as a well structured group of coordinated teams. We haven’t stop growing during our 15 years of existance and the impact and scope of our work is now wider than ever. Several other free software projects are experimenting similar behaviors.
The result of our huge work has a great technical and commercial value. It is also a good testing/learning field for the people involved. Their professional careers add value by becoming part of projects like KDE. Big corporations are aware of this and it is common to see them hiring people in community events or trying to influence free software projects in many ways. 
Relations between mature free software projects and big companies have been always complex. Along with the growth of free software in market, conflicts are increasing since corporations are adding more pressure into community projects. Many of them are commercializing products/services based on technologies supported or developed by these communities and we do not always have the same goals. The recent conflicts between GNOME/Canonical, KDE/Nokia, Kernel/Google, MeeGo/Nokia-Intel, LibreOffice/Oracle, MySQL/Oracle are just some examples. More are yet to come.
On the other hand, these multinational companies had put resources and money on our projects allowing us to become what we are now. By using and building their strategies around our/their work, they have helped us to reach millions of users. We do have a huge impact because of them too.
Smaller companies: new players
During the last few 3-4 years we are experimenting how some smaller companies are becoming part of our ecosystem. Some of these companies fit very well because they were founded by community members, but some others simply understand the benefits of building their products and services staying close to the decision forums, adding resources to the development proccess, so they ensure they know the technology. This small but innovative companies usually have a strong free software culture. Their size do not allow them to have their own strategy around the technology so becoming part of our ecosystem is a major goal for them, not a temporary effect of his own strategy.
The irruption of these smaller companies is also good news for corporations. It is easier for them to build a commercial and development channel laying in companies that participates in the development of the technology they use. Since software is getting more and more important, every helpful hand is welcome.
So it is easy to end up thinking about how good it would be to increase the number of smaller companies involved in our free software projects.
Grow locally
In parallel to this, KDE, and other community projects, are increasing their efforts of reaching potential contributions and users in their own language, taking in consideration the local culture. Some community projects are getting so big that some actions in the management/organization side must be taken to keep being efficient and flexible.
Like others, KDE is going through a process of organizing local communities around legal entities related with the matrix. The experience is telling us that some advantages and positive effects are taking place as a result of reducing the barriers for people to get involved in the project. There are many, but language and culture are huge ones. Another one that is not frequently mentioned is that people wants to relate to each other face to face, at least once in a while. National events, like Akademy-es, represent a definitive step for a developer to end up contributing actively to the global project.
Like in economy, the communities are built around poles that get connected to each other. If some developers are in the same geographical area, personal relations allow a pole to grow faster and stronger. We have a very good example of this process in Spain with Barcelona or in France with Toulouse. Also this helps to explain why we haven’t been able yet to become in the US as successful as in other parts of the world.
It is easy to think how would it would be to speed up this process since the results look promising.
Non-profits as key partners
Every mature free software project have relation with some stakeholders that, eve though are not communities of developers, they are key players: non-profit organizations. These relations are not structured and too often have lay on personal efforts. Free software communities are very technology centric and most of those non-profit don’t, so relations are not based on personal interest most of the time, but in the defense of free software (general idea).
But both, those non-profits and free software projects, are aware of how important is to stay close to each other, specially with so many viruses out there waiting to infect us.
But beside those non-profits that are very related directly on indirectly with free software,there are many more that we can contacted to build a very valuable relation. International cooperation or science centered organizations are among them.
So once again, it is easy to end up thinking how good it would be to increase the number and intensity of our relations with non-profit organizations.
Colleges: strategic partners
Most of the new contributors free software project attract are students from colleges. They have the time and energy to learn. Projects like KDE are perfect for them to develop new skills, useful in their professional careers. Only in very few companies a student can become part of such a complex environment, using such innovative tools, surrounded by high skilled people…..for free (not even paying, probably).
Teachers play a key role for us. Experience tell us that, where there is a teacher involve in our project, many new contributors arrive. Colleges are usually involve with local companies and somehow influence in the decisions they take related to technology. In order to create poles, they are the perfect host.
Every free software project have relations with colleges, but most of those relations are also based on personal relations between community members and some teachers. Maybe the same person plays both roles.
So, yes, again, it is easy to end up thinking how good it would be to increase our relation with colleges around the world.
Building a new ecosystem 
In order to ensure our independence in the future, keep growing and increasing our impact, we will need to find out ways to establish structured relations with these 3 type of organizations:
  • smaller companies (SME from now on)
  • non-profits
  • colleges (including similar institutions).

Some of the principles and procedures we are using now successfully in our relations with developers from our own projects and other communities might not work perfectly with these organizations. They talk different languages and we will need to find ways to create a new field with different rules, so they they join our game, a game based in our classical strong principles.
If we agree that engaging developers is easier if you have a strong local structure, it make sense to think that maybe the same aproach can work with organizations.
This new ecosystem, within our community, will be the result of going through a new process that will have, at least, three different phases:
  1. Creating a structured and coordinated program (the rules).
  2. Building up a network with those organizations (the field).
  3. Evolving into an ecosystem (the game).

We have to be aware of the difference between an ecosystem and a community. It seems to me it will be a basic element to consider. 
All the above is quiet obvious and, like in KDE, almost every free software project has been taking steps toward this direction. The recent MeeGo/Tizen affaire has made the need to push forward these kind of actions even more obvious.
How do we design that structured and coordinated program? How do we make it compatible with our goals? It will be possible with our limited resources? What do we want from these organizations? What can we offer to them? How do we make such a program sustainable? How do we handle our differences? Is such a new ecosystem going to affect us? How? Are we prepared?
I’ll write about some ideas I have in the following days related with the above questions.