Open sourcing your organisation’s projects can be thought of as a risk managed, short-term investment leading to massive potential long-term gains. Determining whether this strategy makes sense for your organisation requires you to consider many factors, but the long-term benefits can be extensive.
The benefits extend in many directions. Of course, contributing to open source enriches the commons, helps other people, and stimulates the economy. But a less well known fact is that it’s good for business too. Giving back helps to ensure the long-term health of the open source communities your organisation depends on.
Contributing to open source communicates something about your culture. Becoming known as an organisation that values open source will help you attract the best and brightest developer talent from the open source community. Over time, the pool of contributors to your company’s project will become one of the logical places to hire from.
Your organisation’s name will be in commit messages, documentation, releases, and on mailing lists. More people will trust your project, and your brand, when they can look under the hood and see how things work. And if your organisation is strongly associated with your project, and your project becomes popular within the open source community, then you’re likely to reach a very wide audience. One that might not be accessible through traditional marketing. This, in turn, could be a huge driver for signups or sales.
What’s more, your project itself is a demonstration of your organisation’s expertise, knowledge, and skill. People looking to get a sense of your organisation need look no further than your project and the people who contribute to it.
As your project grows, it will accumulate a group of passionate, dedicated, knowledgeable people around it. These people are likely to talk and blog about it to their friends and extended online networks. They will also discuss new ideas, based on real-world uses, and suggest improvements to the project. This is an invaluable source of direct product feedback. They are likely to understand the project as well as, if not better than, many of your own employees. And better yet, many of the good ideas they come up with will be implemented by the community too!
People less experienced with the project will undertake simple, boring, or repetitive tasks just so that they can familiarise themselves with the codebase. Much of this will be work that has been overlooked by the main developers. Helping people on the mailing list is another common way to start contributing. Support is provided for the community, by the community, reducing the support load on your organisation.
Open sourcing your organisation’s projects can have many benefits, some of which are not obvious without experience. But committing to open source also follows the standard investment pattern of short-term expenditure in the hopes of long-term reward. In my next post in this series, we’ll look at those short-term expenditures, and how you can make sure to cover them properly for the maximal chance of payoff.