Request for comment: Community Engagement

I’m going to take a break from my series on the data cloud and interrupt with a request for my readership.  I’m putting together a presentation proposal for the Maemo Summit 2009, titled “From corporations to communities: responsible and effective engagement”  and could use some opinions and experience.  If you have anything to offer on the items below, feel free to comment!

  • What could corporations do better when engaging user and developer communities?
  • What incentives drive developers to work for free (i.e., Linux)?
  • What are some examples of successful corporation-community engagement?  What made them work?
  • How can the challenges of working with virtual communities be overcome?  Any examples?
  • Are corporations responsible for success of the communities supporting them, vice versa, both ways, or neither?
  • How do we strike a balance between corporate commercial interest and community free enterprise?
  • Etc

I already have some good material but I really want to hear from the crowd.  If I use your RFC contribution you will be credited!



20 responses to “Request for comment: Community Engagement

  1. “Are corporations responsible for success of the communities supporting them, vice versa, or neither?”

    This is surely two way for an ‘open’ system such as Maemo. Community projects such as Mer would not get the traction needed if (in part) Nokia did not offer it’s help. On the other hand, Nokia is about to go mainstream, by the looks of it, with Fremantle. Their path to ‘today’ would have been very different if all the independant developers, and engaged users weren’t so passionate about this amazing device/OS, and the community that sprang about it.

  2. What exactly does “success” mean for a community? That it’s still existing? That it’s growing? Is the fact that a community exists at all a success?

    It’s hard to determine how the corporations are responsible for community success when that success is a lot harder to define than dollars and cents.

    • Good question Jay, and thanks for bringing it up.

      I’ve been focusing on the definition of “community” so far, but you’re right: unless “success” is defined then goals are hard to set.

      Sooo… thoughts, anyone?

  3. Is it tomorrow yet? No, but my wife went to bed early, so here I am. 😉

    I think openness is the number one sign that a company _and_ a community is healthy. If a company feels free enough to be open with a community, then something right is happening. Once things return to under the covers, some sort of malfunction has occurred — whether on the company’s or the community’s side. Taking proper steps to rectify this is very important.

    Of course, I mean this both ways… One of the amazing outcomes of Twitter (and other social networks) is that company’s can now listen (and respond) to their communities in real-time. Thankfully, for the most part, instead of companies turning a deaf ear to this type of community-oriented openness, they are indeed responding. Of course, this sort of “system” could have been established long before Twitter arrived, but I’m glad it is finally here.

    When looking at Nokia and Maemo, it is clear that (someone at) Nokia saw the value in open source and transparent business communication. There’s still a long way to go, but the last few years have really demonstrated a willingness on Nokia’s part to go in this direction.

    Being able to lay it all on the table, as it were, has the potential of allowing a company to build a strong, successful community of customers. And, to answer zerojay’s question, I think a successful community is one who feels free enough to talk to the company(ies) they are supporting. That’s easy enough to gauge by interacting with the community — which truly open companies are more than willing to do.

    • Ah, Tim… this is beautiful. And you unwittingly fed into material I already had in place. Nice. But that just makes it harder not to leak the presentation– I’m about to burst from holding in a joke!

  4. It would be good to get useful feedback pointing to specific actions we could take. Based on real experiences that can be directly mapped to Maemo and its context.

    Things like “Company X has done Action Y with Community Z and here you see the results. instead, Nokia just did Action Y’ with the Maemo community and look the result in comparison”.

    Yes, I know well that it’s not easy to do. But that would be a very useful contribution.

    • Thanks Quim, and I agree completely.

      I’ve identified an organization with well-developed practices built on a wealth of sociological data. I’m in the process of condensing that now; what I want to do next is interview key people across a representative cross-section (from both sides of the “fence” ;)). That will help me accomplish what you suggest.

      Of course, I want to conduct the interviews privately, via email, IM or phone. Can I count on you as an interviewee?

  5. Hello. Thank you for this great info! Keep up the good job!

  6. Maemo SDK documentation, for example, is intended for an open OS, yet it was written behind doors and then presented to the community as-is. Thankfully, due to some work by Dave Neary, it has become more of a living document that feeds off of community input…

    Developers could probably speak to more of these sorts of issues.

  7. What incentives drive developers to work for free (i.e., Linux)?

    I’m sure many people will say lots of other things, but I wanted to be sure someone mentions this: personal artistic satisfaction allied to plain and simple generosity.

    It’s not even exactly an “incentive”, like for example making money could be an incentive for developing closed programs… It’s more “motivation”, “reason”, I dunno.

    • Thanks, and I hope many people WILL say lots of other things! Not to discount your opinion– I just want to see a broad array of input especially on that subject. I think it’s key to this whole thing.

  8. thank you! I really liked this post!

  9. allnameswereout

    “What incentives drive developers to work for free (i.e., Linux)?” Usually it is scratching an itch resulting in some kind of improvement in life. This improvement is then shared to allow others to gain the advantage as well, for peer review/feedback, further development. It may seem ‘free’ but on longer term it saves money/time/energy. A smart egoist shares and receives back. A stupid egoist only keeps.

    The software could also be internally used for commercial reasons. That is why the term ‘commercial’ software is confusing; ‘proprietary’ makes more sense. Selling free software however requires buyers to reply in ethical, moral way so after the source code is released this is difficult.

    Instead, services must be build around. Such as custom patches or technical support. I can give examples of community/vendor interaction but they may not be related to Maemo/Nokia. For example, Fedora is a test bed for RedHat. RedHat earns money by selling services. OpenSolaris/SUN is became much the same as Fedora/RedHat.

    Ofcourse there is problem of dependence. If your customers are not dependent on you they might just walk away. But if your products are good enough, they won’t. A good community is almost part of the product.

    “What could corporations do better when engaging user and developer communities?”

    Both parties should be straightforward about their interests. This creates trust. Although the interests aren’t always static and well defined. Corporate left arm sometimes doesn’t know what corporate right leg has intended, and the community is very diverse with many backgrounds and different interests and values.

    For the community some kind of bounty system would really speed up community spirit and development. Otherwise it remains mostly ‘scratching and itch’ for pure self interest. You won’t get big things coming from ground that way. So you need to give other incentive; meaning money in this world. Either that, or you’ll get proprietary software. Also, this will allow users who are not developer to give back in other ways than artwork/feedback/debugging/translating. Many don’t give back much, if anything. If they want to see the software thriving, they have to consider to invest in the software. For good function you’d see some kind of micro payment system. For example 200 users giving 0,50 EUR for a bug fix means 100 EUR. If 5 users were paying 20 EUR then 195 users got it for free. Also, we all have different income and demographics and all that so that makes it even much more complex.

    On the other hand you want to build up tension to the release so cannot tell everything, cannot make exactly clear about SDK and how the device will work etc etc for developers. To draw an analogy: if you’re too kind and open to your wife she’ll find you a wuzz and will feel not attracted anymore. There has to be some kind of mystery involved, tension. Ofcourse that creates uncertainty, and there is a certain corporation who does not give a flying fuck about that because their sheep will buy the damn thing anyway and because they have faith in their products. The Maemo community is more free thinking, and questions. On the longer run I believe that is more stable and vital.

    For challenges in community I think its mostly communication. You’re operating world-wide. Different cultures, not always English as main channel. I saw Andre Klapper quoting from GNOME code of conduct that so evade flamewars etc, assume the writer had good intentions. Meanwhile, the community must understand Nokia corporate culture and interest.

    (I wrote a lot more but I abbreviated.. *pats self on back* :D)

    • That is an amazingly helpful response! For once I am happy to receive such a (*cough*) lengthy reply. 😀

      Seriously, the GNOME conduct guidelines is an excellent resource and thanks for the pointer. I will digest this in detail later and incorporate what I can in the presentation… which BTW is taking shape nicely. 🙂

  10. allnameswereout

    Hmm some things were a bit global or out of scope but they are related a lot to the questions asked. The problem is, the FOSS community is huge, and there are so many examples and events.

    Brainstorm is also nice initiative. One thing I forgot to say is that a lot of text is confusing and scary for new users. So you have to make things clear and format them well. An example is the new design. Another example is well written arguments with references, as well as hashing and weeding information to reach consensus. Wiki is excellent for the latter. Forum is excellent for former and starting point for latter.

    That ‘code’ is mostly between developers and responsible community members while in Maemo community you have also many users. I try to apply it in life in general, but there are some exploiting bastards in this world, and other people who you just don’t get along with or firmly disagree with. Anyway, since community is very diverse and international the Maemo Council hashes the community interest and serves as mediator between Maemo community and Nokia Maemo department, with also certain Nokians participating. Rest assured RedHat and SUN have such a set up as well.

    One danger is that we don’t allow or able to cope new influence from newcomers who have different values; e.g. speak less fluent English, are long time S60 users, appreciate aspects of iPhone more than average N8x0/Maemo user, are less technically inclined, more open to proprietary software. These people are however still part of Maemo community, and hmm, probably acquired a Nokia device running Maemo. People satisfied with Maemo is in general good for community I’d say.

    Some other points. This creates trust:

    The free software ecosystem is related to many of these questions (includes a nice chart):

    An old post by Dave Neary with similar goal as yours:

  11. Pingback: Bracing for Amsterdam « Tabula Crypticum

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