Lessons for Open Source Communites

The Community Leadership Summit 2012, a meetup for community managers and leaders from all around the world, happened July 14-15th in Portland. It's open unconference-style event in which everyone who attends is welcome to lead and contribute sessions on any relevant topic. The goal of CLS is to help community managers and leaders to define and refine their work, share knowledge and make connections in a vendor-neutral way. It was, IMO, a rousing success.

The topics were wide-ranging indeed, including Clique Busting, Metrics, Building Community around Open Source vs. Open Data, Can Webinars Die Now?, and Community Management in China (notes are freely available on the wiki). While there were attendees across industries (tech, health care, non-profits), there was large representation from open source communities (Java, Drupal, OSI).

The combination of Jono Bacon's (author of The Art of Community) opening and a lavender latte inspired me to lead a session entitled "Managing" Huge Communities. The great thing about the unconference style is your session is a discussion, not a lecture or presentation. I started the discussion with a few thoughts about working with the Java community, and then the group was off and running, offering ideas, questions and stories. We started with "how do you define the size of your community?' which of course varied (registering, committing code, self identification) and defining community segments (user community, contributor community).  We also discussed how do you scale community "management" (identifying community leaders and empowering them, one staff member managing volunteers, providing support to user groups). Interestingly, though, the discussion went to the issues that are common to most communities, no matter the size: how do you engage members and get them from lurker to engaged? (remove barriers, Adopt a JSR, focus on the newcomer experience), how do you deal with time zones and cultural differences? (rotate meeting times, officially designate people for certain regions and languages), how to recognize leaders (Java Champions!), and how to deal with disruptive/negative people? (Constitution, agreed upon guidelines). It was a great lesson that though communities vary in the details (size, technologies used, goals), the themes and struggles are often similar.

One of the plenary presentations was by Greg Dunlap, Intiative Lead for Drupal, called Project Managing a Community Project. He discussed what he had learned from leading an "Initiative" (a release of a set of features) for Drupal. His goal was to lead community contributors without making it process-heavy. My takeaways:

  • you need to devote as much time to the project as your most active contributor
  • small amounts of predictable contributions are more valuable than larger chunks of random contributions
  • when sending out information to the community, expect or (if you can, prevent) bikeshedding (aka Parkinson's Law of Triviality)
  • define your MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and have that drive decisions
  • Timebox - define a point in time when the discussion ends or you agree to continue the discussion for another defined period of time
  • face-to-face discussions often can solve problems that online discussions cannot

Other sessions were lively and informative. Participants came to participate! They offered their thoughts and experience, and shared ideas and questions. It was a perfect prelude to OSCON.

CLS 2012: We Care About Communities!


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