JUL
30
2003

How community based development can blow away commercial efforts

Hi everyone,

It's fun to have this platform for developers and so I thought I'd put forward
an idea I've been trying to promote for some time that seems to not get much
traction in the community. Often I get a request that reads like can you add
auto completion support for [your favorite scripting language here]?
I
dilligently reply "I don't actually use that language and we have a policy
that these must be done by people who use them and can test them. However Quanta
is set up so that users can add a language using XML."
Now, please allow me
some small degree of indulgence here... but isn't it weird that given these facts

  • The program was free
  • XML should be part of a web developer's toolbox and no big deal
  • The idea of "community" means you'd think people would be both
    proud and anxious to do their part

Yet it is maybe one in four or less that will finally step up and put a few
hours into what is essentially making a tool their own. I'm not really surprised,
but I can't say I'm still not dissapointed.



Here's what really gets me. I talk about having the best tool anywhere for web
work and I think a lot of people are excited about that. We have a handful of
C++ developers actively working on Quanta and the vast majority of the code is
written by Andras. More is gradually happening in community involvement and I'm
working on my C++ skills for various reasons, not the least of which is that I
feel I need to because Andras is so swamped. Then there are some people that
feel that even being at the bottom of the Bugzilla top 100 and all we do, that
we still have not offered enough support because we don't have a feature supported
that is used by less than 5% of developers. I'm not complaining, but I am making
a point here.



How do we beat larger and more established developer teams? Granted KDE
gives us advantages, but that only goes so far. What if we could turn this
around and exceed the development efforts of any commercial product?!
In fact
this has been our plan, to involve the community in making templates, adding
language support, doing scripts, creating Kommander dialogs... Quanta is
so extensible that a major upgrade could be done with no C++ at all!
This
would be a dangerous strategy for commercial ventures. What if we
involved the community on that level?




Clearly this is the key. I figure maybe 1 in 10 to 1 in 20 people who use Quanta
would actually download and compile the source. We ran 35,000 downloads on a
major version in the 2x incarnations on Sourceforge. That would mean 350,000 to
700,000 users almost two years ago before we became part of KDE. Here's a question
for every user... "Do you see yourself more as a member of a community or a
consumer, based on your mentality and actions?"
It's an interesting question.
I believe the biggest challenge of community developed software is that people
are still operating on consumer conditioning in a community environment. If you
observe many critical comments I'm sure you'll agree. The really good news is
this... If we have over a million users and only 1 in 10,000 "get it" we
can easily produce the most amazing tool ever...
but right now only a handful
of people get it. I regret to say that not 1 in 100,000 are on board
with this yet
, but I think we're doing a little better than 1 in 1,000,000.



I remember thinking it was special to be one in a million, but I think we must
be missing some special people out there who just haven't heard yet. How about you?
Don't know C++? Neither did I, but you don't have to. Don't have time? Who does?
We all have 24 hours in a day and we all have to make time. Last year I got called
for jury duty. Did I have time? No. It's just part of being a citizen in a
community. What will you do for your software community this year?

Comments

Hello sequitur (Eric?). Your post is really interesting to me, since I am currently researching and writing an essay on the Hacker Ethic, going beyond the materialist conception of the Hacker to appreciate the Hacker as a productive, social, political and spiritual person. The Ethic is interesting not only in itself, but also in how it appears to non-Hackers, how often it attracts new Hackers, and how well it translates into the lives of those who do not wish to be Hackers.

The group you are addressing would fall in between the latter two categories. The Free Software world needs to be able to bring others into its fold, both programmers-to-be-Hackers and others-to-be-participants, and KDE meets this problem more than most (who other than a wannabe Hacker is going to look at the Linux kernel or Fluxbox). Quanta, as you point out, stands to gain a tremendous amount from being able to embrace this middle group of potential participants.

Doing this of course requires minimal barriers to participation, and I haven't checked out Quanta specifically, but KDE isnt too bad on that count (a lack of developer time tends to stymie efforts to get more feature requests and popular participation). The other important thing is to try and communicate a little of the Hacker Ethic in the application. How on earth does one do that? I've not really considered it much before, but it is an important question. You can of course put lots of writing in the help files, the dialogues, the menus, the web site, etc. I suppose just trying to make prominent announcements about success stories, of feature requests being fulfilled and of users creating new features in PHP code themselves.

Ultimately you can't expect to grow much of a community around Quanta, in the sense that we normally understand the word, but I suppose you can try to show people how fulfilling it is to contribute and participate in the project, and encourage them not to be a consumer of software, and not necessarily a citizen since they have no desire to be part of a community, but perhaps just to be a human being, doing something productive and social that is fulfilling and that will be helpful to many thousands of other people.


By KDE User at Wed, 07/30/2003 - 23:45

Yes, it is I, Eric Laffoon. I applaud you for your interest. It is difficult to categorize "hackers" and I'm probably as difficult as any to categorize. For one thing I'm a business owner and I make a living from consumers and respect, encourage and respond to their consumption. That is my livelihood and software is merely a tool there. It's sort of like the old fashioned barn raisings. We all work for ourselves and nothing beats capitalist motivations... yet we all have things bigger than we can produce and it makes sense that we can collaborate on them outside of our capitalist thinking. As soon as we approach in from a purely business perspective we can no longer afford it without sacrifice and some faceless organization far removed from our interests and concerns will harvest alrge amounts of the fruit of out labor from our community... so as a community we eliminate that expense. Rather than being a "communist" ideal as some alledge it can be a very capitalist idea because it "conserves" capital.

You are quite right about the middle group. the used to be called "power users" and they are a huge resource. CDDB harvested their work for comercial profit at one time. I'm trying to get people to see that they can benefit themselves here. BTW the effort threshold appears to be near zero so we will have automatic on line resource management built in to the user interface. Isn't that just telling about human behavior? The difference between hackers and non hackers is that hackers are much more creative in their laziness. ;-)


By KDE User at Thu, 07/31/2003 - 16:31

Hi Eric, nice to see you here :)

I'd like to emphasize that's the talk about "the community" is misleading, as there are many isolated active users and isolated communities. Many users are not aware of existing places to communicated with others about their favorite software, many other users who found some place to communicate, like the mailing lists, kde-look, kde-forum, dotty, this place, all the local translated KDE sites with their own versions of news and forum pages, are not necessarily aware of even more direct ways to get involved. This results in a widely spread out community which isn't united at all and thus isn't exactly in the most effective state for getting direct feedback of any kind directly to the projects.

In my opinion if you want to get more helpful and direct feedback you'd need to promote bugs.kde.org which has a quasi monopoly on wishes, bugs and crashs reports and also has a nice interface for attaching own files and patches. One way to promote it is to move KBugBuster to kdebase, extend it with an easy "Create new wish/bug/crash report" wizard and integrate it closely with the apps (more than the currently used "Help > Report Bug..."), in a way it is less a hassle than the current online wizard but results in more useful reports.


By Na at Thu, 07/31/2003 - 18:36

Hi Datschge,
nice to see you too. I really hate to say this... but I think you missed the point and rather focused some of your objectives for different things on it. In fact wishes and requests are very much "consumer orietnted" concepts. It's not that there is anything wrong with them. It's just that they don't leverage your efforts. We have no shortage of ideas, just hours. In fact most suggestions we receive are already on our do list. My point was by extending Quanta as a platform to further it's development we could realize far greater activity. Conversely without additional input beyond our small nucleous my ideas I'd like to see happen could involve some small degree of spitting into the wind.

Granted the term community can be misleading, but as I mentioned I'm only looking for about 0.01% to 0.1% of the community to get involved in a small way instead of continuing to file wishes for something that requires 20-40 hours of XML. Code genies can only grant so many wishes. My solution is to give users the power to grant wishes... many seem to prefer rubbing the lamp. Why is that? ;-)


By KDE User at Fri, 08/01/2003 - 05:14

I don't think I missed the point. As I said before bugs.kde.org can not only be used for "passive" stuff like reporting wishes, bugs and crashes but also for contributing files and patches. The latter is just by far not as emphasized even though bugs.kde.org is, due to its centralized database structure, much more appropriate than any mailing list and community forum. For example there are many open reports containing patches potentially supporting the developers. Don't limit bugs.kde.org's use to some one way services but make use of its advantage as a single central meeting point by luring additional contributors to there instead letting them confuse themselves on whom to contact in whatever other forum they are.


By Na at Fri, 08/01/2003 - 13:47

Okay, I certainly understand you can submit files and patches there, However I'm talking about slightly more substantial contributions when we talk adding a language. We usually plug that person into our developer list and while the files may be small there could be dozens of them. That's one aspect. For the rest, I intend to set up online resources which are directly accessable from Quanta. Submissions will be handled by a reviewer and searches will be integral when you need something. I can't see such things as being practical to run through bugzilla.

In any event, the jist of what I was presenting was that a middle tier advanced user, who is not a C++ developer, could plug in their input to advance Quanta because of our architectural decisions enabling this. 10-100 of these people could help Quanta to flesh out and have a very finished feel with lots of templates and everything supported. Conversely without these people our developer effort will be diluted if we have to do that to achieve that finish and in the end we will never be more than a good tool on Linux with lots of potential. We could be an unbelieveable tool with only a small portion of the community being able to be productive in a middle tier development model... But for some reason this is as strange a concept to many people in open source is as open source is to proprietary folks.

I think the biggest illusion in the community is people think "The next guy will do it" and worst of all people who would do something see "things are okay" and actually believe the next guy is "doing it" when it's a fraction of a fraction. When I think about the history of Quanta I had every excuse you can think of not to get involved, and had I depended on the next guy it would have died without reaching 2.0. Community is in fact an illusion until someone does something. My goal has been to more involve the community. My curiousity is when it will work.


By KDE User at Fri, 08/01/2003 - 21:15

I can post to the job board at some of my sites and see if I can actively recruit people for job.

Canada
Edmonton
Hamilton


By arden at Sat, 06/05/2004 - 17:40