Lately, the Open Source and Standards team has been called upon to help companies and commercial products with the process of improving the health of and existing open source project. Occasionally, we even get to help launch a new community that did not exist before.
Launching a new community is not exactly a cookie-cutter operation. Every software can have its own licensing and copyright issues that can keep the developers and the lawyers occupied for quite some time.
Beyond the code, focusing on the actual people that could help make a project thrive once it's open, community managers need to spend time getting elements big and small ready to launch, too.
In OSAS, we have found that these tools are bare minimum what a community has to have to at least get started.
This may seem obvious, but you'd be surprised how often a web site gets put into the after-thought category. This is probably a product of the notion that "anyone can slap a web site together these days." While that is certainly true from a tools point of view, a web site needs to be carefully considered in order to work well for a community. At a minimum, web sites should have:
- Clear messaging on what your project is about.
- Plain-as-day explanations of what your software can do.
- A download link that lights up like a beacon in the night.
That last one is another "duh," but I challenge you to go browse some of your favorite FLOSS projects and look at how they present their download pages or links. They are not always as obvious as they should be. Many communities get in their own way with wordsmithing or demo creation and hide the paths for actually getting the software.
Speaking of wordsmithing, documentation is another key element. This may seem daunting, but you really don't need to have instructions for every single thing your software can do right away. When starting out, have these documents ready:
- Installation Guide
- Getting Started Guide (with basic function examples)
Later on, then you can add the advanced functions, configuration, and administration instructions with additional documentation.
Alongside documentation, have a help process ready to go. Whether it's a mailing list, IRC or Slack channel, or web-based forum platform, you need to have something in place where users can ask questions. And for goodness' sake, make sure that help channel is staffed so questions don't go unanswered for days on end.
Finally, there's social media. Are you done rolling your eyes yet? Social media channels are under a lot of criticism these days but the fact remains they are still a fast and free-as-in-beer way to get the message out about your project. Besides talking about your project and referring people to your project's landing pages, you can also use social media to answer user questions and also demonstrate your community's thought leadership within the technology sector you are working.
This is a just a getting started checklist to get your community out the door. There are many more elements of a healthy community, which we'll focus on in the days ahead.
About the author
Brian Proffitt is a Manager within Red Hat's Open Source Program Office, focusing on content generation, community metrics, and special projects. Brian's experience with community management includes knowledge of community onboarding, community health, and business alignment. Prior to joining Red Hat in 2014, he was a technology journalist with a focus on Linux and open source, and the author of 22 consumer technology books.