Build with open-source software and earn community trust

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Demonstrating genuine interest when building relationships with the open source community can contribute to the success of your product and trust among collaborators.

For those who have followed and are familiar with open source technology, we all know that it works and has many benefits. Last year was proof of that, as we saw many software giants such as Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle solidify their positions in the open source community.

Widespread adoption of this trend will only continue to grow as many organizations large and small turn to open source in tough economic times to reduce costs and improve their ability to innovate. In fact, a recent survey found that 68% of organizations have recently turned to open source during the economic downturn to help them save time and money. While Big Tech companies have the resources they need to succeed, it begs the question for many small organizations and development teams considering open source: how can they take advantage of the myriad benefits that it has to offer to succeed?

Let’s look at the benefits of open source, how to create and innovate a product with this technology, and the steps needed to earn the trust of the open source community and developers.

What are the benefits of open source?

One of the main advantages of open source is the ability to collaborate between different groups of people who would not otherwise cooperate due to different companies and geographic limitations, among other reasons. This cross-pollination of various developers helps produce high-quality software due to the peer-review process with hundreds of people collaborating to implement improvements, making the wisdom of the crowd an important factor.

Additionally, open source technology is generally merit-based and not specifically designed to help a company’s bottom line. This tends to produce higher quality software designed with extensibility in mind, which results in more affordable ways to customize and extend the technology for particular use cases. Users can choose from a large number of vendors that use the same underlying open source technology without committing to vendor lock-in.

Additionally, the transparency of open source software makes it more secure since anyone can audit the source code. The greater number of code auditors means that security vulnerabilities are spotted and fixed much faster. Open source communities offer great peer-to-peer support and help, allowing people to engage authentically. Members sincerely want to see other members of the community succeed in using the tool on which the community was built. It can also help streamline and speed up the development of any application with open source dependencies.

How to create and innovate products using open source

The first step to creating products using open source is choosing the right open source technologies. It’s important to be lean by creating experiments, moving to PoC, testing assumptions, and building iteratively. Don’t jump right on the hype bandwagon of the latest buzzing open-source tech. An example might be small businesses that choose Kubernetes for immediate scaling, which adds significant complexity to applications that don’t really need it. Better to start with something simple, say Ruby on Rails or Python Django. After completing this step, you can determine the product-market fit, begin work on the second product release, and define the appropriate fundamentals.

Second, choose open source projects that have an active and vibrant community. Even though the technology is considered “old fashioned”, communities are a wonderful thing. For example, the development of Laravel breathed new life into the PHP language. The goal is to bring the open-source community together to ensure the longevity of the project and to provide good support through people willing to contribute their expertise to extend the technology according to your needs.

A great way to market an open source project is to provide a packaged experience. Essentially, directing the open source project to flourish on its own terms while simultaneously packaging a hard-nosed version of the open source project to solve a particular business problem for particular users. This differentiates the product by letting the open source community develop the project on their own while asking for user feedback for the commercial project. Time to value is a great metric to differentiate OSS from commercial, which simply allows the user to get to the point of realizing value faster.

In case you want to innovate an existing product using open source, the best way to do that is to carefully move towards open source components to rapidly build and deploy applications.

Gain the trust of the open source community

Trust is very difficult to establish and very easy to destroy. This is why it’s so important to be consistent in how you engage with the open source community. Traditional sales and marketing tactics won’t work with developers because they value genuine engagement and genuine interest in the open source community and its ethos. A generic approach typically used to grab the attention of other audiences will not work and give the false impression that you are only using the open source component to achieve your business goals. It is important that the developers see you as an expert in the field, which is only possible if you have credibility. To do this, company engineers need to spend time with the community to engage, discuss, and build credibility. Unless a person has developed their own personal credibility, community members may not trust someone new’s expertise. This is especially difficult for companies that must lead open source communities, as their advocates must already be experienced and known in the community.

Whether you’re building a new product from scratch or innovating an existing product, there are many benefits to using open source. Understanding its benefits, its open source components, and aligning it with your goals are the first steps in determining if it’s right for your product and your business. Beyond that, showing genuine interest when building relationships with the open source community can easily make or break your product’s success and trust among collaborators. It’s a long-term commitment, so patience is key.

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