How to Destroy Your Community with SCALE 8x UpSCALE speaker Josh Berkus

SCALE had the pleasure of chatting with long time Postgres contributor and current CEO of PostgreSQL Experts Inc., Josh Berkus.  We discussed Josh's upcoming UpSCALE talk, How to Destroy Your Community.  Josh offered some insight into why he believes companies often end up killing off their communities as well as ways to avoid tihs.

Q: What do you think motivates a company to want to destroy a community? Is it about money, control or a bit of both?

Josh Berkus: It's the Three Horsemen of Mediocrity: fear, laziness, and incompetence. Most managers don't understand external communities, and regard them as peripheral, or even detrimental, to their individual jobs. So it's rare for a manager to deliberately try to destroy a community, it's pretty common for them to do it by accident. Some of the most community-destroying moves are ones done from neglect, or from a desire to score points in internal company politics. Marketing and PR people sometimes wreck communities out of incompetence; they learned all their marketing skills in 1980's television advertising and not a thing since, and they destroy the community in an effort to make them conform to "I will advertise and you will buy" behavior.

Q: Perhaps a new course for marketing majors on how to market specifically to FOSS communities? :) In your experience are the marketing & PR people receptive to changes in thinking or are they fairly set in the ways? Are the new recruits different or are they still being taught the ancient methods? Is this an area that the FOSS community needs to get more involved?

Q: How can the community fight back? How would they avoid this issue in the first place?

JB: Well, there's always forking. ;-)

For less severe circumstances, trying to organize in-person events with company execs and community members often works wonders, if you can get the execs to show up. And you can have me or other community mavens try to educate the company board if they're willing. If you can't reach anyone in power in the company, though, you're probably wasting your time.

But, you have to recognize that sometimes the motivations of company executives and members of the external community are irreconcilably separate. In that case, the company never should have open sourced their stuff in the first place, but many don't seek advice or listen to it. If you are a prospective community member approaching a corporate project, ask yourself:

"Are senior managers from this company involved in dialog with the community?"

"Are there clear ways for non-employees to have positions of authority in the project?"

"Do the license and trademark restrictions on this project make it very hard to fork effectively?"

If the answers are no, no, and yes, then it's a Project To Stay Away From.

Q: Do you think this only happens when the company comes first and community second? Or does it happen when a company is created from a community?

JB: It happens both ways, but most often when the company existed first. If the community existed first, the power dynamic is completely different; there will be members of the community able phone up company execs at home and tell them they're being jerks and that makes it a very different story. The main time I've seen the community-to-company progression a disaster is when the new company hires up the entire active community, effectively gutting it.

SCALE: Thank you taking the time to talk to us.

If you or your community is involved with a Free & Open Source community, be sure to attend Josh's UpSCALE talk at SCALE 8x.

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