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A hard part about open source software

Dear Reader,

For Mother’s Day, I made my mom and mom-in-law a digital picture frame. I gave it an email address and family can send emails to a system that will show them on the frame. I assumed that once it was deployed, all my siblings and their kids would be excited to send picture to Babe. (the affectionate term my mother chose to be called by her grand kids, Dad was known as Dude. Don’t ask…) I assumed wrong.

Each week I send everyone an email reminding them that they can do this and challenging them to send a picture on a specific theme, and each week I only get a couple of new pictures. It’s not that my siblings and their kids love babe any less than I do but they have their own lives, their own activities, and well, they are busy.

Open source software projects are a lot like this. Projects start out as a labor of love by a single person. They lvoe it, they build it, they release it to the world. Somebody else likes it so they use it too. After a while, you get enough users so that someone steps up and contributes. Everybody benefits, some tell other friends, the project grows in popularity, the cycle continues.

Even though the project is getting really popular with a lot of users, the number of contributors stays small. ONE of the reasons is jsut that we’ve all got other things to do. We can’t ALL contribute to EVERY Open Source Software package we use. I’ve given back to a couple of projects with mixed results. In every case I’ve given back, it’s been that I wanted something extra in the project, I knew how to program, so I wrote it and contributed back.

Moving people from the role of USER to the role of CONTRIBUTOR is one of the hard parts of running an open source project. If a project leader fails to do this then the project will most likely die as the leader moves on to other things.

If you have a favorite project, consider stepping up and becoming a contributor. There are probably a hundred things you can do, many don’t even require coding.

Make life easier on the leader of your favorite Open Source Software project, step up, be a contributor.

Until next time,
I <3 |<
=C=